After months of planning and anticipation, the time has finally come to begin my year of travel. And it didn't get off to the smoothest start, buy hey that's part of travel.
I am overly paranoid about being late for flights (I blame my dad who is the same way and the notoriously horrendous security lines in the US that can easily take well over an hour) so I have a tendency to get to airports unnecessarily early. Which I what I did yesterday for my first flight. I was flying from London to Brno, a small city in Czechia. But the flight was delayed 2 and a half hours. Since it was a late flight I began worrying about missing check-in at my hostel - Jacob Brno - who had already agreed to keep reception open later than normal to accommodate my arrival. A panicked email ensued resulted in a quick response from the hostel who said they would stay open until 3:00 AM, and if I was later to contact them. I cannot even tell you how grateful I was for their incredible hospitality. Things continued to improve despite the frustration of the delay when I found a secluded corner of Luton with comfy couches to pass the time and no one but me and a few flight attendants, who happened to be the attendants for my flight - and because they were speaking in English with each other, I was able to hear info about the flight that had not yet been announced.
Eventually we took off and before I knew it, I was in Brno. There are buses from the airport, but since it was so late and I was already pushing check-in I splurged for the taxi, which was 400CZK. I don't know if it's because it's such a small airport or if it's because it was so late, but taxis didn't just show up, you had to call and reserve one, and thankfully the person on the other end of the line spoke enough English to understand where I was going. Upon arrival at my hostel, I was told there was a "technical mixup" and I had a brief moment of panic before the wonderful staff member finished the sentence with "so you'll be in a private room." Which actually turned out to be a private apartment with a small kitchen and living room equipped with a flatscreen TV (which of course I had to document in the morning once the sun was out).
I checked in and immediatley crashed. Since I was exhausted from a few days of running around Brighton to move out of my flat, say my goodbyes, and finishing my dissertation (which still hasn't happened...oops), I slept in and decided to have a relatively relaxed first day of travel.
Jacob Brno Hostel is right across the street from St. James' Church and Ossuary. The church itself is free so it's definitely worth a quick peek inside. I particularly loved the detailed wood carvings on the pews, and the striking black organ against the white walls and ceiling.
The entrance to the ossuary is outside of the church, and costs 70 CZK for the student price, which is about $3.20 or £2.40. They didn't even ask for my student ID (no where in the city did). It's well worth the minimal cost. The history of the ossuary goes back to the 13th century, and it is estimated that there are at least 50 thousand bodies buried here - making it the second largest burial site in Europe (the catacombs in Paris being the largest).
Parts of it makes it seem as if the church above is being supported by the bones.
If you walk about a minute south, you're in Náměstí Svobody (or Liberty Square), the main square of the city. There's a circular fountain (that apparently people swim in and no one seems to blink an eye), a cute and characteristic coffee stand, and the Plague Column which remembers all who died from the plague.
The main attraction of the square is the astronomical clock. In 1645, near the end of the Thirty Year War, Brno became known for thwarting a siege by the Swedish army. After almost three months and Brno citizens not surrendering, the Swedes said they would withdraw if the city did not fall by noon. The locals turned the clock back an hour, so that it read noon at 11:00 AM, and the Swedes retreated. The (very phallic looking) astronomical clock was erected to commemorate this victory. The top two pieces continuously spin with the gears of the clock. At 11:00 AM every day - known as Brno noon - the clock releases a marble that rolls down the clock and then spits it out for people to keep as a souvenir. I unfortunately made it here shortly after 11:00 so didn't get to witness it for myself.
Right around the corner is the Church of St. John and Loreto. There is the main church which has beautifully painted ceilings.
Right next door is the chapel and the Holy Stairs.
A cute (and obviously very hot) dog wandered into the chapel and no one seemed to care. When my friend Natalie, who I spent time in Prague with this past April, heard I was going to Brno, they said "it's so chill." And that is proving to be accurate because there are very few places where dogs in historical churches is accetpable.
I wandered around for a bit and stumbled upon a random display on Tibet (I swear Tibet is following me), the Mahen Theatre, and a giant dog being yelled at by a tiny dog.
When I was in Prague, there was lots of random and weird street art. While it isn't as noticeable here, it does exist, including the disproportional Equestrian Statue of Margrave Jobst of Luxembourg and giant ants.
Soon I stumbled upon Cabbage Market Square, which had a vegetable market and an ice cream cart with an excessively long line (there's currently a heat wave and it was almost 100 degrees F (38 C).
Up next was the gothic-style Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. The church itself was free, but there were two ticket combos you could get. For 30CZK you can get one student combo ticket to the crypt and tower - both of which are very misleading. The "crypt" was just a small room a few steps beneath ground level with some informational posters, only some of which had English translations. The "tower" was again another small room, this time half way up the church, with historical information, all in Czech, and a somewhat pretty stain glass window. Not worth it, but it was cheap so I can't be too bitter.
The other combo ticket (40CZK for students) is the one you really want. It's to the treasury room and the actual tower. The treasury room had a few pretty jewels and artefacts, but all the information was in Czech.
Once you're done in the treasury room, you climb a spiral staircase which soon turns into a zig-zag square shaped staircase until you reach the top of the church and get an incredible view of the city from two sides.
You can also sneak peek through the grates to see the bells (which do their noon ring at 11:00) and the interior of the roof.
What I wasn't expecting was the bells to ring while I was up there. But they did and it was very loud. After heading down I was starving so grabbed a hefty and late lunch at a nearby restaurant.
My next stop was the Capuchin Crypt. This was 45CZK for students. More dead bodies, but not nearly as many as in St. James' Church.
At this point I was getting extremely hot and tired so I made my way to Špilberk park where I sat in the shade for a bit to make a game plan for the rest of the day. There were so many things I still wanted to do, but my energy level was draining and the heat was getting to me so I decided I would wander around the park which includes Špilberk Castle) for a bit, then head back to the hostel to relax for a while. Plus I was already over my daily spending limit between the entrance fees, hostel cost, and enormous lunch (budgeting is real when you are travelling long-term) so didn't want to get in the habit of splurging right off the bat.
The park gave you some nice views of the city, and had some random miniature ponies.
On my way back to the hostel I passed some interesting and pretty sites. First off, the David Černý Pink Tank, a symbol of the fall of communism.
Next the Supreme Administrative Court of the Czech Republic. (In case you didn't know, I have a weird and random obsession with government buildings).
And right across the street was the Moravian Gallery and Governor's Palace.
Soon I arrived at my hostel to cool off and relax. After a while I decided to take a short walk and it was amazing what a few hours and some clouds (which significantly dropped the tempurature) did to the city. The streets went from sparsely populated to filled with people, drinking and talking. I wandered through some kind of festival with lots of street food and local beers.
Brno is a wonderful city. Lots to do, but everything is incredibly close together. I only ended up coming here because it was a cheap flight and got me to the general area where I needed to be, but I'm so glad that it worked out that way.