48 hours in Moravia

On into Moravia, the other half of the Czech lands. Long vistas of rolling land, field and heath and forests that are just as cool and dense and lush, if a little more coniferous than in Bohemia.

At a small town called Telč, surrounded by fishponds, there is a pub named Armageddon, and another perfectly preserved village square:

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Even though it is almost cold enough to see your breath, there is still a roaring trade in ice cream cones. Another renaissance castle, another enthusiastic tour guide, another variant on the ghost story about the lady of the manor who appears in various colours of gloves (white portending marriage and childbirth, red fire, black death).

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At Brno, the capital of Moravia, the weather is warmer, and almost everyone out in the city squares in the evening is male, 20s or 30s. In the main square there’s a group of English lads drinking rowdily; I guess Ryanair must have a route here. In the morning, the locals are drinking calmly in the same square at 10.00, just like in Slovakia last year.

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Brno has another tall Gothic cathedral with forceful baroque drama-decorations; but here there’s also a Capuchin monastery where, until the 18th century, they put their dead in a coffin with a removable base, stood it on the floor in the crypt, and slid the bottom out so the corpse fell on the floor. Then they stuck a couple of bricks under its head and took the coffin back upstairs for reuse next time. They considered this practice a habit of poverty. The stiffs are there to this day, along with their ranking benefactors, who were lucky enough to get glass cases. What remains of their flesh is a pasty, muddy grey-brown leathery substance hung on a skeleton wrapped in muddy grey-brown rags, each rictus grinning through the mud like, well, death – except for the woman (as if you could tell it was a woman) who they mistook for dead and buried prematurely, her hand and face caught in a spasm of agony.

Cremation for me, thanks.

Olomouc is a York-sized university town remarkable for two stellar microbreweries, one of which – St. Moritz – has a deck in the open air across the street in the local park, with a kids’ play area. I sat there for a couple of hours in the sun digging their creations, and could happily have stayed for a couple of days.

Among the winding medieval streets – no tourists – there was a church of St. Michael; in the belfry four newly cast post-communist bells, each with a full explanation of its provenance, and a notice in three languages inviting you to switch the light on so you can see, but please turn it off when you leave. Nobody was there when I arrived, but the light was on anyway. In the basement, a spring, allegedly the fount of the town’s origin myth: a Roman military camp was established around it by no less than Julius Caesar (I’ll have to check his journals, but this is some way north of the Danube…) In the church, a sense of deep, calm peace. Could have stayed there a couple of days too.

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In the main town square there was an astronomical clock – the other one in the Republic besides the well-photographed one in Prague. This one was shot up by retreating German troops in 1945; the Communists replaced the saints, as you can probably see, with figures from the vanguard of the proletarian revolution. Every hour on the hour, the blacksmith at top left strikes his anvil to the sound of a bell…

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I am generally pretty good about judging from the available information how long I will need to stay in a place, but I got this one wrong. The kids, our desert rats, have been pestering us for ages to take them a place where there is snow – real snow, not the Ski Dubai variety. Maybe Olomouc should feature in our plans…

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