Road trip Czech Republic Day 4: Back home via Lednice-Valtice

On our way back home, we decided to stop at what would be the last UNESCO world heritage site for our trip. This wasn’t on our plan originally, but it was recommended by our guide in Brno. The Lednice-Valtice cultural landscape was the perfect end to our UNESCO road-trip. The Liechtensteins (yes, the one and the same who rule the principality of Liechtenstein) came into possession of a castle in Lednice in the 13th century. Over the course of 3 centuries, between the 17th and 20th, the Liechtensteins transformed this area into its current state.

We decided not to do a guided tour, but to simply walk around the huge park. However, if you’d like to know a bit more about the park, I would recommend you take a look here. We lucked out with the weather and as we made our way through the meandering paths, we came across a minaret. When I first laid eyes on it, I was absolutely confused but, at the same time awestruck. When we reached the minaret, we learned that in keeping with the aristocratic fashions of the time, the Liechtensteins built the minaret in their garden as a testament to international romanticism. For a much more detailed history of the minaret I would recommend that you go here. The article has pictures of one of the rooms as well, which was closed when we visited Lednice. However, we did climb up the 302 steps for a better view of the park, all the way to the chateau.

After getting down the minaret, we noticed that there was a boat-ride available on the river Dyje, which took us through the Lednice landscape. It was just what we needed to wind-down after our cultural mini-tour. Don’t get me wrong. I love learning about new cultures and taking in as much information as I can, but if I am honest, after a few days of sight-seeing and guided tours, I need some down time which allows me to recap everything I learned and experienced, as well as reflect on it.

The cool, refreshing breeze during the boat-ride, instilled in me a sense of renewal. Even as I write this in the year of Corona, I can remember the feeling of contentment and the renewal of hope, that describes what I felt during the boat-ride.

Road trip Czech Republic Day 2: Litomyšl to Brno via Olomouc

                           Litomyšl at a glance
Pronunciation: Litohmishul                       
Birthplace of : Bedřich Smetana (composer of "The Moldau")
Population: approx. 10,429 (as of 2019)         
To note: About the same latitude as Winnipeg

We arrived in Litomyšl as the sun set which made the entire, already picturesque main square, even more enchanting. Our hotel was at one end of the main square, which gave us a wonderful view of the sun-set. We took a leisurely stroll under the arcade before getting dinner.

After a good night’s rest, we woke up to greet a beautiful sunny day, ready to take in the beautiful world heritage sites and the Czech country roads. The birth-place of the composer Bedřich Smetana, Litomyšl, at the time of this writing in 2020, is home to one world heritage site. The Renaissance castle which sits atop Castle Hill, is a short walk from the main square. The moment we turned on to Jiráskova, the white sgraffito bricks nearly took my breath away. There was little doubt that we had indeed arrived at our destination.

It would be remiss of me, if I didn’t mention that the design on each of the sgraffito bricks is different. Of course, I didn’t check to see if this fact is accurate, but I will just believe the experts on that one. The motives on the courtyard walls depicted scenes from antiquity, which should come as no surprise really, since it is a Rennaisance castle. They were absolutely spectacular. I think one of them depicts the kidnapping of Helen of Troy, but I am not sure.

We opted to do a tour, which was in Czech, but they gave us a booklet in English so we could follow along. The tour took us through all of the rooms inside, which were decorated lavishly.The highlight of the tour though was the wooden theater, which opened in 1798. Located on the ground floor, the auditorium is two stories high, with the Duke’s box at the top. The theater reminded me a lot of the paper mâché queen’s theater at Versailles.

After our tour ended, we made a quick stop at the cathedral next to the castle, before making our way to Olomouc. I love visiting cathedrals, churches, or any other places of worship in other countries. I found the organ here to be really ornate. We lit a candle at the altar and made our way to the next world heritage site.

                               Olomouc at a glance
Pronunciation: olo-mook                      
Oldest settlement: Paleolithic 
Population: approx. 100,663 (as of 2020)         
To note: In 1767 Mozart composed Symphony No. 6 in F major in Olomouc

We arrived in Olomouc a little after 1 o’clock in the afternoon. We had already booked an English tour beforehand, which started at 3, so we decided to get some coffee and a small bite to eat. Olomouc is home to one UNESCO world heritage site, but it is famous for one of the stinkiest cheeses of the Czech Republic. However, our tour guide told us that it actually originated in the neighboring town and was falsely attributed to Olomouc. You can only imagine the rivalry and bitterness that ensued. If you are interested in knowing about the Olomouc cheese, I would recommend going here.

After coffee, we walked towards the main square where we waited for our guide to arrive. There was to be an event in the evening, and so we were treated to the Olomouc Symphony which was practicing for the event. Their rehearsal made me wish we had tickets! Our guide arrived on time and we began our tour at the Holy Trinity column, which is the world heritage site we traveled to Olomouc to see.

The 35 meter tall Holy Trinity column was built between 1716 and 1754, to commemorate the Catholic Church and to show gratitude for the end of the plague. The column is adorned with statues of 18 saints and 15 biblical reliefs. The details on the reliefs are simply spectacular. The column is also home to an inner chapel, which is very mesmerizing. Four years after the column was finished, Olomouc was attacked by the Prussian army in 1758 and the column was hit by canon shots. The residents of Olomouc at the time begged the Prussian general to spare the monument, which he did. At the end of the war, the column was rebuilt and a stone replica of a cannon ball embedded in it as a reminder.

After the Holy Trinity column, we made our way to the northern wall of the town-hall. There stood one of the two astronomical clocks in Czech Republic (the other one is in Prague). Originally built in the 15th century, it was completely destroyed shortly before the end of WWII by retreating German soldiers, and rebuilt in the Socialist realism style. If I may be honest, although the Holy Trinity column is beautiful, I was more drawn to the astronomical clock. Even if it is not as ornate as the one in Prague, I found it nonetheless very impressive.

We made our way through the inner-city of Olomouc, visiting the 6 Baroque fountains (Hercules, Caesar, Jupiter, Mercury, Neptune and Triton) as well as the park along the old city wall. During our walk through the city we were also treated to the street art. There was an Alien sculpture which especially caught my eye. Olomouc is a university town and the vibe this city has reflects this.

We ended our tour at the St. Wenceslas Cathedral. The cathedral has very beautiful stain-glass windows and the atmosphere inside was very peaceful. Of course, I had to light a candle and just take a minute to soak in the peace and harmony.

After the tour, we walked back to the main square and decided to get some dinner. We braved it and got the fried Olomouc cheese as an appetizer. The smell is quite strong, but I kinda liked the taste. The meal was the perfect end to our perfect day of sight-seeing. With our bellies full, we made our way to Brno for a good night’s sleep.

Road Trip SE Czech Republic Day1: Vienna to Litomyšl via Třebíč

Since I’ve been a homebody the last 5 weeks due to the COVID-19, I decided to quench my wanderlust, and use this free time, to post something here by reminiscing about the road-trip we took back in May, 2018. As some of you may already know, my partner and I like to take a road-trip each year to visit world heritage sites along the way. This time we decided to drive through south-eastern Czech Republic. There are in total 8 world heritage sites in south-east Czech Republic spanning the regions of Vysočina, Pardubice, Olomouc, Zlín and south Moravian. On our trip, we managed to visit only 5 of them because of time constraints. We started our journey in Vienna, visiting Třebíč, Litomyšl, Olomouc, Brno and Lednice over the next four days.

                               At a glance
Pronunciation: Trehbeach                       
Virtual Tour: Yes
Population: approx. 36000 (as of 2020)         
To note: About the same latitude as Vancouver
The banks of the river Jihlava in Třebíč
Blue lanterns and old houses. The lanterns were decorated with blue in honor of the Zámostí festival.

After a 3 hour drive, we arrived in the town of Třebíč, which is home to the UNESCO heritage site Jewish Quarter and St Procopius’ Basilica, which as the name suggests, consists of two different cultural landmarks. The Jewish Quarter includes the Třebíč ghetto as well as the Jewish cemetery. The Jewish community was also part of the German-speaking minority of this region. We arrived just in time for our tour through the Jewish Quarter which we had booked through the Třebíč tourist center. The tour began at the Rear Synagogue, and at first we were led through the Seligmann Bauer house which is next door.

When you walk through the front door, you first step into a 1930s store-front. This was a very unique display for me. It looked like a storefront one would see in a period film. We continued upstairs where the kitchen, dining area and bedrooms were located. There was no running water in the building during the inter-war period, which was highlighted by the carefully placed washing tubs and wash basins throughout the apartment. Walking through the house was like traveling back in time. The house to me felt so cozy, even though it was sparsely decorated. The closets left an impression on me. Even though they were small, they weren’t overly stuffed. Of course, it could just be that the exhibit wasn’t really representing the times, but I read somewhere that before WWII, people didn’t really own that many clothes. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of these rooms, but luckily the city of Třebíč has provided a virtual tour of the house. Just click here for the semi-real deal!

After the tour of the house, we continued on to the Rear Synagogue which was built in the Baroque style. The walls of the Synagogue are painted with beautiful murals and also have Hebrew scripture written on them. This was the first time I had ever been inside a synagogue!

From the synagogue we walked through the quarter, taking in the serenity of the quiet lanes. We visited the old ceremonial baths as well. There were memorials to the victims of the Holocaust, in the form of small bronze squares, embedded in the cobblestones throughout the quarter. After our tour, we decided to walk up to the Jewish cemetery. The road up to the cemetery provided some really nice views of the Jewish quarter, the Basilica and the city center of Třebíč.

When we reached the cemetery, I was surprised to see that it was well-preserved and well-maintained. There were many beautiful tombstones there, but it didn’t sit well with me to take pictures. The virtual tour does have some nice shots of the cemetery though.

After paying our respects, we made our way back down to get something refreshing to cool-off. We found a cozy little cafe, where we drank some refreshing lemonade and waited for our guided tour of the St. Procopius’ Basilica. The namesake of Saint Procopius, the basilica was built on the site of an existing chapel of the Benedictine monastery. Saint Procopius, a Bohemian hermit, was canonized in 1204.

The basilica has a very interesting history. At one point, it was used as a stable for horses, with the crypts being used to store beer! Today, it is used as a place of worship, for which it was originally intended. The murals inside are well-preserved. In fact, to date, they are some of most complete murals I’ve ever seen! Also, some of the timber used in the ceiling, were from the old chapel which was at the site previously.

In my view, Třebíč is a testament to two different cultures co-existing in harmony, despite the fact that the city was indeed segregated along the lines of religion. It was definitely worth visiting Třebíč, and now you can visit it virtually too!

After the tour of St. Procopius’ Basilica, we drove on to Litomyšl, where we stayed the night. We stayed near the city-center, which is very picturesque. We enjoyed some delicious local fare and then headed straight to bed for some rest.

Goodnight Litomyšl

Road Trip SW Germany Day 1: Maulbronn, Speyer, Heidelberg

In the summer of 2017, my partner and I decided to take a road trip across south-west Germany. The main goal of our trip? To cover all the UNESCO world heritage sites in this part of Germany. And yeah. That’s a thing. We decided after the trip to make this a yearly tradition, because you know. Why not?

Before I blab on about our journey, let me back up a bit. So why south-west Germany? Well, we live in the region, and were in desperate need of a vacation. But money was tight, so we thought well how about a good ol’ road trip. Turns out that they are not really popular here, which I found odd, cause people seem to love RVs here. And what do you do with any RV? Go on road trips!

Anyway, I digress. We loaded up my partner’s car with our back-packs, a six-pack of water and snacks, and were ready to go. Not to forget a special road trip playlist! Our trip lasted a grand total of 6 days. We covered 805km of Autobahns and Bundesstraßen across 4 states, and visited 7 world heritage sites.

Day 1: Maulbronn-Speyer-Heidelberg

We started the day quiet early so that we could beat the rush-hour traffic on the Autobahn. Maulbronn monastery, which was listed as a World Heritage site in 1993, made a lasting impression on me. Although it was a sunny day, and I had my fleece on, it was still chilly inside the abbey for me. I kept wondering how the monks survived in the winter time there. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to walk around the abbey and soak in the old frescoes. I highly recommend taking the audio guide, which is also available in English.

Maulbronn Monastery

After spending some hours at the abbey, we continued northward towards Speyer. The seat of the Bishop of Speyer, the Speyer Cathedral was added to the heritage list in 1981. Consecrated in 1081, it is the largest Romanesque cathedral in the world. The red sandstone walls, the chapels and sculptures, the crypt and the organ, together make the cathedral a testament to Romanesque architecture in medieval Germany.

Speyer Cathedral

After visiting the Speyer Cathedral, or Dom as the Germans would say, we drove north-west to the beautiful city of Heidelberg, where we ate a lovely Lebanese dinner and spent the night. Although not a UNESCO world heritage site, it is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a ‘City of Literature’.

Heidelberg Castle