Within the hearty city pub of Olomouc within the Czech Republic, egged on by the locals round me, I order the “Guttery Breath of the Knight of Lostice” — Olomouc’s notorious smelly cheese. It comes with a lid, mints and the provide of a toothbrush. (The fun-loving menu notes they solely have one toothbrush, so I decline.)
Olomouc (pronounced OH-la-mootz), the historic capital of Moravia within the east of the Czech Republic, is thought for its cheese. Non-Moravian Czechs determine there are two sorts of individuals on the planet: Olomouc cheese-lovers and sane individuals. The syrecky cheese — which is aged underneath hunks of meat — is a lot a part of this area’s identification that when the European Union tried to forbid the product, the Czech authorities negotiated for particular permission to proceed to rot their milk within the time-honored Olomouc custom.
Olomouc gives the proper antidote to fashionable, crowded Prague. Simply 2½ hours away from Prague by categorical prepare, Olomouc makes a effective day journey. Whilst you’re not more likely to see a single American in Olomouc, you will notice a McDonald’s — perched regally on the huge predominant sq.. It’s the favourite of native kids. They demand french fries and vanilla ice cream for birthdays, and eat with gusto whereas the entire household sits round watching and taking pictures. It’s entertaining to hang around right here with people from the countryside who come right here proudly dressed of their Sunday greatest, for a “Bikmek” style of the world.
Relatively than a Large Mac, for me Olomouc’s appeal is its provincial Habsburg atmosphere with a crusty, now kitschy layer of communist appeal. Its circa-Nineteen Fifties prepare station — small, cute, and nearly toy-like — continues to be embellished with propaganda murals. Vacationers are greeted by mosaics of shiny, pleased staff and peasants dancing round their hammers and sickles with a Maypole-type gaiety.
Whereas there’s loads of dangerous communist heritage, one good leftover from that period is okay, still-subsidized public transit. Driving from the station into the city middle for pennies, you discover how public transit is second nature for locals with dirt-cheap month-to-month passes who probably won’t ever want a automobile — or know learn how to drive one.
As in Prague, the centerpiece of the city sq. is a big medieval astronomical clock. Destroyed in World Conflict II, right now’s model was rebuilt within the Nineteen Fifties by the Communists — with their aptitude for propaganda. Within the Social Realist type of the communist period, relatively than saints and Marys, you have got earnest chemists and heroic moms. Excessive midday is marked by a proletarian parade as, for six minutes, a mechanical conga line of milkmaids, clerks, smithies, medics and lecturers are celebrated because the champions of on a regular basis society.
As in any correct astrological clock, there’s a wheel marked with the names of 365 saints (one for every single day of the yr), so that you’ll all the time know whose big day it’s. However this clock comes with a Moscow-inspired bonus — small crimson bands splice within the birthdays of communist leaders, too, corresponding to Lenin (who was born on the 112th day of the yr in 1870). Stalin shares his day with St. Toman. And the clock’s designers had been optimists — the mechanism displaying the yr is able to spinning as much as AD 9999.
Olomouc’s few surviving communist-era lamp posts include twin Nineteen Seventies-era audio system. To locals additionally they include poignant reminiscences. These had been the blaring mouthpieces of governmental boasting of successes (“This yr, we can have tangerines for Christmas”) and calling individuals to motion (“There will probably be no faculty tomorrow as all will be a part of the farmers within the fields for an plentiful harvest”).
A showcase of Baroque metropolis planning, Olomouc is the Czech Republic’s fourth-largest metropolis (inhabitants 100,000) and harbors Moravia’s most prestigious college. College students rule the city. With its wealth of cafes, golf equipment and eating places, Olomouc is the place to style a vibrant Czech tradition for half the worth of Prague.
Olomouc has pleasure. Whereas it dominated Moravia from the eleventh century till 1642, right now it’s clearly taking part in second fiddle to Prague within the trendy Czech Republic. Locals brag that Olomouc has the nation’s second most vital bishopric and its second college. Olomouc truly constructed its bell tower within the nineteenth century to be six toes taller than Prague’s.
Olomouc is unequalled in a single class: Its plague monument is the tallest and most grandiose wherever. Squares all through Jap Europe are dotted with related constructions, erected by locals to offer thanks for surviving the good plague. On consecration day in 1754, essentially the most highly effective girl in Europe, Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa, knelt to wish — religious, but resentful. Olomouc had a plague column grander than Vienna’s.
For a style of workaday Moravia, a bit nudge on Stalin’s birthday and a few cheese you’ll always remember, make your option to Olomouc.
Edmonds resident Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European guidebooks, hosts journey reveals on public TV and radio, and organizes European excursions. This column revisits a few of Rick’s favourite locations over the previous 20 years. You may e mail Rick at [email protected] and comply with his weblog on Fb.