Our exhausted emotions finally got a break as we traveled back down through the Czech Republic to Moravia. The Czech Republic is divided into two regions, Bohemia, which covers the northern and western territories as well as encircles Prague, and Moravia, which covers the eastern and southern territories.
We traveled first to the largest city in Moravia, Brno (the name just rolls right off the tongue, right?). Apparently the trip seminar used to stop for three nights in Brno, but after much complaining from alcohol- and hormone-driven college students about the lack of “night life” in the small city, they reduced the stay down to one night as a sort of pit stop. Our stay wasn’t even 24 hours but I have to give Brno some credit, it was a great 24 hours. But I also have to give my program some credit as well, more than 24 hours might have been too much.
Other than continuing to be in my little bubble surrounded by gibberish (Czech) that I can’t understand, Brno had a much different feel than Prague despite being the second largest city in the Czech Republic. It isn’t exactly a popular travel destination, although it does have a beautiful cathedral and a castle surrounded by running paths (once again, I find myself running around castles. Seriously, can I get one in Wisconsin?) and it surely isn’t as large, but what I most noticed was how the locals were more willing to give at least a hint of a smile! Hip hip hooray!
For dinner, we went to a packed, rowdy, smoky and all-in-all authentic Czech pub. Unfortunately, I think I have a permanent aroma of smoke covering my whole body from my few hours in the pub, BUT it was so worth it. The atmosphere was phenomenal. Brno, sort of like Madison, is a college town. Despite it being a Monday night, the pub was full of students and otherwise young people enjoying some brew. The menu was authentic Czech cuisine, and I ordered the only staple Czech dish that didn’t appear to be the entire top half of an animal, goulash with dumplings along with a velky pivo (big beer) of course. Some of my rather adventurous and brave friends ordered pork knuckle. I tried a piece and immediately regretted putting the hunking piece of sheer fat into my mouth in one bite. Imagine the texture of something that is called pork knuckle,and you get exactly what you picture. They are brave souls. And they finished it! Brave souls, indeed.
I must now digress a tidge and share an anecdote from Brno which is specifically aimed towards my friends and colleagues that make fun of my northern Wisconsin speech…
I am what you would call a freak of nature when it comes to your typical college student- I wake up at 6AM….because I want to. Sometimes I wake up to study, sometimes to run, or sometimes just to have my much needed “Maarja time” but nevertheless I have gotten into the habit of rising early everyday. And my schedule was no different while on the traveling seminar. Waking up early tends to dwindle my odds of having breakfast companions, so in Brno, per usual, I went down to the continental breakfast to dine by myself. The room was entirely full with a departing tour group but I was lucky enough to snatch the one open table. Halfway into my breakfast however, a man in his 50s or so asked to join me as he was also dining alone. I obliged, thinking we’d simply share a table, not conversation. Obviously, I was wrong. My new friend was an expert linguist and possibly the chattiest Cathy I had ever met. But possibly also one of the most intriguing people I’ve met. As a professor at the University of Potsdam in Germany, his studies focused on the Slavic languages, specifically Russian. I inquired how many languages he spoke and what was his reply, you ask? Not six, seven, or even nine languages, but 22! He spoke 22 languages fluently. I felt so bashful with my mere English and Spanish (Czech does not count…clearly).
The more we spoke and the more questions he asked, I began to get the feeling he was analyzing my speech. And sure enough, partway through the conversation he exclaims, “Your English is very excellent, you don’t sound American at all but more British.”I was a little taken aback but I explained that perhaps since I’m from northern Wisconsin that my English has a more Canadian sound and he said, “Oh yes, that explains it. It is wonderful!”
I announced on the bus later that day if anybody would like to make fun of how I say “bag” one more time (this happens quite frequently since most of my program is from the east coast), they may refer to my linguist friend Peter Costas. I will name drop him until the day I die. Mr. Costas has no idea how much he helped me out.
I apologize for the digression…And now back to Brno…
After my hour-long breakfast with my new friend, the rest of the program was breaking fast as well and we headed to the only Roma museum in Central Europe. The Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and are present in every single European country but are predominantly located in Central and Eastern Europe. They experience severe discrimination resulting in poverty, unemployment, poor housing conditions, and lack of schooling. We have been learning about the Roma people in one of my classes so it was a treat to go to the museum and walk through the Romany neighborhood. After our tour, I was lucky enough to play with two Romany children for a little bit through the museum’s community program. Despite the children speaking only Czech, I quickly learned that when it comes to kids, a smile can go a long ways and even hurdle the language barrier entirely.
From Brno we traveled south towards the Austrian border to Mikulov, aka my future retirement residence. And by retirement I’m thinking like 30 or so, none of this 70-something business. I could make a life worth’s living in 10 years as a hard-working journalist, right? So maybe not, but luckily Mikulov isn’t going anywhere and will be waiting for me when I’m senile, wrinkly, and ready to spend my days drinking some Moravian wine and complaining about kids’ fashion ‘these days.’
Southern Moravia is the Czech Republic’s wine country. With rolling hills and vineyards as far as you can see, little vineyard towns dot the countryside and attract summer visitors. It is beautiful, there is no other way to describe it. The little town of Mikulov itself is built into a hillside and has quaint winding streets that all lead to some form of a vineyard or another. We were told by our guide that the town was influenced by Greek and Italian architecture and structure. It felt like we were on a little “island” of paradise, secluded from the rest of the industrial Czech Republic.
Our one organized activity for Mikulov was none other than wine tasting- what else would we do in wine country?!
For 150 Kc (a little over 8 bucks) we “tasted” seven different Moravian wines, four white and three red. And I say “tasted” because these were by no means delicate portions, but rather full glasses. Seven glasses of wine for $8- Moravia is sounding better and better, right?
Like Brno, we only stayed for one night in Mikulov, but unlike Brno, we were dying to stay more. And we would have if Vienna hadn’t been on the agenda….
Up Next: Well, I can Viennese Waltz…