Olomouc with its old town square, cobblestones and astronomical clock is like Prague, but without the crowds
“They say we are going to Olomouc and Olomouc is a very decent town” (War and Peace)
Tolstoy liked Olomouc and so did I. It tends to be overlooked by travellers, probably because most have never heard of it, but the obvious charms of the city and the passionate owners of Poets' Corner Hostel are doing much to make this a worthwhile destination.
Olomouc is a two and a quarter hour train ride east of Prague. It has one of the Czech Republic’s largest universities so naturally there is a vibrant café and bar scene. There are about 100,000 inhabitants and the centre is small and easy to explore by foot. Beautiful buildings are in abundance, including the UNESCO World Heritage listed Holy Trinity Column.
If the shock of the crowds in Prague gets too much then Olomouc is an ideal escape and can give you a feel for what Prague might have been like before it was “discovered”.
“…run by former backpackers who fell in love with Olomouc and decided not to leave.” (Poets' Corner Hostel website)
The Australian owners of Poets' Corner Hostel, Greg and Francie, ensured that I felt very welcome. On arrival Francie presented me with a “treasure map” that showed the main points of interest. She took time to sit down at the table and discuss places to eat and the best things to see; she clearly loved Olomouc and was passionate about ensuring guests enjoyed their stay.
The hostel itself feels more like a friend’s flat with the comfy living room and homely kitchen. Guests can help themselves to fresh herbs growing on the balcony for their cooking and even make use of a fondue set! The beds are the most comfortable I have ever found in a hostel and this is no accident because Francie and Greg set out to create the kind of place that they themselves would choose to stay in as backpackers.
A unique aspect of staying here is that Greg and Francie often lead impromptu outings; during my stay they took all the hostel guests to a newly opened tea house. The video I have attached shows the great effort that the hostel owners have put into making this a special place to stay.
A bed in a shared dorm costs 300 CZK per night and a private double room is 900 CZK.
"... I shall raise a column so high and splendid it shall not have an equal in any other town" (Václav Render, master stonemason who started work on the Holy Trinity Column)
Sometimes I see things during my travels that make me stop and stare in wonderment. The Holy Trinity Column is one of those things and it is comforting to know that UNESCO thought the same and added it to the World Heritage List. It was completed in 1754 as a Catholic monument and is covered in beautiful sculptures of saints. It is the largest column in Europe and even contains a small chapel.
The column sits in the historic main square that also includes the Town Hall. See if you can spot a bizarre sculpture of a man suspended from the town hall - this is Sigmund Freud, created by the famous artist David Černý. There is a colourful and quirky astronomical clock on the Town Hall that has a fascinating story to explain its socialist theme. In the final weeks of the Second World War, the retreating German army shot up the original clock, which was said to be as beautiful as the one in Prague. It was rebuilt in the 1950s with stoic Soviet worker figures instead of saints. Unlike the Prague clock this one does not receive hordes of tourists to watch it every hour.
There are so many towers with views in Europe, so is there anything unique about St Moritz Cathedral? There certainly is! The spiral staircase is a double-helix arrangement meaning that visitors going up and those going down do not clash, but trying to figure out how this works is a real brain tease. The Cathedral is also home to central Europe’s largest organ which can be heard at services and the International Organ Music Festival (www.mfo.cz).
Olomouc is graced with over 25 fountains. Wandering the narrow streets, admiring the architecture and enjoying the distinct lack of tourists, it will be impossible to avoid encounters with the six Baroque fountains with their Roman themes.
The heavy sounding Archdiocese Museum (50 CZK, free on Wednesday and Sunday. Vaclávské náměstí 3) is actually pleasant and not overwhelming. It is in gorgeous buildings with a small amount of magnificent art work and some elaborately bejewelled religious objects, like chalices.
Cracking café culture
Café 87 is all about the chocolate pie (30 CZK) and devouring this is an absolute must-do Olomouc activity. The place has huge windows that let sunlight flood in, the clientele is largely of the student type and the furniture has a modern Scandinavian appearance. (Denisova 47; www.outsideprague.com/olomouc/cafe_87.html).
Kavárna Narodni dum has a bright interior of creamy leather sofas and brown wooden tables. There are lovely big prints of Olomouc buildings on the walls and the coffees come with a free biscuit with jam in the middle. (8. kvEtna 21; www.narodnidum.eu).
Kratochvile Tea House has an interesting choice of seating; I selected the wicker chairs under the skylight, but there are also hammock chairs and cushions. The place smells magical because of the buttery popcorn and water pipes available in flavours like cherry, plum and coconut (from 80 CZK). There are teas with intriguing names, such as “scent of apple strudel” and “amorous Shakespeare”, but I stuck with a green tea (45 CZK). This seemed to be a bottomless teapot because in the time it took me to finish it my friend had two lattes and a beer. The bowl of cashew nuts and the Armenian honey cake called Marlenka were delightful companions for my tea.
(Sokolská 36, www.outsideprague.com/olomouc/cafe_kratochvile.html)
A bowl of lard, but we asked for a sausage!
There are plenty of restaurants and pubs to occupy evenings in Olomouc and if you stay at Poets' Corner they will be able to recommend enough to keep you going for weeks.
We had a great night in Svatováclavský pivovar (Mariánská 4; www.svatovaclavsky-pivovar.cz ) which is one of those typical Czech beer halls with a large room of plain decor filled with the buzz of many conversations. The menu is mostly meaty with things that go well with beer, like steak, pork tenderloin and fried cheese. There was a humorous moment when we were victims of the only mistake in the English menu translation resulting in us being presented with a bowl of lard instead of a sausage. The beer is superb and one of my glasses even had a cherry floating in the bottom of the glass (it was meant to be there, honestly!). Mains from 115 CZK and a litre of beer from 50 CZK.
I love coming across random things that make you smile, such as the menu entries at U Anděla (Hrnčířská 10; www.uandela.cz ). “Mr Kelly’s Kebab” got me wondering what this gentleman is like and whether he is friends with Mr Dubsky of “Mr Dubsky’s Scone” fame. Did they have acquaintance with the individual behind “Pepek’s Chicken Steak”? Regardless of the names on the menu this is delicious food in a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the botanical gardens that are great for a post-lunch leg stretch. I can highly recommend the grilled salmon salad. Mains from around 120 CZK.
Trains from Prague take about 2 hours 15 minutes. There are also rail connections with Vienna (3 hours) and Krakow (5 hours). Take a look at Czech Railways' website: www.cdrail.cz