Besides a typical week of classes and life in Znojmo, I successfully went on 3-day trips this week! One thing I love about living in another country is that I am motivated to do lots of excursions, when otherwise at home I might opt for watching television or making the excuse that I am too busy. Even after coming home from studying in Prague I told myself I would take advantage of some of the great things to see in the US. Of course, life gets in the way and I did not keep that resolution.
In general, Czech culture lends itself well to exploration of local sights to see. The country is small so it is easy to take a short drive to visit a new place. The Czech Republic is known for its large number of castles (I think it has the second highest number after England) and even the smallest towns of this secular country usually have a beautiful church in the center. Also it is not hard to drive an hour and immediately be in some sort of park or forest. Czechs are very outdoorsy and enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing, and mushrooming (searching in the forest for mushrooms). I have observed that Czech people are also much closer to their families. Children spend a lot more time at home, and it is common for adults to live close to their parents and parents-in law. Even university students come home on the weekends from school to see their families and save money. Czechs also rarely eat in restaurants so family cooking is very important. Some students even go home for lunch everyday for their parents’ home cooked hot lunch.
On Sunday, Jana and her family took me to Vranov, a popular vacation spot from the Communist era. On the way we took pictures of the Vranov Chateau, which was featured in the Vin Diesel movie, “XXX.” We watched it later on that night, but Hollywood did some special effects editing to place the chateau in the Alps and to be surrounded by a lake. The Vranov dam looked like a large lake, and many Czechs have summer cottages here. Jana told me that this place used to be nicknamed the “Czech Adriatic Sea,” because during Communism it was impossible to travel to the actual Adriatic. Some Czech people I have met have still never been to the ocean or the Mediterranean. They are all baffled when I tell them I can drive 45 minutes and go to the Jersey shore.
On Thursday, some of the Czech friends I met during my orientation in Brno came to visit and we went hiking in Podyjí National Park, which borders Znojmo. We hiked to a famous lookout point called Kralův Stolec or “King’s Seat.” After several days of rain, it was beautiful on a sunny day. I am not entirely used to hiking and following trail signs, but luckily we made it there and back successfully.
Then on Friday, I went with my new friend Hana to Lednice Castle. We drove for about an hour each way through the flat South Moravian landscape of fields and vineyards. Finally we arrived and visited the Greenhouse, which felt like a jungle. The Liechtenstein Family traveled frequently and brought back different plants from each place. Some of the trees were 500 years old! We also had a tour of the inside, which had amazing woodwork and a beautiful spiral staircase in the library entirely made of one tree. Unfortunately, I am feeling sick so we had to run out of the tour, but I was able to see most of it. Next we walked around the large garden complex. According to Wikipedia, it is the largest park in the country. It was beautiful, despite the rain, and I liked it because it felt more natural than the extremely tailored and ornate gardens of Versailles or Schönbrunn. Opposite the castle in the gardens is a huge Minaret with Arabic inscriptions. Apparently, the owners wanted to build a mosque for its exotic factor, but this was all they got around to. I was surprised to find some trace of Islam in the Czech Republic. Hana was a great guide and I hope to see her a lot this year when she comes home on the weekends from university in Olomouc!
Coming up this week: Prague for another Fulbright orientation!