Brno is in the eastern half of the country, known as Moravia (Prague is in the other half, Bohemia). It is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, after Prague of course, and is absolutely enchanting. Stunning architecture, delightful Christmas markets, beautiful kind people, and an almost complete lack of tourists. It was incredible and I loved it. I actually enjoyed it far more than Prague, but that's another story for another post.
Let's start at the very beginning ("a very good place to start..."). Luke and I flew into Brno Wednesday evening, and although he likes to joke about women empowerment, he did a good job not taking it too far (a pleasant surprise, Christine Capp) and making sure I didn't get lost, kidnapped, or murdered my first night in a foreign country. I hung out at his dorm for a couple hours, and after he got back from his evening class we found my hostel and I checked in.
That last sentence makes it sounds so simple.
When I arrived, I discovered that the hostel was located over a club/bar, so I had to maneuver my way through the dark, noisy, packed, smokey masses to find the check-in desk. When a guy finally showed up at the desk (really just the corner of the bar), he was nice enough, but when he showed me to my room, the trip there was like something out of a horror movie. The pictures don't quite do it justice, especially since I took them in the daylight later. First he unlocked a large iron gate,
then pulled open a big, creaky, wooden door as the gate slammed behind us. I followed him up two flights of dark stone stairs, past seemingly abandoned rooms to another large iron door, significantly creepier than the first,
up some more stairs, down a hallway, and through the third locked door into my empty room. After he left and I locked the door behind him, I decided that having a room to myself was an unexpected bonus, and that Travis Bradburn would have approved of the fact that he made me unlock all the doors myself so that I would remember which key was for which. :) So overall, despite the creepiness, my second ever hostel experience was positive.
The next afternoon I walked in and met Luke at The Red Brick Church. Seriously, that's what everyone calls it, even the Czech people.
Luke spent the semester studying at Masaryk University:
It is named for T.G. Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, who is nearly a legend to the Czech people.
We walked around for a while, but he had a lot of work to do since he had been gone visiting for a week and was almost at the end of his semester, so I explored most of the city by myself. I hate traveling by myself at night, but during the day, it's great. You can go anywhere you want, be as nerdy as you like, meander everywhere, all without having to worry about entertaining anyone else.
There are some extravagantly lovely churches in Brno. The St. James' Church (Kostel Sv. Jakuba):
And walking back out onto the street:
The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul (Katedrála Sv. Petra a Pavla), which is on the 10 Kč coin, is up on a hill in the middle of town, with magnificent architecture and perhaps the most stunning stained glass I have ever seen (no pictures allowed inside, sorry):
And as viewed from Hrad Špilberk:
Hrad Špilberk is the castle of Brno. It was built in the mid-13th century and has served as royal residence, military fortress, army barracks, and infamous prison for everyone from French revolutionaries to Hungarian Jacobins to Italian patriots to Polish insurrectionists to Czech opponents of the Nazi regime. An ugly history, but a majestic structure:
The castle has intense fortifications,
and a stunning view.
Thursday night Luke took me to his English Christian Fellowship and I met some beautiful Czech Christians who were so kind and had incredible English and became instant friends. I went on an adventure with them Friday night and we climbed The Old Town Hall (Stara Radnice), which was the seat of the local government from the 1200s until 1935.
The front portal has these sweet famous crooked spires about the origins of which there are all kinds of legends:
We also roamed the Christmas markets and went out for traditional Czech food afterwards. Oh, the Christmas markets. The ones in Brno are freaking awesome. Maybe my favorite part. I'm pretty sure no one in Brno works the entire month of December. They just all pack into the city square to leisurely wander around the Christmas market booths, meet friends, drink hot mead with honey, and eat every ridiculous Czech carnival snack you can imagine. It's so fun.
The last day I was there, I walked all the way out to the western edge of the town, where the city is hemmed in by forrested hills as if to hide it from the rest of the world. Staring up at the hills, my imagination began to fly: "Wouldn't it be sweet to go for a hike in the forests of Moravia?" And so I started climbing. I hiked all the way up, picking my way through silent wintery woods until I reached the summit of the nearest hill. It was so beautiful and so peaceful. And so satisfying.
The charm of Brno is beyond what I can describe. There are so many other wonderful things there (the Alfons Mucha museum, the theater, the streets themselves...), but I'll just leave you with a few more pictures in hopes that I can somehow give you a glimpse of the beauty:
" Your father's blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers." Genesis 49:26
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