I’m finding that anyone who’s been to, or is thinking about going to, the Czech Republic, has never heard of Ostrava. Rick Steves doesn’t mention it. When you Google it, you’re nearly always redirected to Prague. When I talk to Czechs and tell them I’m going to Ostrava or that I love it here, they unilaterally are confused, surprised, and wonder if I’ve never been to Prague. Ostrava has a dark (literally) history of being a working class heavily industrial city, primarily for coal. Rumor has it if you wore a white shirt in the morning, by afternoon it was gray. In the early 90’s, there was a huge flood that stirred up the sediment and the Ostravice river ran black which sparked a big clean-up effort. The featured photo here is one I took of my neighborhood from the city hall tower – the pink building on the right is my flat building, and that’s the Ostravice River running through the city..
I went to the art museum where most of the paintings were gray and black and depicted misery. The city was not a good place, but it is important history (side note, you only need about 45 minutes to get through the whole museum because it is pretty small…but really interesting).
But things have changed. I’m not sure if it is good or bad to let this secret out. I don’t want it ruined with drunk English-speaking tourists. Ostrava is beautiful, an artistic center, dynamic, surrounded by nature, and one of the cleanest cities I’ve been to. It’s historic city center is gorgeous, with colorful buildings, contemporary pubs, cafes, and countless restaurants. There are parks everywhere and the river – sparkling clean – runs through the city. The old coal plant (pictures coming later after I visit in person), Dolní Vítkovice, massive and rusty, is now a concert venue and museum. It’s the 3rd largest city in the Czech Republic, the size of Minneapolis at 350,000 but is walkable and way more affordable than Minneapolis. It’s a university town and lively.
That said, if you come here hoping to get by on English, good luck to you. Young people generally know some English because starting in 1993 when the Czech Republic shed communist rule and split from the Slovaks, English was integrated into the education system starting in kindergarten. But for those who are my age or older, English was forbidden under Soviet rule in their day. I like being forced to speak Czech even if it is a bit stressful. There’s nothing Americanized about living here (well…except the random English words inserted here and there). That is something to appreciate.