Olomouc (pronounced oh-low-moats) is a city that just feels old. Yet there is so much going on here. It is home to Palacký University which brings it some youthful life. A lot happens amidst ancient cathedrals and fortress walls. I came here to conduct interviews for my research and am so excited to go back again. It has two main squares, lower and upper, though lower is evidently at a higher elevation, go figure. I have no sense of direction, but I swear in the dark, I would wander down an alley and enter a portal – at the other end I’d find myself in a different square (which isn’t really possible according to my map). Sometimes I discovered a hidden street lined with pubs and restaurants, lit up and filled with people. Other times I reached a dead end at what looked like a 2,000 year old brick wall, looming over me in the blackness. It was a maze that was delightful to be lost in.
There were halls of sorts that were like alleys, but with a ceiling, filled with tables outside restaurants that opened into them. Because the truth is, a huge number of Czechs are smokers. This is their workaround for smokers. The pic below was taken in one of these “alleys,” though in the morning when it was empty. Smoking has only been banned in restaurants for about a year and it seems to me that the smokers get the best seats. So this nearly-enclosed space is considered “outside.”
Olomouc has two gorgeous parks surrounding the center of town. One of them is at the base of a medieval fortress wall. From up on the city hill, you wander down ever-narrowing streets, then down a sketchy narrow alley (especially at night which is when I first encountered it), with graffiti and then you pop out at the top of stairs leading down to this park. Several hidden stairs in the park periodically lead the brave visitor back up to the city.
The churches and cathedrals here are a sight to behold, each one more breathtaking than the last. Most made me tear up a bit. And I’m an atheist, as are most Czechs. I especially enjoyed going to the museum of natural history and Moravian folk (Vlastivědné muzeum v Olomouci) which showed what Olomouc looked like a thousand years ago – and there was St. Wenceslas Cathedral on a hill, even back then.
My hotel was in the heart of this medieval city, on a dark and narrow alley that made me second-guess my choice when I arrived. In daylight, it was lovely and the view out my room window showed me the church of St. John Sarkander who was imprisoned and tortured there – a story that seems very familiar across all of Europe. We humans were good at that hating on other humans thing.
Did you know that Prague is not the only city with an astronomical clock? Both Brno and Olomouc have one too…and who knows what other no-name cities? Of course, the original clock in Olomouc was destroyed during WWII and the revision came with a Soviet angle, showing off the joy of work and those proletariats, oh-so-proud to do nothing but work. It does have some cool mosaics. But everywhere I went to try to find info on the clock, it was only in Czech. So I guess that leaves me with the internet to answer my questions, which is not nearly as fun as doing it on location.
The city was just getting started on the Christmas markets, even though it is November. I may have had a bad encounter with a “Finský punč” (Finnish punch) which I later learned has a lot of vodka added to the usual mulled wine.
I didn’t get to see the castle, the bigger park, and many museums. I have plenty to see when I return in January to do more data collection.