Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Say Br-Yes to Brno

I hope the pun in the title didn't cause any readers too much pain; I was proud of it. (I suppose I should've Czech-ed myself before I wrecked myself.) Brno is the second-largest city in Czech Republic, after the better-known capital, Prague. It wasn't too far from Bratislava so we decided to take a quick train ride there - and we're so glad we did. (You can read about our stop in Bratislava here and Vienna here.)

We almost missed our train, but thankfully it was delayed twenty minutes and we caught it in time. Then, when we reached our hotel we received a free upgrade to the Executive Suite, which had a lovely library next to the bed and this chandelier overlooking the living room. We loved it but wondered why anyone would ever need a room so big. After we dropped off our bags, I was overcome with a craving for fruits that were either nonexistent or extremely expensive in Kenya. At the same time, I remembered summer berries were in season. After our concierge directed us to the local fruit market, I proceeded to gorge myself on an entire box of blueberries. They didn't even last long enough for a photo, and they were worth every bite.

Then, we found another free walking tour - can you tell we like those a lot? We enjoyed a few funny stories, starting with an astronomical clock that didn't do the best job of communicating time. Its main feature was that once per day, at 11am, it releases one marble that you can try to grab through one of four holes in the base. It wasn't working properly when we were there, as all four excited people with their hands in the machine walked away empty-handed. We also admired a few works by a very cheeky architect. (There's a debate about whether the piece below is the result of drunkenness or revenge for a compensation dispute.)

One of my favorite stops was this statue of none other than Mozart, located where he apparently played as a 14-year-old. According to our guide, nobody could remember how he looked as a kid so they just put his adult head on a child's body. It honestly kind of reminds me of this creepy boss from the video game Persona 4.

Like in Slovakia, the Catholic influence in the Czech Republic was clearly very strong. We saw the outside of a Capuchin monastery famous for the crypt beneath the church, where about 150 Capuchin brothers and 50 benefactors are buried. Due to the ventilation system of the crypt, the bodies there were naturally mummified. I'll admit I don't really understand the science behind it, but I can see why people fought so hard to get buried and preserved there.

We also saw a beautiful cathedral where a wedding was happening: the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. Its bells ring at 11am instead of the traditional noon due to a legend dating back to the Thirty Years' War. Supposedly, the invading Swedish army laid siege to Brno and set themselves a deadline of noon on a certain day to capture the city. Under attack, the shrewd inhabitants of Brno rang the bells an hourly early, tricking the Swedes into thinking it was noon and leading to their retreat. Cool, isn't it?

There were two sizable populations in Brno we didn't expect to find: Vietnamese immigrants and vegans. Thankfully, we had enough wiggle room in our schedule to pay tribute to both types of food. We had a tasty Vietnamese lunch of fresh spring rolls and beef fried rice at Gỗ, and we also tried vegan ice cream made with coconut milk (honestly way better than I, a non-vegan, expected).

Of course, we also made space in our stomachs for traditional Czech food, including cabbage soup (yum!), sausage, and a magical, roasted cinnamon-sugar donut cylinder thing called a Trdelník (pictured below). Please don't ask us how to pronounce it.

At the end of our tour, we learned that we were lucky enough to be in town one of just a few nights in the whole year when Brno hosts a fireworks festival where teams from several countries in the region compete. To catch Romania's performance, we headed out of the city that night to the festival site, which was decked out in carnival splendor, food trucks, and many bars. We sat on a grassy hill and enjoyed the show, which had lovely traditional music and some of the most awe-inspiring fireworks I'd ever seen (even more impressive considering this was apparently Romania's first year competing in the festival). The reflections of the displays in the lake, visible in the first photo of this post and below, added to the spectacle.

We really enjoyed our short trip to Brno and agree with the locals that there's clearly so much more to Czech Republic than Prague! (Not that we've been to Prague... but that's a trip for another day.)

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