As I mentioned a few posts ago, some changes are in the works for both my websites.
Here, at Beyond Prague, I’ve changed the theme of the page from “Toujours” to “Karuna”.
After much deliberation, I chose “Karuna” for the new theme as it maintained the page layout and colour scheme you’re used to here, but gave me the opportunity to have bigger header images. The smaller header image window of the “Toujours” theme was getting quite limiting with the images I could share with you through it, so I decided to give myself a bit more room for that at the top of the page.
I am still experimenting with how to make pictures fit nicely in the new header window, so bear with me on that.
Another good aspect of “Karuna”, I think anyway, is that the main menu bar moves as you scroll. That means that no matter how far you scroll down a page, the menu will be right there and you won’t need to scroll all the way to the top of the page to chose something else from the menu.
I think it will be a good theme to take the site through the next few years.
I created Beyond Prague to showcase other aspects of the Czech Republic than the capital. I have nothing against Prague, beautiful city that it is, but it needs no help in promoting itself. However, it does need help in a different way:
Prague needs a rest.
Countries, regions, cities, towns and villages are living things just like those who live in them. Just like any other living thing, they can be overfed, starved, scarred, maimed and pushed past the breaking point. Tourism is one of those things that has the potential to do all of those things, and has done them, in many places around the world.
Tourism to the Czech capital has been on a relentless year on year rise since the fall of Socialism and 2019 has been a banner year in the city for disrespectful tourists and tour companies. Tour companies dedicated to pub crawls ply their trade to visitors with no greater agenda than getting wasted on beer that, while more expensive than anywhere else in the Czech lands, is still quite cheap by the standards of many other nations. Neither those tour companies nor their clients spare much thought for the fact that they are doing and enabling something in someone else’s home that they likely would not tolerate someone doing in their own homes.
Some areas of the city, particularly areas near the centre, have become quite unlivable for regular Czechs. Moreover, the local Czech language gets drowned out on its own home turf by a multitude of others on a daily basis as Prague really has no low season when it comes to tourism.
On a recent visit to Prague, I was walking through the centre and made way for a group of tourists on a guided tour. What I expected might be 15 to 20 people ended up being closer to 40 or 50! I’d never seen a tour group that large before, not even in Prague.
Prague Fights Back
2019 seems to be the year where things have come to a head and the city is putting its foot down.
The year saw disturbing acts of vandalism against popular landmarks that included grafitti on Charles Bridge and The Lennon Wall.
Just as troubling were multiple incidents of disrespectful behaviour, including an incident of urination, toward the winged lion statue that was installed in 2014 to memorialise the Czechoslovak airmen who joined the ranks of the Royal Air Force in the Second World War after their homeland came under German occupation.
Such acts went from disturbing and troubling to outright contemptible when it came to light that some of those tourists were part of groups organised by licensed tour operators.
In the wake of the Charles Bridge graffiti incident, the two German nationals found responsible were stiffly fined and kicked out of the country for five years. The Lennon Wall was given greater protections to prevent further grafitti against it.
At the start of 2019, the city introduced a new role: Nightlife Mayor. This position is intended to work with police and business owners to help bring the city’s out of control nightlife and the unacceptable vandalism and relentless noise that comes with it under control. One of the actions the Nightlife Mayor is taking is talking with pub owners and discouraging them from cooperating with organised pub crawl tours.
A number of longtime, if not lifelong, residents of Prague have also been speaking up more loudly of late as to their increasing displeasure at what uncontrolled tourism has done to their city.
You Can Help
I’ve spoken about responsible tourism before, and it looks like it’s time to talk about it again. I know that nobody likes to think about responsibility when they are on holidays; but would you allow a visitor in your home to use the fact they were on holiday as an excuse for disrespectful behaviour while they were in it?
No? I thought not.
If you’re visiting Prague, or anyplace for that matter, you can help reduce the damage that over-tourism can do by doing two simple things: Think, and think again.
Thinking about adding another love lock to that bridge or monument? Think again.
Thinking about having someone take your picture while you’re hanging from a statue or historically important architecture? Think again.
Thinking about going on an all night pub crawl, drinking more cheap alcohol in a couple of nights than you might in a month at home and then engaging in behaviour that makes locals put derogatory adjectives ahead of your nationality when they talk about people from your country? Think again.
The Bottom Line
When you are a tourist, you are a visitor in someone else’s home. Show their home every bit the respect you would want them to show to yours if they came to see it.
Below are links to articles from various sources highlighting what Prague is up against and what they’re doing in response:
It will probably be a while before my next larger article. Partly, it’s because I have quite a bit going on in life outside of blogging at the moment and also because I have to take a longer and closer look at all the changes WordPress has made to the editing functionality.
I’ll also be taking the opportunity to do more intensive housekeeping tasks on the blog. I’ll be keeping everything accessible to you, though you might see a few changes here and there from one visit to the next.
You might also see some of the older articles disappear for a while. The text is saved, but I might be taking them off the site for a bit until I can bring them up to scratch in quality and structure with more recent articles. Rest assured, if you see a favorite article of yours vanish, it’s not permanently gone.
I’m also testing the blog with different themes that WordPress offers, so a new look may become part of the changes you see.
Thanks for your patience and continued readership.
Most people around the world are familiar with Bata brand shoes, a global brand that has existed since 1894, Perhaps you even own a pair of Batas yourself. Did you know that Bata was originally a Czech brand?
Located in the southeast of the Czech Republic, the small city of Zlín was chosen by Tomáš, Antonín and Anna Baťa as the place to establish their fledgling shoe business. Tomáš had a vision for the business that went well beyond making shoes. Many of his business practices and philosophies, such as fixed work schedules and weekly wages were quite revolutionary for the time, made his company a popular one to seek work with.
Tomáš also had a very distinct vision for the city that was influenced by garden city movement founded by English architect, Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), that promoted an equal amount of urban parkland and greenspace to balance the construction in a city. Influence for what would become Zlín’s new face also came from the Modernist style of French architect, Le Corbusier (1887-1965).
To achieve that vision in Zlín, connections were made with Le Corbusier as well as Czech architects: František L. Gahura, Vladimír Karfík, Jan Kotéra and Miroslav Lorenc.
Through the interwar period, the face of the city was modernised with a distinctive Functionalist aesthetic where buildings with exposed red brick facades intermingled with parks and greenspace. The fortunes of the city grew with the fortunes of the Baťas. The population of the city grew as people came there to seek work with one of the best companies to work for in the country at the time.
The Baťa business model was one of self-sufficiency and employee care. Baťa employees were compensated well by the company and the city and its amenities were built with the needs and comforts of company employees in mind first and foremost.
All of this is not to say that Zlín had no history before the Baťa years. Indeed, the city can trace its history to the early 1300s. Its history up to the Baťa era is rather unremarkable and generally similar to that of many other places in the region. Overall, the city’s pre 20th century history was built on crafts, trades and commerce.
Goodbye to the Baťas
By the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Baťa company had diversified into many industrial fields beyond the shoes they started with and had established themselves as an international business force with many factories outside the borders of Czechoslovakia. It was a true heyday for both the company and for Zlín. Tomáš had even spent time as mayor of the city in the 1920s.
One of the business fields the Baťas had expanded into was aviation. In fact, Baťa is considered to be one of the first companies in the world to make use of aircraft in business; using them to quickly shuttle executives between their expanding number of factories around Europe. The Zlín aircraft company and the airport it calls home in the nearby town of Otrokovice, were both once holdings of the Baťa business empire.
In 1932, tragedy struck when Tomáš was killed in an aircraft accident as the company aircraft he was on crashed just after take off from the Otrokovice airport.
Tomáš left the company and its administration in the care of his half-brother, Jan Antonín Baťa (1898-1965), who stayed faithful to the family vision for the company and city.
Under Jan Antonín’s watch, the city’s landmark Baťa Skyscraper was built between 1936 and 1938. At 16 stories high, it was one of the tallest high-rise buildings in Europe when it was completed. As with the other buildings in the Baťa vision, it was a Functionalist structure with many modern features such as central heating and ventilation. It also included Jan Antonín’s unique office on a lift. He could travel to any floor in the building quickly to attend to business and always have his office nearby.
Jan Antonín was very respected for his business accumen and astuteness. He knew the threat that Hitler represented and had preparations underway to prepare for war before The German occupation of Czechoslovakia came in 1939. The company’s Jewish employees and their families were relocated to branches of the company in places around the world that Hitler couldn’t reach and Jan Antonín put the aviation arm of the company in Otrokovice on war footing by putting extra money into the flying school there so they could train more pilots quickly.
Ultimately, it was too little too late. Jan Antonín and his family fled Czechoslovakia at the start of the German occupation and, after spending a short time in America, settled in Brazil.
Following the war, the company’s new headquarters were established in the UK in 1945 before going to Canada in 1964 and then to Switzerland in 2004.
While the company never brought its headquarters “home” after the fall of Socialism, it is still owned by members of the Bata family to this day and they do keep connection to their and the company’s Czech roots.
After the war and the dispersal of the family around the world, the apostrophe was removed from the original spelling of the family name. When said correctly, with the apostrophe in place, the family name is pronounced “BAT-yah”
A Feel for the Place
It is impossible to experience Zlín without experiencing the legacy that the Baťas left to it. The history of the company and the city are inextricably linked.
In the contemporary sense, the city comes across as a distinctly non-touristy university town with a relaxed atmosphere.
If you’re interested in urban planning, Modernist architecture and the history of the Baťa family and company, you’ll likely appreciate Zlín as a place to visit. You’ll also likely appreciate a trip to the city if you’re looking for a Czech town that offers a distinctive architectural face that you won’t see anywhere else in the country.
Though not touristy, the city does offer a respectable selection of accomodations and restaurants to serve a variety of tastes and budgets.
The centre of the city is very walkable and there is a shared public transport system between Zlín and Otrokovice that can get you to points further afield.
One place the aforementioned public transport system will take you to is the city’s Lešná suburb and the sizable zoo located there.
The zoo is the most visited tourist attraction in Moravia and considered one of the best zoos in the country. If you visit, expect to spend some time in a queue to buy tickets before entering.
One of the main draws in the zoo is a pool of rays which you can pet and, for a modest fee, buy a bit food to give them.
The zoo covers 74 hectares, 50 of which are given to the display areas. The facility is home to over 220 species of animals and many more species of plants in the botanic gardens on site.
Included in the ticket price to the zoo is admission to the Lešná chateau that sits on the zoo grounds. The chateau dates to the late 1800s and tours of it are available.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Despite its status as a city, and a university town at that, Zlín is not a particularly straightforward place to reach if you’re going without a car.
There is coach bus service to Zlín from various places around, but one must be very careful when choosing which bus to take. While there are some bus routes that are fairly direct and time effective, there are others which make many stops along their routes and can take a very long time in relation to the geographic distance between their starting point and Zlín.
You can also get there by a combination of train to Otrokovice and public transport to Zlín from there. As with bus travel, care should be taken with which train to take there. There are some fairly direct lines, but many more indirect and time consuming ones.
This link will take you to the official website of Zlín, where you can find more information about what the city has to offer: https://www.zlin.eu/en/
The first Slavs began arriving in what is now the Moravian regions of the Czech Republic in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. By the early 9th century, the first recognised Western Slavic homeland had been established there.
Known as Great Moravia, the kingdom lasted from the early 800s to the early 900s and covered present day Moravia as well as parts of what are now Bohemia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Today, the village of Velehrad sits near what was the heart of Great Moravia in the south east of the Czech Republic.
The period of Great Moravia was a time of great social and spiritual development for Slavic culture as a whole. This was particularly true during the reign of the second Moravian king, Rastislav.
Bracketed by Germanic tribes to the west and the Byzantines to the east, Rastislav sought to minimise the influence of Germanic missionaries in his kingdom and turned to the Byzantines for assistance. The Byzantines dispatched two monks, Cyril and Methodius, to the area to bring Eastern Christianity to the Slavs.
The two monks created the Galgolithic alphabet, which was developed into the Cyrilic alphabet used by Bulgaria and Russia today. Through that alphabet, they translated religious texts from Greek and Latin into Old Church Slavonic and converted the majority of Slavs in Great Moravia to Christianity. Roman Catholicism became the religion of majority after Methodius died in 885 and the Cyrilic alphabet was replaced with the Roman one in the region.
Beyond bringing Christianity to the Slavs, the monks also wrote the first Slavic Civil Code that was used in Great Moravia.
Celebrating the Saints
The contributions of Cyril and Methodius to Slavic cultures survive to the present and it’s no surprize to see them memorialised and honoured in numerous ways.
In the Czech context, the biggest tribute to them exists where they did their work. The basilica at Velehrad is consecrated to them and is the most important point of pilgrimage in the Czech Republic.
The basilica’s present Baroque face dates to rebuilding that took place after a large fire in 1681. However, the land it sits on has been occupied by religious buildings since a monstery was built there in the 13th century.
July 5 is St. Cyril and Methodius Day and is a state holiday on the Czech calendar. Many devout people from within Czech borders and points further away take part in the annual pilgrimage to the basilica.
The importance of the basilica at Velehrad is underlined by the fact that it was the first place visited by Pope John Paul II after the fall of Socialism in 1990.
Living Great Moravia
Less than a kilometre’s walk from the basilica, you’ll find the Archeoskanzen in the adjoining village of Modrá.
Archeoskanzen is an open-air archeological museum that was established in 2004. it represents a ninth century village of the sort that would have existed in Great Moravia.
Different buildings are dedicated to the vocations that were important to running the village, while others show places of governance and commerce. One room shows how Cyril and Methodius may have lived while they were in the area doing their work.
The museum is generally a self-guided place and it is possible to get information leaflets in English, and possibly other languages, to help you understand what you’re seeing.
In the same area as Archeoskanzen, you’ll find Živá Voda Modrá. This is a nature centre that has its focus on the flora and fauna of Moravian wetlands.
The inside part of the display goes into some detail about the biodiversity of Moravia. Upon entry, you can ask for a leaflet in English to help you through the information.
The real showpiece of the centre is a small tunnel that places you below water level of an outdoor pool that houses a selection of fish native to Moravian waterways and wetlands. Among the fish types you can view are: carp, catfish, perch, pike, sturgeon and trout.
Outdoors, you can view the fish pool from above and examine a variety of native Moravian plant varieties.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
This is not the easiest of places in the Czech Republic to visit if you don’t have a car available to you. There are buses from the nearby small city of Uherské Hradiště, but there are only a few per day so you really will need to be mindful of the schedules.
Taxis also will run from Uherské Hradiště to Velehrad, but there’s no guarantee of the driver being able to speak anything but Czech. As such, this is not an ideal option unless you speak Czech or have a Czech speaker going with you.
If you’re the more intrepid and active type and are visiting in spring or summer, you may be able to reach Velehrad via one of the many cycling trails that run through the area.
If you’re visiting Velehrad as a day trip, I’d suggest taking some snacks with you as dining options are rather limited.
It’s also a good idea to have some cash on hand if you visit the attractions in Modrá. Neither Archeoskanzen or Živá Voda Modrá accepted card payment at the time we visited in April of 2019.
The following links will give you more information about the attractions in Velehrad and Modrá
It might be a while longer before the next full length article here at Beyond Prague, partly that’s to do with some things going on in other aspects of life and partly that both my blogs here are in need of some serious housekeeping before I put too much new material up.
In the meantime, I’ll hold the space by sharing with you some images of a recent day trip we made to the lovely UNESCO listed Lednice chateau and gardens.
Enjoy and I hope to have some new longer posts for you soon.
If you find yourself in a Czech city around April or May, you’ll likely see groups of young people dressed up in all kinds of costumes and asking people on the street for money. You’ll also see themed picture boards featuring groups of young people in the windows of shops.
It’s an annual tradition that confuses many visitors and creates divided opinions among Czechs themselves. Let’s take a look at Poslední Zvonění:
The tradition is connected to the writing of the school leaving exam, Maturita in Czech, and takes place during a week long break the students are given between the written and oral parts of the exam. The week is used to study at home, but also to have a bit of fun as they say goodbye to school and hear the ringing of a school bell for the last time.
Graduating classes typically make a themed picture board showing all members of the class as well as the teachers. These boards are displayed prominently in the windows of shops who have agreed to letting the students use their windows.
As for the costumed part, it’s mostly up to the students’ imagination as to what the group theme will be and the themes can be quite varied indeed. The money they collect is used to fund their graduation parties. It’s not unusual for the students to have some small sweets as an exchange for the money. Not much money is expected beyond a bit of pocket change.
Most Czechs are quite happy to accept the tradition as a bit of fun. However, there are some that see it as a nuisance despite the fact that there are rules of etiquette for the students to follow and they are polite and friendly when carrying out the tradition.