I'm a Canadian expat who's been calling the Czech Republic home since 2004.
I have many interests, but aviation is the big one. No matter if it's a contemporary type flying from the local airport or a history piece tucked away in a museum, it will get my attention. I started my blog "Pickled Wings" asa natural extension of that.
I also love exploring the Czech Republic and surrounding countries. I started my other blog "Beyong Prague" as a way to share more of this wonderful country and culture with the world and show that there is so much more to it than just the capital city.
Some of you may have noticed a new image in the sidebar alongside the links to various expat interviews I’ve given. The new image represents this blog being chosen as the best blog about the Czech Republic in 2017 by a group called Money Transfer Comparison.
Who is Money Transfer Comparison and why would they grant my blog an award? I asked myself exactly those questions. In an email thanking them for the award, I asked them how they had become aware of Beyond Prague and what criteria they used to determine it worthy of the award. They also told me a bit about themselves.
Money Transfer Comparison is an organisation that reviews, compares and rates international money transfer companies and helping expats move money is part of their business.
Here’s an exerpt from their reply to my email:
“Thank you for your message!
It’s great to see you have noticed our awards, we were just planning on a massive PR / outreach campaign to get the news out.
I appreciate your message and am very glad to hear you want to incorporate the badge in your site.
MoneyTransferComparison boasts 30,000 visitors a month and helps expats move more than $150m a year!
How did we discover your blog? In fact our writers checked out the competition and decided they think you are the best in this the category. What we expect of a blog is to be: – Comprehensive – Easy to navigate – Provides good advice (actionable one that is) – Written in an interesting fashion
Your blog definitely addresses all of the above.”
To put the award into some context, the group compiled a list of expat blogs from 40 different countries around the world. As I know that there are several other good expat blogs about the Czech lands out there, I’m very pleased that they chose Beyond Prague for the award.
The timing of the award is also quite good as most of you know, from my recent post, that Beyond Prague will be celebrating its fifth birthday in the very near future.
Here’s a link to Money Transfer Comparison’s website if you’d like to know more about them and their activities:
I started Beyond Prague in November of 2012. That means November of 2017 will mark a full five years of this blog’s existence.
When I started blogging, at the urging of a friend, I had no idea that I would enjoy it as much as I do or that anyone would enjoy what I choose to blog about as much as it seems they do.
I most certainly didn’t imagine myself still blogging after five years.
Staying True to the Goal
Reflecting on five years of this blog and the current content of it, I can happily say that I have largely stayed true to my goal for it to be a general resource for those planning to travel to the Czech lands for either tourism or the expat life.
In the course of creating articles for places of interest that visitors could see if they ventured outside the capital city, I have also experimented with additional features to keep things fresh. Happily, going by the blog stats page, most of what I’ve added as new features has been well received by the readership.
On the matter of the information available through the stats page, let’s take a look at some Beyond Prague trivia (all figures current as of October 2017):
Number of followers: 219
Top 5 visited posts:
Trdelník – The Czech Treat that Isn’t (Total views: 2,797)
Yesterday, we took a visit to Kutná Hora, a well known historical town in the central part of the country. The city is typically one of the places visitors to the Czech Republic know about before they even arrive in the country.
Our visit yesterday gave us some beautiful autumn weather to reacquaint ourselves with the city and gave me the opportunity to revisit and refresh my existing articles about the city’s attractions.
My main article on Kutná Hora was given extensive text revisions and expansion as well as a complete refreshment of the photographs:
Since 1946, Zetor tractors have represented the Czech lands on the global agricultural market. Over the years, the company’s tractors have been exported to over 130 countries and were produced under license in nine countries from 1964 into the 1990s.
Starting as a division of the manufacturing giant, Zbrojovka Brno, Zetor eventually became a company in its own right in 1976. Right from the start, Zetor tractors were revolutionary in their design and quickly became recognised worldwide for that.
Zetor was the first tractor manufacturer to take driver comfort and safety into account, theirs were the world’s first tractors to incorporate a roll cage and engine noise dampening features into the design of the driver’s cabin as well as ergonomic and practical arrangement of vehicle controls and instrument guages in easily visible places.
They also pioneered the concept of parts unification in tractor design. This meant that a series of tractor models could be designed with a high amount of components common between them, thus simplifying both construction and maintenance processes.
Through radical restructuring and a shift from state to private ownership in the early 1990s, Zetor was bought out of bankruptcy in the early 2000s to still be with us today and have bright plans for the future.
That said, let’s spend some time with this legendary Czech product:
Child of Zbrojovka
The genesis of Zetor is to be found in Zbrojovka Brno, a manufacturing company that can trace it’s own lineage to the 1800s and the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s artillery workshops.
Zbrojovka Brno came into existence as a state owned firearms factory in 1918 as the newly established First Republic of Czechoslovakia rose as an independent nation in the wake of the First World War. The factory quickly established itself as a manufacturing giant, producing a wide range products for both military and civilian markets
During the First Republic period, Czechoslovakia’s agriculture sector was served by tractors of both domestic and imported origin. Praga, Škoda, Svoboda and Wikov were the major domestic tractor producers while imported tractors were primarily of American origin with products from US Fordson, International Harvester and John Deere being predominant.
In the same period, Zbrojovka Brno added cars to their growing list of products. As history would show, involving themselves in car design and manufacture would give them valuable experience to draw upon when they started tractor manufacture after the Second World War.
World War Two changed manufacturing prioritites and agricultural equipment became a decidedly low priority for nations involved in the conflict. After the war was finished, around 2,000 tractors were imported to Czechoslovakia through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) while factories in the country got back on their feet after German occupation.
While the pre-war domestic tractor producers planned to resume the tractor business in the post-war period, Škoda was the only one who managed to do so. It was in this vacuum that Zbrojovka Brno entered the tractor business.
The company established the tractor arm of their business in 1945 and staffed it with many former members of their inter-war automobile operations. The newly formed division was placed under the leadership of František Musil, an automobile and aircraft engine designer who had joined the company in 1935.
The catalyst for Zbrojovka Brno entering the tractor business was a June, 1945 state requisition for domestic companies to design an economical, lightweight tractor suitable for mass production within a time limit of only six months. By November of that year, musil and his team had succeeded in producing their prototype tractor. Škoda was the only other manufacturer to come forth with a prototype in response to the requisition. After a brief competition of prototypes, the Zbrojovka design was declared the winner. The victorious prototype would form the basis of the company’s first tractor, the model 25.
Spring of 1946 saw the company’s tractor division officially named Zetor and trademark protection extended to it. In the same period, the first model 25 tractors began to roll of the assembly lines. The model 25 would see a production run of 16 years with a total of 158,570 of the type being made and 97,000 of those going to export customers. Such figures place the model 25 amongst the most produced European tractor types.
Before the 1940s were out, Zetor had begun to distinguish themselves as one of the first tractor makers in the world to take operator comfort and safety into consideration. Succesive versions of the model 25 featured a padded driver seat with spring support and a small back rest incorporated into the design. The model 25 also moved away from the traditional cartridge starting system to an electrical starter for the engine. Thought was also given to the visibility and layout of the instruments and guages on the dashboard.
Another Zetor development of the 1940s was the model 30 of 1948. The model 30 was significant in tractor development by being one of the world’s first tractors to feature a fuel injected diesel engine, a feature which reduced fuel consumption considerably.
The company saw the 1940s out by celebrating the construction of their 10,000th tractor in February of 1949.
On an Open Field
Entering the 1950s, Zetor had very little to compete with at home except their own success. Indeed, they were having some problems satisfying both domestic and export markets for their products at the begining of the decade.
Škoda had remained, to a small degree, in the tractor business until the Communist government that had taken over the country in 1948 dictated that Zetor would be the country’s only tractor producer. Škoda had faded from the tractor business by the mid 1950s and Zetor had the home market to themselves from then on.
1952 saw Zetor moved from the main Zbrojovka Brno factory to a factory site in the Líšeň suburb on the east side of Brno. Here, they would not need to compete for factory floorspace with other Zbrojovka products and could conduct their own research and development on site. The Líšeň location continues to serve as Zetor headquarters today.
1955 saw the debut of the Super 35, a model that brought with it an improved suspension system and a heating system in the driver’s cabin for increased operator comfort.
In 1960, the Super 35 was extensively modernised and renamed the Super 50.
A Revolution on the Farm
Zetor introduced a true watershed event to tractor production in the late 1950s with the introduction of their parts unification concept.
Under the parts unification concept, entire ranges of tractors could be created using a system of common parts. This concept captured the manufacturing world’s attention as it meant significant savings in materials, money and time with regards to production and maintenance. It also meant that tractor dealers did not have to give valuable shelf space to components unique to a single model of tractor.
From 1958 into the late 1990s, Zetor created three distinct ranges of tractors under the parts unification system: UR1, UR2 and UR3. Each range featured baseline models and specialised versions.
UR1: The First Unified Range
The UR1 range proved to be a solid start for Zetor’s new system.
While Zetor had designed a completely new transmission for their new range, they had retained the fuel injected diesel engines and associated starting systems. The engines made Zetor tractors very popular on the export market as they could be started and operated reliably in a very wide range of climatic conditions around the world.
Zetor used the UR1 range to introduce their Zetormatic weight transfer system. This system shifted part of the weight of the field implement being pulled to the tractor’s rear axle so it could be used for more traction in the soil.
Inside the UR1 family, there were a number of specialised variants including a half-track version for working in forested areas, a fully tracked version for work on the steep slopes of vineyards as well as a narrower model for working between trees in fruit orchards.
Through the bulk of the 1960s, the UR1 range was very well recieved at home and abroad. However, with a power range covering from 25 to 60 horsepower, it was not powerful or robust enough for the larger farm operations of Central Europe.
While the UR2 range debuted in 1968, the UR1 family has been revisited and modernised several times over the years.
UR2: Redefining the Tractor
The UR2 range, collectively nicknamed “Zetor Crystal”, consisted of around 8 versions and was produced between 1968 and 1989.
The Crystal not only answered the call for the increase in power and structural strength that the UR1 range could not provide, it was also heralded by tractor manufacturers worldwide as a true technological leap forward in tractor design from almost every aspect.
The Crystal added to Zetor’s established reputation for operator safety by being the world’s first tractor designed with a safety cage integral to the cabin in order to protect the driver in case of a rollover.
The new cabin was mounted on special noise reducing blocks. This, in conjunction with changes to engine mounting systems, made the Crystal the world’s first tractor with a noise level below 85 decibels inside the cabin.
Outside of the inovations to the cabin, the Crystal had a number of features as standard equipment that other manufacturers at the time were offering as options if they were offering them at all.
The Crystal was available with four and six cylinder engines. During the UR2 production run, turbocharged variations of the Crystal were developed. With turbocharging, the four cylinder engine could generate 100 horsepower and the six cylinder could generate 160.
UR3: Keeping it Going
Zetor introduced the third incarnation of their unified range of tractors in 1991.
The primary reasons for the introduction of the UR3 series were to replace the Crystal and to fill a gap that existed in the medium power tractor market in the early 1990s.
The UR3 family was made up of eight models ranging from 70 to to 105 horsepower.
With as widely popular as Zetor tractors had become by the mid 1960s, it made sense for the company to grant licenses for production and maintenance of their products overseas.
From 1964 into the 1990s, Zetor tractors were assembled from factory provided components or fully produced under license in Brazil, Burma, Ghana, Greece, India, Iraq, Japan, Mexico and Poland.
Between 1993 and 1996, Zetor entered a contract with John Deere in America to produce a number of tractors under the American company’s name and badging for markets in Latin and South America. The tractors were Zetor designs though finished in the well known John Deere green and yellow paint and assembled in John Deere’s manufacturing facilities in Mexico. These tractors were marketed by John Deere as the 2000 series.
Under the terms of the sort lived contract with John Deere, Zetor was barred from being active in Latin and South American markets. However, in 1997, Zetor moved on those markets through a deal with Brazilian vehicle manufacturer, Agrale. Zetor continues to provide Agrale with components to produce their tractors for the Brazilian market today.
The 1990s and the New Millenium
As it was with many Czech companies, the early post Socialist period was a tumultuous time in which many legendary firms either adapted well to or died in bankruptcy.
Zetor spent the 1990s going through a number of changes after being privatised in 1993.
In the 1990s, the company relaunched both the UR1 and UR3 ranges in much modernised forms.
The turn of the millenium was a particularly rocky period for the company that saw it change ownership a few times, enter a revitalisation program and go through a bankruptcy before being purchased in 2002 by its current owners.
Under the current ownership, Zetor has flourished and regained its strength as a company. Today, the company manufactures several models of tractor under the Forterra, Major and Proxima names. In 2015, Zetor brought the name “Crystal” back to the tractor world in the form of a fully modern design.
Zetor marked their 70th anniversary in 2016. Part of marking that milestone was to develop a new look for future Zetor products. To this end, they partnered with world famous Italian car design firm Pininfarina.
Pininfarina created a new design concept which was unveiled to the world as a full scale mock up in 2015 at the Agritechnica exhibition in Hannover, Germany.
Zetor plans to apply Pininfarina design concepts to all their future models and updates to existing models.
With classic Italian car firms such as Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati on their client list, Pininfarina is certain to bring a whole new level of excitement to the world of agriculture through their partnership with Zetor.
If you like tractors and happen to be passing through Brno, Zetor Gallery really should be on your itinerary.
This small museum was established by Zetor at their Brno headquarters in 2013 and is a fantastic opportunity to get up close to a number of historical and contemporary Zetor models. The museum has a permanent collection of its own plus a rotating selection of historical Zetor tractors loaned by private collectors.
Zetor gallery is quite interactive and visitors are encouraged to examine many of the tractors at close quarters and even sit in them.
The following links will give you more information about much of what’s been covered in this blog entry:
Built upon a pair of basalt crags that are the remains of ancient volcanoes, a pair of towers dating to the late 1300s mark the remains of Trosky castle.
A veteran of the Hussite Wars and the Thirty Years’ War, Trosky was a vitually unassailable stronghold in its days as an active fortress. Today, the ruins of the castle still pose a challenge for anyone wishing to visit who does not have a car or are part of a coach tour.
Trosky’s sihouette is the de facto trademark of the Český ráj tourist region and can be found on a multitude of postcards and other souvenir items from the area. It is one of the most easily recognised landmarks of the region.
The Two Towers
Trosky’s defining features are the two towers which can be seen from a great distance. The towers are nicknamed Baba (old woman) and Panna (maiden).
Historically, the castle had a quite sophistcated system of fortification walls and gates for its own defense. The walls were up to 2 metres thick and could reach up to 15 metres high in places. In addition to the fortifications, there was said to be a system of escape tunnels under the castle that led to extensive caves in the surrounding sandstone geology.
During the Hussite Wars (1419-1434), Trosky served as a base for pro Catholic activities. While Hussite forces tried to lay siege to the castle, they were ultimately not able to conquer it.
From 1438 to 1444, the castle served as a base for a gang of robbers to terrorize the citizens of the region from. Due to the castle’s fortifications, it took local army regiments three years to completely drive the criminals from the castle.
The castle passed through many owners and steadily declined in importance between the Hussite Wars and the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618. During a battle in 1648, the castle was set fire to and left a ruin.
The last major noble family to own Trosky were the Valdštejns. The castle came into their possession during the Thirty Years’ War and remained theirs until they sold it on in the early 1820s to the von Aehrenthal family.
Ruins and Restorations
Austrian diplomat, Count Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal (1854 – 1912), had inherited the ruins of Trosky and was the first person to take an interest in restoring them to some extent.
Under Aehrenthal’s ownership, the ruins received some stylistic modifications that were influenced by the Romanticism movement which was popular in the early to mid 19th century. He had also planned to have a staircase leading to the top of the Panna tower constructed. Building of the stairs was started, but the count’s unexpected death signalled the cessation of further work on that project.
Following Aehrenthal’s death, interest was taken by the Czech Tourist Club in maintaining the ruins at a small level.
Major restoration work has taken place since 1925, when Trosky came under state ownership. Today it is administered by the State Heritage Institute in Pardubice.
Paying a Visit
Trosky is open to visitors from April to October, but the exact hours and days of operation are variable upon the month.
While it is possible to take guided tours, you can also do a self-guided tour if you prefer.
Beyond taking in the details and atmosphere of the ruins, the main reason to visit Trosky is most certainly the fantastic views it can give you of the surrounding countryside.
It can’t be stressed enough that visiting Trosky if you don’t have a car or are part of a coach tour will require you to put in a good deal of physical effort. Several cycling and walking paths will take you to the castle, but it’s good to do your research first and choose one that best suits your ability. I suggest contacting the Český ráj tourism office and asking them for information about the relative levels of difficulty of the various trails that lead to Trosky.
We put in much more effort than we expected to when we visited Trosky, but the views were a most worthwhile reward for those efforts.
As popular as it is, there is decent information about Trosky available online. The following links will give you extra information and a place to start your own plans for visiting this attraction:
This link will take you to the official website of the castle:
If you’re an expat living in the Czech lands, or in the process of preparing to be one, the summer of 2017 has brought some rather big changes to the legislation regarding foreigners living here.
The new laws affect seven areas of immigration policy. To see if the changes affect you, this article will give you a general overview of the changes and give you links where you can ask more specific questions:
Jičín, in the East Bohemia region of the country, is a small city and one of a small group of towns considered symbolic gates to the popular Český ráj region and its picturesque rock formations.
However, Jičín is more than just an entry point to the region. The city and the immediate surrounding area have their own deep history tied to old nobility. One man in particular, Duke Albrecht of Valdštejn (1583-1634), was instrumental in not only shaping the contemporary face of the city but also significant tracts of the Czech nation’s history.
Valdštejn was one of the most influential noblemen in his time and had grand visions for landscaping Jičín and adjoining localities into a large, continuous garden. While his vision was left incomplete following his assassination, much of what was accomplished remains intact to be explored by visitors.
If you decide to make Jičín your entry point to Český ráj, do make sure to set aside at least a day for for the city itself.
Valdštejn’s influence over Jičín and vicinity began shortly after the Battle of White Mountain, in 1620. White Mountain was an early and pivotal battle of the Thirty Years’ War and Valdštejn was an infantry commander on the victorious side of it. He received the title of Duke for his part in the battle and chose Jičín as his seat. He began the remodelling of the city in 1624.
Much of the landscaping work happend along a straight line running from Veliš, south west of the city, to Valdice, just on the city’s north east outskirts. The line bisects Valdštejn square, in the heart of Jičín, and touches seven important former Valdštejn holdings along its length.
At the south west terminus of the line is the ruin of Veliš castle. The castle dates to at least the early 1300s. While it successfully withstood seige by Swedish forces during the Thirty Years’ War, it was destroyed by imperial order in 1658.
Further along the line takes you to Jičín’s main square where you’ll see the Valdice gate tower, Valdštejn palace and the Church of Saint Jacob. Valdice gate is the last remaining tower from the city’s old fortification walls and a climb up to the top will reward you with a good view over the city and surrounding areas.
Valdštejn palace is the predominant structure on the square. The building existed before Valdštejn took possession of the city and he chose it as his palace; its current appearance is largely his doing. Today, the building is home to the Regional Museum and Gallery.
The Church of Saint Jacob was ordered built as a cathedral by Valdštejn in anticipation of establishing a diocese in Jičín. However, a diocese never was established and work on the building was halted after Valdštejn’s death. It was eventually completed as a church and consecrated in 1701.
Further along the line takes you to the 1.7 kilometre long Linden tree alley which leads fro the centre of the city to the Valdštejn loggia, summer house and associated park. The Linden tree alley was established in the early 1630s and is said to predate the gardens at the Versailles, in France, by around 60 years.
Finally, at the north east terminus of the line, is the former Carthusian monastery in Valdice. Valdštejn had it built with the intent that it would serve as a final resting place for himself and his closest family. Valdštejn’s plan, however, did not come to pass. His remains moved several times before coming to their final resting place in Mnichovo Hradiště, 32 kilometres to the west of Jičín. The monastery itself was closed in 1782 and eventually converted to a prison in 1857. It still serves as a prison today.
From an architectural standpoint, the buildings Valdštejn ordered show high degrees of early Baroque as well as Italian Mannerist and Classicism stylings. This is largely thanks to Valdštejn contracting the work out to prominent Italian architects of the day.
Meet Rumcajs and Family
On a much more contemporary timescale than Valdštejn, is Rumcajs and his family. They are central characters to a series of animated television tales set in the fictional Řáholec forest, near Jičín, and you won’t avoid seeing them when you visit the city.
As the story goes, Rumcajs was working an honest life as a cobbler in Jičín when he was put out of business by the mayor.
The mayor was quite proud of his large feet and went to Rumcajs to have shoes made. When he asked if Rumcajs had ever seen feet so big, the mayor took it as a deep insult when the cobbler said he had seen bigger feet on someone in the nearby city of Hradec Králové. In response, the mayor promptly shut down the cobbler’s business “For insulting the mayoral feet” and banished Rumcajs and his family from the city.
To support his family, Rumcajs became a highwayman in Řáholec forest.
In the context of Czech popular culture, the Rumcajs stories were originally televised from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, with a total of 39 episodes being made. The stories remain popular and can be seen with some regularity on Czech television today.
A Feel for the Place
In the main, Jičín is not a particularly touristy place beyond the Valdštejn related attractions. However, with the wonders of Český ráj on its doorstep, it doesn’t need to be touristy.
It’s the sort of place that serves well as a base for your travels further into the region. It’s well conected by rail and bus to a number of tourist attractions in Český ráj and will give you a quieter place to come back to and unwind after a day at busier places.
However, the city is clearly proud of its past and if you go there at the right time you’ll see costumed actors taking on the roles of Albrecht of Valdštejn or Rumcajs.
Jičín clearly exists for its own residents before anything else, so there isn’t really a nightlife and most places in the centre seem to close around 19:30 and 20:00 on weeknights.
It does offer a respectable selection of accomodation and amenities for visitors of a variety of travel styles. Several hotels, bed and breakfasts and holiday rentals are available and the city has two good sized supermarkets near the centre for the self catering type travellers to stock up on supplies.
Visiting and Learning More
As it is a gateway to a major tourist region, Jičín is not a particularly difficult place to access by road or rail.
A visit to the city’s webpage will give you a fuller picture of what the city offers the visitor in not only sightseeing, but also other holiday themes: