After a month of having the reader surveys open for both my blogs, I have to say the amount of feedback was rather less than I hoped for. However, there was enough to indicate where the blogs are succeeding.
Looking at Beyond Prague question by question:
1: How well does Beyond Prague meet your needs?
The responses to this question all fell into the “Very well” and “Extremely well” brackets with the majority in “Very well”
2: How easy was it to find what you were looking for on Beyond Prague?
Responses were split between “Very easy” and “Extremely easy” with a majority in “Very easy”
3: Did it take you more or less time than you expected to find what you were looking for on Beyond Prague?
Responses fell into “About what I expected” and “A little less time” with a majority going to the latter category.
4: How visually appealing is Beyond Prague?
This was a split between “Extremely appealing” and “Very appealing” with the latter getting the majority of votes.
5: How easy is it to understand the information on Beyond Prague?
This was a tie between “Very easy” and “Extremely easy”.
6: How much do you trust the information on Beyond Prague?
Responses were split between “A lot” and “A great deal” With the majority going to “A lot”.
7: How likely is it that you would recommend Beyond Prague to a friend or colleague?
Half of respondents said they would recommend Beyond Prague while smaller percentages were passive or said they would not recommend it.
8: Do you have any other comments about how we can improve our website?
Not much was said in this area, but here’s a couple of comments:
“I appreciate the non-biased feel of the writing in the articles.”
This is good to hear as it’s exactly what I aim for when writing my blog.
“The website gives enough information to make me want to visit but not so much that I feel I’ve learned so much as to make visiting redundant.”
This is also good to hear as I aim to give readers enough information to know generally what to expect of a place, but not to give spoilers of it.
9: How did you learn about Beyond Prague?
Half of respondents found the blog via internet searches.
Smaller numbers found it via the WordPress reader function or from friends and colleagues.
While the results of the surveys certainly aren’t scientific, I’m happy to have them.
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:
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: