Saturday, July 02, 2005
GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL!
Czechs please take special note... Please don’t be offended, but my girlfriend and I need to get away from people. Therefore when the question of our holiday arose initially – several places were discarded immediately. CROATIA – Lots of sun and clean water true, but also saturated with Czechs and German tourists. Ach jo! SPAIN – Lots of sun and not-so-clean water and also lots of British and German tourists. Ach jo! EGYPT – Lots of sun, sand and, well, more sand, terrorists, Czech, German, British tourists plus the odd Arab. Ach jo! BRITAIN – No sun, no sand, lots of cold murky water, cold murky weather and cold murky people. Ach jo! The main requirement for our holiday being lots of nature (to indulge my hobby of bird watching), peace and quiet, reasonable climate, relatively inexpensive and lots of good wine…settled… there was only one possibility – ZNOJMO! So what is so special about Znojmo? Lying on the southern Czech Moravian border with Austria. This delightful town boasts several advantages over the aforementioned destinations. There are very few tourists around; It lies amidst the Podyji National Park – so lots of nature. The climate is moderate. It is cheaper to live there and there are vineyards full of grapevines ready to make excellent wines. So leaving polluted and overcrowded Prague behind we set off on the 3-hour drive in our rented Fiat, our small car full of people (Pavlína and I), two cats (Míša and Káťa) and our assorted belongings. Having safely negotiated the D1 motorway with its pitted and uneven surface, the heavily detoured E38 and the somewhat erratic driving of Czechs, we arrived at our final destination – the small satellite village of Dobšice which is joined by an industrial umbilical cord to Znojmo. Our first pleasant surprise awaited us. We were greeted by the charming owner of the chalet apartment we had rented for the week. Penzion Anna was a delight. Overlooking open fields, it was big, spotlessly clean and tastefully furnished. The cats liked it immediately and began exploring every nook and cranny… so that was ok then! Our week’s itinerary included the following: *A trip to Lednice to view the beautiful chateau and grounds. *Several trips to local wine bars (a favourite being U Legionnaire – an historic tiny cellar bar in the heart of the old town and recommended). *Several early morning and late evening bird watching forays. *Several excursions to local restaurants (neither of us enjoy cooking). *Lots of walking in the surrounding countryside and national park. *Ending most evenings outside our apartment, drinking wine by candlelight. Znojmo itself is worthy of some mention here. The owner of our favourite wine bar explained that Znojmo is currently in the doldrums. Tourist numbers are down again this year. Several large companies have pulled out of the modest industrial area, leaving a 30% unemployment rate in its wake. This was our second visit to Znojmo and we can confirm that there were fewer people in town than on our previous visit in 2003. Apparently the lure of history, interesting architecture, the national park, decent wine and a good locally brewed pivo (Hostan), together with a lively cultural scene – are not enough to tempt Czechs and foreigners to this jewel of Moravia. Well sorry Znojmo, but at least two of your guests are happy with this status quo. Few people around, reasonably friendly locals (even the substantial Roma population were comparatively well behaved)… that suits us just fine. As before, we briefly considered moving here. Of course the reality of the situation proves that it wouldn’t be feasible. The demand for English teachers (even on a Znojmo salary) seems non-existent. Suitable rented property is scarce…ach jo! The amount of wildlife in the local countryside is quite prolific. Obviously when man and industry move out – animals move in. We saw many mammals in the area. Deer (vysoká zvěř), otter (vydra), weasel (lasice); a fleeting glimpse of what I thought was a coypu (nutria) and birdlife aplenty. For those of you who are interested in ornithology, there is an appendix to this, describing my Znojmo bird list. Much more could be written about this interesting area. However, my recommendation would be for you to visit yourself. Just three hours away or one and a half, if you drive like a typical Czech. Forget Croatia, Egypt and the like. Znojmo has no snob value it’s true – but I’m sure you will be enchanted by its delights – just as we were. Just remember – in Znojmo people will understand you, you won’t have to get used to funny money, your stomach won’t be upset by the local cuisine, the koruna in your pocket will last longer and you will be supporting the local Czech economy. Just don’t tell too many of your friends…...Pavlina and I like it just the way it is!