Opava is the main town in Silesia, which is the part of the Czech Republic we’re visiting. It used to be called Troppau, when it was run by the Germans, and as soon as I found this out something started teasing me at the back of my mind. I remembered Troppau coming up, being important somehow. I also remembered Silesia being important in the 1919 peace treaties. Exactly how, escaped me, but it was good to feel I was visiting history.
At Opava we visited the Museum of Silesia. This was easily the best museum I have ever visited, even though all the notices were in Czech. I found that by concentrating very hard, and saying what I saw (in terms of groups of letters), some words were recognisable; dates were of course recognisable (and I soon learnt to spot the word for ‘century’, as in 15th, 18th and so on); and I had just enough knowledge of the relevant history and background to be able to get the gist of what each notice said. I couldn’t do this in every case, but I was able to get a reasonable understanding of the sections on buildings, literature and aristocracy, and the main chronology of events (which I accidentally followed around the room backwards).
There were quite a few old maps on display and the first one to catch my eye was actually two maps, identical, but one labelled in German and one labelled in Czech (Silesia was under German control up to 1945 – there were a couple of maps showing how the German aristocracy had it all carved up in the 19th century). It was the German names I recognised. That river – it’s the Oder, as in the Oder-Neisse line! (but I can’t remember what was important about the Oder-Neisse line). And Troppau, Troppau … this was really starting to annoy me … but luckily the Congress of Troppau in 1820 got a mention somewhere, and Metternich and the Congress system all came flooding back.
Also on display were some fairly old building plans. I have never really thought about it, but would probably have said that technical drawings of this type were quite recent (well, apart from really important buildings like St Paul’s Cathedral). But there were plans here from the 1880s and at least one included not only floor plans, but elevations and a little location map – exactly as is required with a planning application today. As floor plans are my hobby I liked looking at these. There were also the staging plans for a 1945 production of Aida. Museums do end up with some odd things, don’t they?
Downstairs was the Natural History section. As I am currently sporting 10 – yes, 10 – hideously blistered and weeping insect bites, I particularly enjoyed seeing rows of insects with pins in them how do you like it now eh? And I know it’s probably very wrong of me but I really, really liked the room full of stuffed birds. It had every possible bird living in Silesia from eagle to wren, and it was so nice to be able to get up close and look at them properly, instead of having to stand like a statue and watch while they hopped further way before fluttering off. I’m not saying we should bring back shooting and stuffing song birds as a hobby. I just appreciated being able to look at these. They were also beautifully displayed and lit and had none of the moth-eaten appearance that I noticed on my last visit to our own Natural History Museum.
By now I was running out of time (our rendez vous was at 11.30 and everybody else was already in the cafe drinking coffee). So I had just the briefest look at a case of Silesian stuffed mammals, and Silesian fossils (in slate. They were SO COOL) before dashing off to sign the visitors’ book and buy a copy of the English guide to the museum.
Leos marched us across the town centre to our 2pm rendez vous point, so that we all knew where it was, and then we had a couple of hours in which to have lunch and potter around the shops. We headed back to a shop we’d passed which I’d noticed selling maps – it had occurred to me that a map of the area would make my own perfect souvenir, and I just wish I’d thought of it in Slovakia or, even better, Austria. The shop we’d seen turned out mostly to sell sodoku books and wordsearches, and although having a go at a Czech wordsearch had a certain amount of appeal, we moved on, to the Tourist Information Office.
Here I was able to buy a really good hiking map of the area, and one of Trnava, so I have two perfect, easy to carry souvenirs for myself. I also bought two postcards. This meant I was now on a mission for stamps. We were also on a general mission for Presents for the Children. These need to be:
- Ideally, inexpensive
- Either useful or edible. There is no point in buying useless tat, it just clutters up the house.
I had pretty well narrowed my own choice down to chocolate, but you never know, maybe some earrings, so we visited several mighty shops of tat just in case. David eventually found one selling those plastic things you decorate your crocs with; I was very envious, because this ticks all the above criteria (being useful rather than edible).
For lunch, we visited a bakery, and did a lot of considering and then a lot of pointing. David and Dave had a sort of bread pasty with a tasty but unidentifiable filling; and I had a Sunova Baguette (this one was ham, mayo and gherkin: I’m beginning to wonder if Sunova is a brand rather than a combination, especially as the girl in the bakery clearly had no idea what I was talking about, so I ended up having to point at it). We also each chose a cake for pudding. Dave had a pear pastry square; David had a walnut whip, only much bigger, and without the walnut, and with a pink strawberry whip filling; and I had a rectangular apple donut.
Eventually in our wanderings we found the post office. I went inside on my own because this is the third time I have bought stamps abroad so really I didn’t feel I needed moral support. This was clearly a main post office: there were lots of counter windows, each one numbered; and there were lots of people waiting, each one holding a ticket and watching a screen to see when their number would come up and which window they should go to. It was exactly like waiting for your number in Argos, when you find out whether you need to go to collection point A, B or C.
This was all super-efficient, and meant one could sit down instead of queuing, but how did I get a ticket? I went outside and summoned the technical back-up squad.
‘I expect you press this,’ said Dave, standing in front of a touch screen, and pressing one of the options (which were all in Czech, which is why I hadn’t done that). The screen printed me a ticket; the number on it was 1 (other numbers being called were around the 250 and 380 mark: it was possible I was the first person of the day to have chosen the ‘renew my car tax’ option). We thought 1 was a bit of a useless number, so Dave pressed another option at random, and got a 387. This meant we were in the virtual queue twice.
Eventually my number 1 was called, and the lady in the window was very helpful, even when I tried to pay in Euros instead of Crowns (I am running out of compartments in my purse to keep the different currencies separate; I do wish I’d thought of this when I was packing). My postcards now have stamps on them and I just have to work out who I’m sending them to.
We then returned to a shop we had seen, which sold lots of different ice-creams, most of which were brightly coloured (purple blackcurrant, vibrant pink cherry, day-glo green apple). One of the flavours was blue, and where the others were illustrated by a picture of the relevant fruit, this one was illustrated by a Smurf. We could only assume it was flavoured with crushed Smurfs.
After the ice-cream, the supermarket. We had a bit of confusion where we thought we were going in the out, but found we weren’t. But once we had sorted this out, it turned out to be a nice small supermarket, with a good selection of chocolate and sweets. I stocked up on my own emergency supplies while I was at it, and spent so long dithering that the men abandoned me.
After the supermarket, the coffee. But this was super-barista coffee; delicious, but it took its time coming, so we had to gulp it down and rush back to the 2pm rendez-vous. We arrived as the town clock chimed the hour – but we were the last.
I had just dozed off on the coach when we arrived at the reservoir. I had been a bit dubious about visiting a reservoir, but it was actually quite impressive, and a bit like spending a couple of hours at one of the quieter spots in the Peak District. We walked over the dam, through the woods alongside the river, over a bridge at which we did not play pooh-sticks (I can only assume this isn’t an internationally-recognised sport, because I don’t think I’ve ever crossed a bridge over a river without playing pooh-sticks), and stopped at a cafe. Along the way, Leos picked some mushrooms (including a fly agaric) to show us; we saw climbers and a small cave; and David saw fish in the river. He tried hard to show a pair of fish to me, pointing out exactly where they were (‘down from the leaf shaped a bit like a cherry … see those really waving bits of weed … next to that … facing upstream’) with such a detailed description that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had told me their names and national insurance numbers. But they remained invisible to me.
At the bar I looked at my map and tried (and failed, but that was because I had the name of the river wrong) to find where we were. I decided we must have a long drive home ahead of us and was correspondingly surprised when we arrived in Vitkov some 15 minutes after we had set off. At Vitkov, some people got out to observe Maria’s dancing lesson, some got off because they are staying in Vitkov, and some got off to have a ciggie. About 45 minutes later we were back at the hotel and arranging to meet for dinner (which should be in about 5 minutes but I’ll just finish this).
Mujde (Turkey) and Ana and Gastone (Italy) leave tomorrow morning. So tonight may turn into something of a party night. But I’ve already written today’s blog, so that’s OK, isn’t it?