Last night we had a lingering dinner, during which Mujde insisted we drink ‘Lion milk’, which she had brought with her from Turkey. Lion (because of its potency) milk (because it goes cloudy when you add water) has a mild aniseed taste and, hopefully, healing powers for those of us currently covered with medieval-style festering sores. After dinner we explored the music on our various phones, and then visited YouTube on Mujde’s i-pad. Several people had their first encounter with Johann Lippowitz (look him up, you won’t regret it) and the result of this was much laughter.
Today started with more farewells, as Team Italia and Team Turkey left us, in a car not quite designed for the amount of luggage they had between them. The reduced party – Britain, Spain, Poland, Slovakia, and Czech – climbed aboard the coach to visit an open-air museum, ‘The little wooden town’. On the way we stopped at Fulnek, where Jan Comenius (17th century promoter of universal education and, of course, the person after whom our project is named) was Pastor for a while. We just got out to stretch our legs and admire the huge and imposing town square, and take pictures of the information board, but it was a nice thing to have done. Leos really planned everything well for our Czech stay. The programme has been full without being punishing, and he has the knack (which I certainly don’t) of gently organising a large group of people to be at the agreed place at an agreed time. I know from my own experience how challenging it can be to manage such a programme so he has my admiration and respect for this. Our visit has also coincided with his wife being hospitalised and convalescent so it really can’t have been easy for him.
From Fulnek we travelled to the open-air museum. It was a beautiful day for a visit like this – clear blue skies, sunny and warm – and a beautiful location, lots of autumnal trees. The museum exists to show the traditions and culture of the Wallachian region, but I misheard this as ‘Valkyrian region’, so I have had The Ride of the Valkyries in my head all day. There was a Mighty Shop Of Tat next to the ticket office, but it was quite a classy MSOT and I bought a small ornament for the Christmas tree, to go with my lace one from Bratislava. There were also (and this was quite exciting) two dispensing machines, one offering coffee and one offering snacks. I bought a coffee and a Bounty bar for a total of about 80p and thought about how much I like travelling to other countries.
The little wooden town was begun as a project in the early 20th century, when the town of Roznov decided to modernise itself, and one family felt it would be a shame to lose completely the traditional buildings. Some buildings were moved and rebuilt on the museum site, some were built as replicas, and the effect is of a collection of Grand Designs eco-homes, with the wooden roof tiles and gutters, and verandahs everywhere. People dressed in traditional clothing sat outside the buildings or at market stalls, demonstrating crafts and offering samples for sale. I was very, very tempted by a metre-long wooden spoon and only the practical difficulty of carrying it across Europe for two days stopped me from buying it. One woman was making roses from folded autumn leaves (in exactly the same way that you can make roses from tissues or fondant – I had a go later myself and have now found a new autumn hobby). There was jewellery, there were wooden whistles and rattles, there was traditional cake … yes! It was a large-scale, open-air, mighty shop of tat!
Of course, it was all good quality, and excellent value, but it still met the definition of tat by virtue of being, for the most part, wholly useless.
Anyway – we liked the little wooden town, and I ended up buying a beautiful photographic book about it. We particularly liked the bee hives, which were made from decorated hollowed tree trunks capped with a roof, and David and Bea hopped over the fence so they could pose for a photograph next to one. This was not, however, the major photo-opportunity of the day, because the Czech prime minister was also a visitor at the little wooden town this morning. He had a very small entourage and there were no press photographers, which struck us as being very unlike Britain, and we had first noticed these men in suits laying flowers on a grave at the church (and had joked that maybe it was the president). So David, our international diplomat, and Bea, who was the one who had the nerve to ask, had their photograph with the local senator and the mayoress, and attempted to sum up the entire Comenius project in one sentence, without using the phrase ‘international jolly’.
The graveyard originally contained fake graves, but then somebody had the idea that it would be a good final resting place for local Moravian/Wallachians of note. So the grave we saw the prime minister visiting was of an Olympic ski-jump gold medallist (Grenoble, 1968); there was also the grave of an Olympic long-distance runner. We were so taken with the graves that we forgot to go inside the church – but then, it was rather full of dignatories at the time, and we didn’t want to look like we were stalking them.
We ate lunch in the little wooden town’s ‘stylish restaurant’. I was pleased to see puddings on the menu (I missed these in Slovakia) but after my roast pork with plum and sauerkraut and dumplings I felt as though I didn’t want to eat again for at least a week. We also had a local honey brandy, and I had a glass of white wine, so by the end of the meal I felt ever so slightly smashed, and really rather sleepy.
So for the third time today I got onto the coach and dozed off. I woke up when we reached Ostrava station. I could really go with this as a daily routine: wake up, eat, sleep while travelling, visit, sleep while travelling, visit, eat, sleep while travelling … it has a very pleasant rhythm. We were at Ostrava to put the Slovakian delegation onto their train, and buy our tickets/reserve our seats for tomorrow’s travel. Leos was there to do all the talking, which made life much easier, and all I had to do was hand over some money. The cost of my 4-hour journey to Prague tomorrow is around 350 crowns (just over £10) but my purse seemed remarkably light on crowns: I had a 200 note and a 100 note, but I would need that for dinner and Prague. So I had to pay by card and hope that the Co-operative Bank really had sorted out its technical difficulties. Later I discovered that the 100 note was actually a 500 note. Oh well. At least it means I’ll be able to stock up on cheap tobacco in Prague tomorrow.
Ostrava was interesting – it’s the biggest place we’ve seen since arriving in Czech Republic, and it has things like office blocks, an out-of-town retail park, and a contraflow on the motorway. It also has both trams and trolley-buses. I’m all in favour of public transport but to have both, as well as buses, does give the impression that they didn’t think it through properly at the outset.
We also, briefly, saw the tower where the coal mine used to be. In its coal-mining days Ostrava was a very dirty town, but now it’s being regenerated – hence its swish railway station (essentially the old railway station with a glass box on front, but hey, that’s regeneration for you).
After that I fell asleep again. I woke up at Opava, where we dropped off two people I hadn’t really got to know at all, and then in no time we were back in Hradec outside the hotel. I think in total we were only actually travelling for four hours today, but there was a good break every hour (plus I slept all the time) so it felt like we’d seen a lot without really travelling at all.
It was now time to say farewell to the Polish teachers and children, who were about to drive home. There were all the usual double kisses between the adults; and then we had to say good-bye to Leos. There were so many things I wanted to say to him but what I actually said, when I found out we wouldn’t be seeing him tomorrow, was ‘Wait!’. I then set a new world record for dashing into the hotel, going up two floors in the lift, getting my room unlocked, finding the gift I’d brought, and doing it all in reverse. So, the box of Stratford fudge ended up in the right hands.
And now it is just Team GB and Team Spain left (David is referring to this part of the trip as ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’). We sat in the sun at a cafe outside the castle (the whole area was much busier than it had been at the time of our previous visit, and then we remembered that in the real world it’s Saturday). Then Team GB had another local brandy. Tomorrow, two-thirds of it (the boys) will travel by train to Bratislava, so I will be giving them top public transport tips tonight over dinner; and I will be travelling to Prague, then overnight to Germany, then to Brussels. I do not know what opportunities I will get to post on the blog during that journey, so my final account may have to wait until after I am home on Monday; and I also need to do a post especially for Chalet fans, and another of all the little things I forgot to mention as I went along. So, it’s not quite over yet, but there may now be a little silence.
But right now, dinner.