Brno. The Czech Republics’ quiet city.

by Jessica Bannister-Pearce

With the arrival of spring, I decided to strike out and hit the rails running. Christmas brought a present in the form of a new train service to Prague and Brno. Regiojet is the Czech Republics number one budget rail and bus provider, offering cheap fares to all parts. Their arrival in Vienna offers direct competition to the Czech’s main rail provider on the route. RegioJet’s prices are incredibly competitive, offering free coffee, water, magazines, wifi and a full in-seat entertainment system. Best of all, it now stops at Simmering, saving me a trip into Hauptbahnhof. Prague is still 4 hours away and way beyond a day’s wandering. Brno however is barely an hour and a half’s journey time. Why not?

Welcome On Board.

The train arrives on time and once I reach my seat, I get comfortable. A free bottle of water appears swiftly. Next, it’s free coffee. Feeling in a celebratory mood, I order a train beer. A train beer is a bit of an Austrian tradition, at least that’s what I’ve told. Said train beer has to be the cheapest beer I’ve ever had. At €0.80 for a large bottle of Bernard, it’s ridiculously cheap. It’s also rather nice. The Beer disappears along with Vienna, and the countryside opens out ahead of me. In 45 minutes we reach the border and arrive at Breclav. It’s a short stop, but it’s very clear I’ve crossed into the Czech Republic. The Train station is filled with communist-era trains. The sheer variety is very interesting, though I’ve yet to see a ‘pretty’ train. The stop is short and within the hour the train arrives in the city of Brno.

Brno, I know nothing of you.

Once we’re clear of the train, it’s time to navigate the main train station. Train stations are a cities chance to impress you. Brno doesn’t quite do that. It’s run down, and not in that charming way you can romanticise. It’s not terrible though. A trip to a Welsh Valley’s Train station in winter can give you a new appreciation for other places. Despite the run-down feeling, there are a few fun things to note. Much of the station is formed by a bit of an indoor market, with stallholders offering a variety of wares from footwear to handbags, mobile phones to mini-mart type stuff. For a Welsh Valleys girl, this is very reminiscent of Wales. The ragtag traders give way to a much more modern facade that leads to the outside world. There are clear signs that Brno is fixing the station up then.

Outside the first thing, I notice is I have no clue where I am. This is a new experience for me. My sense of direction is usually excellent, but Brno seems to knock it for six. A quick consult with Google maps and I’m on course for the city centre. Before I head much further, I stop for cash. Unlike Slovakia and Vienna, The Czech’s have yet to embrace the Euro as currency. The Czech crown is roughly 25k to the €. The cash machine helpfully spits out 2000 crowns. Oh dear! In fairness, I made the mistake of using one of those Euro Cash machines at the train station. They’re set out to trick you into withdrawing more than you need. Those 2000 crowns are around 70 Euros. You live and learn.

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Brno boasts dsome impressive architecture.

Turning up the first street that points to the centre I’m confronted by a large gothic church on a hill, and it’s intimidating and stunning. the church sets up the day in Brno nicely. The winding street opens out onto a large square, known as Cabbage market square. It’s a large square surrounded by curious buildings and ornate statues. Pleasingly, there’s even a little market there as well, selling all sorts of produce. It’s impressive as the cold air hasn’t really lifted since we left Vienna. These market stallholders are a hardy bunch it seems.

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As mentioned, the square is surrounded by all sorts of interesting things. At one end is the Hotel Grandezza, looking for all the world like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, or a cracking location for a nice Cold War spy drama. Its run-down grandeur is kind of beautiful. On the opposite side of the square sits the Moravian museum. Again it’s full of charm and character. Next to that is an old theatre, one of the oldest in the Czech Republic I’m told.

From here, it’s clear that Brno is actively preserving its history and it’s not afraid to spend money on restoring important landmarks. The station may be a work in progress, but the city itself is definitely looking after its past. And it’s a curious past at that.

Leaving the main square I find a side street that leads to another impressive building, the old city hall. The arched doorway invites you in, but the large taxidermy Crocodile makes you wonder ‘what the hell?’

Known locally as the dragon of Brno, the croc it seems arrived in Brno, though I can’t find out where it came from and began terrorising the locals. The story goes that a local butcher hit on a plan to trick the creature by sewing up an old animal skin stuffed with caustic lime. The dragon found the meal, devouring it before dying. The dragon was vanquished and the city saved. The remains were preserved and hung in the city hall. Being from the land of dragons, I loved this story, and the croc makes for a very nice dragon. The crocodile theme continues in the city with the local radio station known as radio crocodile, and a sub sandwich is also known locally as a crocodile.

Talking about food, lunchtime beckons and my choices are vast. I’m wandering with my other half today, and we’re both hungry for some delicious Czech food. Our choices come down to two restaurants. One looks very traditional, while the other offers to deliver our food and a train. Suddenly, things have gotten interesting indeed. Tempting as the food delivered on a train is, the traditional place wins the day. It’s a good choice. We grab a table in what can only be described as a ‘devil’ themed restaurant. Being Goth, I’m pretty certain I’m in love. Ordering some local beer and two mains and take in the ambience. The place is awesome. The decor is great and when the food comes, it’s large portions are terrifyingly delicious. Best of all is the bill. We pay with the wonderful 2000 kr note and the waitress gives us a rye smile. Lunch cost just over 500kr or €20 for two. Brno is really finding a way into my heart.

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The Devils Pitchfork offers excellent food at great prices.

Lunch over, it’s time to hit the streets again and continue exploring. Public art is everywhere here and I happen across a large sculpture of Ravens. The piece has really captured the character of the birds and their curious nature. Dragons, Ravens and devil inspired pubs! Brno is a goth girl paradise. Leaving the Ravens, I wander into another pretty courtyard where’s the dragon makes yet another appearance, This time in the form of a carved log. From there it’s downhill and into another huge square. This time it’s filled with an Easter market. The smells of sugar and spices fill the air as local performers play Moravian music in tradition dress. It may be cold, but the atmosphere is very welcoming. Interestingly, there seems to be a lot of green beer being served. My better half, being a bit of a foodie, has to sample the curious green liquid. It exactly as you’d expect, a Helles bier coloured green. We have no idea why, but hey, when in Brno!

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This little market is home to ‘Green’Bier.

From the sights and sounds of the market, we press on and stumble upon yet another impressive building with an ornate facade. It’s the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic and it’s based here. The court gives way to more beautiful churches and we turn the corner and head back to the centre, the Hrad, or castle or palace sits on the hill to our left. It’s too cold to contemplate climbing up there today, but it’s still impressive none the less. For great views of the Hrad, head to the Denisovy Savy Park near the gothic cathedral. The park not only overlooks the Hrad but also offers you a great view over the city itself, stretching out to the hills. You see all sorts from here. The older buildings mixed in with the communist-era tower blocks make for an odd juxtaposition, but ultimately it’s good, showing the whole history of the city in one view.

With the light beginning to draw dim, the cathedral is our final point of interest. It’s certainly large and definitely ornate, but up close there’s less to see. The highlight from the grounds is a very gold Jesus. Statues of Christ aren’t unusual but I’ve never seen one that’s covered in pure gold before.

The cold is seeping in and there’s time for a quick coffee and cake stop before the Regiojet whisks us back to Vienna. We find a nice modern coffee house just on the cabbage market square and enjoy a nice coffee and snack.

Brno, Please never change.

Brno has been something of a revelation. Its a beautiful city is tempered with friendly people, and for travellers on a budget, you can eat and drink for little money. Personally, I’m in love. With Regiojet offering fares at just €14 return and a journey time of just 1 hour 30, Brno is the perfect place to pop out for a day trip.  It’s a must-see location with plenty of charm and I love it.

Getting There.

There are several services a day to Brno with Regiojet, plus many more with CD Rail. All start from Wien Hauptbahnhof.

Further Reading.

If you’d like to know more about Brno or RegioJet, Check out the links below.

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