Czech Exchange, part 2

Hello and Hauskaa Vappua!

In the previous blog post, I described my first days and impressions of an exchange student’s life in Czech. In this post, I would like to share my TOP 5 travel destinations in Europe for an exchange student based in Ostrava. I will mostly focus on practical aspects of traveling and a couple of less obvious destinations, as I believe that there are already plenty of touristic guides on the Internet on what to see and what to do in Europe.

1. Prague

It’s not even a joke! One may think that living in Czech implies visiting its capital at least a couple of times. However, I knew people among my classmates who were so excited to travel all around Europe that they got to see Prague only on their way back home when the exchange was over.

It is possible to spend a weekend in Prague, however, it’s also convenient to have a day trip, as staying overnight might be a bit expensive. Anyway, who needs to stay in a hotel when dorms back in Ostrava await to offer a luxurious stay? 😀 The train from Ostrava to Prague takes about 3,5 hours and it usually arrives on time, which allows to thoroughly plan the day in the capital. Be careful! Some of the carriers suggest reserving a seat in advance (which is normally not necessary if you travel short-distance and can take any seat you want). Most often, it can be done while buying a ticket online and it is free of charge. It’s not very obvious though, as the reservation isn’t suggested right away. If a passenger ends up without a reservation in a full train, unfortunately, the ones who have a booking get priority for seats. Standing for 3,5 hours in a crowded car isn’t the best way to start your weekend, is it?

If you know that you need to see as much as possible in Prague, I’d recommend buying a 24-hours public transport ticket, jízdenka. It covers the metro, buses, and trams, the latter being one of the most convenient and reliable ways of traveling, in my opinion. The ticket can be bought from ticket machines at metro stations or tobacco kiosks. I have no idea why but 72-days tickets, for example, are most likely to be bought from such a kiosk rather than from a machine.

If you are not in a hurry though, I’d explore the city on foot, as this is a surefire way to bump into some unusual non-touristic cosy cafe or a piece of art. Speaking of art, Prague seemed to me as an open-air museum, as here and there you come across different monuments and hidden sculptures, such as the ones below.

Yellow penguins on Vltava

The narrowest street of Prague

The narrowest street of Prague

Finally, I’d say that the best season to come to Prague is early autumn or late spring when it’s not cold nor extremely hot yet. Christmas eve is also worth coming – the city’s illumination, Christmas markets, and hot grog are amazing.

Prague during Christmas

Prague in early autumn

Prague in early autumn

2. Olomouc

This small town is situated between Ostrava and Brno, and it takes about an hour to get there by train. Despite its size, the town has everything a “proper” tourist needs: museums, architecture, old cathedrals, and picturesque parks. I’d often say that Olomouc is a small-scale Prague, perfect for those who dislike crowds and hustle of big cities. Take a 15 minutes walk around the town and you get to see a cosy park called Bezručovy sady. For me, it was a huge benefit that almost everything can be seen within one day.

Olomouc’s main square

Olomouc’s main square

Bezručovy sady-park

Bezručovy sady-park

3. Budapest

I discovered this destination quite randomly while browsing cheap tickets to spend my weekend outside Czech. I think I haven’t come across Budapest earlier due to transportation being a bit difficult. It is required to have at least one layover to get to the Hungarian capital, which lasts around 3-5 minutes max. Usually, the layover takes place in some tiny Czech town, where no one speaks English. So, be prepared to act fast and take the right train, otherwise, you can get stuck in there. But don’t overstress – the train station there usually has 2-3 platforms, so it’s easy to navigate.

I’d suggest staying at Airbnb apartments in Budapest, if possible. It’s doable to find a decent and adequately priced apartment not far from the city center.

If you travel to Budapest, take a swimsuit with you, as the thermal indoor and outdoor baths are a must-visit! Szechenyi Bath is the most popular and probably pricy one. However, I went to small baths as well and they are definitely worth visiting, too! For example, Lukacs Baths are quite close to the city and are reachable on foot. I’d recommend going to Budapest during cold times, as it makes the outdoor bathing experience even better.

Szechenyi Bath

Szechenyi Bath

4. Štramberk

If you take the southern direction from Ostrava, you will get to this small town that has its own special atmosphere. The way to the town is quite peculiar. First, you take a regular train, however, a connecting train consists of only one car, which is old and has a traditional interior.

Only around 3500 people live in Štramberk, which is located on the slope of a forested lime hill. The town is noticeable for an old castle tower, lots of authentic timbered houses, and surrounding forests with caves. If you go to Štramberk for the whole day, prepare snacks and drinks in advance, as it can be problematic to get food due to lack of stores (I found only one on my way to the tower).

The castle tower

Timbered house

Timbered house

Town view

5. Vysoké Tatry

Last but not least (actually, one of my favorite destinations) is Slovakian Vysoké Tatry. This mountain resort was recommended by one of the buddies at my university. Perhaps, I wouldn’t know about the resort if not the buddy, so don’t hesitate to ask them for suggestions.

This resort will be interesting to visit for those who adore nature. It’s possible to go there in winter if you are into skiing. However, I went to Vysoké Tatry in October and never regretted it. Just look at these amazing landscapes! It might be slippery and windy on the top of the mountain even if it seems to be sunny at the foot of the mountain, so be sure you have warm clothes and sturdy boots.

Mountain views

There is another resort close to Vysoké Tatry, which is called Štrbské Pleso (Pleso is “lake” in Slovakian). Indeed, the resort was named after a lake that is located there, and it’s also worth visiting. The most convenient option is to take a fast train from Vysoké Tatry and enjoy spectacular views on the way.

Štrbské Pleso

See you in my next blog posts!

Daria Sementina, IB graduate