In this edition of the Euroculture City Guides, Hui-Yu (Joyce) Weng (Taiwanese), who recently finished her second semester at the University of Göttingen, will tell you all about her experiences while living in Olomouc, Czech Republic, where she attended Palacký University during her first semester.
The City Guide Project is led by Paola Gosio and Felix Lengers
Euroculturer Magazine (EM): Why did you choose to study and live in this particular city?
Hui-Yu Weng (HW): Olomouc seemed like a perfect choice for me. The cost of living is low, and although it is a small student city, it has everything one needs and is particularly rich in history and culture. In 2019, The New York Times described Olomouc as a great alternative to Prague because of its similar abundance of historical sites, vibrant student life, and yet, relatively few tourists! As someone on a budget but still wanting to make the most of studying abroad, I knew I would certainly enjoy living and studying in Olomouc.
EM: What are the aspects you appreciate the most about the city and which ones are those that you like less?
HW: I like the ubiquity of Gothic and Baroque architecture in the city of Olomouc. As an ecclesiastical metropolis and former capital city of Moravia (one of the three historical Czech lands), a chapel, church, or cathedral can be found almost everywhere in the city. Besides numerous historical sites, Olomouc also offers artistic vibes with its wide variety of street art. From large murals overlooking pedestrians to small graffiti drawings filling up a mini-tunnel called Lomená Gallery, the city’s creative arts never fail to bring a smile to my face. It is also important to mention that Olomouc is very well connected to other major cities. It only takes about 1 hour by bus to Brno, 2 hours by train to Prague, 3.5 hours by train to Vienna or Bratislava, and 4.5 hours by train to Kraków.
EM: Was it easy to communicate with the locals or did you encounter any issues? Do you have any tips on how to deal with the language barrier?
HW: Generally, the locals speak English well. However, it is always a good idea to learn some basic Czech. The locals will be flattered, as Czech is neither a popular language choice, nor is it easy to learn, especially for non-Slavic language speakers. This website compiles a series of common Czech phrases, including audio files. With simple phrases such as those in the category Little Big Words and Greetings, you will be able to get by as well as impress the locals.
Be prepared for some interesting sounds: No – well; Ano – yes; Fakt jo! (“j” pronounced as “y” in English) – Really! / I can’t believe it!
EM: If you were in the city for 1 day as a tourist, what would you certainly do?
HW: I would certainly go to the Upper Square (Horní náměstí), which is also the city center. The Holy Trinity Column can be found here, the largest plague column in Europe and one of the 16 sites in the Czech Republic inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Behind the column there is the Town Hall, with the Olomouc Astronomical Clock situated on its northern façade. The astronomical clock was allegedly built in 1419 and reconstructed multiple times throughout centuries. Its most recent renovation took place around the 1950s under the communist regime. Today, it represents the only horologium in the style of socialist realism in the world.
Besides the city center, I would check out the Saint Wenceslas Cathedral at Wenceslas Square. This magnificent cathedral was built in the early 12th century, originally in the Romanesque style. Like most historical buildings in Olomouc, it underwent several renovations and eventually gained today’s look which is predominantly Gothic. Next to the cathedral is the Olomouc Archdiocesan Museum, the former residence of Olomouc capitular deans. It holds a permanent exhibition of church-related arts and sculptures, including an extravagant ceremonial carriage purchased by Cardinal Ferdinand Julius Troyer in 1746 in Vienna.
Apart from this, I would also take a walk around the park Bezručovy sady, where one can not only enjoy nature (especially at the two botanical gardens) but also learn about Czech history. Along the pathway, there are ruins of the fortress which once withstood a five-week siege by Prussian troops, murals of historic figures such as the first president of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and a neoclassical chapel built in memory of Yugoslav soldiers killed in World War I.
EM: Do you have recommendations on nice places in the surroundings of the city to take day trips to?
HW: Among others, Svatý Kopeček, “the holy hill” is a must-go. Only a 40-minute bus ride away from the city center, you can find a Baroque pilgrimage church with a meadow in front overlooking the entire city—a perfect place for a picnic on a pleasant day. Close to Svatý Kopeček is the Olomouc zoo. Animals aside, there is an observation tower allowing you to admire the pilgrimage church as well as the panorama of Olomouc from a different angle.
Another must-see is Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic and the city that replaced Olomouc as the capital of the historical Moravian land after the Swedish army’s invasion during the Thirty Years’ War. Apart from typical tourist attractions such as the Špilberk Castle (a 13th century royal castle and after 1560 a fortress and harsh prison) and Tugendhat Villa (pioneering modern architecture built in 1930), I recommend checking out the Ossuary at the Church of Saint James (the second-largest ossuary in Europe after Paris) and the nearby 10-Z Bunker (a former air-raid shelter constructed during World War II). Also, do not miss the stunning skyline view of Brno characterized by the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul at Park Špilberk. By the way, when walking around the city center, take a close look at the city’s iconic modern sculptures. Take a selfie UNDER the equestrian statue Courage and try to tell the time from the Clock Machine SUPPOSEDLY shaped after a gigantic bullet.
A day trip destination slightly further from Olomouc is Štramberk, a small colorful town nicknamed the Moravian Bethlehem. It is located about 2.5 hours by train from Olomouc. You can take an enjoyable hike while appreciating the town view with its landmark Trúba Castle Tower at the forest park Národní sad and the hill Zámecký kopec. You may also try some “Štramberk ears”, a type of gingerbread confectionery only sold officially in the town of Štramberk since 2000. Legend has it that the sweet was made in commemoration of the local Christians’ ears that were cut by the Mongol invaders in 1241 in the town’s hill Kotouč.
Even if you are too busy and therefore do not have time to organize trips, you will still be able to explore a bit of the Czech Republic since the Euroculture Olomouc team will take you on an excursion during the semester. In our case, we went to an open-air museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm and learned about the relocated cottages, traditional crafts, and agricultural technologies in the area.
EM: What would you consider the best local dishes and which places serve them best?
HW: I have tried a wide range of classic Czech dishes. My personal favorites are smažený sýr (fried cheese) and řízek (Czech schnitzel). However, the most popular dish is probably svíčková, marinated braised beef in a creamy vegetable sauce with various spices. It is typically served with Czech bread dumplings, whipped cream, and cranberries. Vepřo knedlo zelo (roast pork, dumplings, and sauerkraut) is another popular national Czech dish. So far, I haven’t been disappointed by any Czech soup among which Czechs are probably most proud of česnečka (garlic soup). As for drinks…the Czech Republic has the largest beer consumption per capita in the world and very cheap beer can be found here: the price goes as low as 14 crowns (0.5 euros). Common beer brands in Olomouc include Polička, Radegast, Pilsner, Kozel, Budweiser, Staropramen, and others.
Regarding restaurants, I recommend Potrefená husa, a Czech chain restaurant, located in close proximity to the Department of History, U Červeného volka, a local Czech restaurant at the Lower Square (Dolní Náměstí), and the restaurant by the Fort Křelov, which is a 40-minute walk away from the Neředín dorm. It is definitely worth the long walk not only because of their huge řízek but also and mainly because of the relaxing vibe there.
EM: Do you have some recommendations of good restaurants for vegans and vegetarians and other special diets?
HW: No matter which Czech restaurant you go to, you can always find smažený sýr, but that’s about it. If you are lucky, you might be able to find smažený květák (fried cauliflowers), smažené žampiony (fried mushrooms), bramboráky (potato pancakes), or ovocné knedlíky (fruit dumplings). Unfortunately, Czech cuisine is meat-based and vegetarian/vegan restaurants are scarce.
EM: Where would you go to have a drink or on a night out with friends?
HW: To name a few places. Vertigo: It is the oldest student pub in Olomouc. The must-try is a shot called Vzteklý pes (angry dog). Belmondo: The most popular Erasmus nightclub. It is a cool disco with two areas for dancing or drinking. Olomoucká Citadela: Run by members (or friends) of the Department of History, it offers a medieval vibe with medieval music, paintings, decorations, and handwritten menus. It also serves some light meals such as salad with bread. Na Břehu Rhôny: lt is a wine bar right between the Upper and Lower Square in the city center, a cozy place for chatting with friends. Air Bar: It is within a 10 minutes’ walk from the Neředín dorm and located right next to the Olomouc airport. They also serve non-alcoholic beverages such as hot chocolate, juice, and milkshakes. The bar owner is super friendly and welcoming. Naše Café: It is located at the Lower Square and was recommended to me by a local. Coffee Library: The café at the main university library Zbrojnice (Armoury). The indoor area is suitable for studying and the outdoor great for chilling! However, their coffee may not be the best according to my Portuguese friends (I can’t comment on that since I don’t drink coffee). CoffeeCat – kočičí kavárna: It is a cat café that I still haven’t been to, but three of my friends have been there and seemed to enjoy it a lot.
Extra tips from Bryan: Kozlovna M3 has by far the best Czech beer on tap. For a greater variety of beer styles, try LocAle Pub. Another good option is Morgan’s and then go bar-hopping in the surrounding area. Be sure to try the local spirits, Becherovka (cinnamon and ginger) and Slivovica (plum).
EM: How do the prices of the city compare with the one you were in for your other semester? What were some of the cheaper goods and what were some of the more expensive goods? (e.g food, museums, public transport)
HW: Everything in Olomouc is pretty affordable. The cost of living could be the lowest of all Euroculture cities. The monthly rent of a Neředín single room is maximum 3906 crowns (153 euros). I typically spent around 400-600 crowns (16-24 euros) on grocery shopping a week. A meal at a normal Czech restaurant costs around 200-300 crowns (8-12 euros). A four-month public transport pass costs 900 crowns (35 euros) or 450 crowns (18 euros) for students up to 26 years old. A 50-minute public transport ticket costs 18 crowns (0.7 euros). Museum entrance fees for students can be as low as 20 crowns (0.8 euros). Beer is definitely one of the cheapest goods. The same probably also applies to other types of alcohol, as my friend Bryan had decorated his room into an all-you-can-drink bar.
EM: Which websites/sources did you use to find an apartment in the city and what tips would you give to someone moving to the city?
HW: As I opted for living in the dorm, which is guaranteed to all Euroculture students, I did not have any issues with housing. All Euroculture students received a single room with shared bathrooms and a kitchen, making us all neighbours. Therefore, it was really easy to organize things together or simply to have a taste of a classmate’s exotic meal. Regarding the location, it is on the edge of the city, but a 15-minute tram ride can take you to the city center. Also, it is just one tram stop away (about 15 minutes on foot) from the local shopping center Globus, within 10 minutes on foot to Air Bar and a nearby beautiful pond. Moreover, as the Faculty of Physical Education is situated in Neředín, there is a gym right next to our dorm.
However, as easy as social life with classmates was in or around the dorm, I could not stand the poor soundproofing of the building, especially because I had the worst and least considerate flatmate ever. On top of that, it is a dorm building especially for Erasmus students. There were regular parties late at night (probably more during corona times as all clubs and pubs were closed). It is possible to call the report line if the noise continues after 22:00, though.
EM: In short, to whom would you recommend choosing your city as a Euroculture semester destination?
HW: I recommend Olomouc to whomever wants to enjoy their semester abroad to the fullest! It is cultural, historical, full of beautiful architecture and street art, and offers good inter- and intra-city public transport. At the same time, it is not touristic or pricy at all. Olomouc is definitely one of the European hidden gems.
What are you waiting for? Come to Olomouc and Czech it for yourself!
Picture Credit: Personal Pictures and Sergey Aleshchenko (Flickr)