Cesky Tesin’s bus station on the extreme edge of Ul Hlavni, a ten-minute walk away from the Polish - Czech border has neither an information point nor a ticket office. Bus timetables to a good number of destinations in the Czech Republic are however conveniently posted on display boards near the bus stands. Additional signage makes the timetable difficult to decipher considering that the decoding footnotes are written in Czech only. A footnote sign one finds on almost all timetables consists of two crossed hammers, an indication that the bus operates on working days only. Checking the departure time carefully, having the ability to interpret the additional footnotes and arriving at the station early are essential requirements.
I was here half an hour prior to departure time waiting patiently for the bus to Ostrava, fifty miles west. Scheduled to pass through Frydek-Mistek en route, the bus departed on time with only a handful of souls on board. Leaving Cesky Tesin behind, the bus plied along country roads that meandered across crop fields, open grassy pastures and ripe corn tracts ready for harvesting. As the bus approached Frydek-Mistek, the landscape changed from a dappled plateau of cultivated fields and grasslands to a forested hillside grove of spruce and pine.
The bus station at Frydek-Mistek located out of town on a landscaped clearing is a small austere place equipped with only basic facilities. The little teashop nearby is popular with travellers, offering good food from a limited menu at acceptable prices. Leaving Frydek-Mistek after a ten-minute stop, the bus resumed its northbound trip along secondary roads to Ostrava, winding its way gently along a hillside ascent that offered good views over fertile valley sides from the top. The bus soon took a sharp turn and climbed down gradually to a dual-carriage motorway, heading directly to Ostrava.
Ostrava’s main bus station is a huge fully-equipped sheltered space outside the city centre on Ul Vitkovicka. Located in an area where two motorways intersect, it is not the easiest place to navigate. After asking for directions, I was shown the way to Namesti Republiky, another neighbouring vast space where more motorways intersect and a number of flyovers cut across each other, making it difficult to hit upon the correct route to the city centre. A multi-storey underground tram terminus from where most tram lines operate to the centre was the redeeming factor. After I did my best to disclose the tram routes using the posted plan in the terminus, I took tram No: 2 bound to crisscross the most popular routes. In an attempt to solicit information about the city from the fellow who sat next to me on the tram, I realized that the best thing to do was to get out of the tram at the Electra stop located on the southern edge of Ul Nadrazni right in the city centre.
Ul Nadrazni, a street that cuts across the city is a shopper’s paradise, containing more than a fair share of shops that elbow for space along this popular hangout. Walking up Ul Nadrazni, I came across an easel-supported board set down on the walkway. The hand-written phrasing in Czech read: Pension Ve Dvore! Pozor! Ceny jednoluzkovy 850; Dvouluzkovy 1200; Triluzkovy 1500 vcetne snidane. Although my knowledge of Czech was as limited as my ability to swim the English Channel, I could figure out the significance of the diction with ease. Having made my way in through a bleak corridor, I found myself within a graceful courtyard, surrounded with a walled-up structure, the corners fittingly embellished with charming trailing plants. The stylish cafeteria on the ground floor doubled as a hotel’s reception and so I was in the right place when I made my way in to ask for a room. Pension Ve Dvore was my inviting place of respite for the two nights that followed. The pension’s friendly cafeteria turned out to be my breakfast room in the morning and an excellent drinking hole prior to a night’s rest.
Ostrava is still miles away from becoming a top tourist attraction. Unlike most cities in Europe, this big city does not have an art museum. Its sole historical centrepiece located on Masaryk Square in the old post office building is a humble display of historical artefacts, the principal attraction being a huge astronomical clock with four dials and several functional features. With regards to music-related venues, the Divadlo Antonina Dvoraka is a modest answer to Prague’s Narodni Divadlo but the performances are neither as grand nor as exciting. The redeeming factor is the international music festival called ‘Colours of Ostrava’ held in the Antonin Dvorak Theatre every year in July.
Cultural venues apart, Ostrava is a unique experience of quaint interesting places that one will not come across elsewhere. One sight that definitely necessitates a visit for its sheer authenticity and uniqueness is the Michal Coal mine, its entrance located on Namesti Cesky Armady, a short distance east of the Ostravice River. Tram lines do not cross the river and the only means of transport to reach the mine is the trolleybus. Trolleybus No: 101 from the Electra stop on Ul Nadrazni is frequent. The building over the mine’s abysmal shafts and most of the period machinery are well-preserved and look precisely as they did when the mine was in operation. A new visitor’s centre complete with an exhibition space, a bookshop and a cafeteria complement the worthiness of a visit.
Another sight I found interesting for its peculiarity and faithfulness to details is the Miniuni, an exposition of miniature models of famous world buildings. Spread out over a large forested area and landscaped grasslands in Vystaviste, it includes exact model replicas of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the Eiffel Tower, London’s Big Ben Tower, the Seven Wonders of the World and other contemporary buildings notorious for their grandeur and opulence. Miniature trains chug across the park from one sight to another while little steamships run across the winding waterways from where the sights can be observed with ease. The open-air restaurant on one edge of the park offers refreshments and regional specialities from an a la carte menu.
Ostrava’s landmark and most popular attraction is the viewing tower of the New Town Hall. The eighty-five-metres high tower is equipped with an elevator that whisks visitors to a top lookout platform from where the views over the entire Ostrava basin are impressive. On a clear day, the views stretch out as far away as the Beskidy Mountains to the south and the grand Jeseniky Mountains to the west. The Ostrava Information Centre located on the ground floor of the New Town Hall is an excellent source of information, providing all the material you may need about the city in several languages. All northbound trams from the city centre pass within walking distance of Prokesovo Namesti where the New Town Hall is located.
Ostrava’s night life and entertainment scene leaves nothing to be desired. Concentrated around Ul Stodolni (it’s on the left while going up Ul Nadrazni) and its handful of side streets, it is a great way to spend a night in an atmosphere of new friends, music and Czech beer. On weekends, the street seethes with revellers seeking action and the scene becomes overrun with clubbers and boozers who invade all the music clubs and bars in the area. But on working days, the scene is more relaxed and foreigners who come here stand a better chance to enjoy the atmosphere. I have sensed the ambience of quite a few clubs and taphouses during the two nights I was here. Those who have been to London’s West End (and I am sure most have) on a night out are aware that some clubs are not for the faint-hearted. It’s the same here. Choose carefully before joining in the fun.
Ul Stodolni has enough bars to keep one busy beyond sunrise. But if all you’re after is just a taste of Czech beer, there’s nowhere better than ‘Potrifena Husa’, a traditional music bar that serves Czech beer on tap, Ostrava Velvet and Staropramen Granat being the most popular. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ right on Ul Stodolni is a more intimate drinking hole, an established Irish bar where…(you’ve guessed it) Guinness flows like water and the clientele consists mostly of English-speaking guys and gals. ‘Netopyr’ on Ul Podebradova is an expensive groove for the stay-through-till-dawn crowd where the music is an enticing mix of jazz, house and hip-hop. Next door, the less expensive ‘Kongo Bar’ is similar but the ambience is more subdued and tamer.
The ambience on Ul Stodolni is clear evidence that Ostrava’s reputation for being the top spot for the best nightlife in the Czech Republic is unquestionably justified.