Ostrava and Rock Groups
Not to be Confused with the rock group, T-Rex and the Bang-a-Gong song from the 1970’s. Wondering how many of you will get that? Surely , that dates me! A big L-O-L
But there is a Colours of Ostrava Music Festival held in Ostrava every year with contemporary artists. I heard it was fun.
The Official hashtag: #TBEXostrava2018
I was excited to be going to my first TBEX travel bloggers event all the way in Ostrava, Czech Republic. I only had been to one other travel blogger conference previously, the WITS summit in Quebec, so I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want to compare the two as being the same. The WITS was focused on women bloggers while TBEX is open to both female and male of all ages. If I had to guess the demographics of this conference it would be that it is primarily people in the their late 20’s to early 30’s. Having said that, I can also say I met baby-boomers (in retired mode) and couples blogging together. It’s a good mix of all ages and backgrounds. Many know each other from attendance at previous TBEXs.
It was a lot to take in on two fronts; the TBEX conference itself, and the overall visit to the Czech Republic. Both were important to how I planned to develop my travel blog strategy so I decided to go into absorb-mode and sponge it all in then later find time to reflect on it and write it up to the best of my ability. I didn’t find time at all to reflect during the trip as it was a whirlwind of activity daily including the FAM tour at the end of the 3-day TBEX conference.
1-2-3 Get, Set, Ready, Go!
But here is how I started out visiting the official conference center for TBEX called The Gong in Ostrava. It was originally a Gasometer, or a gas storage tank that had a sunken gasholder bell in the center of it. The architect repurposed this building with its round shape to create a monumentality to sound. The bell doesn’t chime but the acoustics in this building are perfect for holding large venues.
On Thursday morning July 26, I was scheduled for an external session to learn about branding a blog. Instead of taking Liftago or a taxi, I decided to take the bus to the Dolni Vitkovice area where The Gong is located. Using the IDOS app I figured it would take me about 10-15 minutes and left 20 minutes early for good measure. But I hadn’t figured out yet how to make a cross-over from one bus-tram stop to another at the Namesky Republik so when I got there I wasn’t sure to walk across the street or go under the pedestrian tunnel. It was confusing because there were no signs in English and trying to figure it out in Czech was challenging. I mention it here in anotherpost. I basically got to my class 20 minutes late (ugh!) and was embarrassed to walk in that late but the teachers for that class were accommodating and helped me fit in my introduction right away and get focused on class instruction (which was to be a half-day session)
When the session was done for the day I had some time to walk around the entire Gong conference center inside and out to figure out where everything was as the next day was to be the start of the conference.
I took photos while it was still quiet with only a few people milling about getting things ready for the conference start on Friday, July 27, 2018. I also met up with another travel blogger who had requested to meet me through the official bloggers bridge website. She was from Vienna (one of my favorite places)and we talked about our goals and how we could perhaps help one another business-wise.
After my meeting I took a walk around outside and looking up at the massively towering hunk of iron and steel overhead was mind-blowing. This HUGE, and I mean huge complex was hard to figure out just what it had once been – a coal mining factory erected by the Soviets during their occupation of the Czech Republic. It looked very communistic in terms of being foreboding, generic, and obtrusive to the landscape. Maybe that’s not an apt comparison but it just didn’t seem like something that should be in a bourgeoisie town of Ostrava especially after seeing how magical the capital of Prague is.
But I learned that the Czech people are resourceful and very skillfully came up with this project to repurpose the coal mine into a world-class conference center. They did it cleverly too because it’s modern in the inside and they even repurposed a tall tower, the Bolt, to become a 360-degree viewing landmark for visitors renaming it after the Jamaican sprinter.
Other areas outside around The Gong include an open expanse for outdoor concerts and venues. A relax zone with steps up to Adirondack chairs to kick back in and chill out. I found 2 cafes on the premises, one inside and one in a separate building outside. All of this detail I explored during the 3-day weekend TBEX conference. I thought TBEX and Czech Tourism did a really fantastic job of putting it all together. It felt very professional to be there.
On Friday the first day of the conference, I arrived early for the newcomer’s welcome speech. There were a lot of us “newbies” there, new to either TBEX or to travel blogging in general. While I wasn’t a total newbie to travel blogging (because I re-launched my site in 2018) I felt the buzz and energy of the conference to be welcoming. Everybody was friendly and I made new connections to people as we ate lunch together or attended sessions together or stayed at the same hotel. It was all good.
I found that they offered a lot of sessions that peaked my interest but there were conflicting times as I couldn’t do them all so I had to choose from the several that were offered. I was pleased with the ones I chose too. The last one was particularly inspiring for me as given by Yeison Kim. He had a lot of practical advice to give on how he succeeded with his travel blog. As I took notes profusely on my mac while he spoke, I realized I was getting all kinds of peripheral ideas to implement somewhere down the line for my own travel blog.
And that I think was my biggest take-away from the TBEX conference in Ostrava. It was that I had a plethora of ideas to develop and so many things to do once I got back home and sat down in my office chair. (Yes, I know some bloggers like to write on the go and manage it efficiently but my mode was to process everything and get back to my comfort zone)
Would I recommend a TBEX conference? You bet. Especially if your new in the world of travel blogging. It’s a great way to connect with others who are doing what you do or what you want to do and just hanging out with people is fun in and of itself. I also enjoyed meeting many of the Czech Tourism people—they are young and current with trends and were so helpful with anything you could ask about their country. No topics were off-limits. In that respect I think it’s a great form of diplomacy to meet up and learn about one another’s countries. Thumbs up for me TBEX!
The Great Town Square of Kromeriz
We arrived in the town of Kroměříž, Czech Republic in the hot afternoon of a July summer sun. At first sight, the baroque-style buildings looked dainty in their pastel-hued colors surrounding the cobbled-stone town square dating from the 13th century making for an intriguing allure to want to go and explore. The Marian Column with the Virgin Mary on it stands out in the square and is a reminder of the plague that struck the town in the 1713 for 2 years. As with many Czech towns, there is much history to be discovered going back many centuries.
Hotel La Fresca where actor Tom Hulce stayed during filming Amadeus
Before exploring, we checked into the Hotel La Fresca, a historic Hotel facing the square, with a restaurant out front serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
My room was on the 3rd floor (there is a hotel elevator) facing the back, but it had a very good working air-conditioning unit over the door which I quickly turned down to cool off the room. The room was really cute, with an iron framed double-bed, desk with chair, large armoire and a separate en suite. I slept comfortably (and coolly) and found out from my FAM mates that the rooms facing the square were a bit noisier due to all-night partiers in the square. Plus those rooms didn’t have A/C but some had a bathtub.
Chateau and Tower Tour
The next morning we were scheduled for a lot of activity in one day as is common on FAM trips. We started with a walk to the Chateau Kroměříž : Archbishop’s Palace
The Archbishop’s Château and Gardens are among the most attractive and historical places in the Czech Republic. This is evidenced by the fact that the Archbishop’s Château, the Flower Garden and the Château Garden were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998. In the interior courtyard and foyer entrance are some marvelous marble statues.
Starting the tour of the chateau we went into the trophy hunting room where hundreds of stuffed animal heads, guns, and a large pool table are featured. This room was furnished for a meeting between the Russian Czar Alexander III and Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I. The room in which they held their meeting in August of 1885 was called the Czar’s room. It is done mostly in a rich burgundy color with many paintings on the wall, exquisite marble statues, diamond chandeliers, marble console tables, and intricate tapestries all lend for a lavish décor.
From the windows of the Czar room one can look out to the chateau gardens below.
Where scenes in the movie Amadeus were filmed
Moving on to the next room, the Abbey or Church, one can gasp at the immense size and see the hundreds of light-blue and white chairs set up orderly. The 52-foot (16 meters) high ceiling is adorned with an intricate painting while the antique-white walls with touches of gold reflect the long hanging oversized diamond chandeliers. The floor-to-ceiling windows were open letting in a warm breeze and lots of beautiful sunlight danced around off the shiny decorations. There is a grand piano in the corner as music recitals are held here. Parts of the movie Amadeus were also filmed in this room.
The Rooms in the Chateau
The next rooms we visit are the “office” with a secretary desk, the Bishop’s personal bedroom displaying the Bishop’s clothing of the period and more intricately painted ceilings to remind one they should look above to the heavens. Further down is a sort of Judicial-type room where legal matters were addressed. Next was the music room, then the massive library with 4-ft tall spinning globes. After viewing this beautiful interior we headed outside making a quick stop at the chocolate shop on the bottom floor to get some quick energy before ascending the 300-steps to the medieval tower top.
Medieval Tower; a Cultural Monument in Czechia
The views from atop the tower were breath-taking of Kromeriz and the surrounding countryside. You can walk all the way around the tower and read the plaques that orient you to which direction you are looking and what landmarks to look for.
On the way down there is a small exhibit with historical reference to the building of the tower.
Back at the ground floor there is a gift shop. Standing floor posters explain the historical significance of this Moravian region as the D.O.M. which stands for Duchovni (Spiritual) Osa (Axis) of Moravy <Moravia> This axis includes the Archbishop’s Palace in Olomouc 35km away and the Archbishop’s Palace of Kromeriz.
Sauntering outside behind to the immense Chateau gardens that span 64 hectares we hopped aboard a tram-train. There we saw trees, peacocks roaming peacefully everywhere, ponds, and small buildings with forgotten histories. There is a café with picnic tables and a children’s sandbox area.
Then to the city hall where we saw a wall mural done by the famous local artist born in Kromeriz, Max Švabinský
Finally stopping for lunch at the Cerny Orel or Black Eagle, we were also given a behind-the-scenes view of this restaurants beer brewery. The owner also showed us the adjacent chocolate shop they run and gave us some delicious samples.
Next up was the outdoor Archbishop Flower Gardens which is its own park. The park is designed similar to Versailles in that there are geometric patterns ornately designed with hedges and flowers and plants placed in orderly fashion. In the center of this awe-inspiring wonderland is a rotunda that contains a pendulum hanging from a 25-foot wire. This is another nod to the French design as you can find a similar pendulum in the Pantheon in Paris.
That was the end of touring Kromeriz for the day. Jumping back in the van, we were headed next for Luhacovice Spa Town.
Rudolf Jelinek Brandy Factory in Vizovice
A must see and visit is the Rudolf Jelinek Brandy Factory in the town of Vizovice. This town lies in a valley and upon entering it looks much like you would expect from a grape-growing vineyard area much like in Italy or California. But this town doesn’t produce wine, instead plums are grown here, for this is the capital of Plum Brandy as first started in the late 1800’s. The brand is called Slivovitz (the Czech word for plums) and is famous around the world. Here you can go take a tour of the distillery, watch how Brandy and Whiskey are made, and taste a variety of flavored brandy you might not ever have imagined trying. I know because I tried several flavors since I was on an adventure.
As we drove onto the vast orchard grounds we stopped in the midst of acres of beautiful plum trees and plucked a few right off to taste! Sweet and delicious fresh blue-purple plums now made me curious as to how the brandy would taste.
Variety of Brandy Flavors
After a brief introduction film we were given shot glasses to try of the famous brandy. Whew! It was almost 100 degrees outside, so we were already hot and thirsty, but this isn’t something you want to chug down in the heat. Sips were just fine.
Gold Cock Whiskey
We were given a private tour of the Whiskey distillery and shown 100 lockers in a room that are held by private members of the Jelinek club. It is rumored that the 100th locker is owned by Vaclav Havel. There was a special story as to how the name of the whiskey came about but I will leave it to you to find out when you visit there.
Even the Jelinek production line is fascinating to watch
A Quiet Town Named Holesov
After we got our afternoon buzz we headed off to the town of Holesov which is on the boundary line of Hana and Wallachia, trade routes from medieval times. Stopping at Holesov Chateau (Castle) we viewed the expansive, yet peaceful and serene gardens of this ancient castle.
Around the corner from the Holesov Chateau is one of the oldest Jewish Orthodox Synagogue and Cemeteries. While other Jewish buildings in Holesov were destroyed during WWII this building stayed untouched due to what some believed was the Rabbi Shach influence.
We were there when a big tourist bus full of American Jewish people was there holding a service thus we were not allowed to enter until they left. But we were given a behind-the-scenes look at the room of the Rabbi complete with ancient Torahs and manuscripts. The ceiling had the original decorative painting on it still from the 16th century. Amazing!
The small church itself was a sight to behold with its ancient decorations on an arched entryway. Walking across the street to the cemetery we were amazed at how old some of the tombstones looked to be. It was hard to tell since most were written in the Czech language or in Hebrew. There are around 1500 graves here. This cemetery was built in the mid-15th century and survived through the holocaust despite the Nazi occupation and the killing of 253 Jews in this city alone. Rabbi Sach is entombed here. We didn't get photos as there was a ceremony taking place but it was amazing to see this piece of important history has been kept alive and is still used to this day.
Rejuvenate at a Spa Hotel in Luhacovice, Czechia
First and foremost this town became known for its curative qualities in the 18th century due to the abundance of mineral spring water in the area. It wasn’t until the 19th century that a whole cottage industry sprung up (pun intended) around this unique natural feature thus Wellness Spas became the rage. In 2001 the Czech Ministry of Culture applied to put Luhacovice on the Unesco World Heritage List tentatively. In the meantime, come visit to see what makes this town so special.
Swim in the Vodní nádrž Luhačovice
Our FAM group arrived at the Hotel Vyhlídka in Luhacovice one afternoon, hot, thirsty, tired and wanting to relax. This hotel fronts a natural swimming pool the size of a small reservoir. My room had a balcony view of the water which was enticing me for a swim. However our host, Dana Muller of the Zlinsko a Luhacovicko tourist board had something else in mind for us and that was to whisk us off to a spa experience at the elegant Alexandria Spa & Wellness Hotel . I was unfortunately too drained to make it but the rest of the people on our FAM trip did and said it was excellent.
Dine in a 5-star Restaurant
That evening we dined at the Alexandria restaurant adjacent to the hotel, enjoying such delicious, healthy meals as steak, fish, and salads. Our host ordered a steak which was cooked right at the dinner table! See the video:
Savor Freshly Brewed Gourmet Coffee
The next morning we met at the Lazenska Kava Coffee House for a tour on how this gourmet coffee is made. This is an awesome business start-up by a young entrepreneur. The demonstration he gave showing how he uses technical and precise formulations from raw coffee beans, roasted to perfection, resulting in the best tasting coffee in Luhacovice. No need for a Starbucks in this region when you have the Lazenska Kava.
Visit the Museum of Traditional Czech Folk Wear
After getting revved up on the delicious espresso coffee we headed off to the Museum of Luhačovické Zálesí There we discovered exquisitely made traditional costumes of the region. Our guide was a woman named Dr. Blanka Petrakova who had so much to share about her region’s history. Her daughter and a man who translated into English for us, also accompanied us on our morning walk along the Kolonada.
Stroll the Kolonada Pedestrian Walk with Charming Shops and Cafes
This is the main pedestrian avenue that is adorned with shops and cozy cafes. Stopping briefly to learn about historical figures at an outdoor water fountain we also got a quick snack of the large, flat, local wafer cookie called Oplatky, which smelled like freshly made ice cream cones! Delicious!
Drink Mineral Water in an Outdoor Fountain
Further down the avenue we stopped in the Spa Square to view the oldest preserved building built in 1795; the baroque Chapel of St. Elisabeth.
Finally we got to the first outdoor mineral water fountain and we all took a drink. The taste was just like baking soda! On the salty side, but not too bad. The Czech people in this region swear by its health benefits. These waters come from under the mountains in the area so the water is clean and fresh, yet full of minerals.
We then took a tour of the Dům Bedřicha Smetany This medical spa resort built in 1910 by the architect Emil Kralik and bearing the name of the world known Czech composer Bedrich Smetana is beautifully done in Art Noveau style. People come to stay here for weeks at a time to rejuvenate, rest and get well. The services of the health resort include drinking cures, inhalation, balneotherapeutic procedures, massages, peat procedures and locomotor rehabilitation, and thus allow the treatment of the respiratory and digestive tracts, metabolism disorders as well as dysfunctions of the locomotor system.
Meditate, Mellow-out, and Meander along the Trail Hike in this Spa Retreat
Then we walked over to the beautiful Wellness & spa hotel Augustiniánský dům where we were given a fabulous tour of the grounds. Later we had a special lunch, complete with dessert and espresso. This is an upscale resort, ideal for couples, or even as a wedding destination because there is a beautiful small chapel on the premises. The average price for 2 for a 1-week stay at this spa hotel is about 4500czk. An absolute bargain! And it includes breakfast and spa services.
There probably are more than 8 things you can do in Luhacovice but I’ve listed what I experienced and can recommend. Also keep in mind this town can be visited year-round as the weather is mostly temperate with heat in the summer and cold snow in the winter. There are special spa hotel packages for the holiday times too!
Ostrava; Great for Business conferences and tourists alike
This is a city with a history that shows the spirit of the Czech people in how they took something old and turned it into something new. Ostrava lies in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, about 3 hours from the capital of Prague. Awarded town status in 1279 by Olomouc bishop Bruno, what was once small grew over the centuries into a huge industrial complex during and after World War II. That’s because of the natural resource of coal in the Dolni Vitovice area of Ostrava which eventually led to coal, iron, and steel factories springing up. The Soviets capitalized on the industry post WWII but during the velvet revolution of 1989 that all changed. By 1994 the remnants of Soviet rule were gone at last. What remained was a legacy of iron buildings and air pollution. This younger, newer proactive approach of Czech citizens came along and set out to change that lingering soviet after-effect. A campaign to revive and repurpose became a fruitful endeavor.
You wouldn’t know all that on the surface of a first-time visit to Ostrava. But as you wonder about the city and talk to the locals and research the history you will learn first hand how this city is changing its image. One such way of doing that was for Czech Tourism to offer a venue for the annual TBEX conference for travel bloggers. Insert 500+ bloggers into this city and other vicinities in the Czech Republic with eyes-on-the-ground to soak up new experiences, new adventures to share with the world and the outcome will prove to be far-reaching to show what Czechia can offer to the casual traveler, and the business visitor. I’m one such person to offer up my practical experience and perspective.
Here I am! #TBEXostrava2018 the official hashtag of the event
My journey here starts with my arrival out of Prague to the Ostrava hlavni nadrazi (main train station) via RegioJet train service.
Arriving at the Park Inn Radisson Hotel in Ostrava, Czech Republic was easy. As a single woman traveler I didn’t run into any issues as you can see from my other posts.
The Park Inn was a breeze to stay at, had all the amenities I needed/wanted including a comfortable bed, a room with a view, a large breakfast buffet a bargain at 300czk. I even tried dinner and lunch there on different days and found it to be quite adequate. There is a lovely outdoor seating area too that lends itself to a quieter vibe at night if you want to relax and chat with friends.
Staff is very attentive and helpful whether at the front desk, the restaurant, or the maid service. I didn’t try room service but it was available until midnight I think.
There is also a spa which I didn’t have time to try and free bikes to roam the nearby center of the city.
It’s not expensive, in fact it’s a bargain!
Beware of the ATMs from Euronet, however as they charge higher fees to withdraw cash. I was charged 75czk (USD3.30) to withdraw 400czk (USD17.65) There was one in the lobby of the Park Inn Hotel but I avoided it only after learning there was a better Czech bank ATM to use. And that was the Česká spořitelna which has ATMs pretty much everywhere in the Czech Republic. It was easy to withdraw lower amounts, say 200czk, rather than with other ATMs that might only give you the option to withdraw 1000, 2000, 5000czk which is not always a good thing because you might end up with more cash than you need.
Transportation in Ostrava
There is also a convenient bus stop right across the street from the hotel to get to anywhere to/from Ostrava. Easy navigation in an unfamiliar city is always a high checkpoint on my list and Ostrava met that mark. There was also easy taxi and Liftago service to/from the hotel. Liftago is the equivalent of Czech Uber as there is no Uber in Ostrava, only in Prague. The drawback to the Liftago app is that it wouldn’t accept American Credit Cards for some reason. So even though you could hail a driver, you would have to pay him in Czech cash (koruna). As a special offer to TBEX attendees some of us were treated to a free ride on the Silver Tesla which was seen zipping around town. I got a free ride with it!
Getting around town using the very inexpensive transportation system took a little getting used to as only part of it was in English. It became easier to memorize my stops in Czech and figure out how to change at the Namesky Republika which is the central tram/bus changeway. At first, I wasn’t sure to walk overground or underground as no signs were clearly pointing how to get from Point A to any all points beyond. I lost 20 minutes one morning trying to figure that out through trial-and-error. It turned out as I walked in the underground causeway, I stopped to ask 2 gentlemen, and the younger one fortunately spoke some English. When I said where I wanted to go they pointed to which rampway I had to walk to catch my bus. From then on it was easy. As I pointed out before, I found Czech people to be friendly and helpful even if they didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Czech.
Helpful Apps for Ostrava
I also recommend downloading these apps to your phone for helpful navigation; the IDOS which is operated by the Czech Ministry of Transport. It’s a handy timetable and schedule system to take you from point A to B. Another good app I found useful was the Ostrava!!! App which has a lot of information on events and activities and maps. It’s only available for iPhones however.
Ostrava City Hall and Tower
I headed to the Ostrava City Hall the next day to retrieve my TBEX badge. While there I took the elevator to the top to get a birds-eye view of the city during the day.
Afterwards I wandered behind the building to the canal where I found families cooling off in the oppressive European summer heat. A nice pathway to ride a bike or take a walk parallels the canal with towering pine trees overhead.
Later, I met up with my first group of travel bloggers for a day-trip to a suburb of Ostrava called Poruba. Afterwards me and another attendee had dinner at Bernie’s. I had a delicious steak with red wine and it all capped off a very busy but happy day!
Oh, and what do the 3 exclamation marks mean after the word Ostrava?
Rather than continue to use its old coat-of-arms symbol, the city of Ostrava decided in 2007 to create a competition for a new modern logo. Thus the Ostrava!!! Light blue symbol was born. Just one more thing this city has been doing to modernize its appeal to world travelers and business corporations. This leads me to tell you about another modernization which blew everybody away at the TBEX travel bloggers conference.
And that is The Gong…here is where the word re-purposing takes on a whole new level of meaning!!!