Bienvenue à Brno!

Today, after a two-hour train ride, we arrived in our second destination in the Czech Republic: Brno!

It’s the second largest city in the Czech Republic, with a population of about 400,000 and a student population of almost 80,000 during the school year. That’s why when we first arrived, our tour guide told us that Brno is largely considered a student city–there are a whopping 30 universities, faculties, and colleges in the area. Because of this, it’s much more lively when students are here, since they made up such a big portion of the population.

Interestingly, our professors told us before we left the United States that if we knew a second language, we would find ourselves defaulting to it when we couldn’t remember Czech. They also told us that in Brno, people might not speak as much English. That’s probably why when we ate lunch at a local restaurant today, I found myself trying to order in French–I knew that I shouldn’t be using English, but I just didn’t know enough Czech to complete my sentence. (Hence the title of this post–“Bienvenue!” is French for “Welcome!”)

This has probably been the most frustrating part about being in the Czech Republic for me: the fact that while I understand snippets of Czech and can pronounce most of the words I see, I still end up running into language barriers almost constantly. That was one of the things that we discussed at lunch today, when four of us spoke with Dr. Slavishak about our study-abroad experience thus far. It’s definitely been fun, and some aspects–such as navigating the cities and interacting with locals–have been easier than we expected. However, the fact remains that we are foreigners; it’s impossible to assimilate completely, which often makes me feel guilty about so obviously being an American tourist.

After lunch and a quick stop at Hotel Slavia, we headed into the city for a walking tour. I had made a list of things I wanted to see in Brno, and our tour actually hit most of them. Our first stop, as I recall, was a cathedral with a pink tank sitting in front of it. The tank was painted by David Černy–a famous Czech sculptor whose work can be found throughout Prague–sometime during the 1990s. The tank is usually located in Prague, but it happened to be in Brno for a special exhibit at the same time that we were here!

The next main stop was Špilberk Castle, which was mostly used as a prison throughout history. Now, it offers one of the best views in Brno, as well as a great concert venue.

Another interesting sight was the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which rings its bells at 11 instead of 12 as a nod to the Swedish siege of the Czech Republic during the Thirty Years’ War. According to legend, the Swedish army planned to call off its attack if it did not win by noon; Czech citizens thus ran the noon bell an hour early, tricking the invaders into withdrawing.

I could go on and on, of course, about the other things we saw around Brno: a clock that’s supposedly shaped like a bullet, a crocodile figure commemorating the “dragon” that was thought to have appeared in Brno once, and a horse statue that provides an interesting view if one chooses to stand beneath it. But if I did that, this blog post would never end–so suffice it to say that Brno is full of fascinating sights!

When we left Prague this morning, I thought that I would miss it. While I certainly do, I am definitely excited to see what Brno has in store for us tomorrow!

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