Winding around Wine Trails of South Moravia

Many times I heard, living in the capital city of the Czech country, that Bohemia is the region for beer, whereas Moravia, the other state, was wine country, specifically South Moravia. Time finally came for me to board my chariot, a big, yellow Regio Jet bus, from Prague, setting southward to investigate the substance behind the cliche.

The almost four-hour road journey came to a close in the town of Znojmo. Exploration was thenceforth by foot. The first South Moravian stroll was into the town square of Znojmo, a short distance from the central bus terminal.
Little jeweler and silversmith businesses surrounded the central square, whereas bowls of botany adorned the open-air space.

Entering the heart of wine country, though, meant trekking through towns, then later through woods until the wooded terrains cleared for fields of cultivation: curling vines, golden wheat, occasional orchards.
Sunflowers speckled one such swath.

Naturally, it being wine country, stretches of vineyards roll towards rural horizons.

To complement the visual scope of vineyards, their fermented liquid products are sensorially palpable to visitors’ taste receptors. Erratic wooden stands house refrigerators furnished with of white wine for tasting (but it is typically a gamble whether the stands are open upon arrival).

Moving southward through a southern portion of a landlocked country, such as the Czech Republic, is synonymous with nearing the national border. In this case, the closer one treads along the wooded trails towards Austria, the more ruins one comes across; borderlands had been forbidden for settlement during Communism.

Numerous mills that existed along the river had been abandoned, however, some new walkway and wall had evidently been more recently erected.

Besides the absence of mills, there is no shortage of lasting historical sites throughout the Znojmo area. Public memorials that recount the course of the tumultuous Plague era consist of town square towers begging for its termination to monuments honoring the Virgin Mary because prayers to her are said to have eradicated the horrors. Today’s vineyard keepers may strive against the unpredictability of climatic conditions the oft-unforgiving earth may bestow, while beneath the surface soil, stone wine cellars that keep consistent temperatures steep in generational histories.

Then there is still room for modern art in functioning residences. One almost expects a namesake saint or local legend to accompany such a noticeable object.

Other outstanding structures that appear to bear uneasy conditions of how much history they withstood, awaiting patiently for some sort of rejuvenation.

Natural backdrops can remind us of the continuity of the earth despite cycles of cultivation and culture inherent to civilization.

Such natural scenes can also backdrop digitally realized portraiture in which we glorify our achievement of earthly ascent.

Apropros ascent, it’s also possible for exploratory wanderers to reach the heights of civilization’s structural products. One upward route is to climb 162 steps of Znojmo’s Town Hall Tower into a level where watchmen had watched over its vicinity (until 1924).

Not all of Znojmo is so lofty. One may plunge into the town’s depths by entering its underground, stooping through thresholds, snaking along labyrinths and peeking into former elevator shafts or air ducts. Although no torture or prison ever existed in this subterranean area, the congenial character of dusky, murky spaces for skeletons seems indisputable.

Up Říp

En route to and up the trails of Říp–the hard-to-pronounce title of a folkloric Czech mountain that’s sometimes referred to as a hill–I was:

Taken to what was claimed to the lowest lookout tower in Czech lands to look out into the Polabske lowland’s nearby town Roudnice nad Labem.


Led along the roads that ran through pastoral fields to pass by a noticeably little island within a little pond.

Exposed to the scale of the rolling lowlands.

Shown a set of distant smokestacks towering above the agrarian stretches.

Reminded, at an unobstructed outlook just below Říp’s shortish summit, of the subtle contrast of reddish rooftops against autumn landscapes’ even subtler tones.

Unexpected Czech Sights

Thinking of it, the Czech Republic was also full of weird things.

One unusual landmark in Prague was the TV tower.

I lived by Petrin Hill in Prague 6, so I was able to take a walk to a lookout point in this park, and see the Prague Castle to the left, followed by a sea of red rooftops flowing downhill to the Vltava River, crossed by old bridges, followed on the opposite banks by Old Town and pointy Gothic towers and historic sites, later engulfed by another sea of red rooftops, all eventually making their collective way under the giant, grey, modern structure of the TV tower on the opposite end of the city.

This tower would have a blinking red light at the top, and I remember taking cabs around that part of the city at strange hours of the night, and always looking upward out my car window, to notice the everlasting, consistent off-and-on glow brought on by the tip TV tower.

I went up close to it once, and it was all covered by sculptures of crawling babies. I thought this was rather appropriate.

Another weird part of Prague was the Museum of Communism. I don’t know what it’s history was, but it was somehow located across the way from a casino and a McDonald’s, in an area that had been apparently very capitalized. Within such an ironic location, it looked like a makeshift gallery that some people had thrown together by searching through their grandparents’ attics for some old propaganda material to throw together.

A bit outside of Prague was Kutna Hora, which had the famous bone church. This structure was hundreds of skulls, topped off by hip bones and femur surprises, arranged in the most beautiful way possible.

Individual human beings probably think of their own skeletons with a lot of regard. I had never seen a display where so many of them were just arranged all together, a bunch of passed human bodies from centuries ago actually having a physical presence in front of me. I hear of historic figures by means of literature or story, and maybe see some of their possessions in a museum, but here were a bunch of nameless humans from history actually present in front of my eyes, reduced down to their inner physical beings.

Riding the trains through the Czech countryside was also an interesting thing to do. The trains looked and acted like they had not been updated since the 1950s, so it felt like I was time traveling. I watched the movie, Closely Watched Trains, about a year ago, and it reminded me of these times.

I went the Czech at this time of year, almost exactly three years ago. My experience in this city and this country, and my nostalgia, would never be the same if it were not for all of these strange things.

Karlovy Vary

One of the majestic treasures of the Czech Republic is a small resort town named Karlovy Vary. I think its name in English translates as something as Carlsbad, taken from its German name. It is a spa town that is located close to the border of Germany, in the western part of Bohemia. Though I did not make it to any of the spas or massage parlors, I found it an excellent daytrip out of Prague.

Some people envision relaxing resorts as some pristine and sunny paradises, excluded communities with climate control and tropical pine trees and soft sand and smooth breezes and complimentary margaritas while you relax on a float in a pool.

I think I like a place like this more. I remember it being grey, cloudy, cold and tucked in the hills of patched forests, some of the trees naked, some of them short and evergreen and some of them displaying their last stretch of November browns and yellows, flaunting what they still could.

Amidst the uncomfortable climate and wetness, you can touch your hands under the designated hot spring fountains, and get a taste of burning mineral water for some interesting geological contrast.

The town was full of many Russians showing off their flashy fur coats, likely relaxed by all of the massages and spas and treatments that this town has to offer. There were also many suspended cardboard cut-outs of Bechorovka hanging along the river that ran through the town, the Czech Republic’s national liquor that tastes somewhat like gingery, syrupy, sugary Christmas. Another wonderful warm-up is the smell and taste of the huge, flat waffery cookies that they seem to have in markets all over this country, but in Karlovy Vary, they place them in a flat press and sell them to you on the streets.

One final destination is the ascent up the hills via a designated tram car, to a small panoramic glass tower where you can look below upon the streets and structures, all within a colder elevation with circling snow and wrenching winds. This spot is probably a scenic scam by the spas and the springs and the warming liquors and pastries to make people come back down for warmth treatments.

Puppet Land

When I visited Cesky Krumlov, I went to a place called the Fairy Tale House, which is a what most would call a puppet museum. To me, it is a separate universe that one can ascend into, away from the grey cobble stone street exiting the realm of the Medieval paradise of the cloudy, touristy Czech town. It felt like some Tom Waits carnival song coming across some awkward childhood memory that you cannot be sure if it was a dream or reality.

It may have been the creepiest place I’ve seen, and it blew haunted houses out of the water. There were displays through glass windows of evil bloated puppets making sacrifices to gaunt reddish puppets, all suspended in the air by strings.

There were shelves of little children representations, and strange creations of seemingly Oriental stereotypes next to some campy European folkware maidens.

I was surprised by the juxtaposition of the proper pirates standing above the tumorous-nosed elderly puppets, all in some warped fairy tale universe you could only experience from the opposite side of the glass.

The weirdest part was climbing up the final stairs into the attic to the ultimate Satanic lair, and being encountered by an oversized, matte-colored infant hanging by its strings, a product of arrested development of such a dim environment.


I think Prague was my favorite place I’ve traveled. I feel very fortunate that I was able to live there a few months, my perspective definitely would not have been the same had I just passed there on a greater trip.

Of course my home, New York, will always have a special place in my heart, and I will probably always think of other places in reference to it. But going to Prague really puts things into perspective of why I’ve had a wanderer’s syndrome, and why I have the desire to depart from a standardized lifestyle. I really like Portland, where I currently live, and the nature of Oregon is really special. But not a day passes where I do not reflect upon my references on the Czech Republic.

I’ll always remember my flight to Prague from JFK, through Czech Airlines, a surreal airline with planes and stuartists that seemed stuck in a time capsule from the 1970s. I remember sitting next to an elderly Slovakian woman who took full advantage of her complimentary Becherovka shots (which I later learned the most popular Czech liquor) and going through some non-lingual conversations about the reasons for our shared flight experience, despite her lack of English and my lack of Slovak. Though it seems an expensive journey back, I’ll hopefully one day find a cheap flight to Prague again.

The food there was not my favorite, and the weather was not great, but once you can get over little discomforts, this city really has a lot to offer.

I do not know exactly what it was about Prague, I think it was just the little things, as cliche as that sounds. For instance, I loved living in some old Yugoslavian dormitory with walls that would brush white dust all over all of our belongings and clothing. We would get breakfast in the basement, prepared by these decrepit old ladies who were certainly a product of harder times. They would feed us things like chocolate Santas around Christmas time, and daily juice that tasted like really watered down gatorade. And yogurts that were flavored like liqueur or like aloe vera, or sometimes pomegranates, which none of us really knew how to gracefully disect and would often stain ourselves and the tables red.

Riding the tram was also one of my favorite parts. I lived in a buffer zone between Prague Castle, a really touristy part, and then Prague 6, a residential area, so it was a pleasant balance. I’d get on the 22 tram from the Pohojelec stop to head down the hill into Old Town every day. The tram would stop at Prague Castle, and then continue to swirl down the hill into the city center, moving from the tired Socialist architecture, downhill towards the picturesque gothic and medieval area, before dropping us off right before the river. The late-night trams were also a trip, full of drunk people and other interesting characters yelling or dancing or bouncing around, or just passing out on the chairs.

Prague was also a fabulous place to go on random walks. It is a small enough city to always have an idea of where you are, but a big enough city to run into unknown little neighborhoods that all have something to display without trying to. It was nice to finally learn enough Czech to order a tea or a glass or wine at some small cafe I would stumble upon, and then sit in the background to observe the people and the surroundings.

I also was fortunate to teach English at a local high school. The students there taught me so much more about Prague and Czech culture than I would get out of reading some ethnographical book.

I think I liked Prague for the overall feeling I had there. Of course the standard things were great; beautiful architecture, happening nightlife, good museums, interesting history. But just the way I felt, whether walking around the streets alone or passing through a daily commute, when none of these standard topics were distracting me and absorbing all my attention, was my favorite part.