Opa(va)tunity Knocks in Silesia

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17th November is a significant date in Czech history. 1989 spelt the end of 41 years of communism and the start of a new era in Czechoslovakia, as it was back then.

It’s also a state holiday and an opportunity for us to head north to Opava for some Friday afternoon football. We’d learned earlier in the week that the governing body for football in Moravia and Silesia had decided in their wisdom that Blansko’s season would end last Saturday, denying Craggy a final game of the season and the rest of us a chance to meet up with our pals at Slovan Rosice. However, a quick perusal of the fixture list brought up an intriguing game between SFC Opava and Hradec Králové. We also knew that there were a couple of breweries in town, so that was us sold.

Oh and before we forget, we should thank Czech Railways for providing us with free travel, thanks to their points system.

Trips like these require a bit of research and one of our students recommended the castle in Hradec nad Moravici, a 15 minute train journey from Opava. After missing out on the castle in Letovice on our last TBK day out, we were keen to make amends and even though we were on a tight schedule, we knew it would be possible.

7.00 am on a Friday morning, you would expect Brno train station to be fairly quiet… well, think again. The whole of Brno had decided to leave for the day and on our train too. We were not too sure where they were all going, but they had brought enough okurky to feed the entire Czech Republic.

First stop was a favourite train station of ours – Ostrava Svinov, the basis of deciding what makes a good train station is it’s pub and Svinov has two, so what’s not to like. A quick Radegast and we were on the train to Opava, a lovely town on the Czech/Polish border and the historical capital of Czech Silesia. During World War 2, it became an independent city and part of Nazi Germany. For some of the older generation, German is still their first language.

As mentioned above, we like to try and fit some culture and history into every trip, so upon arrival at Opava Východ we hailed a taxi and went to Hradec nad Moravici to see the castle, just to see it as from October to April all castles are closed here. Our Taxi driver raced through the country lanes, he must have felt the urgency of our trip or just wanted to be another Nigel Mansell. A friendly guy, he told us that he used to play football until he was seriously injured in a car crash. At this point we asked him to slow down a bit as with the current situation at FK Blansko, we may be asked to play this season.

At the castle, we were greeted by a bus load of Austrian tourists or given their age, they might have been from Opava. We explored the grounds, took some photos and walked down the hill into the town centre for a late-morning beer. The only place open was the “cultural house” which had been recently converted into a Chinese restaurant and we were the only paying customers. When our beers arrived we knew exactly why we were on our own… the house beer was Staropramen. Friends of the blog will know that we that we rate this beer as one of the worst in the country (possibly only Vyškov ranks lower).

Drinks paid for and to get an idea of our bearings I asked the waitress if she could point us in the direction of the train station, which surprisingly she didn’t know the answer to. It was a bizarre conversation and one which made us question her employment contract. Her Czech was poor and the impression we both had was living and working in Hradec nad Moravici was not her choice.

On the way to the train station we found a much more pleasant drinking den in Pivníce na Staré poště, where the beer was better and full of pub regulars enjoying a midday drink. Radegast 12s downed we continued to the train station where a single carriage train full of Opava fans took us back into town.

We followed the crowds of football fans along the Opava river to the stadium. It struck me as I was walking to the ground how much I miss the stream of scarf wearing supporters walking and talking on their way to the ground. When you follow a smaller team, you see just one of about 50 regulars and very rarely do we meet other supporters on our strolls to various football “arenas”. Oh, and I love floodlights and Opava have four beauties.

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Now, I am writing this in January, so the details of the game are hard to recall, but what I can tell you is the game was five goal thriller and definitely the best game we have seen for a while. Hradec took the lead twice and with 5 minutes remaining, the home team scored twice to take the three points. It was 90 minutes of scintillating football and an added bonus was the club were handing out free beer, well it was a bonus until we became aware that the free beer was in fact Gambrinus. We apologise for becoming pivo snobs, but there are a few breweries that are definitely a “no thanks” and two of them we’ve mentioned in today’s blog.

We followed the sea of yellow and blue back into the centre of Opava bidding them farewell on Pivovarská (Brewery Street) as we had one more item on our tick list before heading back to South Moravia, the microbrewery Nová Sladovna.

On my previous visit, some 11 years ago, the old brewery was still standing, however in 2007 the Ministry of Culture refused its application to become a listed building and it was knocked down and in its place a huge ugly modern shopping centre was built in 2010. The old Opava beer “Zlatovar” is still produced, not in the city, but miles away in Uhersky Brod.

Neither of us are fans of modern shopping centres, but this one was home to Nová Sladovna and with feeling a bit peckish and thirsty, we swallowed our pride and joined city shoppers and a handful of Opava football fans in the pub for a wonderful spicy guláš soup and an equally delightful local beer… you will pleased to read that we refrained from doing our weekly shop.

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Bellies now full, we made one final stop in the centre of the city for photo opportunities. In our humble opinion, Opava has more than enough to keep you occupied for a weekend should you ever find yourself in Silesia.

In the above paragraph, I did say the centre was our final stop, However, I have just reminded myself that we did go for one final beer in Stredoveka Krcma for a pint of the “local” Zlatovar. Both of us drawn to the pub by a man standing outside smoking and drinking wearing a pig’s head… like you do, maybe it’s the fashion in these parts. As he high-fived us on the way in I stopped myself from asking him why he didn’t go the whole hog… I fear it may have been lost in translation.

A great day.

Highlights:

Opava – it’s a lovely town.

The soup and beer at the brewery.

The match (best we’ve seen this season).

Hradec nad Moravici, a castle worth a a few hours of your time.

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A 2-0 defeat is “Hrad” to take in Břeclav

 

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As many may know the Klobasa likes a good walk, and with the summer coming to a close we thought we’d take the opportunity to get a good trek in before the rainy season begins. With Blansko travelling away to Breclav, Ralph suggested we could take a train to the village of Lednice and get a couple of beers and castles in before we wander through the forest to the game.

We set of from Hlavní nádraží (thankfully open again) early. Too early in fact to find an open bar upon our arrival in Lednice. Being quite a small place (approx 2000 people) we walked around it three times until one of the pub doors opened, and stepped inside with anticipation of beer and breakfast. U Volhy unfortunately, could only provide us with a liquid breakfast this time but we weren’t complaining. We followed up by buying some cheese biscuits and a couple of beers for the journey from the corner shop and we were off.

Castle number 1 was Lednice itself. Which sparked off some debate about what a castle actually is. In Czech Lednice is a ‘Zamek’ which translates to many as ‘castle’ but we are not convinced Lednice is a castle, more a chateau or, as Ralph threw in there, a stately home. Regardless, it is a dominating feature of the town and sits nicely for a photo or two in the picturesque gardens which encircle it. We didn’t go in. We had other things to do.

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We headed in to the woods and cracked open a beer and didn’t even have time to finish it before finding the next watering hole at castle number 2 – Januv Hrad (John’s Castle). And there you have it – ‘hrad’ translates as ‘castle’. I took this debate in to a lesson and no one could agree on a final outcome. Anyway, to us it looked more like a castle, if a bit small.

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Finishing up both a pint and our cans we headed deep in to the dark woods on our way to Breclav. The sky was overcast, threatening to open up above us – the forest dark and foreboding with winding paths in all directions. We were surrounded by trees, but we were brave and we strode on following the green (or is that blue to Ralph?) signposts and towards the next pub. We emerged from the forest behind us to the welcoming sight of the Breclav brewery. It was of course, not open to us, so we headed in the Zimni Stadion, listening to the thunder of hockey above us and ordered a schnitzel and potatoes – the only thing on the menu. The beer was bad enough not to finish – this is a rare occasion!

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Breclav also has a castle (zamek), and it’s er… shall we say, not the most beautiful. Never would we usually venture to be so negative, but really, it could do with a little TLC… or a bulldozer.

One thing we like perhaps more than a good walk, is an old pub with ‘atmosphere’ – and we certainly found one in Hospode na Rožku. We entered and ducked the darts being thrown over our head while stepping around the swinging regulars to take a place at the bar. We thrive on places like this, but are aware they are not everyone’s cup of tea. A good pint of beer though.

We got to the ground and put the flag up opposite one of the best stands in the game. The tall stand leaning against a house is becoming something of an attraction to lower league supporters of the game, and was indeed the most positive thing of the game – for us anyway. There were some promising performances from Blansko in the game but the lads just couldn’t find their feet against the better side in a 2 – 0 defeat of which there can’t be many complaints. It’s been a difficult start to the season, but one or two good performances should give the team some confidence – it just didn’t work here today. Our star striker Honza Trtilek came over at the end of the game to thank us… and offer us a 10% discount at Kaufland, for which we were grateful.

 

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On the way to the station we stopped in the Three Oranges and faced the unwelcoming atmosphere there for most likely our last time. One poor beer down and we jumped on the dining car for our last lager of the evening – taking us in to the beautiful sunset of  the Moravian autumn.

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Budapest – The Musical

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Many of us have been to Budapest before, it is a stunningly beautiful city famous for its Turkish baths, incredible architecture and my favourite river… At this point I should ask if anybody else has a favourite stretch of water? Friends often laugh when I list off my 5 favourite rivers…Ralph stop…

The purpose of our visit to the Hungarian capital was not to enjoy the baths, but to watch one of Hungary’s most famous football teams while exploring the city in search of good food (klobasa) and of course the local beer.

6.22am and we were off, comfortably positioned in a Czech Railway dining car, where we would stay for the entire 4hr 23mins of the journey south-east. One of the finest (I am keen to avoid using favourite too much) qualities of Czech Railways is the dining car – the service is good and the prices are excellent – highly recommended if you are ever lucky enough to find yourself travelling in the Czech Republic.

Roughly half an hour into the journey and not even in Slovakia we had already ordered our first beer of to go with our equally unhealthy breakfast of ham and eggs. We were also using the time to refresh our knowledge of Hungarian,  very much like the scene in Monty Python with the very same phrasebook. It’s a difficult language to grasp, but we were both determined to refresh our knowledge of the pleasantries.

The train journey from the Czech Republic is one of the nicest is Central Europe, especially when you cross the border into Hungary from Slovakia. While, the Hungarians may be blessed with stunning countryside, they haven’t been so lucky with ticket inspectors, as a couple of young ladies sat behind us in the buffet car found out when the most miserable inspector told them that a mobile phone was not a train ticket (I suppose he’s right there) and charged them an extra 80 euros for not taking the time to read the small print. No matter how much they pleaded with him, he was not going to let them off, unless they promised to give him back Dunajska Streda. I made that last bit up. However, they did leave the train lighter.

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As we approached Budapest Keleti, two things of note happened – First of all, with us keen to settle the bill, we went in search of a buffet car member of staff. It had been a while since we had seen them, but before you call the police, we did find them, all of them, fast asleep in the first class department and I felt awful having to wake them up. Welcome to Ceske Drahy.

The second, and this might give you an insight into life on the road with The Blansko Klobasa, was that Craggy turned to me right as we pulled into Keleti station and said, “maybe, we should turn this trip into a musical”. Now before you laugh, and we’d only had a couple of beers, honest – I thought this was a brilliant idea. Yes, you are all welcome to join us on a trip. We’ll list the bizarre songs that come into our heads later.

At Keleti train station, I made my first mistake of the day by heading over to change some Czech crowns into Hungarian forint. In untypical fashion, I went to the first place I saw.

“Excuse me, could I change some Czech crowns into Hungarian forints, please?”

I handed over the equivalent of about 35 GBP.

The woman behind the counter smiled and took the money and asked a question that took me by surprise.

“How long are you staying in Budapest for?”

Now, I took that as her asking me out on a date, but before we could finalise a night out on the tiles and possibly a life together in the Hungarian capital, I realised that she was encouraging me to change more money, so that she could rip me off a little bit more…The lesson learned here is – don’t change any money at the train station and although they a being extremely friendly, they are not inviting you out for ghoulash.

So, about 5 beers down in commission, we walked out of the terminal and into the bustling centre of Budapest, where we encountered another, and we must final, attempt to get more forint from us. Craggy will have to watch his back while withdrawing money at Budapest cash machines.

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After that final attempt at the cashpoint, we found a cafe happy enough to provide us with our first Hungarian beer of the day, for probably the only time during the trip we were not there for food or alcohol, but to use modern technology called WIFI to locate our hotel, somewhere over the river. Years ago, we’d have picked up a map from tourist information, now we have smartphones to ruin the fun..

“It’s about a 25 minute walk that way” said Craggy, while confidently pointing in the direction of the Danube, my favourite river if I hadn’t mentioned it all. What my travel partner hadn’t mentioned was that the entire journey was uphill.

So across the Chain Bridge we went, and then up and up and up. It was a challenge. While on that journey, we noticed piles of rubbish on the streets, I can’t really explain it, some people were selling junk, some of the residents had left whatever they didn’t need anymore. There was old furniture, pool tables, computers, old televisions, not in organised piles, but it looked like they had just been thrown from the nearest balcony… Could anyone from Budapest tell us why?

We finally got into the hotel Bi&Bi Panzio, and to my relief without needing climbing equipment, about 3 hrs before kick off. Even though it was a bit of a walk from the Keleti station, it was in a great location and we’d also heard wonderful things about the breakfast. It was also close to the metro line and we had a game to get to. Of course, not before we tried a restaurant recommended to us by the incredibly friendly lady at our hotel reception.

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Trombitás Gösserező was a gem, not the kind of place you would perhaps enter from unwelcoming facade, but a paradise of Hungarian cuisine and beer on the inside. The food did not disappoint and with a belly full, we paid and took various modes of transport before arriving at Budapest Honved’s magnificent stadium.

Arriving 30 minutes before the game might be enough time to get a ticket and find your place in the stadium, but not at Honved. Fans patiently queued well into the first half (apart from two annoying Australian tourists), and the only reason I can think of for waiting in silence without complaint was they knew something we didn’t… That Hungarian football would wait until everybody was safely in the stadium before scoring a goal.

We finally secured our tickets in 32nd minute, after providing I.D and speaking more Hungarian than we’d done in any of our previous visits. The only thing we didn’t understand was probably “Don’t worry about the score, we have asked both teams to pass the ball around in the centre circle until all fans are in the ground”, okay maybe the ticket lady didn’t utter those words, but there were still a healthy number of Honved fans queuing without a care in the world – so we knew the action would wait.

The Hondved stadium should be under UNESCO. It’s sadly been ruined by the plastic seats, but the floodlights are just glorious. For anybody who knows me well, they know that floodlights, rivers and Central European train journeys are up there as my most favourite things ever…

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Beers bought, we positioned ourselves behind the goals and as close to the ultras as possible – I still don’t know how MattLostBoyo finds his way in home end, there must be a talent to obtaining those tickets. Matt?

The game was as you would expect, a bit dull with moments of magic from both teams…The first half went by without much action, but that might have been because we missed the first 35 minutes….aaaahhh. Half-time was spent making sure Honved knew who the Blansko Klobasa were by plastering as many stickers as we could in and around the stadium, while trying to take the perfect photo of the floodlights with our crappy smartphones… The football tourist, hey? Can’t live with them … can’t live without them.

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The second half (a full 45 minutes of action) was entertaining. I actually thought Debrecen were the better team for much of the game and had several chances to score with former QPR and Watford midfielder Daniel Tozser pulling the strings in midfield and second half sub Hyun-Jun Suk running intelligently in attack, they probably should have won the game..but what do we know about football with 85 minutes on the clock scored the only goal we have seen in 360 minutes of Hungarian football, Marton Eppel latching on to a through ball from Kabangu. Against the run of play, but for us it didn’t matter, we just wanted a goal.

With Hungarian football not keen to give us much more, Craggy suggested finding some trendy bars in Pest. By this he meant hipster, where beers are served in bicycle repair shops. Admittedly, it was good place to start, but with none of us in possession of a Raleigh Racer we knew we had to leave after our our only beer and headed for more local climates.

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Those “climates” were a local dive where a local man took an instant shine to our Craggy, offering a leather belt and some perfume for something we are still unsure of. While, we were not in need of something to keep our trousers up or a fragrance that may have been to our advantage, we were in need of beer and the more Hungarian the better. With every sip of beer, came more questions from our new friend.”You like the belt, special price for you my friend”. Sometimes it helps to be the ugly one.

With both of us declining the option of a second beer and bidding farewell to our new friends (which included one who had possibly been sleeping in the same position since our previous visit to Budapest), we made our best decision of the night to find as many local pubs on our way back to the hotel, but not before we had popped next door to Kobe Sausage for what can only be described as a few small sausages in a cone, with lots of sauce. As we were trying to get a photo of this very unique snack, two men approached us..

“Mmmm..klobasa? Is it good?”

“Er…we don’t know, it’s difficult to eat” ( and it was)

“Do you want some cocaine?”

“Er..no thank you” we both replied.

“Grass?”

Well, we declined both, but what impressed us most was that he started on a Class A drug and moved down to something less classy.

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A lot of sauce in an awkward bread cone

Beer stops were made, photos were taken until we arrived in one of our final stops of the evening after being waved away from a tiny bar that had been so welcoming the year or so before. With midnight fast approaching we walked into an empty cafe across the river and a km from our home for the night.

“Are you still open?” I enquired

“Well, we would like to close, but you can have a small beer if you promise to drink it in 25 minutes” The barmaid responded.

She had obviously no idea of who we were, or maybe just thought we had already had one too many.

Then something strange happened, the music changed to mixture of late 80s classics and her colleague came in from the cold. Now, they no longer wanted us to leave, they were locking us in and asking us  if we wanted a shot… this all to a Simple Minds soundtrack. We accepted their offer of a palinka, but we weren’t too sure about them locking us in…It was a bit of a turnaround and one we were not expecting. Suspecting they now wanted a bit more than to dance to Tiffany’s “I think we’re alone now”, we downed the shots, thanked them politely for their hospitality and asked them to unlock the door and let us out. It was a very bizarre moment and one that completely took us by surprise.

We tried other bars on the way up to the hill, finding a Croatian pub open to provide us with one final beer and a nightcap. Budapest we love you.

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Our second day started with the most incredible breakfast we’ve had on our travels, service with a smile and a meal that was worth hotel fee on its own. Follow the link to Bi&Bi Panzio here, it’s worth every single forint.

The Sunday was spent in typical Klobasa style, taking in the sights of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, while finding watering holes to quench our thirst.  In our opinion there’s nothing better than seeing the sights of such a spectacular city, while tasting the local beverages and cuisine.

As we were on the Buda side, we made the short walk up to the castle, past the Matthias church, where like every other tourist in Budapest we stopped for photos – before slowly walking down the hill to the Chain Bridge, to the cities second most popular place for selfies. One too many selfie stick for us and we headed straight to our first beer stop. The rest of the day was pretty much the same, sightseeing and Soproni drinking.

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Around 3.00pm we found ourselves, quite by chance, just outside Keleti Train Station and with two hours to kill and feeling a tad peckish, we found another great Hungarian restaurant, Huszár étterem, on one of the side streets.

“Welcome, Welcome to Budapest”

And I suppose , even though we on our way out of Budapest, the people, the food, the palinka, the beer had made it such a great trip that we knew we’d be back for more.

As Craggy so often says when he likes a place…

“I could live here”

Viva Budapest. Viva Soproni. Viva Palinki.

Craggy: and what about the setlist for the musical, I can hear you asking? Well, this is the rather inexplicable, and somewhat embarrassing setlist that we sang all weekend:

Driftwood by Travis (You’re driftwood floating down the Danube. Can also be artistically applied to suit the names of Blansko players flying down the left wing)

Summer Son by Texas (Really painful one, this one)

Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds (sounds even better after about 15 beers)

I Think We’re Alone Now by Tiffany (don’t ask…)

Cocaine Blues by Johnny Cash

Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode

Don’t You Want Me by The Human League (Sang by the guy in the bar offering himself to Craggy)

Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi (Which Craggy was doing)

Freelove on the Freelove Freeway by Ricky Gervais

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Ralph and his favourite river

The Hunt for Pav the Drummer

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“Right, I will show you round Blansko during the winter break. It would be nice if there was a bit of snow.. it will make the place a bit more picturesque” Those were the words of Wingy, a resident of town for the last 23 years after deciding to swap a cushy job in a London office for life as an English teacher in South Moravia. Blansko needs snow to make a trip worthwhile.

Chris (Wingy) is probably the main reason, why we started following the local football team. A few years ago, we started going and such was the welcome from everybody at the club, we found ourselves spending more time at Udolni and beyond.. Now, one of the friendliest of friendly faces was Pavel the Drummer, the only regular Blansko Ultra at the time. You could guarantee that at every game, home or away, Pavel would be there, with his drum. Then back in November, after a few matches on tannoy duty, he disappeared. We know that sounds dramatic,  but we were genuinely concerned and nobody at the club knew of his whereabouts.

So, we decided, while on a tour of Blansko, to print off a picture of our drummer and ask the locals if they had seen this man…

A few days before the trip, Wingy pulled out with a serious bout of manflu, leaving the rest of us to wander round the town, taking in the sights and of course enjoying a few beers. First stop was the new allweather football pitch (needed to confirm our place in MSFL) and 90 minutes of football. Blansko were hosting Bohunice, a team from Brno playing a couple of tiers down from us. For us, it was a chance to see our two new signings and to be quite honest to watch a live game of football.. something we’d been missing.

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It was cold, very, very cold, definitely the coldest game we had ever been to (colder than Boundary Park)..we lasted 80 minutes before heading for the warmth of a local pub. Not even a hip flask full of homemade slivovice could keep us there for the entire game and we left the moment our new striker, Jindra Stehlik, scored our 6th goal.

Now,for the first time in the short life of the Blansko Klobasa, we vlogged our trip with a Polaroid Cube and the story of our trip is below.. With none of us being at all good on camera, we ask you to go a bit easy on us…

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