Berno? Bruno? Breno? Apparently all it takes is rolling one’s tongue off of the back of your upper teeth. Easy enough.
The Ryanair announcer couldn’t manage it, either.
Little did I know, on that cold day in May, that I would wind up in Brno. I’d had my suspicions, sure. There were certain clues to go on but, when one flies in Europe, a flight time and major airline only limit options by so much. When it came time to fly, I still didn’t know if I would next set my feet down in Barcelona or Sarajevo, Utrecht or Gdansk.
Now that I think about it, Eastern Europe – edit: apparently Czechia is seen as more central Europe – is still a bit unexpected to me. Most of it doesn’t immediately come to mind when I think of travel. Yet I’ve loved every trip and am always happy to entertain a visit.
When I was in grade school, Eastern Europe was rarely presented as a viable destination. We learned of Serbia in its relation to the start of WWI. Hungary and Austria took up a great deal of those wartime studies, as well. Otherwise it seemed like the news was dominated by turmoil. Bosnia was a warzone, with scores of people fleeing Sarajevo. Croatia found itself embroiled in civil war. The Czech Republic and Slovakia still shared the same border, and neither seemed too happy about it. Not to mention the iron curtain, whose tassels still hung, albeit lightly, over many Eastern European destinations.
Yup, it wasn’t the best of times for PR from the east.
But, of course, times change, wars fade, and the tourists move in. Next thing you know, some Irish folks have invented Ryanair and people can fly to your country for the cost of a date night out in London. The world would never be the same!
Rest assured, I was thinking none of these things as we set out for the airport. Mainly as I had no idea where we were headed.
I highly recommend traveling this way. At least for the unsuspecting party, it turns the experience into a much less stressful outing. Kat might paint a somewhat different picture. But this is my story, so we’re going through the rose-tinted side of the glass.
And what of Brno?
Brno feels like it floats somewhere between a bustling city and a sleepy little town. The pace is definitely on the more relaxed side, at least compared to many UK cities. Combined with cobbled streets and a plethora of leisurely stops, it was a great place to put our feet up and unwind for a bit of a break.
I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my posts in the style of specific genre fiction. Try as I might, however, everything I wrote about Brno – be it with a touch of sci-fi, pulp magazine, or abject horror – wound up sounding like a travelogue. So I’ve stopped fighting it. Without further ado, this is Brno!
The city itself is a lovely collection of old and new. The old comprises winding cobbled streets, open squares, markets, and stonework architecture. The new is exactly what you’d expect from a bustling city with the general assortment of business, retail, and leisure options. Perhaps cleaner than most. That said, we spent most of our time in the old town, so I’ll stick mainly to that.
Do you like museums? Churches? Ossuaries and bunkers? If so, Brno has all of those things, and more! While we did spend time in a couple of those options, most of our days were spent wandering its streets. It’s honestly my favourite thing to do in a new town. I thoroughly enjoy wandering, people watching, and generally taking in the flavour of a place. While it’s nice to plan a few options, it’s also good to save some time for simply stumbling across things.
In doing so we found ourselves wandering along the city’s canal, slowly winding our way towards the north of town. Along the way, the canal path leaves the pulse of the city behind, along with motorised transport. As the path climbed higher, the canal slowly became a river and our surroundings gave way for natural woodlands and nature trails. Birdsong even took the place of all but the most persistent city noises.
The nature path is no small feature, either! We spent a good couple of hours enjoying the escape from city life. Our only fellow travellers being occasional cyclists and joggers.
We could’ve stuck to the path and wandered up into a sizable parkland on the city’s northwest end, which promised a few more hours of wooded surroundings, but by this time we felt the city calling. Craft beer and relaxation awaited! Splitting from the main path, we skirted the edge of the city’s observatory and made our way back towards the old town.
It’s quite a nice walk from here, and further proof that Brno is one incredibly clean city. We were able to wind through residential streets nearly from the forest’s edge to our destination, JBM BrewLab.
Increasingly our travels involve craft beer destinations. As craft breweries gain popularity across Europe, this task has been less of an adventure and more of a precision strike. Where once there would be precious few options, now you really need to be choosy if you want anything other than hazy memories of a trip.
JBM Brewlab has earned itself the moniker of ‘nanobrewery’, which seems fitting. It occupies a small pub not far outside of the old town, offering perhaps 5 small batch brews, which only last as long as the kegs supplying the lines. While they do offer options from other breweries, their in-house creations are worth hitting first.
At danger of being too relaxed, we decided to break out of the city for a day and visit a nearby attraction: The Punkva River.
The river runs through a chunk of Czechia, creating some beautiful sights along the way. Near the small area called Skalni Myln, it has carved a labyrinth of caves out of the landscape. Being a short train ride from Brno, this sounded like the perfect place for us to aim towards.
According to Wikipedia, the caves – located a short bus ride, or 90 minute walk, from the town of Blansko – feature the deepest sinkhole in Central Europe. I didn’t followup on this, but it sounds accurate. Accurate or not, the cave system is stunning!
All of the accessible caverns are located a short walk from Skalni Myln and can be accessed via guided walking tours. I’m sure English tours are offered; however, we wound up on Czech ones and still thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The best of which took upwards of an hour and, water levels permitting, ended with a boat journey back out of the caves.
One warning, however. Bus service does not seem to be reliable from Skalni Myln back to Blansko. At least not on a Sunday afternoon. If you’re not keen on a 90 minute hike back to the train station, plan accordingly. With luck, we paired up with a friendly Czech couple and shared a taxi back to the station … barely catching the last train back to Brno.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Brno, I don’t feel there’s much more I need to say about it. The city feels like it would be a lovely place to live. The airport is small, but international. The town itself is really clean, crisscrossed with bike lanes, and feels inviting and perfectly liveable. Apparently it’s also very popular with foreigners, as it seems everyone speaks at least some English.
As for visiting, you can easily get everything you want out of the city in a weekend. It’s a nice and relaxing city break, with just enough beautiful old city, culture, and night life to keep you going for a solid weekend. Transit was super easy, as is train travel within the surrounding area.
One warning: Trash electronica seems to be alive and well in this part of Europe. If this is something you absolutely cannot abide, prepare yourself. However, don’t avoid the city because of it. If you do, you’ll be depriving yourself of a beautiful European destination.