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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Not Prague

I’m going to the Czech Republic this weekend’, I said.
‘Oh, Prague’, responded a colleague, half a question, half a statement. ‘No’.
One of the many benefits offered by Ryanair and easyJet and their competitors in the budget airline business is that it is generally no longer necessary to fly to a country’s capital. There must be at least eight cities besides Warsaw in Poland to which one can now fly direct from London (18 months ago there was, I think, at most one). Many of these flights are aimed at Polish people living in Britain. But they offer opportunities for weekends in interesting cities and countryside.

Stansted slog and Heathrow hike
Another new destination this summer for Ryanair is Brno in Moravia, the eastern part of the Czech Republic. I combined an outward flight to this city with a return from Linz in northern Austria to create a long weekend in which I wandered through the southern parts of the Czech Republic. It’s no problem at all to book two single tickets via the Ryanair website, though flights originating outside the UK will be billed in euros. The flight to Brno was about £55, that back from Linz just about e35 (£25). Another advantage is that the airport you arrive at is often blissfully small and easy to use, a lovely change from the Stansted slog or the Heathrow hike.
Brno itself is quite interesting. It was for most of their lives the homes of Gregor Mendel, the geneticist monk, and Leos Janácek, the nationalist composer. There are museums to both. The city also has a castle on a hill, formerly a Hapsburg political prison (and bizarrely revered by Italians for this reason), and much excellent architecture from the early 20th century. For the ghoulish there is a Capuchin chapel lined with bones; for the gullible a ‘dragon’, actually a stuffed crocodile, but presumably frightening in the 18th century.
I travelled by train to Olomouc (about 11/2 hours each way, and 133 Czech crowns, that is around £3). A typically attractive Czech town with big old market square dominated by the town hall, the remains of walls lined by attractive parks, and churches from austere Gothic to completely over-the-top Counter-Reformation Baroque.
Moving on to Jihlava by bus, I noticed that Ryanair faces competition the coach station has bus services to London, at a cost of £25 return! Travelling by bus and train are both easy and negligibly cheap by UK standards, though services are not always very fast or regular. Timetables are generally easy to read so the language doesn’t present a big problem in finding information. Jihlava offered much the same combination as Olomouc, plus the childhood home of Gustav Mahler, which unfortunately was closed the morning I was there.

Budweiser, Pilsner Urquell, Stella Artois
My final stop in the Czech Republic was Cesk´y Budejovice. Again this town has a beautiful main square, a town hall, town walls, and a variety of churches. It also has the best beer in the world; I take Messrs Anheuser and Busch’s decision to name their brew ‘Budweiser’ as a complement, Budweis being the old German name for the place. It was, however, slightly shocking to see that some of the cafés and restaurants lining the square served Pilsner Urquell or even (true horror) Stella Artois. I also upgraded my standard of hotel, checking into the Zvon on the main square; whereas in other towns on the trip hotels cost around £20£25, here I spent just under £40 on my single room with facilities. Very comfortable it was too, and it didn’t smell slightly of stale cooking grease as the cheaper places had.
All nowhere near Prague. I have nothing against the Czech capital it is, after all, jointly with Stockholm the most beautiful capital in Europe (sorry, Edinburgh, you’ll have to await Scottish independence). But there’s so much else to see elsewhere in the country that it’s a shame to visit only there.