Indoor Mini Golf Czech Style
Eager to get as much fun in as possible, there Ben was, waking us up to ensure we didn’t sleep past 8:30 AM. He’s been trying valiantly to reset our clocks so that we automatically get up earlier. Actually, it’s good to stay ahead of the tourist crowd and if we are out the door by 9:30, we can generally get an hour and half jump on the rest of humanity. That is a rarity right now, though, as we have the propensity to move like sloths in the morning. Nonetheless, we hoofed our way down to the main square in reasonable time and popped into the tourist office. Olomouc offers a tourist card that allows visitors many entries for a small price. Immediately upon buying the card, I felt the need to see as many things as possible. My family calmed me down and reassured me that at $30 for the whole family, we needn’t kill ourselves running around to get our money’s worth. One of the options which intrigued us was a river rafting trip through the historical town. Just as we were about to sign up for it, we felt the rain coming. Seasoned travellers that we are, were we going to let rain deter us? You bet. We had a family huddle to discuss other activities associated with the card -- throwing art museums and churches to the side, we determined that, today at least, the best indoor activity was mini golf! It’s not often that you can find a mini golf course located indoors. Knowing that in itself was a rarity worth pursuing, we went home to get the car, drove to the mall and located the prestigious setting. Now, usually they come with a bit of flare and colour to distract participants from what they are doing, hitting a little ball around an obstacle course for an hour of their lives. However, this one was quite bare bones, with no trappings like windmills and water features; each ‘fairway’ was laid out strictly parallel or perpendicular to its neighbour, and there were no colours save for the Soviet grey cement-like flooring and sporadic wooden deflection pieces. We looked around and sighed, ready to give it the old Czech try. The grizzled old caretaker of the place looked rather careworn as he handed us the four balls and clubs and motioned for us to start upstairs on the front nine. Within minutes, we had jumped in with both proverbial feet and were actually having a good time! Especially me as I was winning – who knew I had this secret talent – while Abby was set on seeing how many times she could drive the ball into a different fairway. While Ben coached Abby (and yes, that did bring to mind the adage of the blind leading the blind...), Hannah and I pulled away, vying it out for the treasured green jacket. Halfway through the bottom nine, the caretaker came over to watch us. I guess we were just that good. We noted at this point that he had only one leg; however, that didn’t seem to deter him from much as, when Abby once again knocked that ball out of the park, he nimbly pirouetted on his crutches, loped after it, balanced on his two artificial props and kicked the ball back with his true leg. It was at this point that he started to give us pointers, all in Czech of course. Soon, we came to understand that he thought we should all use MY ball, as apparently its composition had an advantage over the others. Just like that, the crowd of three turned on me, as if it was MY fault for having got the best ball, like I had sneakily chosen it over their equipment, knowing it had Golden Snitch-like qualities. Any grudging admiration I had received up to that point for my surprising skill on the course evaporated and I was left with only disdain. I have to say I didn’t much appreciate the interruption from Long John Silver. It didn’t throw me off my game but did render my accomplishment less-than-appreciated. I’m only glad I was writing the blog today so I could get the facts down correctly.
Olomouc's Main Town Square
We lunched in the food fair, noticing a distinct lack of Czech foods, and opted for Japanese and gyros; it was about half the price of Mayfair Mall offerings. When we returned to the main square, the girls elected to walk home for a break while Ben and I remained determined to use those tourist cards. They had advertised tours of the main square so we popped over to sign up. It turns out they were only being offered in Czech and while we had learned some of the language from our Czech golf friend, ‘slice,’ ‘fore,’ and ‘putter’ weren’t going to serve us too well. As an alternative, the cards allowed us to get English audio guides so we listened to, or rather, endured Mr. Monotony list date upon date as we did our own self tour of the various statues and buildings nearby. The square is actually a very nice place, and its atmosphere is right up there with other European squares only it is much less busy. There are many unique fountains, and numerous church spires peek out from behind the rows of colourful facades. The highlight for me was to see the Holy Trinity Column, a Baroque monument created to celebrate faith and to show gratitude for the ending of the plague.
Since we wanted a view, we managed to get on a tour to go up the tower of the town hall. The tour guide was a young university student who said she would attempt to throw in some English along the way for us. The tower afforded us wonderful views of the city, and once the rest of the Czech tour had exited the top landing, she gave us our own private 360 degree tour of the landmarks. When she saw we expressed interest in the history of various buildings, she walked us through a few of the rooms in the town hall too. She seemed eager to talk of her town and confessed that while she had originally been studying biology and chemistry and never liked history, she was now much more interested in the subject; and, amazingly, if we got it right, she was switching her major to Dutch theology and planned to study in Holland. We spent an enjoyable 45 minutes with her and told her how much we appreciated her private tour.
Rafting a River in the Middle of Olomouc
And now, the time we had been waiting for, the boat tour. The girls had walked back to join us at an appointed time. Billed as ‘a non-traditional tour of the historical centre of Olomouc,’ it promised a trip past a number of notable landmarks through the heart of the town. There were three other passengers and two guides; we all clamored into the minibus and headed off to the ‘put in’ place towing the raft behind. The guides were silent along the way. They had matching buzz haircuts, wore twin navy t-shirts, and generally shared the same somber expression. I was curious what advertised ‘information about the journey’ they were going to share when we were in the boat. Once at the stream’s edge, they set the boat in the water and handed out paddles and worn, faded life jackets to us, their new crew. As promised, the ‘short instruction session’ was indeed short and contained instructions, exactly two: “when I say ‘go,’ you move like this; when I say ‘contra,’ you move like this.” One guide was to drive the minibus to the end of the route while the other steered the raft in the back. And we were off, with Ben and I lucky to be up front, and Hannah and Abby sharing the second row. As we paddled with the current, I began to relax and quite enjoyed the slow moving water and abundance of greenery surrounding us. Every few moments, we had to duck as we skirted under a leafy branch stretching out from the shore. Even though I was tempted to wait until the city monuments appeared to take pictures, I decided to shoot a few views of the river as we wound our way towards the town. We paddled through a very short stint in gently rolling water and I wondered if there would be more 'white water' up ahead. It was pretty, this rubbernecking along the river and I eagerly looked forward to seeing the advertised ‘Premyslid Palace, Bezruc Park, the ancient city fortifications, and St. Michael’s Church’ from this interesting vantage point. Presently, we came across some more choppy water and our guide, who had been silent since the initial ‘Go’ now indicated we were to bring the boat into the side and disembark. It appeared the rapids were too strong for us to go through and we would need to walk a few minutes around them. We got out and crossed the small bridge up ahead. But, wait, there was the minibus! The second guide reached for the paddles and I realized then the tour was over. Abby leaned in and, pointing to the pictures in the brochure, whispered to me “Where was all this?” I shook my head dumbly. He handed each of us a special certificate stating we had “successfully completed the rafting expedition on the river Morava throughout the historical city of Olomouc.” We all caught the ride back to the square and said goodbye. I checked my watch; exactly 32 minutes had elapsed since we first climbed on board the minibus. If this hadn’t been ‘free’ with the tourist card, I think I’d feel a bit taken in.
The last couple of events of the day focussed on food -- what else? We stopped at an ice cream bar and had wonderful sundaes for a third of the price it cost us in Germany and Hannah and I finished off the night with a sit down restaurant meal (with real cutlery) for a mere $12 total. If anyone is looking for a deal, we feel we have found the right place for people on a budget. Just don't sign up for the rafting tour.