The transformation of Ostrava

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Despite the fact that I am Czech and have always loved to travel, there was one place in the country that I never bothered to visit - until last week, that is. North Moravia - the city of Ostrava to be precise. It's not because I never had the chance to (in fact I have relatives who have been living there for tens of years) but rather because I didn't want to. The truth is that many Czechs, especially those from Prague, have not bothered to visit Ostrava because it is believed to be a dirty, grey, and very unattractive place, dominated by its mining industry. Fact is, though, that Ostrava closed down its collieries some eight years ago and has undergone a phenomenal transformation.

Despite the fact that I am Czech and have always loved to travel, there was one place in the country that I never bothered to visit - until last week, that is. North Moravia - the city of Ostrava to be precise. It's not because I never had the chance to (in fact I have relatives who have been living there for tens of years) but rather because I didn't want to. The truth is that many Czechs, especially those from Prague, have not bothered to visit Ostrava because it is believed to be a dirty, grey, and very unattractive place, dominated by its mining industry. Fact is, though, that Ostrava closed down its collieries some eight years ago and has undergone a phenomenal transformation. Today, it is a green, clean city that has much to offer to its visitors - its wealth of unique industrial architecture, the rich historical and cultural heritage of the region and the sporting opportunities offered by the nearby mountains and countryside.

Ostrava is unusual thanks to its location. Situated just 15 km away from the border with Poland and 55 km from Slovakia it has been greatly influenced by the two cultures. A person from Ostrava speaks with a dialect that not only sounds much more melodic than the average Czech but also contains words that you may not find to be used anywhere else in the country. Furthermore, being used to visitors from the neighbouring states, the people of Ostrava have come to be the most friendly and hospitable. Unlike the South Moravians, especially those from the city of Brno who feel to have to compete with their fellow countrymen from Prague, the people of Ostrava welcome visitors from the capital with open arms, appreciate their efforts to travel to the city for five hours and make it a point to show them that Ostrava has become a cosmopolitan trading and cultural centre offering entertainment such as exhibitions, theatre performances, trade fairs, and outdoor sports such as hiking, biking, and in the winter - skiing as it is minutes away from the Beskydy and Jeseniky Mountains.

Walking through the city centre, one notices the enormous effort that has been put into the city's transformation - ranging from extensive work on infrastructure to the restoration of buildings to their original architectural styles to the use of special filters to reduce air pollution. Most hotels have undergone reconstruction, are affordable and easily accessible and with the centre being relatively small, it is easy to find everything one needs in one area.

The city also offers a fascinating amount of green space - as much as 30m2 for each head of population. One popular area is the Odra river national park that includes lakes and water meadows. Its wetlands are protected by international nature conservation conventions. On the other hand, a view of Ostrava is also dominated by the numerous mining towers that have been closed but not torn down. What makes the city so remarkable is its combination of industry and culture. Whilst it now focuses on becoming a nicer and greener city, it still continues to preserve its industrial history that it is proud of.