Unsubstantiated tales of Ostrava’s tropical flora


Last week, Letter from Prague escorted you to balmy foreign climes; this week, I’m taking you to Ostrava, the Czech Republic’s third city and industrial hub, where I found myself for the first time ever last weekend. My knowledge of Ostrava before my trip (if ‘knowledge’ is even the right word) was limited to a number of stereotypes that circulate in the capital about ‘ostraváci’ (the locals), a vague ability to distinguish an Ostravan accent in all of its clipped-vowel-glory and a newspaper report or two about Stodolní Street, the city’s premium entertainment thoroughfare.

As I don’t want this Letter from Prague to descend into being a string of jokes about Ostravans, I’ll keep this section brief: I went to Ostrava having heard, more or less, that the city was something like the ‘Czech Essex’. I suppose, in a nutshell, the stereotype often is that Ostravans don’t have the lashings of class that their counterparts in Prague do. I was warned that there might be a few more gold chains, and a few more un-seasonal tans, on the go there than I was used to - since, at least, my youth in Scotland.

I’d also heard intriguing stories about some of the slag heaps that dot the city, the insides of which have been burning for the last several decades, and on the surfaces of which, allegedly, now grow tropical plants. This effect was said to look rather dramatic in the midst of the Silesian landscape.

…Imagine my surprise, thus, to arrive in Ostrava and find fewer palm trees, and even fewer Pringle sweaters, than I had expected. Instead, a great deal of impressive Art Nouveau and functionalist architecture, a number of well-preserved historic squares in the city centre, and Erasmus students from around the continent gearing up for the start of the academic year.

A night out on the afore-mentioned Stodolní Street did contain more Vanilla Ice and Simply Red than a usual Prague evening on the town, but that could have had something to do with my choice of venue.

The trip there was fleeting but well worth repeating, and not only so I can finally find those fabled cacti I’ve been promised downtown.