I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of travel. I didn’t know what I would find when I headed to little-visited Stamberk, Czech Republic, a town dating from 1359, outside Ostrava, click here for more information. From high above the city, the lush green surrounding hills were dotted with small subsistence farms, each with a red-roofed cottage, earning itself the nickname, “Moravian Bethelem.”
In town cobblestone roads were very narrow and winding. On either side small cottages abut the street dating back centuries, made of wood with wood roofs–a huge fire hazard.
It was July, and townsfolk, as in most of Europe, were experiencing an exceptionally hot summer with record high temperatures. Even at high altitudes, the heat was a little hard to take, especially since we had to dump the vehicle and huff it uphill on foot to get to the town’s center square, where all the businesses are located. Not that there are that many…a few restaurant-pubs, boutique shops, a couple of mom-and-pop hotels, ice cream shops, and some tourist souvenir shops. All these are surrounded a grassy central park dominated by a large sculpture, very quaint.
From the central square, a castle towered on the incline, what brings tourists coming here, mainly Czechs from surrounding communities. An American visitor is viewed as an oddity here.
Even though there are few Americans, adventurous visitors from other European countries, especially closer ones such as Slovakia and Germany, do make it here. You can hear their languages being spoken around you. Nevertheless, English is widely spoken. It isn’t difficult to strike up a conversation with a local Czech, particularly the innkeepers, restaurateurs and bar servers, and almost any younger person you stop on the street. With a native tongue like Czech they have a huge motivation to learn English, and they do.
Anyway, after resting from walking uphill to the town square, I climbed a further series of steep steps to reach the castle, out of breath, but glad to find an authentic 13th century relic. Only a small part of the Gothic castle remains. It was obvious why it was here: from the vantage point of the castle you can defend territory for miles around. On a clear day, it seemed you could see to the border of the Czech Republic. But you definitely have a great view of Moravian Beskydy and Jesenik, 2 of the surrounding Czech areas. Add a looped verse of “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music,” and even Disney couldn’t improve on the idyllic scenery for the song.
Today, the remnants of the castle are a tourist attraction with a restaurant, ice cream shop and Czech donut shop at the base of the tower. The ice cream is served in a taco-shaped gingerbread cookie called a “Stramberk ear.” One of the reasons Czechs come to this region is to buy this regional specialty not available elsewhere. Here they are sold in bulk by the bag or box. But it’s mainly a cool place for folks from the neighborhood to hang out under shade trees for hours on edge, where the mountain air is cooler on a steamy hot day, or for moms to bring their pre-teen children to run around. As for the disgusting, gory legend surrounding the name “Stramberk ears,” Google search “Stramberk ears,” where editorial restraint does not prevail.
For an American, Stramberk is a great place to meet locals. Everyone is super friendly and willing to return your smile and conversation. The castle tower here is dubbed the Tube because once you reach the base of the tower where the restaurant and other concessions are, you still have the option of climbing an extremely narrow spiral staircase to its top to yet a higher vantage point, if not significantly better view, pure hyperbole and fun.