Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Between two churches...

Frydek square and chateau
Frýdek-Místek is a city of around 60,000 inhabitants that straddles the Ostravice river about 18km (11 miles) south of Ostrava. The river here forms the border between the old historic lands of Moravia and Silesia and the hyphen might be a clue that Frýdek-Místek was once two towns. Frýdek chateau sits atop a high rocky outcrop on the eastern, Silesian side of the river; Místek was founded to watch over the lower, western, Moravian side of the river crossing.

The two tiny historic town centres of Frýdek and Místek are now surrounded by a sprawl of everything that was good and bad about the architecture and town planning of the socialist era. The high density apartment towers are separated by generous green spaces and the wide footpaths, tunnels and courtyards make it easy for pedestrians to get to either old town or the the bus and train stations that are just on the Frýdek side of the river. Unfortunately though, the lawns and gardens are unkempt, the pathways are crumbling and littered and the ground-floor shops that should have been grocery stores, hairdressers and newsagents have devolved into dark and mostly deserted non-stop bars filled with flashing lights and hypnotized gamblers.

Luckily there's more to Frýdek-Místek than its bedraggled suburbs and most visitors will probably spend their time in one or both of the historic old towns. The street layout of both is preserved.

Church of St James in MistekMístek is the smaller of the two and just off the tidy marketplace square stands the most impressive building. The church of St. James was originally Gothic but the striking red and white plaster and pear-shaped copper dome are from a later reconstruction in the baroque style. Many of the houses around the old marketplace square are quite attractive and one side has a beautiful long arcade walkway from the 1500's. There are some insensitive and ugly buildings on the square too, and because the old town of Místek is so small, you really only have to walk one block to be among the grimly oppressive pavilions that sell discount clothes and house a hard-to-comprehend number of seedy all-night gambling bars.

Across the river in the shadow of the imposing Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Frýdek's old town does a better job of shrugging off the surrounding urban grimness. No doubt it's helped by its position atop a relatively steep-sided hill and the loosely connected ring of parks that cushion the impact of the communist-era architects. The imposing chateau that stands over the western end of Frýdek's slightly sloping rectangular square is open to the public six days a week and the courtyards and formal park are free of charge.

The rest of the Frýdek square is lined by two, three and four storey townhouses in varying architectural styles, and they seem to house the best of the city's best cafes, restaurants, penzions and shops. My particular favourite is the Frýdek-Místek teahouse (at Hluboká 64).

If you're not familiar with teahouses, they're inspired by the orient, offer 100 types of tea from across the world and there's at least one in every decent sized town in the Czech republic. I'm not sure what makes the Frýdek one so special but everyone I've taken there seems to agree it has a certain something. It's long been my favourite teahouse but if anyone thinks they've been to a better one, please post the address in the comments below because I'd love to check it out.


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