The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 6, 2013

Finding familiarity among the unfamiliar in the Czech Republic

By Brandi Underwood
For The Register-Herald

BRNO, Czech Republic — A foul scent that I can’t place floods my nose. It’s raw and pungent, like the smell of particularly vile body odor. I ponder it for a few seconds, and then decide it’s better to not spend too much time trying to identify its origin.

In many ways it’s better to not overthink things of that nature, like how many hands have touched the railings and handles before me on the ever-buzzing city tram system, or how many bodies have shared the same seat.

I quickly learned that the city doesn’t afford much time to contemplate these questions.

The tram fulfills its purpose of efficiency, much like the short green lights for pedestrian crossings on the street, and the speed race to unload, pay for and bag one’s own groceries before the cashier rolls her eyes and breathes an annoyed sigh.

The people rely on the briskness of these activities as crucial roles in their daily lives, which is a much different mindset from what I’ve become accustomed to growing up in West Virginia, where it’s customary to buy a week’s stock of groceries at once.

In Brno, rather, the grocery store is a part of one’s daily routine, picking up only enough to be able to comfortably withstand several bus and tram transfers before safely arriving home.  

It’s one week into my studies abroad and slowly, the shockingly foreign city that I initially encountered is becoming more and more familiar.  

The Czech Republic is not at the top of many people’s travel agendas, unlike far better known destinations like London, Paris, or Rome.

Their names are recognizable, and many of their popular attractions, such as Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and the Colosseum, will strike a chord of familiarity with most people.

However, when I told friends and relatives that I would be studying at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, the most common response was an immediate, “Where is that?”

Although a recently founded country after the split of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993, the Czech nation possesses a rich history as the geographical heart of Central Europe.

As a historically oppressed country, the Czech Republic bears the scars of darker times, including 40 years of Communist rule.

However, a resilient nation, the Czech Republic is thriving in 2013.

The Czech people have overcome adversity and now thoroughly enjoy their pastimes, most notably the sport of ice hockey and the consumption of beer, both of which are wildly popular throughout the country.

In fact, the Czech Republic is known as the beer-drinking capital, as the Czechs consume more beer annually than any other country in the world.

Along with its convenient location, the Czech Republic offers many benefits when compared to more frequented tourist destinations.

The size of the city is large, but still friendly and accessible to a girl with small-town roots.

The public transportation is affordable and reliable, and the overall cost of living is among the lowest in Europe, and with a half gallon of milk costing roughly $1, or in Czech currency, 20 Koruna.

The savings on groceries is much appreciated in my college-student pockets, as it affords me a larger budget to travel throughout the semester.

With Berlin, Prague, Munich, Budapest and Vienna all within a half-day’s drive, I’m anxiously anticipating what the coming days have in store for me.


Continue to follow these stories that document my travels on Page 2A of The Register-Herald every Monday through June 10. E-mails with questions or comments are welcomed, and can be directed to