I remember very clearly the times when there was no European Union or Schengen agreement and to get across the Olza river from Cieszyn to Český Těšín you had to wait in a long queue to get through customs. Together with you there were people from all over Poland who came to this city in the south of Poland only to get to Czech Republic and buy cheap alcohol and cigarettes (to smuggle it through the border on the way back – some made pretty good income from that), local people who had some businesses to do on the other side of the border and few tourists. That was quite an experience I must say! My first visit to Czech Republic, back in 1998, was through the Friendship Bridge too (and back through Peace Bridge) in Cieszyn!
Since then I was in Cieszyn few more times but only as a quick stop on the way to Czech Republic (Cieszyn is the best stop when you travel from Krakow to Prague!). Even if I’ve notticed how beautiful this town is I still only stormed down through the market square and cobbled streets leading me to the river and eventually to Český Těšín where I was about to catch the train to yet another destination in Czech Republic. But I always promised myself that I will return there eventually to see the city properly and will focus only on discovering the beauty of Cieszyn/Český Těšín. So when I got the invitation from guys at 3 Bros’ Hostel I took it as a sign it’s finally time for me to visit their awesome city!
Cieszyn and Český Těšín for centuries used to be one city. The legend says the city was founded in the year 810 when three king’s sons met after a long time away and they were so happy about the meeting they created the city. From 1290 to 1918 it was the capital of the Duchy of Teschen but after the fall of the Austrain empire the area as well as the city were divided between Poland and Czech Republic. And so since 1920 there are two cities separated by the river Olza. They are so close yet so far away…
Funny thing, since I was travelling by train from Warsaw it was easier for me to go to Český Těšín and then walk back to Poland. The very first thing that struck me in this Czech city when I arrived was how empty it was. On Saturday afternoon when the weather was decent there were hardly any people to be seen around. But I guess that’s a Czech thing as they start they day pretty early (shops are open from 6am) and at 2pm they already relax at homes or (more likely) in pubs over a beer. I’ve observed this in almost every Czech city/town yet it never stops surprising me.
But once I crossed the bridge to be back in Poland things were totally different. There were quite a lot of people walking around or sitting in restaurants, locals observed the streetlife from their windows (I haven’t seen that in a long time yet here I could spot people, both young and old, being comfy in their houses but being a part of the citylife). Cieszyn was definitely the city full of life! And it was so picturesque with cobbled streets! While the Czech side of the river is all flat in Poland you need to be in a good shape to walk the streets up and down.
After the city was divided most of the buildings of the historic value stayed in Poland (and with such a long history there were really lots of them!). There’s the beautiful, wide Main Square with the Town Hall and amazing Hotel “Pod Brunatnym Jeleniem” (it doesn’t serve as a hotel anymore but back in the times people like Franz Josef used to stay there), few steps away second oldest Polish museum can be found (the oldest one was created in 1801 in my hometown, Puławy:)). The old town is fairly big and full of narrow, cobbled streets with houses showing the best examples of various architecture styles – from baroque to modern, standing next to each other (I think that’s what I liked most in Cieszyn, the diversity). Not far from the Main Square the beautiful park can be found, with the Piast Tower (offering great views of the city and beyond) and the XIth century Roman Rotunda that is displayed on Polish money – 20 złoty. Still in the center but hidden behind the backstreets so called Cieszyn Venice is located – a picturesque part of the city with the canal running through it – that’s where the local craftsmen used to work. A little bit away from the center but still within the walking distance the old Jewish Cemetery lies on the hillside…
But the Czech side isn’t boring either! It may not have so many great monuments but if you’re a fan of modern architecture (and I am) you’ll enjoy exploring that city too! It’s a fairly new town, before the division it was just a suburb, so many buildings were built before the war to serve as public institutions. It’s amazing how Cieszyn and Český Těšín differ from each other!
I’m constantly fascinated by such unusual places, scarred in a way. I just can’t imagine how the life looked like there 10 and more years ago, when there was still a border. I had some late night conversation over an amazing local beer – Brackie – with guys at the hostel and even if I heard what they were saying I couldn’t and still can’t fully understand that… I guess that’s yet another reason why Cieszyn made such a huge impression on me and became one of favourite cities.
Cieszyn and Český Těšín aren’t your typical destinations. They are something more. The city or cities – I still don’t know how I should refer to it/them – are so unique… and confusing. It’s interesting how everything, from atmosphere and people’s mentality to the architecture changes once you cross the river. Not to mention you suddenly have to pay in the different currency and everyone around you uses another language. But you don’t really feel that you cross the border, after all what’s the small walk across the river in the place that look like one city… I don’t know how many times I crossed the border in these two days, probably between 10 to 20…
From now on I’m gonna recommend a visit in Cieszyn and Český Těšín to everyone! Everything that’s the best in Poland and Czech Republic clashes there and makes a great, unique mix of two cultures (don’t get fooled by Polish and Czech both being Slavic nations, they are SO different!). My two days there weren’t enough to see all the great places that both sides of Olza river have to offer but it made me fall in love with the place and soak up the amazing atmosphere only border cities have. Now I’m just trying to find some time to come back there, not to tick off more places from the list but just to be there and enjoy this great place.
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And if you decide to visit Cieszyn (which I recommend one more time!) you should definitely stay at 3 Bros’s Hostel. It’s one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed in (and I have quite a long history with hostels all over the world;)) but they have pictures of Franz Josef hanging on the wall. Now how cool is that?!
This post might be slightly chaotic, I apologise for that. I just still can’t figure this place out and I regret I got to know it properly so late!
And for the end – be sure to watch this great video about Cieszyn made by my friends from Visegrad Hostels!
Has any place ever confused you for some reason? Which place and why?
If you think of visiting Czech Republic or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
If you think of visiting Poland or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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