Visit to Austerlitz and Brno — 7th to 9th October 2016

This blog entry describes a recent visit to Brno. Together with two friends we had decided to walk the Austerlitz battlefield. After reading a couple of books and travel guides we took the plunge.

Arrival

Aodhan and I left Wimbledon at 9.30 to get the Northern Line to the city. From there we caught the train from Liverpool Street to Stanstead Airport. The Ryanair flight left on schedule at 13.30 and the flight, which was about 2 hours arrived in Brno just before 17.00. All went to plan and we met Ronan at the airport. He had hired a car from Prague airport and met us in Brno. He took us to the V&V Hotel in central Brno.http://www.vvhotel.cz/en/

The hotel was basic but clean and relatively new. The beds were rather hard but the place is quiet and the breakfast was very good. Plenty of choice and good coffee. Overall a good choice for a cheap (€50 per night inc breakfast) stay.

Once we had checked in we went out to find some food. Using TripAdvisor we found a place called Pegas in the old town. It is a micro-brewery and restaurant with a good choice of traditional Czech food — plenty of dumplings, meat and gravy. The beer (which I didn’t try was very good and quite cheap (about £1 a pint). The food was just what we wanted and it proved to be such a a good choice that we went there again the next night! We returned to the hotel feeling ready for the day ahead.

After a relatively early breakfast we headed out toward the main Exhibition Centre up on the Pratzen Heights in the central part of the battlefield. http://www.picturingeurope.com/austerlitz-brno-czech-republic.html. The battlefield runs north to south with the Pratzen Heights dominating the centre. Although not very high the surrounding land is flat with some undulation. There is an education centre on the heights with a multimedia exhibition and cafe/restaurant in the sight of some of the heaviest fighting.

The battlefield

The battle of Austerlitz https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Austerlitz was cleverly executed by Napoleon. With a smaller army he aimed to mislead the Austrians and Russians by pretending that he had even smaller numbers and was therefore relatively weak. Initially he held the Heights but deliberately brought one unit down in the days before and also kept one of his Corps out of sight. On the morning of the battle the initial assault started in the South in an area suited for infantry but ill suited for cavalry because of a natural lake and a small river. Napoleon’s strong defense of this area pulled the Allied troops southward and off the Heights. During the battle Napoleon attacked the Heights and, after some of the strongest fighting, managed to reclaim them. This proved to be effective in part because some of his troops remained hidden in the early morning mist and, as a result, the Allies underestimated the French in the centre.

In the north the Allied troops were delayed and failed to come south quickly enough. Napoleon’s troops held them back but their defense was helped be a failure of the Russian and Austrian troops to combine and before moving south. From his position on high ground in the North, Napoleon was able to direct the early part of the battle and to react to the changing conditions on the Heights. We were able to climb up to his command post and gain some understanding of the importance of this position.

After around 4 hours the main battle was won and the Austrian attack was repulsed and a number of their troops withdrew and subsequently fled. By mid afternoon the battle was complete leaving over 30,000 dead (about 15% of the soldiers). This was a major victory for Napoleon who had gambled heavily. With extended supply lines and troops far away from France, the Allies had been confident of victory. But a better disciplined and organized army decisively defeated two great Empires.

This is the first time that I have been privileged to “walk” a battlefield and I can’t underestimate the benefits of the approach to understand what went on back on 2nd December 1805. It was a very effective and interesting day which worked on many levels.

Return to Brno

Our day largely mirrored the battle so by late afternoon we were ready to leave and return to Brno. We stopped at the Austerlitz palace before heading off back the hotel. Later that evening we returned to the Bar/Restaurant for drinks and then stopped off at a cafe for chocolate cake and hot chocolate. During the day we stopped off at a bar for a drink and very lark 45cm pizzas.

By 10.00pm we were all ready for bed. We were up by 7.30am because Ronan needed to leave to get to the airport.

Sunday

Sunday was spend wandering around Brno and seeing the sights. Included in the day was a visit to the Mendel Museum which, although small, was well worth a visit. I tracked my route on Strava and worked out that I walked about 7km. Brno, especially the old town, is well worth a visit and, I think, will become more of a magnet for tourists as the town develops. There are plans for a Green Zone and a high level pedestrian walk way across the city. The town has a thriving Opera House — we unfortunately missed the Janacek festival which started on the day we left. We were, however, fortunate enough to walk in towards the end of a fine performance of Mozart’s Requiem in a local church on Saturday evening.

The weekend was a great success. The three of us got on very well and we all enjoyed finding out about Austerlitz. Brno was an excellent centre and worth another visit. Close to Prague and Vienna it would form a great place to spend a week.

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