This GSOF Travel Log documents highlights from Chelsea Hamashin and Amy Belicev’s trip to Brno, Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovak Republic, from 8 – 11 JAN 2023.
As a global foundation, our work often requires us to travel to SOF-relevant locations near and far! Our Travel Logs document what we do on those trips and how they help further our mission.
This edition of the GSOF Travel Log features information and highlights from a trip to our next European Symposium location: Brno, Czech Republic.
We conduct these site survey visits prior to the events to select venues, ensure that our attendees are accurately informed, and connect with our SOF planning partners in the host nation.
Read on to hear about our trip and get excited for our next event in Europe.
Sunday, 8 JAN 2023
If you haven’t spent much time in Eastern Europe, you may not have heard of Brno. As one of my friends said: “I thought you just misspelled Borneo.” While I do have some interesting typos from time to time, in this case I was NOT going to Malaysia.
Brno is a beautiful city in southeast Czech Republic, but it has a small international airport that only supports a few flights a day. So unless you’ll be arriving from London Stansted or Malta, flying isn’t the best way to get there.
Most people assume that makes Prague the best access point, but a quick glance at a map will tell you that Vienna is actually twice as close to Brno.
Vienna has a large international airport and serves as a major hub for many European airlines. If you’re heading in from the States, there are many options of direct flights from the East Coast.
…Amy and I were *not* lucky enough to get one of those flights.
So I flew from Tampa to Dulles and then Amy joined me from Dulles… to Zurich… to Vienna. However, as someone who always seems to have to walk 11 miles through Frankfurt Airport, it was a little refreshing to tour the other airports Europe has to offer.
Amid so many recent cancellations, FAA shutdowns, and the general chaos of travel since 2020, we were very, very lucky that every leg of the trip was SMOOTH.
Speaking of smooth, we may have flown with a criminal?! At the back of our flight from Dulles to Zurich was a mysterious curtained off section of rows, and when we got off the plane about 8 heavily armed Policia were staring at our gate like it might attack. We were dying to know if one of our fellow fliers was a notorious global felon who was going to be carted off the plane, but sadly we had a quick transition and had to dash to our next gate.
After a quick and scenic flight over the Alps, we landed in Vienna where, as always happens when traveling from the States to Europe, it was already well into a rainy morning…
Monday, 9 JAN 2023
Vienna is around 1.5 hours by train from Brno. Attendees are of course welcome to rent a car and drive instead, but based on the variable traffic in and between the cities, that can take from 1.5 to 3 hours.
We did some quick assessment of our options…
|Costs less than 50 Euros roundtrip||✓||X|
|Don’t have to learn local driving laws and customs||✓||X|
|Nearly guaranteed to arrive in central Brno in < 2 hours||✓||X|
|Can eat and drink along the way||✓||X|
|Don’t have to deal with parking!!!||✓||X|
So yes, after a quick lunch in Vienna where I somehow managed to dip the entire arm of my sweater in soup (don’t ask, #souparm), we jumped on the train to Brno! (If anyone is intimidated by booking train tickets, I recommend using TheTrainLine.com… it’s easy and shows you options from multiple train lines.)
One of our missions on this trip was to select hotels to recommend to GSOF Europe attendees.
We know that last year the recommended hotels were a bit scattered all over Budapest, which didn’t create the same connection between our event attendees that we usually have. We aim to correct that this year and reserve dedicated room blocks in select hotels around Brno.
If you’ve ever traveled with the GSOF team, you know we’re partial to Marriott hotels… and Brno has exactly ONE. It’s a Courtyard Marriott with a very fancy lobby, so naturally we chose it as our hub for the trip.
It’s also where we connected with our partners in planning:
- From Team Clarion, our event logistics partner in Europe, we met with Dan, Freddie, and Lucy
- From Team Czech SOF, our event co-hosts for 2023, Radek joined us
The Clarion team flew in from the UK, and Radek drove in from a meeting in Prague… it was a real “planes, trains, and automobiles” type of day.
We got together for a team dinner right outside of Brno’s central square at a restaurant called Element…it’s a bit on the fancy side, but it served some traditional Czech cuisine with a modern touch and was quite good!
After practicing (and mostly failing) our Czech “thank yous” (Děkuju), Amy and I decided 36 hours was long enough to be awake and went back to the hotel to basically die in our beds!
Tuesday, 10 JAN 2023
Somewhat refreshed and probably a bit jet lagged, our team reunited in the morning to head to the venue of the Symposium and Expo: the Brno Exhibition Center, or the BVV.
The BVV has a history that goes back to 1928–meaning at this year’s Symposium we’ll be helping celebrate its 95th birthday! But don’t worry, she looks pretty good for her age. Hall A still stands from its early days, but there are many newer and more modern halls across the sprawling fairgrounds.
One of those–Hall P–is where we’ll be welcoming our SOF Community this October.
Hall P is truly massive–easily the biggest space we’ve ever used. We’re excited about the many possibilities that the space presents. Large and interactive static displays? Integrated meeting spaces? Kickass sponsorship opportunities? We’re ready to bring it all!!
It can be a bit complicated to find the venue the first time, so we’re going to have plenty of resources to help guide our attendees, including:
- Maps and addresses on our website,
- Informative “getting there” videos,
- …and hopefully–shuttles to transport attendees from the event hotels direct to the venue door
Two hotels that will likely be on that list are very close to Hall P, so we visited them next.
FAIRHOTEL is a “fair”ly new boutique style hotel right outside of the BVV gates. We didn’t even see it on Google Maps, but once the BVV staff told us about it we knew it was worth a visit. When we walked in, it was clear that the hotel was closed for the low season and the staff was all hands on deck, cleaning and working on upgrades in the lobby.
The owner, a baby strapped to her shoulders while she organized the reception desk, was kind enough to let us in and get a quick tour anyways! Her staff showed us a few of their 28 rooms, the rooftop, and even the basement sauna. With that warm of a welcome when they’re closed, we can imagine it will be a great place to stay in October!
Right next door is a much larger, but also recently renovated, Orea Congress Hotel. From the outside you can tell it’s been standing in loyal service to the BVV for decades, but the lobby has definitely had a recent facelift. We were pleasantly surprised by the lively bar and restaurant and photos of the luxurious pool and spa.
So with that, visiting the venue and the closest hotels…✓ Czech!
Unfortunately, our Clarion Partners had to head back to the UK to get back to working on a more quickly approaching event we are teamed to execute: SOF Week 2023.
That left Radek, Amy, and me to pursue our next mission: finding a venue for the closing reception. At some of our earlier European Symposiums, we ended the week with a closing party that incorporated local culture, networking, and of course, some fun! Last year we weren’t able to incorporate that event into the agenda, but in 2023 we’re bringing it back!
We spent the afternoon visiting a few different venues in and around downtown Brno:
– Filharmonie Brno: This historical music hall is still used for performances today. The design, and especially the giant pipe organ, has a real “wow” factor and could make for some excellent photo ops.
– Moravska Galerie: The giant plane sculpture hanging over your head when you walk in the door really sets the tone. The giant tentacled sculpture made of sports balls adds even more pizzazz. The robot barista that can draw your face with foam on your cappuccino?! The cherry on top of this interesting venue.
– Villa Tugendhat: For a turn toward the unconventional, this venue is a house that was built in the late 1920s. Its “Frank Lloyd Wright”-esque appearance and city views make it a popular place for tourists and intimate gatherings.
– Old Town Hall: The historical government building is right in the center of Brno and boasts a 173-step tower that leads to 360-degree views of Brno and the Spielberk Castle.
We didn’t yet decide where we’ll be hosting the event, but we look forward to sharing it with you all in the near future!
We’ll also be seeking sponsorships to help make it the best closing reception yet… if you think your company might be interested, contact Max Webster at Clarion for more details.
After our whirlwind tour of the city, it was time to say farewell to our fantastic translator, driver, and friend– Radek. He is a longtime friend of the Foundation and we are grateful to have him on this journey with us.
As a thank you, we left him with a parting gift–a ring game that we hauled with us on the 17 leg journey from Tampa. We had it in our booth in Budapest and all of the Czech attendees were very fond of it… so now they have one of their own to get more practice!
Amy and I chose a more local restaurant for dinner. It was recommended by our bartender and literally called Lokál U Caipla. The top note on Google said “dog friendly” and we quickly found out why.
The food was good, the beer was cheap, and the staff was fun and knowledgeable… we definitely recommend.
Wednesday, 11 JAN 2023
One program we want to grow in 2023 is for our “Spouse and Family” attendees. We know it can be a journey to get to Brno (see days 1 & 2) so we strongly encourage everyone to bring family or friends and stay for a few extra days.
We aren’t quite sure what we’re going to offer yet or how structured this programming will be, but another mission of this journey was to try out local activities and experiences to see what we want to include.
When Amy saw “Infinite Maximus,” a Czech Wellness Center, she knew we needed to go try it out!
After some early morning visits to two more hotels located in the Brno city center, we hopped in an Uber and made our way out of town to try our luck at the thermal spa.
This was a VERY cool experience…you start with a variety of thermal pools and tubs, relax in several types of steam rooms, can have lunch in a picturesque restaurant, and then enter an area full of saunas!
We strongly recommend Infinite Maximus for those who are truly interested in immersing themselves in the local culture and are comfortable with a…less than modest experience! But we will provide the etiquette lessons we learned so that none of you have to learn them the hard way (like we did)!
After pushing our NLT departure time from the spa by 15….30….45 minutes… we made the mad dash down the mountain, back to the hotel, and to the train station.
It was time to say “rozloučení” to Brno and “Ahoj!” to Bratislava!
Read more about this trip in GSOF Travel Log: Site Survey to Bratislava.
Get more information about our European Symposium in Brno, happening from 24-26 October 2023.
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