A day and night in Rizal's Litomerice
BY GENE ALCANTARA
A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to revisit Prague or Praha, the absolutely fabulous capital of the Czech Republic (apparently they changed their name to Czechia in 2016 but it has not really caught on). I was attending the very successful annual conference of the European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD), my last one as Chair after having served European Filipinos for the last 5 years.
I stayed in a very tidy Airbnb apartment just off the National Museum, near the famous Wenceslas Square (a long avenue really) that has hosted numerous rallies in the capital, including the peaceful Velvet Revolution in late 1989 (emulating the bloodless People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986), which ushered in democracy in this part of Central Europe.
Once the conference was over, my first thought was to explore Filipino-related sights of the country, particularly those associated with our national heroes. I only had the weekend to do so and I had a choice of going to Litomerice or to Brno, which featured somehow in the life of the Philippine national hero, Dr Jose P Rizal.
I opted to go to Litomerice, or Leitmeritz, which is where Jose Rizal went to visit his pen-friend Professor Ferdinand Blumentritt in May 1887 for a few days, accompanied by his friend Maximo Viola. And because it was about an hour only by bus north from Praha. Brno would have taken 2 hours 40 minutes by bus, perhaps faster by train, but I did not have much time. I told the other ENFiD officers where I was, that I would wait for anyone interested to go in the McDonald's Cafe in the corner near National Museum till about 10am.
Nobody turned up. Understandable since it was everybody else’s last day in Praha, and they all had different plans. Novo-Mar Foronda Ramos, ENFID Board member, said he and his family were going elsewhere, and Myla Arceno, another member of the Board, asked if I could take photos please.
So I rushed to the Florenc Metro, red line, supposedly to get to the bus stop which would take me to Litomerice. At Florenc I walked round and round to look for this famous bus station. Somehow it was hidden from sight and nobody seemed to know apart from an elderly woman who pointed me in the right direction. It turned out that the right metro station was Praha Holesovice which is about 2 stops from Florenc on the red line (Metro Line C).
The wrong information however did not dampen my enthusiasm, having already walked around Praha for about 1 hour and a half until I found Florenc, so Praha Holesovice was not too far away. I got there in the end sweating profusely, catching the bus with only a few minutes to spare before it departed, with the queueing natives looking at me curiously.
[Note: Travellers from Prague will need to go by Metro Line C (red line) to Praha Holesovice and purchase their return bus ticket which costs Kc 168 (c €7-8). They then take a bus on Platform 7 to go to Litoměřice which takes about an hour. They will arrive at the bus station of the town adjacent to the train station where Rizal and Viola arrived and were apparently met by Blumentritt and his family, a very Filipino way of greeting and welcoming new arrivals to their town.]
Along the way we passed several small towns and lots of green fields. There were some beautiful dilapidated grand buildings, and lots of mainly detached houses. There were not many people on the road. And soon we were in Litomerice.
Rizal-Blumentritt Heritage Trail in Czech Republic.
I did not have to prepare much for my trip (although I really should have, as to why will be explained below). All I had to take with me was the yellow leaflet prepared by erudite Jed Dayang, Consul General at the Philippine Embassy Prague, and prepared in three languages: Filipino, English and Czech, showing the Rizal-Blumentritt Heritage Trail which one could easily follow (I had the English one with me).
The best thing to do of course once you get to Litomerice is to follow the trail literally step by step, somehow to follow Rizal’s footsteps.
Be warned. Although it is a small town, you could end up walking for hours on cobblestones. Very tiring and hard on unsuitable shoes (not sure my black Doc Martens were suitable, but my feet survived).
But if you do get tired then you could stay at the beautiful Grandhotel Salva Guarda. Underneath the beautiful Grandhotel Salva Guarda arches you will find a black bust of Rizal, watching passersby [apparently sculpted by the hotel owner’s son in law].
When I visited, the hotel manager somehow managed to “find out” that Rizal's old room no. 12 was now room A22 on the second floor and he kindly moved a guest booking so that I could spend the night in the same room. It cost €90 for bed & breakfast and it was totally worth it. The views of the old town square from the room's two windows were simply astounding. At night though, well at 8pm, all activities seemed to cease outside.
Not the right hotel.
It was only later after my visit that I found out to my amusement, from Jed Dayang, that the Grandhotel Salva Guarda was not in fact the hotel I was seeking which was the Hotel Krebs. Because the original Hotel Krebs (Black Eagle) where Rizal and Viola stayed around 133 years ago, was actually located across the old town main square.
Unfortunately the Hotel Krebs is no more. The building now serves as a supermarket/bookshop where I actually purchased some toiletries when I decided to stay the night so as not to rush my visit. The former hotel building faces the old town square too (now partly used as a car park).
But honestly it did not matter as the views and the atmosphere were the same as both faced onto the old town square. Mind you, the gloomy atmosphere in my room that night was such that I fancied there was a ghost there, who knows, possibly of someone who may have even met Rizal, and I did not sleep much. Perhaps the Embassy ought to send the manager a copy of the heritage leaflet so they know for when the next Filipino visitor comes along.
Anyway if you walked down the hill behind the hotel you will find another bust of Rizal, this time brown, on a wall in a park, surveying the town and its beautiful structures. The park is called 'Parkany Jose Rizala' for it is named after him. It is not a park in the usual sense -- for it is like a series of platforms that go down the hill, interconnected by stairs. Still it is an honour that our national hero is recognised in this remote town, meriting 2 public busts no less, plus of course the Museum.
The Rizal-Blumentritt Bastion which has been turned into the Czech-Philippine Museum was unfortunately closed when I came to visit. It is an impressive 3 floor building, with the flags of Philippines and Czechia but there was not much to see at the back except fruit trees (I tried to climb and peek from a crumbling wall) but all I saw was an empty backyard. I have apparently missed the bust of Blumentritt inside the enclosed yard. I hope I could return one day when the museum is open for visitors, if only to see the guest book Rizal apparently signed during his visit and see the artefacts of our two countries’ long and enduring friendship.
We know that Rizal came to the small town of Litoměřice from 13 to 17 May 1887 with his travelling friend and companion Maximo Viola. Rizal and Viola were in Germany before proceeding to Litoměřice. Rizal with his facility for learning languages, was fluent in German and he no doubt impressed the locals with his communication skills.
Rizal came to visit his friend Blumentritt, a local resident who was also a secondary school Principal and researcher on the Philippines. They became very close friends, with the latter apparently having translated 'Noli Me Tangere' and written a preface to 'El Filibusterismo'.
The way the town has celebrated Rizal’s brief visit in 1887 as if he had stayed for years, is not difficult to understand. After all the Filipino hero, although physically short at 5 feet 2 inches, was a giant of a man, clearly talented, highly intellectual and full of energy and this was seen or felt by his friends, admirers and anyone who met him.
Clearly too Blumentritt respected and adored him, and honoured him the best way he could, by featuring Rizal in his beloved town. Of course we in the Philippines have also returned the compliment – anyone who has lived, studied or worked in Manila will know there is an area, street and a train station called Blumentritt, named in honour of Rizal’s friend. There is apparently another town called Blumentritt in Negros Occidental, and a street of the same name in Iloilo. I wonder how he would be remembered had Ferdinand Blumentritt been able actually to set foot on his beloved friend’s Philippines.
Rizal of course is not just a Filipino hero. He has clearly inspired other nations too particularly in Southeast Asia where he is a Malay hero, and his nationalist sentiments and capacity for sacrifice are universal. In one letter on 31 January 1887 to Blumentritt, Rizal was quoted as saying –
“We want the happiness of the Philippines, but we want to obtain it through noble and just means. If I have to commit villainy to make her happy, I would refuse to do so, because I am sure that what is built on sand sooner or later would tumble down.”
For us Filipinos living and working in Europe it is a particular privilege to be able to trace his and other Filipino heroes' footsteps and go on our own voyages of self-discovery.
One day we should compile all these trails to make it easier for those who wish to see and experience somewhat what our real heroes saw and experienced. For those of us in Europe, it is not just a duty but a pleasure to share what we know with others. I know the Order of Knights of Rizal go on pilgrimage to all the places Rizal had been to across Europe, spreading his teachings, under the banner ‘Non Omnis Moriar’ (I shall not wholly die). But it would be helpful, educational and exciting if ordinary Filipino travellers could pick up a simple guide from relevant embassies to guide them on their own heroes’ pilgrimage.
[Thanks are due to the late Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros and Consul General Jed Dayang for producing the guide to Rizal's Litomerice. I know Jed got the inspiration when he went to Madrid for the ENFID Conference in 2014 and we actually followed the Heroes' Trail there, also documented by the Philippine Embassy Spain. Surely it is time to encourage other embassies to produce similar guides in their respective countries.]