The Czech Republic

Many years ago, a friend called me when he got back from a visit to Prague. He swooned about how beautiful the place was. My response? “Once you have visited the REAL Europe, talk to me!” (I was, of course, referring to Western Europe). When I eventually made my way to Prague, I was so ashamed of such a narrow-minded view … remember that piece on ethnocentricity? Well, even I can be guilty of that … that’s why one has to guard against it.

Now, with that out of the way, back to Prague (the first time, in 2007). We flew into Cologne, Germany, picked up our car and spent the night near the famous Dom Kirche. Early the next morning, in fleeting rain, we hit the road to Prague. The manager at the hotel in Cologne printed out Mapquest directions for us. Everything went fine, until the info no longer gelled. As I am too old to drive around in circles, I made a U-turn and headed for the gas/rest station that we had just passed. Although the people were very helpful, their English was as good as my German (non existent!) A lady, who was fluent in English, came in and said: “Did you see the two young guys out there? Well, they are looking for a ride to Prague.” I went out and approached the one guy who was standing there, with: “I believe you are looking for a ride to Prague and you know how to get there?” “Yes,” he replied, to which I responded: “So what are we waiting for? We have a car, you have a directions.” “Well, I am traveling with a friend,” he said. I looked at him and said: “There’s room for two at the back, as long as you can take your luggage (which was not a lot) with you in the back, as the trunk is full.” That’s how we met the two Simons simon(pronounced Sea-mon). I immediately dubbed them Simon #1 and Simon #2 and was informed that is what their French teacher used to call them.

We had a pleasant journey to Prague and were shown a place, just inside the Czech Republic, where illegal immigrants, were selling fake brand name stuff and were told by the two Simons NOT to buy anything from these people as they get raided all the time and buyers are as guilty as sellers. When we got to Prague, we went straight to the “i” (information center) to inquire about a place to stay. We found a very nice self-catering apartment, while the two Simons opted for a hostel and our ways parted (until we saw them in the train station a few days later!) We were both beat and headed to our apartment (finding it is another story), walked around the neighborhood a little, had a beer or two and went to bed.

We got up the next morning and headed towards New Town (Prague has a New AND Old Town) for my much needed morning coffee (the kitchen of the self-catering apartment, was INCOMPLETE and NOT equipped! … so much for a self-catering apartment). As I came around the corner, entering New Town, I saw a restaurant where the folks were having breakfast and BEER! I immediately said out aloud: “This is my kind of town,” to which my traveling companion, responded: “For Gawd’s sakes, it is 10 in the morning.” I looked at him and said: “Yeah, I do it every day of my life, right? We are on vacation and when in Rome (Prague) do as the Romans (people in Prague) do!

prague too Panorama5I have to digress now, onto a very important topic: alcohol consumption. In the United States, we have a “thing” about alcohol …in Europe it is a way of life. The only drunk people I have encountered in Europe during my travels were NOT the locals! So, boys and girls, it all goes … in moderation … even at ten in the morning with one’s breakfast. As a side note, I do NOT drink beer in the US, as I consider American beer to be PATHETIC, although it is basically all I drink abroad … there is just something about their beer.

IM000266IM000275IM000270But enough digression: I cannot say enough about the beauty of Prague. It is an incredible place and fast becoming the number one tourist attraction in Europe, thus, prepare thyselves for millions of tourists. “Must sees “in Prague, are: New AND Old Town, the castle (the view from there takes one’s breath away), a visit to the Opera House (only about $10/ticket), St Charles Bridge (on the way to the Castle) and simply walking around, taking it all in and visit numerous restaurants and pubs for local cuisine and Czech beer.

From Prague we went South to Ceske Budejovice, home of Budvar (Budweiser) beer. Google this and learn about the fights/court cases between Anheuser Busch and Budejovice for the rights to the name of Budweiser. Budejovice was fine (DO go up the tower, but be prepared for a long, steep climb on a narrow staircase), but it did not justify more than a one night’s stay. The plan was to have lunch in Cesky Krumlov the next day … on the Vltava (Moldau) river.

When we got to Krumlov, we fell in love with the place and stayed for 4 nights (see why it is vital NOT to have a rigid traveling schedule). Cesky Krumlov is my most favorite place in the whole world and I go back every other year and in 2011 I plan to stay in the castle for $24/night. Krumlov is an historic town, on UNESCO’s list, and words cannot describe the beauty of the place. It is the second most visited place in the Czech Republic (after Prague) and the only place from this country to be featured (#16) on the list of National Geographic. Krumlov is about all the wonderful restaurants, great food, good beer, wonderful locals. We were in a restaurant one night, and befriended the owner. He suggested that we travel through the wine country of the Czech Republic.

And that’s what we did, or attempted to do, as we got so lost and despite numerous inquiries for directions, could not find a certain road. That’s when I saw the sign that pointed towards Wien (Vienna) and off we went.

Finally, anyone who visits Prague and does not include Cesky Krumlov, is a FOOL! On my way to Krumlov in 2009, we befriended two young American women and became great friends. It was their first visit. Once we got there, they both said: “This is Europe.” We stayed at the same place (Pension Merlin) and I can highly recommend this pension ($17/night with own bathroom), as well as the owners’ other place, Hostel Merlin (on the Moldau river).

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