That’s hello in Czech, by the way! Well where do I begin? My trip to Prague was a dream come true. It was full of fun, memories, Christmas, cold (that’s putting it lightly), friends and even a castle. My last trip while abroad turned out to be to the farthest place from home I’ve ever been, which is perfect (and kind of exciting) as now I have around 10 days until I will be home. Wow! I can’t believe it.
Our flight got in around 5:15 p.m. Thursday, and we were welcomed with darkness. “What?” we said. “Why is it dark already?” We couldn’t believe it, but the sun sets around 4 p.m. and by 4:30 p.m. it is fully dark (due to its location on the farthest edge of its time zone). So Alex and I walk out of the airport and say, “Hey it really isn’t that cold.” But oh, would we ever change our minds!
After taking the bus, then the metro and popping up somewhere in Wenceslas Square, where our directions indicated our hostel would simply “be,” we discovered how cold 15ºF feels like. Oh boy, was it cold! We got to laughing so hard as we shivered and made our way, after asking for directions, to our hostel. I’m not sure if getting inside a building had ever felt so good! (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it truly felt like when I’ve been skiing all day and my fingers and toes just flat out hurt).
By then we were starving, so we threw on a couple more layers. (My most embarrassing amount of layers by the end of the trip turned out to be — don’t laugh — ski socks, thick waterproof insulated boots, tights, jeans, a tank top, a turtle neck, a cable knit sweater, a thinner fleece, a thicker fleece, gloves, a scarf and a beanie. Yep. And it wasn’t enough!) We headed out to the Christmas markets to find some traditional Czech food. The markets are too cute! They’re full of stands with different ornaments, food, Christmas decorations, slippers, gloves and a few other things. It was like nothing I’ve seen before, and truly got me in the holiday spirit.
But back to the food, Alex found some Klobása (traditional Czech sausage) and I ate a yummy chicken skewer as we walked from Wenceslas Square toward Old Town Square to check out the other main Christmas market. There we stopped , just staring at the beautiful old buildings, lit up wonderfully for the night, and there in the center was a huge Christmas tree and the little market.
Our next stop was for some dessert (of course!), where we found one of the best crepes I’ve ever had. Nothing like a chocolate and banana crepe to keep warm (actually it just made my fingers colder, as I had to take my gloves off). We walked around enjoying the atmosphere and taking in all the sights, before the cold finally got to us. We called it a night (I grabbed one more snack — some potato, turkey-chicken, cabbage mix) and headed back to the hostel to thaw and get some rest.
Day two we began with a delicious breakfast of blueberry porridge (really good!), then walked out to the river to see Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. Charles Bridge is a Gothic bridge from the 1300s with a unique open-air gallery of Baroque statuary. We took lots of pictures of the beautiful river and the castle above, before crossing the bridge to make our way through Lesser Town to Prague Castle.
Prague Castle is actually the “largest coherent castle complex in the world,” and is still used by the president of the Czech Republic for his work and meetings, etc. I was blown away by the extensiveness of the castle, which combines several churches and palaces on top of one of the hills in Prague. We glimpsed the changing of the guard on our way in, and then took the next challenge of our adventure (not really a challenge but fun to say!): climbing 280 some-odd steps to the top of one of the towers of St. Vitus Cathedral, which stands within the castle, to see a view of all of Prague. It was spectacular! I really can’t say anything other than that (and that it was more than worth a little burn in the legs).
After our bird’s-eye view of the city, we poked around the inner wall of the castle for a bit before grabbing lunch in this little medieval restaurant just outside the castle area. We decided to keep with our trend of the total Czech experience and tried the pork goulash (which is a meat in sauce sort of dish). It was really good. I liked just about all the Czech food I tried, but I don’t think I could eat it all the time, ’cause, boy, was it heavy.
Our next stop, after our refueling, was a little gingerbread bakery (smelled so good!), where Alex got her coffee for the day; then we were really ready to continue. The next sight was the John Lennon Wall. It was really interesting to see, and fun to jump into a Spanish tour group and catch a bit of the history. In short, it is a place, and still is today, where young people wrote their beliefs and desires for freedom.
The rest of the afternoon we spent wandering through Old Town Square (wanted to see it in daylight), peeking at the Christmas markets, exploring the Jewish Quarter and jumping in a little café for a cookie to get warm. Our energy and stamina were failing, however, as the cold wind began to cut through those many layers, so we opted to head to the hostel for a little break and do some research on what our next plan-of-action should be.
An hour later, and only halfway thawed out, we met up with another girl from our group, Nikki, for dinner at this Italian place before braving the cold once more to get another crepe (don’t judge, when in Prague…) and soak in every moment we could at the Christmas markets. It would never get old. The Christmas spirit was all around, and everyone simply looked, well, joyful. It was a lovely ending to a lovely day.
My day three was beautiful, as well. This day was special because I got to spend the whole day with a very old family friend who grew up in Prague, had met my Aunt Margaret who was studying in Switzerland, and eventually came to live with my Grandbe and Grandpa in Carlsbad, where she studied at Cal State University San Marcos and became the first foreign student to graduate from there. Lenka is a true sweetheart. She picked me up from my hostel and treated me to breakfast at a nice café that overlooks the river and has a splendid view of Prague Castle. We spent that time, and well pretty much the whole day, talking about how she became connected with my family. It was really something special.
Then she took me to one of the oldest spots in Prague called Vysehrad. Vysehrad and Prague Castle were the two original settlements of Prague; the Prague Castle settlement flourished, and thus, Vysehrad is now ruins. Vysehrad is home to a very old cemetery, in which important Prague people are buried (and some of Lenka’s family too!) and several famous composers, such as Antonín Dvorak who composed “The New World Symphony.”
On the top of the hill also sits a neo-Gothic cathedral, the Church of St. Peter and Paul. While I’ve seen several churches and cathedrals during my time in Europe, I had never seen one whose interior was so colorful. It was beautiful. After having our picture taken with a view of the river and Prague Castle in the background, Lenka and I drove out toward Karlstejn Castle. I know, isn’t it exciting! Another real castle!
We parked at the base of the hill and walked in through the little village below, then there it was, sitting up above in the hills. It was breathtaking in its grandeur. I had to temper my excitement as we waited for our tour time. While we waited Lenka took me into a Nativity Scenes Museum, where there were lots of handmade Nativity scenes —wooden, ceramic, gingerbread, you name it. Some of them even moved! But up in the attic was the special one; it takes up half the attic and moves. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
We then grabbed lunch at a little restaurant, where I tried some traditional Czech fried cheese (so good!!!) and veggies. Then it was time to hike to the castle. We walked along (never forget that we are always trying to stay warm!) and up into the castle. Karlstejn has a lot of history, but I’ll just mention that it was founded by Charles IV and at one point even held the crown jewels. We walked around the walls and took lots of pictures, all the while joking about why they didn’t have a room for all of us to wait in so we didn’t freeze while waiting for the tour to begin. However, the inside of the castle wasn’t any warmer (another thing Lenka had pointed out to me before!), but I loved hearing the history and seeing the inside of two of the towers.
By then the sun was almost set and we walked (briskly as we tried to warm up — or, well, I was, I’m sure Lenka is a bit more accustomed to it) back down the mountain to her car and headed for her home. Lenka lives in a little village not far from Prague, with her two kids (I’d try and spell their names but that definitely wouldn’t go very well) and husband, Peter. It is a really nice house, built by Peter; I even had my own little kitchen, bathroom, bedroom-area downstairs.
After settling in a bit, Lenka and I drank some tea to warm up and had some of her homemade tiramisu cake, while we talked and looked through her old photo albums of her time in California. Wow. It was really fun to see pictures of my family and hear her point of view about them and her time at the ranch house. Let me just say that some things never change! She had my family nailed down perfectly! It gave me a good laugh and really showed how wonderfully blessed I am to have the family I do. I can’t wait to see them all at Christmas.
It was also really neat to see a picture of Lenka holding me as a 1-year-old, while, there we were, sitting side-by-side 20 years later. What a blessing it was to spend the day with her.
Before long it was dinner time and Lenka cooked a delicious chicken, vegetable and rice dish for the two of us. We finished up our meal just as Peter and the kids arrived from a family party. The two little ones are precious! We all sat around and laughed at the kids, while Lenka and Peter tried to get them to use some of their English. As the kids headed to bed, the tiredness hit me, so I headed down to crawl into my bed, as well.
The next morning I woke up to a delicious breakfast Lenka had provided. She had me figured out before I even got there, leaving fruit for snack downstairs and having greek yogurt, muesli, fruit and tea for breakfast (I think that has to do with her knowing my mommy! Like mother, like daughter?). I had such a good time getting to talk with her and Peter, seeing her home and meeting her kids. It was a very special experience.
Then, sadly, it was time to head to the airport, but not until we had all taken several pictures together (including a couple at her parents’ weekend house just down the street, where my Aunt Margaret had spent lots of time!). It is never fun to say goodbye, but my time spent with Lenka and her family is one I will always cherish. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return to Prague someday, and see the hidden jewel of Europe once more.
While Prague might have been my last travel adventure while abroad in Spain, I have no doubt there will be many more adventures in the months and years to come. For I have come to understand, more than ever before, that adventures are not simply those times when something rare and exciting, or dangerous and exhilarating, happen; no, adventures can be anything you love, you enjoy and you find uniquely wonderful. Adventures are part of our everyday lives; you just have to know where to look for them.