Prague, Czech Republic

Though my time in Europe has rested in discovering Germany–and my many days on trains are testament to my experiencing the land to the fullest–it turns out the continent is a small bit larger than just Deutschland.  In a round-about route to an interview in Stuttgart, I had a chance to visit Prague for a weekend, and discovered an interesting slice of the EU, very much with one foot in the past, and one wanting to be in the future.  After a stop to Berlin for an interview, and to pick up my beautiful bride, we headed east to uncharted territory.

Prague, like much of Europe, has been torn by war for centuries.  It’s been controlled by Celts, Germans, Russians, maybe Americans for a time during the Great War, but the Czech Republic is independent now, and a member of the EU in full standing…except for the whole currency thing.  The official currency is not yet the Euro, and there’s word a full currency switch won’t happen until 2019.  You can still buy your DVD’s and booze at the local Tesco though for a few hundred Korunas (Crowns.)

Prague is full of history.  It contains (reportedly) the largest castle in the world; Wenceslas Square with the National Museum (not to be confused with Old King Wenceslaus, another Czech); a memorial to the victims of communism; and the vital Vltava River, stunningly spanned by the old-but-sturdy St. Charles Bridge.

Right off the train the mood was hectic.  Signs are in Czech, German and maybe English.  Most conversations to overhear are in Czech or German.  A young man with a stack of pamphlets was nice enough to harass each visitor with a pitch for a hostel.

“Can I offer you a place to stay?”

“No, we’re good,” I answer as diplomatically as possible after 5 hours on a train.

“How about for tomorrow?  You need a place for tomorrow?” He persists.

“No.”

“Can I just give you a pamphlet? You can give it to a friend.”

“No,” as we continue walking away.  After a short time getting cash from the ATM, he came back and began to ask again if I needed a place to stay.

I save him time, “my answer is still no.”  He mumbles something about not getting upset, and the moment passes.

The city was cleaner than other cities I’ve seen, and there’s an abundance of greenery.  With the river, and large parks, and a wilderness not too far away, there was much to like.  But it is a city of 1.2 million people, and one which uses a Slavic language–translation: our linguistic logic won’t help us understand the signs any better.

And oh the tourists.  Thousands of umbrella-wielding tour guides crowded around an ancient Astrological Clock in an old square, preparing to spew historical nuggets onto thirsty tourists.  As an American who cherishes space, and not looking obviously foreign, the March of the Tourists was exhausting to watch.

Prague is a nice city to visit, but I could not live there.  The language, and the still-improving infrastructure are enough to turn me off.  The countryside just over the German border in CZ is beautiful though, and it seems more like a place where one could buy a small cottage and not be bothered.  And the area is historic Bohemia, where some of my ancestors were hatched.

For now though it’s back to Germany and Euros…it feels a little better paying 3 Euros for a coffee, instead of 80 Crowns.  A little.

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