I hadn’t planned on czeching out Prague when I was outlining my trip back in The States, but after six weeks of travel and hearing from nearly every backpacker I met that Prague was a “must,” I decided to czech it out.
I was already getting giddy as soon as the train crossed the river where I could get a good glimpse of the city. Unlike Munich, the city of Prague was left mostly untouched from WWII bombs which preserved the city’s gorgeous late 19th century architecture. It’s almost like one giant dollhouse. Since 1989, Prague has taken full advantage of no longer being under communistic rule, which is evident in the pragueress that’s been made towards the restoration, beautification and tourist-ization of the city.
On my introductory stroll around town, I couldn’t help but feel an odd familiarity with the place. Then I realized where it was coming from. This beautiful city was where my seventh grade action/adventure/badboy-but-goodguy/evil russian-slaying idol, Vin Diesel’s character in XXX, saved the world from terrorism. I mean, who doesn’t love the classic “Hey that speed boat is carrying nuclear weapons so we’re gonna drive a mint-condition GT convertible parallel to the river while I shoot it with a harpoon gun and zipline onto the boat and take down the bad guys and save the world” move. I sure did/still do. (I did not take this photo)
Moving on: I enjoyed a czech skewer for dinner and called it a night.
The next morning I hopped on a walking tour of the city with a young guide who, again, said some jokes that I laughed a little too hard at. He imitated a rooster crow that I applauded him for. We walked around the town and I learned about the history of the Czech Republic and the significance of the city of Prague. I paid as much attention as I could, but for the most part I was just mesmerized by the eye candy in the beautiful buildings all around me. Mid way through the tour I cracked a joke about the relation of the Czech area of Bohemia to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and actually received a bit of history from my tour guide. The reference to Bohemia now has evolved into something more along the lines of free, unconfined movement. Hence, the sparatic nature of the classic song. I also learned about all of the different nations that the Czech Republic has been a part of in recent history, most recently Czechoslovakia, which was divided peacefully in the early 90’s.
After our walking tour, our rooster-crowing guide invited us on another tour he was leading of the Prague Castle. From down in the middle of the city, the castle across the river looked pretty intriguing, so I joined him.
On our way there, we passed a small tent set up in a fairly busy corner of town. Tijo, our guide, said it was part of the Occupy Movement in the Czech Republic. I figured it would be more suitable for them to call themselves the Czechoslovoccupy Movement, but I kept my suggestions to myself.
The castle was fun and informative, and we all enjoyed a beautiful panorama of the city.
After the tour I joined some friends to go back to the same restaurant I had been the night before to get some more kebabs. Before we knew it, we were talking with each other for three hours before finally responding to the subtle hints from the servers for us to please exit the premises.
The following day was slow and peaceful. My goal for the day was to simply walk around, people watch, get a souvenir and see more of the czechstraordinary architecture the city had to offer. And that I did. I also spent a little too much time listening to some great street performers too.
On my final morning, I czech’d out the Museum of Communism in town, ironically sandwiched between two institutions that couldn’t be more repulsive to Stalin himself – McDonalds and a casino.
Although the museum itself only takes the average person about an hour and half to see entirely, the content of it struck the same cord in me that my Third Reich and Dachau tours did in Munich. I had never done any extensive research on communism in the 20th century, and had always seen North Korea as just a cold, quiet place. I spent quite a bit more time in the museum than the average person, and had the eyelids of my heart stretched open as I saw in detail the truth about the Soviet reign for the first time. Like in Munich, I was moved by the power in the muffled resistance efforts of the people.
I’m telling you, the history I’ve learned on my entire trip from Israel to the Romans, Nazis and Communists has forever changed my appreciation and passion for freedom. As a journalism student, I’m drilled daily with the importance of freedom of speech. The knowledge became an understanding as I saw pictures and videos of underground, illegal music performances, people being publicly beaten by law enforcement, a statue of Stalin being erected while people starve, and journalists desperately trying to publicize truth while constantly being suppressed by a deceitful, iron-fisted government.
The museum also had a small exhibition about modern day North Korea. After learning about the ills of 20th century communism, then seeing crystal clear images from North Korea in the present day, is moving. Again, eye lids, stretched way open.
After leaving the museum feeling like a czechspert on twentieth century history, I grabbed a bit of fresh air (physically and emotionally) and hiked around a local park. I say hike, because the entire park is on an uphill slope. I got to a good view, sat in the grass, and meditated on everything I love about freedom: My freedom to pursue my faith relentlessly and legally, Dave Matthews Band, reading any book I want to, singing “Don’t Stop Believing” at our Fayetteville High School Young Life clubs, not stopping believing, voting this November, writing music, college football rivalries, importing things from other countries, pursuing something just because I love it, and writing a travel blog without every post having to pass through a government-approved filter. The city in it’s current state is a wonderful czechsample of celebrating freedom and democracy. It just czechsemplifies how heavy the Soviet control was, and what a city can do when it’s finally able to breathe.
So I czech’d out of Prague and caught my overnight train from Prague to Cologne, Cologne to Brussels, Brussels to London, and London to Brighton. And in Brighton I celebrated my freedom by dancing, sweating and singing with Vintage Trouble in a hot, humid and hoppin’ sold out venue. Well worth the long, tiresome journey. The town of Brighton had a nice pebbly beach too. Good place to lie down and meditate on freedom.
Prague was beautiful and a wonderful czechsperience.
The remaining time in my trip is ticking fast. I’m soaking in every minute I’ve got in London before I fly home on Sunday. It’s bittersweet. I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever experience a trip like this of such spontaneous freedom and indulgence in such an array of cultures. But I do miss Fayetteville. And Nellie. And American football. But I’ll save my sappy, sentimental post for my last one.
Fergie’s “London Bridge” is stuck in my head,