Sunday, 22 October 2017

A first look at the Czech Republic

By Emily Prucha | Prague Daily Monitor |
17 May 2013

My mother and her sister arrived in Prague ten days ago for my mother’s annual spring visit and my aunt’s first-ever trip to the Czech Republic. Although we had a slew of visitors when Radek and I first moved back to Prague, for the past several years our only visitors have been my parents. I haven’t been down the Golden Lane or walked across Charles Bridge with a visitor in years. I was eager to show my aunt Prague’s narrow, cobblestone streets, historic buildings and quaint cafes, but also just as excited for her to see the Czech countryside with its numerous castles and chateaus.

We laid out a plan to squeeze in as much cultural diversity as possible. Culture, in our eyes, included a glimpse at the resident bear in the Český Krumlov castle moat as well as a meal at the local brewery. For the initial portion of the visit, Radek and I planned an ambitious five-day tour from Prague to Český Krumlov, then on to the lakes district of Třeboň, Jindřichův Hradec and Telč, the ceramic arts villages of Slavonice and Maříž, and finally the Moravian wine region: Valtice, Lednice and Mikulov.

Although our driving route was relatively fixed, we gave ourselves freedom to tour each destination as we fancied, staying longer or leaving earlier, depending on our moods, the weather or the children’s needs. Eating well, getting in a good brisk walk and finding a playground where the kids could run around were key factors in determining how long we stayed in each place.

My aunt Susan has traveled to London and Paris and throughout the English countryside, but she’d never been in Central Europe, although she’d heard about our life in Prague from my mother and their oldest sister who visited four years ago. Two summers ago we visited Susan in historic Williamsburg, Virginia. While there, she guided us on tours of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Busch Gardens. We had a delightful time and the children learned much about the history of America’s first colonies. Now it was our turn to show Susan what we knew about our Czech home. I hoped our family’s hospitality would live up to my own expectations.
One of my aunt’s first remarks about the Czech Republic was the abundance of crop fields she’d seen from the airplane. As we drove from the airport to our village, we passed field after field, some lush with green wheat or golden rapeseed, others rich and brown, in the process of being tilled. I knew Susan had a green thumb with a lovely home garden and membership in a garden club, but I hadn’t known she’d be so taken by the Czech countryside. I guess I’ve already begun to take it for granted. At every turn, she commented on the greenness and the space. It reminded her of the rural Cotswold region of England.

Driving through Moravia, we stopped the car and took pictures of the rolling landscape, green and yellow fields in every direction. When we began to tour the cultivated castle grounds in the wine country at the Lednice chateau, she was duly impressed by the meticulously trimmed hedges and flower gardens. She and my mother tried to identify the flowers, plants and herbs they recognized from their own gardens back in Virginia: “bleeding heart,” “scotchbroom,” “candytuft” and “Queen Anne’s Lace”. They sniffed the lilacs that were in full-bloom and reminisced about the lilac bush in their backyard growing up. We took pictures of the children dashing under and through the groomed hedges on a well-worn path where the “No walking on the grass” sign obviously didn’t apply.

Yet the curving, bumpy country roads and Radek’s tendency to drive fast put my mom and aunt less at ease. As we bumped our way down the pot-holed roads, my aunt asked if the Czech Republic had an interstate system. Radek grinned and replied, that indeed it did, although traveling on the interstate was not the best way to see the countryside. She agreed that we should stick to the scenic route with its vineyards and golden fields, bumps and all.

From the beginning of the trip to its end, both my mother and aunt were good sports. They waited while the children painted pottery in Maříž; listened to a castle tour in Czech (while reading the English translation) and acquiesced to the children’s constant needs go to the bathroom, buy an ice cream or find a playground. We tasted carp in Třeboň and sipped Moravian wine in the Valtice wine cellar. We even happened onto an exhibition of authentic costumes and props at the Telč castle from the renowned Czech fairytale Sleeping Beauty. By the time we’d finished our five-day trip, I felt satisfied that we’d given my aunt an overview of the Czech countryside. Now, it was time to show her more of Prague city proper.

We alternated between walking through Prague’s downtown historic districts with taking walks through our village neighborhood and the woods near our house. My aunt was taken by Prague and commented that it really was as beautiful as she’d always heard people say. My mother was delighted to see Prague in the height of springtime with the lilacs in full blossom. The children, for their part, enjoyed having visitors when the weather was nice they could play outside and show off their biking skills. Although we didn’t manage to attend a classical music concert or go through an art exhibition in the city, we did walk through Prague’s Jewish Quarter, cross the Charles Bridge and have lunch at Café Louvre.

On their next to last day here, I left my mom and aunt with Samuel at the local brewery to have lunch and walk back through the woods to our house while I picked up the older children from school. It was their first outing without me and their first experience alone in a Czech restaurant. When I found them strolling up the path toward home, they looked none-the-worse for wear. They’d eaten tasty salads, had managed to pay and leave a nice tip at the brewery and were busy scrutinizing the cottage gardens they passed on the way home while Samuel sat happily in the stroller.

That night we made a list of last minute to-dos and looked over our pictures of their trip so far. From the photos, it was clear that we’d spent most of our time enjoying the Czech countryside and giving our visitors a taste of what we consider the best of Czech culture. We hope they enjoyed the trip as much as we did. We’re not-so-secretly wishing that word may spread upon their return to the States, and we’ll get another flurry of visitors to help us learn to better appreciate this country we now call home.

Emily Prucha is a Life Section columnist for the Monitor. She likes writing about bilingual and multicultural families.
You can reach her at emily@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.