All together, we spent about 8 days in the Czech Republic, starting with three days in Prague and followed by 5 days driving around the country. That might be both “too long” and “too short.” Please take the following comments about my experiences, neither universal nor unique, as personal. This is what I saw and how I interpreted it.
First, let me mention the lilacs. These beautiful shrubs were in full bloom during the trip, in a full range of colors from white to light purple to deep red-purple. A favorite of mine from my childhood in Wisconsin, I was intrigued when one of our fellow Viking cruisers asked the Prague guide about them, and surprised by her answer. She linked them to the feelings of liberty and freedom that marked the end of the Soviet occupation of the Czech Republic (1989). Within Prague, they were ubiquitous in the parks, but even out of the cities, they grew just about everywhere, in family gardens, in public gardens, and even along the edges of the fields.
Second, of course, I could not fail to mention the amazing fields of canola plants. Our first view of these happened as we were landing in Charles de Gaulle Airport on our very first day, and we continued to see them from the Viking boat as we toured the rivers of Germany. Certainly we saw them from the bus on our transfer from Nuremburg to Prague, but they were our constant eye candy during all of our driving around the Czech Republic. I kept wondering if I could get sick of seeing them. You would think so, right? But no! Each and every time I saw them, they took my breath away! The yellow is so intense that it seems to absorb all the light, and we had plenty of sunlight for those fields to soak up. Everything paled in comparison – even the emerald greens of spring growth and brilliant blue of cloudless skies.
The other fascinating thing about those canola fields was their fluffiness! Not the most elegant description, but as you looked out over those fields they gave the impression of water – of bubble bath foamy water – with a tree here or there poking up through the foam, or maybe a little hillock of rocks. They were especially unforgettable, definitely undeniable.
Third, the countryside was exceptionally beautiful. We did some extensive driving, both on multi-lane highways and on back roads. Everywhere we saw neat (as in tidy, well-kept) houses; villages around a church spire, castles often peeking from the wooded slopes of rolling hills. The farmland looks rich and fertile. We saw lots of canola, but there were fields of hay and other things, too (too early in the growing season to tell what those would be!). From maps we saw, there are lots of hiking and biking trails all over the country.
Fourth, I need to mention the castles. The Czech Republic supposedly has the highest density of castles per square mile in the world – and our experience was that they were uniquely wonderful and varied. Most are so old there is a variety of styles in same building, too. They impart an enchanting sense of history. Many are owned by the State, and they are generally well-maintained. The Czech Republic could build a tourist industry around them, if they gave tours in other languages.
Fifth, I cannot fail to mention the food. Though the Czech Republic has a traditional cuisine based on sausages, trout, bread dumplings and potato dumplings, meats in heavy sauces, there is also a very cosmopolitan aspect to restaurant menus, especially those in Prague. By U.S. prices, dining out is very affordable. A three course gourmet lunch with wine and service in Prague for three people cost less than $90. A wonderful dinner for three, with wine and service, in Lednice (a small town) was less than $40. The quality of the food is high, too. This is a place to experiment with the best restaurants, treating yourself to excellent and creative food, with a relatively small price tag.
Sixth, we did not find people to be very friendly, and especially so if they didn’t speak English. Passersby did not return smiles. The people who spoke English were generally nice and helpful once you could engage them. Generally, I just felt ignored – not unwelcome.
Last, language was a big problem. This was not quite the first (that would have been Greece in 1975) time I was in a country where I couldn’t read the signs, couldn’t talk to people or ask questions, couldn’t make any sense out of what I heard. It was isolating because the people around me didn’t speak the language I can understand. Words are one of my favorite ways to get into a culture, and here it was impossible.
I did pick up a little vocabulary before I went, but the spelling and pronunciation stymied me. I never really got the hang of how the words changed to convey different states – like plurals or possession. This will be an issue I will face much more in the future if I continue to travel the way I plan. Perhaps that will become another journey in itself, and one you can watch unfold if you continue to follow my blog.
And, finally, I want to be sure to stress how great the agency we worked with to plan the non-Viking portion of our trip was. Working with Prague & You was an extremely enjoyable experience. I admire and respect their professionalism . I encourage you to contact them whether just for Prague, day trips from Prague or a trip like ours.
Our driver, Petr, was a very nice young man, and an excellent driver (we always felt safe). His English was limited, but okay for us. Knowing what I know now about the language issues I had, I would request a guide, as well as a driver if there is a next time. The car was fantastic – very comfortable – even on the long drives. Our hotels were all very comfortable and chosen with thought and care to the kinds of experiences we wanted to have. (The links are in the blog.)