Vagabond Life: The Czech Republic

Long before I’d traveled outside the U.S., I fantasized about someday sitting in a flat older than the country where I was born, sipping coffee next to a tall window overlooking a skyline dotted with history, and spending my days writing in small cafes with tiny cups of strong espresso. Super cliche, I know, but the idea of living in Europe fascinated me.

Over the next couple of decades, my international travel came mainly through work—Rome, Athens, Sydney, Fiji, Hong Kong, Torino, and others—but work trips don’t satisfy that itch, nor do short four day jaunts like I did to Paris and Vienna. This latest trip to Prague, though, gave me the kind of European experience I’d longed for.

For fourteen days, Brian and I got to “live” in the Czech Republic. If you followed along on Facebook, I’m sure you saw just how much we loved the place. We walked the cobblestone streets of Prague to the chimes of bells dating back to the 14th Century, shopped tiny markets for breakfast food, had afternoon espressos, and went “home” to the kind of flats we’d always imagined, thanks to Airbnb. Neither of us wanted to leave.

Days 1-4: Prague with Harley-Davidson

So what brought us to the Czech Republic? Harley-Davidson. Every year, the Motor Company rewards the country’s top dealers with a recognition trip and the dealership Brian manages was among that group. I’m super proud of him. This is our third recognition trip—one to Vienna and one to the Bahamas (thank you Barbara!)—but this trip to the Czech Republic was by far our favorite.

This first leg, we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, located in a building from the communist era according to our guide, so not one of the prettier structures in town, but the rooms were lovely as were the staff. The location was fantastic, near the historic Jewish Quarter and walking distance to the Old Town Square (dubbed Panda plaza by my feller). The famous Astronomical Clock is there (along with several Panda-costumed characters). We spent our first day simply walking the area and also took an hour boat tour to get oriented.

Over the next couple of days, we enjoyed an opening reception, along with an HD hosted lunch in the Pilsner Beer Hall located at the exquisite art-nouveau Municipal Hall.

We had dinners with good friends from the Motor Company, and a closing night Gala at the Zofin Palace—a truly spectacular event with great food, entertainment, and company.

Thanks Harley-Davidson for such a memorable few days, and thanks again to Barbara, the owner of the dealership, for passing the trip along to us. We wont forget it.

Unlike past recognition trips, we decided to extend our time in Prague. Sunday morning, after everyone said their goodbyes, we headed off on our own, hoofing our luggage across the cobblestone streets from the Intercontinental to…

Days 5-8 A Flat in Mala Strana

We came to Prague with no itenerary or pre-arranged lodging for the second part of our trip since we didn’t know what area would most appeal to us. Right away we figured out we preferred the Mala Strana (“Lesser Town” founded in 1257), across the Charles Bridge over the Vlatava River, just below the Prague Castle. There, we found the perfect Airbnb situated in a Renaissance Palace with origins dating back to the mid-1500s. And Brian made a new pal.

This wasn’t some pristine or luxurious apartment, which was part of the appeal for us.

We loved seeing the age in the unrestored herringbone wood floors, the terrazzo entry, the tiled kitchen, the elegant fireplace. (Here’s a little video tour…)

The location—right across from the John Lennon Wall—couldn’t have been better.

We were sad to leave, but ready for our next adventure in…

Our Driver David, who made the three-hour shuttle ride from Prague to Cesky Krumlov so much fun.

Days 9-10 A Medievel Airbnb in Cesky Krumlov

I don’t even know where to start with this incredible Airbnb. First off, the reason we decided to take a trip to Cesky Krumlov was because of a motorcycle museum. Sadly, it was closed the whole time we were there (they don’t list hours… anywhere) but it doesn’t matter because this town… WOW. I mean… seriously. Wow.

Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO site in the middle of a loop made by the Vltava River.

The place is unreal, with a 13th century castle perched on a rocky hill across the river, the ornate tower rising high in the sky.

Our Airbnb!

I posted a poorly shot video on Facebook because photos can’t properly demonstrate this place. Jiri, the host, created two units out of his Museum of Architecture housed in a medievel structure that was once the wall surrounding the city. The room is not only interesting architecturally, but is filled with artifacts and examples of stenciling and hardware and art hung in old hinged windows showcasing architectural styles over the centuries.

It’s funny, though. Much as Cesky Krumlov defies description, we preferred Prague. CK is a pure tourist destination and reminded us of Disneyland in a way—although real. It was wall-to-wall people, tons of guided tour groups, souvenir shops, and they’re not even into the heavy tourist season yet.

Still, we had no regrets for making the journey south. If you go to Prague, take a day trip to CK. It is absolutely worth seeing.

Days 10-12: A Prague Flat on the Water

Our final leg took us back to Prague, and even though some might think us lame for booking an Airbnb just a couple of blocks from the last Mala Strana Airbnb, we loved that area and wanted more. Plus, this final Airbnb in the Czech Republic was situated on the channel, perched about two floors above the water.

We loved sitting in the window and watching the boats gently float by.

The decor was charming beyond charming, an eclectic mix of mid-century and deco antiques, great textiles, art, and tile, and the most gorgeous bedroom light fixture.

We both agreed this would be the apartment we would chose to live in—you know, if we were moving there or something. (Don’t worry Jefro. We’re not.)

At first we thought, uh oh! No shower! But then we opened this closet…

And found a bathroom with tub, sink, and washing machine through the tiny door!

The Little Moments

While we did some of the touristy stuff—toured the castle, watched the Astronomical clock do its thing, went to a phenomenal performance from the Parnas Ensemble at the Liechtenstein Palace—we preferred simply walking around and talking to people. We even made getting stranded on the other side of Prague after our tram terminated for the night, fun.

Czech people are wonderful, from our drivers, to our Airbnb hosts, to the people we encountered in restaurants and cafes—everyone was kind and patient with our limited communications. For example, when we bought ham in a market and were trying to find horseradish. The clerk spoke no English and we spoke little (trohu) Cesky. After much pantomiming and using words like hot (horky), we ended up with… tartar sauce. Haha! Might not have gotten the right thing, but we all had fun in the process. A couple of days later when Brian went back in, she gave him a big smile.

Our typical breakfast of market foods.

Speaking of Language…

When traveling to a place where English isn’t the primary language, I try and learn a few basic phrases. Please (prosim), excuse me (prominte), thank you (dekuji), and the two most useful—I don’t understand (neh resumeme) and Do you speak English? (Mluvita Anglicky). Brian learned a few as well. Almost everytime we produced a phrase—like one of my faves, Skvele! (Awesome) or Zatim! (See you later)—the person would chuckle or smile. They seemed to appreciate the attempt. Our driver David even said we tricked him because our accent saying hello (dobrey den) was so good. All around the city, we experienced little acts of kindness after trying out our limited Czech. A woman at the gorgeous Barocco Vaneziano Cafe inside the Alcymist Hotel and Spa stopped us as we were leaving and gave us a couple of small chocolates with a thank you (even though Brian was doing his best to look like a strung-out rockstar).

The owner of Cafe Hradek (the coffee shop at the CK castle), poured us a shot of homemade brandy after our coffee—oh and bonus, as we were saying our goodbyes, Brian noticed a Harley hat hanging on the hat rack. Turns out he rides a Softail Slim! And how abut the waiter at Na Louzi in Krumlov who—after I asked for the check (Zaplatim proseim) and Brian gave him 2000 korun—came back to the table and said, “Madame…” and handed me Brian’s change of 1000 korun with a wink and a smile.

I guess they somehow saw past our creep-ness.

This is turning into quite the ramble…

So I’ll bring things to an end.

Monday morning, we said our goodbyes to this place we’d fallen in love with, vowing to someday return. Prague just might be my favorite… maybe because I got to see it with my favorite person in the world.

Until next time…

Na Shledanou!

P.S. For my Migraine Miracle friends out there, check out my tactic for keeping the beast (mostly) at bay during travel.


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