Monday and Tuesday, June 17 – 18, 2019
We left San Francisco at 4:30pm on KLM and arrived in Amsterdam the next afternoon. Thank goodness we paid for extra legroom or that flight might have been unbearable, as it was it was tolerable. Those seats just keep getting smaller and more uncomfortable. We ate lunch and hung out for a bit at the airport and then got our flight to Prague which arrived that evening. Unfortunately, Mark’s uncle was not doing well and so they sent their driver and Mark’s mom, Helena, to meet us at the airport, take us to Hotel U Medvídků where we were able to get a family room on short notice. We were assured we were fine in our casual plane attire, but we changed and freshened up anyway while the driver waited to take us to the Ambassador’s Residence for dinner. Mark and I got to visit with his uncle and then we enjoyed pisco sours in the garden and then a pretty formal dinner with some friends of the family along with Mark’s cousin Helenita. Good thing we changed first! We managed to rally on no sleep but boy were we glad to take an Uber back to our hotel at the end of the night!
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
We had a very nice breakfast at the hotel and then headed out to Prague to see the sights, following loosely the Rick Steeves walking tour. Prague is such a nice city, sure it’s touristy but that’s because there’s a lot of cool things to see. Notable highlights were the clock tower, some churches including the where they started their own religion (Hussite Reform Church)because they didn’t believe in transubstantion. Then Genevieve and Charlotte wanted to get their Proletariat on so we went to the Museum of Communism which was informative if a bit dry. Basically in WWII the powers that be met WITHOUT the Czech Republic in the room and voted to give them to Germany. They were a little mad about this so when the war ended they became communist and aligned with the USSR. By the time they realized their mistake it was too late and their protests were crushed brutally. They managed to get free a few years before the USSR dissolved through another peaceful protest. Outside the museum there was a bunch of food stands so we got to have a good, inexpensive dinner there.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Today after breakfast we walked across the St. Charles Bridge and through the “new” town (where all the embassies are) and to the Prague castle. The area around the castle was all blocked off and lots of people were waiting and of course we had no clue what was going on. After a while all these dignitary people as well as a color guard, etc. came out of the castle and then a motorcade arrived and some people got out, most notably a striking tall blond woman in a bright green dress (THE color of the season, it appears). Turns out she was the new president of Slovakia and there is an agreement that the first state visit of a new leader of either country of former Czechoslavakia will be to the leader of the other. Then we went into the castle itself, where the coolest part was the old working shops and of course torture chambers.
Mark’s uncle had unfortunately passed away the night before, so we stopped by the residence to spend time with the family. Lilliana, Mark’s aunt, was at loose ends so we decided we should all take a boat tour and then go out to dinner. It was pretty nice actually, I think she appreciated getting out of the house and the tour and dinner were lovely.
Friday, June 21, 2019
We took a tour we had booked the day before to Cesky Krumlov. A small bus picked us up at our hotel and then we switched to a larger tour bus at the bus station. Our tour guide Gustav was a short older gentleman who appeared to be a former army sergeant in the East German army. He was barking instructions at us that we could barely understand and in general treating us like a bunch of unruly schoolchildren (which actually is a pretty accurate description, try getting a bunch of adult tourists on vacation on a pleasure tour to try to pay attention to you by yelling at them and you can imagine what transpires). After a two-hour bus ride in which we could never find the notable site he was narrating, we arrived at the cute town, only to find we were supposed to stay together (we thought we were paying for a half guided tour). Gustav got mad at us for stopping for drinks, he got mad at us for stopping to buy fresh potato chips from a stand, he got mad when the Asian girls took too long at a site. We made the best of it but there was almost a mutiny although it was also quite funny really. We made it to lunch which was very very bad, but I experienced something kind of funny. That area of Czech Republic is very close to Poland, so the people are or look Polish. This whole time I assumed I was just a generic white girl, until everyone at that town looked like a relative of mine! I guess I actually look Polish, or my family does at least. After lunch we got to ditch Gustav with promises to meet back for a tour of the castle with the castle staff. We went back to the area of food stalls and got better food, and also went back to get more potato chips. Then we spent a lot of time looking at the bear in the moat. They used to have guard bears but these days they just have a solitary bear from a bear rescue that can’t be in a zoo or with other bears because they fight or whatever.
The tour of the castle was good, we saw all the previous castle bears turned into rugs (!) as well as other castley stuff like the coats of arms and what they mean. Some of them are pretty darn gorey! The castle was liberated from its previous owners and turned over to the state in the communist years. After that tour we walked back to our bus for our trip home, where Gustav was blessedly silent. I did kind of feel bad for him, I know he probably meant well but tour guide is not really where his talents lie. We had them drop us off in the old town where we went to dinner before returning to the hotel. This was during a heat wave and our room was SO HOT with no fan which really made it hard to sleep. They don’t build buildings there to keep them cool but rather to keep them warm. Mark and I did get to escape the room for a bit though by going downstairs to the brewery in our hotel and having some beer.
Saturday, June 22, 2019
Today we walked through the shopping area of Prague and to the City Hall where there was an American festival with vintage American cars, a rock band and other “American” stuff. This is a good time to say that the streets of Prague are full of laurel trees and they were in bloom and it just smelled fantastic everywhere we went. Then we went to visit the Jewish quarter, but guess what? Not open on Saturday…duh. Oh well, we walked around the outside of it and the creepy Jewish museum Hitler started that was supposed to be an anthropological site remembering an extinct people and culture. Thank goodness that didn’t come to pass. Then we had a nice Italian lunch and got ready for Mark’s Uncle Pepe’s funeral. We optimistically had not packed proper attire, so we made the best of what we had and walked to the church which was over by the embassies. While we were waiting for the service to start, a tour group entered. The guide was oblivious and made the obviously uncomfortable tourists enter the church and sit in pews while he described the interior. Keep in mind this was an open casket funeral, no doubts about what was happening. Lilliana had had enough and went over and yelled at them to leave and you’ve never seen a group clear so fast although the tour guide actually tried to argue his point! The service was very nice, other ambassadors and representatives of the Czech Republic attended. Afterward we went out for a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant as a group with the family and friends who had attended the ceremony. Although the occasion was sad, we were glad we were able to be there both to say goodbye to Pepe and support the family.