When we went, it had only been four years since the Velvet Revolution. To say the Czech Republic was still bouncing back after years of communism would be a big understatement. But I didn’t care. My husband and I had just been stationed in Germany and I was (still am) part Bohemian. And by "Bohemian" I don't mean artsy chic. I mean from Bohemia, part of the republic. I couldn’t wait to check out the motherland. We went right away.
You know that bit about making a good first impression? The Czech Republic failed miserably. As soon as we drove past the border we saw dozens of (ahem) ladies of opportunity lined up along highway. And these ladies looked HARD. They were working for food, not a cute pair of Ferragamos. The country was in transition, all right. We feared we had arrived too early.
Many miles later, we made it to the outskirts of Prague. In order to get lodgings in the city we had to visit a shack right off the highway exit --and I do mean a shack. About ten feet square, it had clapboard walls and a concrete floor. Inside was an attendant with a bunch of binders filled with pages of make-shift hotels. There were also private residences available for rent while the tenants were away. We chose a private residence -- a one-bedroom apartment for only $30 per night.
We paid our fees, got the keys, then headed into the city. After a long search down many a broken down street, we finally found our apartment. Every building on the street was old and covered with the blackest of soot. Yuck. As for inside the apartment, we were lucky. The gentleman who resided there left us plenty of entertainment. Right next to the 13" television was a stack of pornographic magazines.
No matter. We weren't there to stay indoors, plus by then we were starving. We needed dinner.
Minutes later, we put foot to pavement in search of a decent meal.
We didn’t find one. All we found were more blackened buildings, torn up sidewalks and burned out streetlamps. Not ideal. In fact, it was so bad when we got back to the apartment, I considered asking Rick if he wanted to leave the next day. Little did I know, Rick was thinking the same thing as me. THANK GOD we didn’t say anything to each other. Why? Because the very next day Prague became my absolute favorite city in all of Europe.
We walked down the Golden Lane at Prague Castle and explored the beautiful cathedral. We found a little café next to the Charles Bridge and watched the Castle District light up at twilight. We found a bakery off Old Town Square that sold chocolate éclairs for just five cents a piece. FIVE CENTS! The food was crazy cheap everywhere. It was tasty, too.
I often think about what would have happened if we’d turned around and headed home that first night. I’m so glad we didn’t. The Czech Republic holds such a dear place in my heart. One day I hope to go back.