Julie and I spent the week of January 6-12 in Prague, the Czech Republic.
Why would we go to Prague? In January?
To visit with our son Riley and his wife Natalie in the middle of their year-long mission to that Central European country. Riley and Natalie are with Cru and have a ministry with college students in Prague.
As soon as we landed, I told the family there HAD to be a Top Five — or more, as you’ll see — to emerge from this adventure. Without further delay, here it is:
One. The Uber driver who picked us up at the airport did not speak any English, but he did speak the universal language: Led Zeppelin. “I’m Gonna Crawl” (not one of my LZ favorites, to be sure, but identifiable nevertheless) was playing on the radio when we got into the car. Riley used his working knowledge of Czech to compliment the driver and talk a bit about Led Zeppelin. The driver knew enough English to call the band, “Best.” Not much to argue there.
Two. A frostbite scare. Prague is cold in January. Not below zero cold (unless you measure by Celsius) but cold enough. And we were outdoors most of the time. Prague-ians bundle up and cope with remarkable stoicism and practicality. I, on the other hand, soon lost the feeling in the middle finger of my left hand (yes, THAT finger) and wondered if amputation was just around the corner. Fortunately, better gloves prevailed and my finger was saved for further use.
Three. Shoe Etiquette. Czechs have a shoe etiquette that is to be followed WITHOUT EXCEPTION, Yankee! It’s this: you have outdoor shoes and indoor shoes. As you soon as you come in through the out door (subtle reference to #1, above) you must remove your outdoor shoes because they are dirty and replace them with either your clean socks or a clean pair of indoor shoes. This pattern is true even at the gym, as our locker room was filled with Czech men quickly taking off their street shoes to put on their gym shoes. I, for one, CANNOT WAIT for my next trip to the Y where I will drive, walk, and work out in the same shoes all day long and there’s not a thing the Shoe Police can do about it.
Four. Lack Of Traffic And Comprehensive Mass Transit. Prague has the least crowded streets of any big city I have ever been to. There is simply no bad traffic there. Ever. I contrast that with my hair-raising three mile drive from our house to Good Shepherd on a typical weekday. I suppose Prague’s traffic-less-ness has to do with its comprehensive mass transit system — bus, subway, tram. All clean and all on time.
Five. Parenting Fail. So: our main spot for bus stopping, tram climbing, and subway riding (see #4, above) was an intersection called “Borislavka.” Being a tennis player, I OBVIOUSLY edited that to “Boris Becker.” So I said to Riley, “Oh, we’re stopping at Boris Becker.” And Riley said, “Who?” And why so downcast oh my soul? Because Boris Becker won three Wimbledons, the first at age 17, and is one of the 15 greatest players ever, Riley! AND, he’s the last great player with a scissor kick jump on his serve! So, of course, I had to give Riley and Natalie a YouTube tutorial on both Boris Becker’s career and a scissor kick serve. That tutorial might have included a few frames of my own serve.
Six. Tennis Nostalgia. Back when the Czech Republic was a) Communist and b) part of a larger country called Czechoslovakia, it had a remarkable run of tennis greatness. Jan Kodes won both the French Open & Wimbledon in the early 70s, Ivan Lendl dominated tennis in the mid-80s, and Martina Navratilova still has a legitimate claim to GOAT-ness on the women’s side. Other Grand Slam champions include Jaroslav Drobny, Hana Mandlikova, Petr Korda, and, most recently Petra Kvitova. So I looked in vain for a Czech Tennis Hall Of Fame of even a high profile tennis club. All we saw was a couple of red clay courts with the nets taken down for the winter. To make up for it, I sent Mr. Kodes an as-yet-unrequited Facebook friend request.
Seven. Escape Room. One of our adventures was an Escape Room in which our task was to get out of a World War II bunker in 1945. Just. No. Asking me to participate is like expecting me to solve a physics equation or change a lightbulb — way outside of the way my brain operates.
Eight. Walking Forever But Built To Last. Last Thursday, Riley proposed a healthy hike leading to some ancient ruins on the outskirts of Prague. He neglected to tell us that the hike was NINE MILES LONG. That’s like walking from Good Shepherd to Carolina Place Mall. We thought the hike would never end — and it would have, prematurely, had we not found a restaurant that served pork chops and fries 2/3 of the way through. With the chops came a second wind and the end of the walk was more than worth it: the Okor Castle, built in the 1100s and 1200s. The ruins were breathtaking. We might have walked forever but THEY built for over 100 years. As an FYI: we Ubered home and the driver spoke neither English nor Led Zeppelin.
Nine. Riley The Pro Football Player. In the middle of one of our “walk the streets of Prague seeing old buildings with glorious architecture” days, we stopped for lunch and there ran into one of the coaches of Riley’s pro football team in Prague. What? Yes. Riley is a linebacker/strong safety for the Prague Lions, whose season begins later in the spring. Practical? Nope. Delightful? Absolutely.
Ten. A Communist Tour With A Rock & Roll Crescendo. On our final day, we took a guided tour of both Communist history and, more importantly, the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 that liberated Czechs from oppression. I have to admit I got a bit verklempft when the tour guide told us that the USSR’s Gorbachev knew he had lost the Cold War and so started both glasnost and perestroika. Anyway, as our guide took us to the site of the 1989 peaceful protests that opened Czechoslovakia up to democracy, she told us that those trapped by communism most envied how Western democracies illuminated their cities. The lights — of New York, Las Vegas, Berlin, and London — promised a better life to beleaguered people. Anyway, shortly after the liberation, the Rolling Stones played a show in Prague — exactly the kind of thing the communists would have prevented. The Stones asked President Vaclav Havel why the glorious Prague Castle was not illuminated at night. The President answered that the democracy was too new and too poor to afford such a luxury yet. So the Stones footed the bill and the lights were installed. Turns out that if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.
Here I am with Julie on the street where the 1989 uprising took place, and we are peacefully protesting totalitarianism everywhere.