When I hit 40 I experienced that typical mid-life crisis. I reevaluated my life and realized most, maybe even all of the things I’d always wanted to do, I had done. I found myself wondering, “What’s next?”
Then it came to me. There’s a whole wide world out there just waiting to be explored. So I came up with a plan, a nice, long 26-year plan to see the world. I’d start with “A” and go through the alphabet, one letter a year. I only have one rule. My destination must be outside the continental 48 states. It allows me to be flexible, for instance the first year “A” was for “Alps.” I really wanted to go to Australia, but that was a little (OK a lot) out of my budget.
I spent almost eight months trying to decide what to do for “B.” I ended up in Belize. I found a great resort on the internet and cheap round-trip tickets. The trip was in November. It turned out to be the perfect time of year. Being the slow tourist season, I was the only guest of the resort for half the week.
“C” was a little easier. I picked the Czech Republic. Eastern Europe has always fascinated me. This is a work in progress. The stories of my ABC trips. There are plenty of pictures, and lots of laughs. Click on a letter to see where I went and read my story. I hope you enjoy them as much as I am.
For “C” I chose the Czech Republic. The fascination of Eastern Europe is one that may Cold War era people will understand. Once again, I turned to the internet for cheap air fare. I saved money on a round-trip flight from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to Prague with a three hour layover each way in Amsterdam, but it was worth the savings. Besides, Schipol airport is not a bad place to spend a layover.
I also used the world wide web to find a hotel in Prague. You take something of a risk doing it that way. I found a few choices and spent several days surfing down sites where travelers could give their opinions of the hotels. That ended up being a wise decision. My first two choices were soundly panned by previous guests. I picked the Hotel U Tri Korunek and made the reservations on-line. Total cost for seven nights including a hot breakfast every morning — less than 10,000 Czech Koruna.
Next stop – the bookstore. I found a Prague Guidebook and a city map. I really wasn’t sure what there was to see and do in the Czech capital, so I needed the research material. I picked a couple of “must-see” locations and left the bulk of the week to chance. I could always sign up for a city tour once I arrived if I decided I needed it.
Since the Czech Republic is so close to Poland, I added in a side trip, too. I settled on a day trip to Czestochowa. It’s a religious pilgrimage site and home of the Roman Catholic Church icon, “The Black Madonna.” Booking train tickets from Prague turned out to be more than I could figure out on my own, so I went to a travel agent. I decided to take an overnight train that would arrive early in the morning, spend about half the day and take an afternoon train back to Prague.
The week in Prague was an absolute delight. The churches are magnificent. I spent an entire day exploring the Prague Castle. The Karlov Most (Charles Bridge) is a main thoroughfare from one side of the city to the other, so I crossed it several times enjoying the vendors who line it and the view of the river and the city. I wandered the old heart of the city admiring the art and architecture for almost two whole days. Prague, as it turns out, is extremely affordable. The guide book had said Czech cuisine includes a lot of wild game, so I looked for a restaurant to try some.
Most of the restaurants post the daily specials and menus outside. It’s a very European thing to do and helps you decide whether or not to go inside for dinner. That’s how I stumbled upon U Certa, a charming eastern European restaurant. A big board posted next to a funny looking statue of a devil, touted the wild boar, venison steaks and hare. It was exactly what I had been looking for. I ordered the boar which came with your choice of a fried potato pancake or dumpling. The dumpling looked like it had been cut off a dumpling loaf. It was a slice of half-inch thick heaven, especially when dipped into the gravy for the meat. I went back later in the week for venison and the potato pancake.
To save a few dollars here and there, I usually opt for a half a roast chicken and fresh baked roll from a grocery store a couple of nights. Throw in a bottle of wine and some fresh vegetables that don’t need to be cooked and you’ve got a picnic dinner in your hotel room.
The perfect vacation is one that isn’t over-planned. Build in lots of time to wander into places you pass that look interesting. If every minute of every day is planned, you can’t do that. Plus, vacations are supposed to be a little relaxing and refreshing. Take a few minutes to stop on the Karlov Most and watch the river or the people walking by. Wander up the hill next to the castle, through a beautiful park. Prague is a delightful city – take the time to enjoy it.