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It’s time for the latest installment of: We’ve Got a Week Off Where Should We Go? We debated between hiking in Colorado, volcanoes in Hawaii, and whatever-city-in-Europe-has-the-most-business-class-seats-available. Hello, Czech Republic! Well, hello Amsterdam, then hello Prague.
It’s been a big dream of mine to visit Auschwitz but once we got to Amsterdam the KLM flights into Krakow were oversold so we decided to fly into Prague instead, then drive or train it to Krakow later. Flying standby definitely isn’t for everyone and we’ve gotten a LOT better about it in the last few years. You just have to have a few game plans in mind, none of which involve booking anything in advance.
Because we both have an IHG credit card, we each get a free night every year at any property in the world. As soon as we were given confirmed seats on KLM “Would the Warcken party be so kind as to join us at the desk please?”, I booked two anniversary nights at the InterContinental Prague. Before boarding I took some screenshots of our public transit route from the airport, the hotel’s address and phone number, and a map of the shortest path to McDonald’s.
Prague’s public transportation is super cheap and easy to navigate. A bus/subway combo ticket from the airport to the city center costs less than $1.50. For comparison, going back to the airport we were too early for public transit and our Uber ride was just over $14.00. That’s a whole other meal at McD’s! We walked about five minutes from the subway station through the Jewish Quarter to our comfortable lodging. Alexey at the front desk went above and beyond to welcome us into his beautiful city, and gave us lots of recommendations for food and fun. While it’s really exciting to travel at a moment’s notice, it also puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to planning activities, or getting a basic grasp on the local language. I’ll be honest with you, even though we practiced our hellos, goodbyes, and thank yous in Czech, we never once used them. EOLs, what prats we are.
After recovering from jet lag and night shift during our two nights at the IC, we thought we’d be doing Czech Republic a great disservice to run off to another country so soon, so we decided to stay in Prague and moved into an Airbnb around the corner. I had a $30 Airbnb credit for recommending it to others (we both get free money when you sign up for Airbnb through our link), and with that plus taxes and fees our three night stay cost $172. Our apartment had everything we needed except a fan. It was too hot to keep the windows closed, and too noisy outside to keep them open. Prague is a hot spot for stag and hen parties, and they can go until five in the morning, which is about the time the trash trucks start rolling through, so keep air conditioning in mind when you’re looking for lodging. We didn’t want to just stick to Prague so after a couple of days we ventured out from the city, following Rick Steves’ advice to see the Terezín Memorial and historical Kutná Hora town. We were considering just jumping in with a tour to both places, but after speaking with a gal at the TI (tourist info), she told us just to go on our own. The round trip bus ride to Terezín cost about $8 apiece, and admission to the memorial and the prison around $9.50 each.
Have I mentioned how every day was sunny and perfectly hot, and every evening clear and perfectly warm? Before Terezín Greg had never been to any Holocaust memorial, and afterward he decided it was only appropriate to see Auschwitz in the dead of winter. The walled town of Terezín is super interesting and you should read more about it, especially the famous Red Cross visit. Terezín’s walls, originally built to keep Germans out, were effectively used to keep people in as a Nazi-established Jewish Ghetto. It was considered a ‘transit’ camp, rather than a ‘work’ or ‘concentration’ camp, so people weren’t systematically killed there, although many died of illness, starvation, and general overcrowding, and thousands died in transit to other camps like Auschwitz. You could spend days in Terezín’s Ghetto Museum reading all the facts and figures and looking at the artwork produced from the residents? prisoners?, and the town is creepily pleasant to wander through. We packed a picnic lunch, but there is a small pension with a café just outside the walls, and a few other places to eat between the town and the Small Fortress, a Gestapo prison across the river. The weirdest thing about Terezín is that people still live there. Like after it was liberated by the Soviets in 1945, it went back to functioning as a real, or more like ghost, town again. Can you imagine living there? I expected to see an apparition around every corner. I tried to work up the courage to look through the glass of one abandoned building but there was a broken set of dentures on the windowsill and that scared me too much to look in. This was real life for people! Real life! I love the opportunity travel gives us to see how others live, and to try to put ourselves in others’ shoes. But it’s downright impossible when it comes to war and genocide. I couldn’t begin to imagine being there in the 30s and 40s, could not imagine.
From Prague the next day we took the train to Kutná Hora for around $8.50 apiece and as soon as we disembarked Greg jogged over to an adjacent wheat field. I thought he had to pee, but really he was going to inspect the crop. So cute. The bone church was cool, albeit macabre. I mean, there’s Paris catacombs stacking bones, then there’s Kutná Hora’s ossuary arranging them into art. I prefer the former. I’ll tell you what is worth the trip, though- St. Barbara’s cathedral. The views of it from town are amazing, and up close it’s unreal. The bone church and St. Barbara’s both charged $4/person to get in, and both offer some laminated literature on its respective history. We hardly ever buy any thing when we travel, but I did get a black and white postcard of the cathedral to spice up the camper.
Everyone says how beautiful Prague is and they’re right; we loved it. It was cheap and friendly and easy to navigate. But my favorite part of Czech Republic was the Terezín Memorial. I love to be reminded how fortunate we are, and how insignificant in the scheme of things. I also really, really love our pace of travel. We can get up and go when we have to, but we also like to sit and do nothing and this trip offered plenty of opportunities for both. No part of us tries or even wants to ‘see it all’, we’re just happy to be there.
Ah, Greg, I’m ready to go again.