For three days I travelled by car outside of Prague, determined to see some of Western, Northern, and Eastern Bohemia, as well as more of the central Bohemian region.
I left Prague early one morning and began heading South, taking a route which brought me through such places as Čerčany, Benešov, Votice, Tabor, Sezimovo Ústí, Soběslav, České Budějovice, Český Krumlov, and Prachatice. These are only a few of the places I visited. I dipped into as many towns and villages as I could along the way and sometimes partook in local attractions, such as climbing the tower at the castle in Český Krumlov (built in the 13th century). The day ended by driving a bit out of the way to the lovely village of Javornik, nestled by mountains and with a view overlooking the pastures and green lands of Czech. This was the highlight of my journey.
The next day I continued heading West and North, driving near the border of the Czech Republic and Germany. I again stopped into as many places as I could in order to get a sense of how Prague might compare with the rest of the country. Plzen, like Tabor, České Budějovice, and Český Krumlov, are what are called towns, while the surrounding smaller communities are called villages.
My trip ended after another full day’s drive which brought me further North and to the East where I eventually stopped for about an hour in Kutna Hora hoping to see The Bone Church. Again, there were numerous villages that I saw along the way—too many to name here.
I will be writing about this trip in further blog posts, but I want to record basic reactions to what I saw and how these places helped me to understand Prague.
First, almost everyone I’ve met here and everyone I have talked with who has been to Prague told me I must see the Medieval town of Český Krumlov. Many tours leave from Prague for this town with prices ranging from about $65 CAD – $90 CAD for a day trip. So by all accounts and according to the tourist guides, a trip to Český Krumlov is a must.
Though the town is beautiful, breathtaking in fact, this was perhaps the least favourite of my stops. Český Krumlov reminded me of Banff, Alberta in Canada with its surrealist setting, high prices and almost make-believe, or Disney-like, atmosphere. What was important for me to understand, however, in relation to trying to make sense of Prague, is how much Český Krumlov and the capital city have in common. That is, they are driven by tourism and money not seen to the same degree in others areas of the Czech Republic. It is notable to mention here, for example, that the average monthly wage in this country is roughly 1600-1700 Canadian dollars.
One thing I learned on this trip is that in order to see more of a real Czech Republic, it is necessary to visit places outside of those towns which are crossroads to major routes like Prague and other developed centres. Even different towns, which are built up much more than the villages, however, have areas that have not been catered to with an eye to tourists. Likewise, in order to see the reality of Prague, one must travel to the outskirts of the city that are removed from the center hub and that show a more accurate level of living. One of these areas is the Karlin district, for instance, and there are communities even further removed from the immediate centre.
This all said, I did not really see many completely run-down places on my trip (though I did see a couple), and I asked a Czech friend if my reflection was accurate—that a significant amount of the country is well maintained even if places are not financially flush. He told me that this was, indeed, the case (albeit, he is only one voice) and that one also has to take into consideration the fact that many people might not have money to travel for an extended period of time, even into Prague, and that the home and family, therefore, are the primary focus of attention. Thus, people put energy and love into their homes. Even with that said, I have to consider the fact that I have been other places where low finances are an issue and where homes are not maintained to the same degree. It strikes me that the Czech Republic is perhaps characterized to some degree by a hard personal work ethic and pride. What was memorable during this trip, too, was seeing the old communist apartment complexes, once grey and now painted in bright colours which somehow remind me of the bright salt-box houses found in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
At the end of the day, I feel that recognizing juxtapositions is important. This struck me near the end of the second day as I found an old building well worth a photo but as I wondered what lives had lived here and how the home was abandoned.