If you socialize in a socialist country is it socialism?
Our trip to Prague almost…wasn’t. This was because we don’t have International Driving Permits. Which, we found out the hard way that you can only apply for these in person, in the United States, OR apply by mail and wait 5-7 weeks to receive them. However, for a premium (everyone becomes super helpful when you pay extra) we were finally handed the keys to the sardine can, aka the tiniest car we’ve ever been in.
Our tiny but mighty whip
We know we give our parents whiplash with the frequency and extremity at which our lives change, but this time we were starting to feel it. Up until this point, we lived by the seats of our pants. We not only moved quickly, but we often planned where we would go and sleep the day of. That gets pretty stressful. Greece was our first wake-up call, but navigating around Wrocław was our second slap in the face that HOW we’re traveling isn’t working. Remember, as soon as it turns into work, someone needs to be paying you for it.
To be honest, we work better together than we do apart. It’s one thing for one of us to suggest a location and the other agree to it, but it works a lot better when the two of us put our heads together to think through both the “why” and “how” of where we are going. Not having a good reason why we were in Wrocław and having to pivot at the last minute AND navigate logistical challenges was stress inducing rather than relaxing. We were spending too much time researching hotels and trains/planes to the point where we weren’t enjoying each city to the fullest. We also haven’t been planning ahead, or doing much pre planning at all, which may work for some people, but it doesn’t for us.
We had a 4 hour drive to Prague to reflect on how our lessons learned and how to move ahead, so we decided to spend a portion of our impromptu trip to Prague figuring out how to get the most out of this trip - especially since we are trying to figure out where we’re going to stop and bring Baby Poppyseed into this world.
Thankfully, Prague was a much better experience than Wrocław (first of all, we have no problem pronouncing Prague - that should’ve been our first clue). We had a kick driving around in our zippy car (note: rent the smallest car you can in Prague, that’s the only way you’ll make it through the city AND find any parking), and got to try some delicious desserts on our first night. The “vibe” as we say, was also trending positive. Maybe it’s because Prague is one of the most romantic cities in the world (there were a lot more couples, PDA and girls in dresses), maybe it was the colorful and shiny architecture, or maybe, it was because the international community was a lot more prevalent. For whatever reason, we had a lot more luck in Prague.
Not a bad way to start a spontaneous detour
However, we got a quick lesson in offensive driving. The Czech take offensive driving as seriously as Grandma takes defensive driving in the US. We dodged cars and trains as if we were in fast and furious, just to get through the city streets unscathed. We also had the pleasure and opportunity of interacting with Prague’s finest police force. After pulling out of a parking space, we were immediately pulled over by a cop. Apparently we were driving the wrong way down a restricted road. No, we didn’t know this - seeing as the car before us was doing the exact same thing with no repercussions. However, when Mister Skinhead just about threw himself in Matthew’s lap yelling at him about it, we learned quickly. Sort of. He didn’t exactly let us get in a word edgewise (which is a hard thing to do when talking to Matthew). Instead, we received a 5 minute lecture about how street signs are the same in the Czech Republic as they are in Poland, and that we shouldn’t call him stupid (we literally hadn’t said anything at this point). When he finally let us go, we still couldn’t figure out which street sign he was referring to, though we were glad we didn’t have the chance to tell him we’re American and not Polish. Who knows what he would’ve done then.
Side note - English has gotten us through every country we’ve been in so far. It’s fascinating how it’s almost a mandatory language in most metropolitan areas (am sure this will be different in Paris). Thankfully we were able to figure out how to pay for parking (mpla.io) thanks to English speaking strangers on the street.
Anyway. Prague trends in the right flavor of weird to capture our attention for a few days. First of all, we’re starting to figure out how to pick hotels more suited to our needs/taste, AND we’ve gotten better at quickly choosing restaurants. We first asked a random hotel clerk where to eat and were directed to an extremely touristy, sub par Italian restaurant for dinner. However, then we found a foodie blog from a food tour company that guided us to all the right places, from Lokal (best fried cheese, sausage, and free wifi), to Krystal Bistro (delicious duck and blueberry rhubarb dumplings), and even to the heartiest meal we’ve had so far (Na Pekarne - like Grandmas home cooking, but Czech - more on this later). SO, the lessons learned here are: if you have a trusted hotel brand (i.e. Hilton, Marriott Tribute Collection, IHG), stick with it and learn how to use those points in your favor. Also, trust those who run 5 star food tours to guide you on the best restaurants. It’s riskier to listen to the clerk at a subpar hotel.
Czech food = chef's kiss
We took the first half of our stay to strategize and plan out our next few stops, as it’s much easier to travel when you know where you’ll go next (as long as WWIII or forest fires don’t break out). We made a list of priorities and necessary conveniences for where we want to have our baby, and this narrowed down our options to 6 cities over 5 weeks - a much more doable list. We started with 14…
On our last day, we booked a bicycle tour so we could get a better grasp of where we were and learn a little history rather than just wandering around gazing at the architecture. We started our day at The Oat Bar - oh, my, god. I’m not a huge oatmeal fan, but this place was GOOD. Not only was the food what we needed to kick off a 3 hour bike tour, but we also got to chat with the barista and a few of the other customers who walked in. We learned that Prague is a great city for new mothers, as maternity leave is 2-3 years. YEARS! If you choose to have multiple children, you’re basically spending 4-9 years raising them before needing to go back to work. There are also many large parks throughout the city, and an expansive expat population. Needless to say, we got a lot more than oatmeal at the Oat Bar.
Don't trust me with any writing tools...
After finally making it to our tour (traffic and parking near Old Town Prague on a Friday morning is comparable to doing the same in LA), we were tickled to find out that of course, the Dutch were the ones renting out the bikes. Despite starting the tour almost 30 minutes late, we got to our first stop (a giant clock on the square) with 20 minutes to spare before the hourly “show”. This should have been our first indication that our tour would be a lot less biking, and a lot more standing around and casually observing, aka doing nothing. The explanation took ~5 minutes, then we waited around silently for another 15 just to witness the lamest but most videotaped turn of the hour I’ve ever seen. Dear tour company, trying to bike in a swarm of hundreds of tourists gathered in a town square is never a good idea. We stopped by a few other places along the route (a monastery, new town, Europe’s oldest synagogue, & a park), but to be honest, nothing was particularly noteworthy. We did however learn that international kings must have been some of the least attractive people alive. The woman who started the monastery began her life as a princess, but decided to marry Jesus instead of any of the hundreds of international kings her dad presented her as options for marriage. We also must warn potential visitors that the “Lennon Wall of Freedom” can no longer be accurately called the Lennon wall… as John Lennon’s picture has been covered by stickers and graffiti.
We definitely wandered off the beaten path of the tour... as usual.
After the tour, it started to rain so we ducked into the museum of sex machines - which turned out to be a small building full of chastity belts, used dildos and way too many displays of genital piercings. You’re better off spending your money on a plane ticket to Amsterdam (see you in a few weeks) ;-). Even window shopping there is more exciting/informative than this place.
It turns out, 5 hours between meals is a long time for Matthew + Baby Poppyseed (who is as big as an artichoke now), so by the time we got to Na Pekarne (the restaurant mentioned earlier), we were famished. Thankfully, we were greeted by the owner/chef who more or less told us to “shut up and let me feed you”. Seeing as he could probably crush both of us with his thumb, he was what you might have referred to as corn fed, we obliged. He had us wrapped around his little finger by the time the appetizer was served. For someone who doesn’t particularly like liver, his beef liver pate paired with some sort of pretzel like roll was absolute heaven. I don’t care if the meat remains a mystery, it got the nom-nom of approval from all 2.5 of us. We were also served wild boar with buttery bread dumplings, beef with what can best be described as Czech latkes, and plum dumplings dunked in pure butter for dessert. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t finish everything, and had to take a walk after dinner in order to stay awake for the 30 minute drive back to the hotel. To this day, I will pay extra to go to a restaurant where I don’t have to make any choices besides “sparkling or still” water. As long as I’m not poisoned or fed shellfish, it’s nice to not make decisions when your days are filled with choosing big ticket items such as where to go and where to sleep.
As nice as it was to visit Prague, we didn’t get the warm fuzzy feeling I did in Copenhagen, or Matthew did in Krakow (minus the church’s involvement in maternity care or lack there of), so we’ve checked off yet another place we don’t particularly want to live. However, I still think it’s a fun city to visit. We still haven’t gotten real Czech Kolaches, so we HAVE to go back…sorry Texas, West is close but not quite.
Thankfully the rest of our stay in Prague was fairly uneventful. We made it back to Wrocław with time to get breakfast, exercise (we’re perfecting partner exercises in public places - heavy backpacks are great weights), and find our train with no problem. Knowing us, this is only a minor pause in adventure - especially seeing as we’re about to wake up from this train ride in Berlin ;)
Till the next window seat,