Why Czech Republic is the perfect gateway to Europe…
I personally had no plans to visit Czech Republic until I met my Czech bestie, Expat Bee. I vividly remember the day I first met her. She had kind eyes, a mischievous laugh and a sense of humour as dry and filthy as my own.
In the early days of our friendship I remember feeling alarmed at the strength of our connection. It was as though we’d grown up together in the same chaotic universe but had been separated for several lifetimes until that point.
Falling in friend love can be as heady as a regular romantic love, because both kinds of love have that exciting rush early on as it dawns on you: Here is a person who might change my world. She was the one who vociferously convinced me that Czech Republic needed to be on my very long travel list after I expressed my doubts to her.
I mean, what appeal does a country known for their cheap beers hold for a non-drinker?
Goodness I was foolish. I really knew nothing.
Czech Republic is the perfect place to complete any European holiday or, if you’ve never been to Europe, it serves as a perfect entry point to the continent. Since the fall of communism in 1989 and the opening up of Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic has evolved into one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations. Here are 5 reasons why I believe you should go:
1. The diverse landscapes
After living in South Africa, I thought I had seen it all in terms of diverse landscapes. And then I went to Czech Republic. Wow! Just have a look for yourself:
One of the highlights of my trip was taking a boat trip along the Vltava River which flows through the centre of Prague, and is the waterway around which the city has developed over the past 1000 years. Mind the crazy girls in the video!
From the villages to the cities to the towns to the rivers to the forests…. so many gorgeous landscapes!
2. It’s cheap as chips
I always had a misconception that Europe was an expensive destination to visit. Again, this stems from the fact that I didn’t realize how different each country is. While Germany and Austria were rather pricey, I found Czech to be cheap. Cheaper than South Africa cheap. And that is saying something.
Be smart and make sure you have Czech Korunas instead of Euros. Although both are accepted everywhere, you will be paying much more if you use Euros due to cunning exchange rates.
You don’t have to break the budget when you’re traveling in Czech and while certain areas close to tourist hotspots might seem astronomical, head off the beaten path to discover budget friendly options. Your money can go very far if you take public transportation, walk to places if the weather is good and buy souvenirs from smaller establishments.
3. A fascinating history
I LOVE learning about the history of other countries and Czech Republic doesn’t disappoint! (Oh it doesn’t help that my Czech bestie is a history teacher!). A 100 year old person who spent their entire life in the same village in the Czech Republic may have been a citizen of many different countries depending on where in the country they lived. The Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravi (Nazi controlled) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Before that it was also part of the Holy Roman Empire. Like seriously…. that is incredible!
Just do yourself a favour and avoid calling Czech people “Czechoslovakians. When Czechoslovakia broke up in 1993 most of the population actually did not want to separate, but the politicians of the time decided to have what is called ‘The Velvet Divorce’. The name is given due to the smooth and peaceful nature of the split, and also refers to the event which ousted Communism – The Velvet Revolution, a peaceful affair which was also largely free of bloodshed.
Their diverse and intriguing history can be seen in every aspect from the architecture to the look of the people! Go buy an ice cream while you soak it up!
4. The people
Of course I’m biased here, having a BFF from Czech Republic. However the rest of the people I met were generous and warm too. I won’t lie, my my initial impression of Czech people is that they look very angry however, I later learnt that it belies a gentle nature underneath. While it’s true that Czechs have a reputation for being a little odd and bureaucratic-minded, and while they may seem a bit cold on first blush, they’re amazing people, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Czechs are big talkers, especially after a few Pilsners. Most have a few words of English, and few are afraid to use them at first but once they open up to you, you will have the conversation of your life!
Let it be noted that I think Prague is the most gay-friendly city I have ever been to. Although this isn’t particularly important to my heterosexual self, tolerance in a place is very important to me. It wasn’t uncommon to see same sex couples and unlike other countries, no one was giving them dirty looks or making snide remarks. Bee says that discrimination against gay and lesbian visitors or locals is not common and I applaud their tolerance!
From Bee’s family who let me crash on couches, spare rooms and sleep in cars (don’t ask) to friends I made that I could see hosting in my own home to the excellent customer service I got from restaurants and shops in Czech- Czech people are some of the warmest and kindest I have encountered on any of my travels.
5. It’s truly unlike any other place
Besides good beer and beautiful women, Czech Republic has so much to offer visitors. Due to their central location, Czech took part in a majority of European historical events and has been developing ever since people came to Europe. Hence you can find a lot of old towns and beautiful buildings, monuments and memorial sites. It also means you can find varied cultural habits and interesting lore.
Prague, especially, has a great nightlife and history. Walking down Prague’s streets feels like being thrown back to the Middle Ages. All the narrow streets and baroque buildings, along with street musicians and crowds of people, make it an unforgettable experience.
Should you find yourself in Prague, you should definitely go see Prague Castle. It is a castle, of course, but unlike most others, you can find small houses and old buildings even inside the castle. Famous and important people of old times used to live there to be at hand for the monarchs and rulers. Take the tram to the Pražský hrad stop and walk into the castle from the top. That way you will see the castle complex in its entirety (don’t miss that gorgeous cathedral), take in the stunning vistas from the top and then walk all the way down back to Charles Bridge instead of trudging up 300 stairs with the rest of the heaving masses who know no better.
Head to the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic to visit Český Krumlov where I was reminded that it’s so important and almost necessary to fit in villages and smaller towns throughout your itinerary where you can. Český Krumlov is the epitome of what you might expect a European medieval town to look like. It is built on a hill with a very large castle and tower at the top and all the cobblestoned streets curving in different directions to get there. I found it to be an absolutely delightful place to drink some raspberry lemonade, eat delicious honey cake and watch the place sink into the night . Since I was so fascinated by the architecture, you will rejoice to know that I took a lot of photos. So mostly buildings this time, but what buildings! And what a location! And what history! But you get the picture (or you will in a minute…)
Fun fact: Český Krumlov was a filming location of the D-list horror film, Hostel. I know, that might not exactly make you jump at the chance to visit it, but it also was a filming location for The Illusionist and a few other movies. It just goes to show that Český Krumlov looks exactly like filmmakers want European villages to appear in movies.
In the very heartland of Central Europe, the Czech Republic bubbles up in a confident medley of Bohemian history, Moravian charm and Slavic panache. Its cities brim with Gothic wonders, its towns burst with Baroque majesty and its countryside boasts eye-watering forests, cave systems and mountains. I can’t explain more about how wonderful this country is and I would quite happily move there if I got the chance. When I walked in to Bee’s apartment on my very first day in Kuwait, I did not know I was experiencing the beginning of a lifelong friendship that would later on lead to a passionate love affair with her home country.
Have you been to the Czech Republic? If so, where did you go and what did you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below.