Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 13, 2023

Unforgettable Prague weekend

Last summer, when "German son" Tim, his wife Meike, and their two boys Mats and Timo were visiting us, husband Art mentioned we would be in Vienna in the fall with friends Deb and Lou. Tim lives in Berlin, so Art jokingly said we should all meet up in the middle - Prague. The words were hardly spoken when we all agreed it would be fun.

Art rented a renovated barn on the southwest outskirts of Prague for our Friday-through-Monday adventure. It had four bedrooms, beds for 14 people, two large landings, a kitchen with dining area, a large living/dining room, three bathrooms, farmyard cats, and chickens to wake us each morning.

We four arrived first, hauled our bags to our rooms, and acquired some Czech crowns - the local currency. Then, Art and I waited outside the gate for the others to arrive. When the boys jumped out of the car, I had to laugh. They were wearing their purple Kansas State University T-shirts - just as I was. Both ran up and gave us big hugs. Tim and Meike didn't run, but they hugged us tight, too.

We ate at an excellent Asian restaurant and then headed to the nearby Tesco - a large department store - to get groceries for our breakfasts. It was somewhere between fun and frustrating to figure out what we were buying as the labels were in Czech. We frequently relied on label illustrations, but it was a puzzle to sort out which was the whole, half-fat and skim milk. We could have loaded a translation program into our phones, but that would have spoiled the fun!

Once back at our place, we chatted and the boys played.

Saturday morning, Meike fixed breakfast followed by more talking and playing. Near noon, Tim and family stayed behind so the boys could take naps, while we retirees drove to the nearby "Park & Ride" lot and caught the underground to Wenceslas Square. The trip was made more enjoyable by the fact that we seniors could ride free!

The square is actually a northwest-to-southeast rectangle about 200 feet wide by almost half a mile long. At the southeast end b is the national museum. In front of the museum inside the square is a large sculpture of Saint Wenceslas on a horse. The space has been the focal point for many historical events, including a Czech protest against Soviet rule in 1968, and the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989.

We three gals looked for jewelry with garnet stones, which are mined in the Czech Republic and are considered the country's national gem.

While we shopped, Art wandered the square and adjacent areas. He was looking at the Marks and Spencer store when a group on a history walk arrived. He learned the store's outside balcony was where Václav Havel - Czech statesman, author, dissident, and former political prisoner - spoke to a crowd of more than 200,000 who had gathered in the square after his countrymen wrested the nation from the communists. Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and elected Czech president after the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

A man with the guide had been present at Havel's 1989 speech. He pointed to where he had stood and then began showing laminated prints of photos he had taken that day. With Art being near the group, the man assumed he was part of it and passed the prints to him first. He mentioned how Havel had taken his keys from his pocket and began to jingle them, and people in the crowd followed suit. "We now hold the keys to our own future," he said.

Art said the words caused a lump to form in his throat. When he later related the story to me, I got goose bumps.

After a time, Tim and family joined us before heading off to a park nearby on an island in the Vlatana River where the boys could run off some of their energy.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided the Restaurant-Café Svatého Václava, which billed itself as a "typical Czech restaurant," might be a good place for supper. Art had half a duck, Lou had a variety plate of Czech specialties, and Deb and I had potato soup "made from Grandma's recipe" in rye-bread bowls.

The next day, Art, Deb, Lou, and I headed off for a Prague castle visit. One look at the steep hill it sits on and Art put his mind to sorting the tram system. The trip on the streetcar allowed us to see some of the architecture of Prague, while avoiding the long arduous uphill climb.

We would have liked to have spent more time at the castle, with its royal gardens, multiple courtyards, and St. Vitas Gothic cathedral, but we had other desires as well - such as stopping at a café to sample the Medovník Marlenka - Czech honey cake.

Then we took two more trams to meet Tim, Meike and boys for a one-hour boat ride on the river. It was a relaxing ride as the narrator pointed out the history of various buildings and bridges in Czech, German and English.

On the return leg of our journey, we were serenaded to the hauntingly-beautiful song, "Vltava" - the second movement of Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana's six-movement suite, "My Country." It's one of those pieces everyone recognizes, but whose name doesn't stick for some reason. The complete work expresses Smetana's love of his homeland, while "Vltava" is about the sights someone would see moving downstream as it grows from a brook to a river. Smetana composed the song late in his life when he was completely deaf, yet it took him less than three weeks to complete.

It was hard Monday to say "Ahoj" (ah-hoy) - "goodbye" in Czech - to Prague and "auf Wiedersehen" to our German "kids," but we had packed a lot - family, friends, Czech food, shopping, history, sight-seeing, music, and fun - into our unforgettable Prague weekend.

Top (l-r): a renovated barn was our home away from home; Gloria greets Meike, Tim, Mats (left) and Timo on their arrival; Meike, Art, Deb (left), Lou and Tim shop, while the boys entertain themselves in the Tesco store; Vaclav Havel greeting the crowd on Wenceslas Square in 1989. Bottom (l-r): red circle on present-day photo indicates location where Havel stood; adults are moving slowly in the square while the boys are full of energy. Black "spot" over Meike's head is the Wenceslas statue and the building behind is the national museum; church at Prague castle; Vlatava boat ride. (Havel photo courtesy Radio Free Europe website.)

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