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COLUMN: Weekend visit to Prague makes for three days of Czech immersion



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Travel columnist Rachel Rosenstock stands in front of the John Lennon wall in the Malà Strana neighborhood of Prague. Rosenstock visited Prague for three days over the weekend. Rachel Rosenstock Buy Photos

Writing on the train to Salzburg, Austria, and reflecting on the three days I spent in Prague is a little bit of a surreal experience because of how much has happened in such a short time and how positive my experience was there.

Two friends and I started our week-long fall break from school in the Czech Republic, and by the end we will also have visited two cities in Austria: Salzburg and Vienna.

Stepping off the plane in Prague was familiar because I recognized the small, cobblestone streets and typically beautiful architecture lining the skyline. It was unfamiliar because the language was unintelligible to me and below the surface, the culture was so different from the Western European lifestyle I’ve become used to.

While I was later educated that the Czech Republic is not in Eastern Europe — it’s part of Central Europe — I couldn’t help but stubbornly persist in thinking that way throughout our visit.

We learned the history of the city and the land it’s on, which is now firmly established as a part of Bohemia and belongs to the Czech people.

The evidence of religious wars, territorial changes, and even the rule of communism that ended not so long ago linger everywhere. Prague boasts some of the oldest synagogues in Europe in the Jewish quarter and a concert hall that once premiered Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

Besides taking in the rich history of Prague, we indulged in the finest beer the city had to offer and had probably too much traditional Czech food.

The food — beef goulash, greasy potato pancakes, bread dumplings, cabbage soup, sausages and roasted duck — told a story of the hard and cold history the Czech people come from. It was light on the vegetables and heavy on the heartiness. Of course, a crisp Pilsner or sweet dark brew accompanied every meal.

We went a little crazy on the food and drink because of how cheap everything was. The exchange rate there is immensely in our favor: one euro, which is $1.10, equals about 27 Czech 
koruna.

We never paid more than two euros for any drink and each multi-course meal came out to less than 10 euros each. Oh, how I will miss the favorable exchange rate when I’m in Austria and even back in Aix-en-Provence, France. How can I ever pay for a six-euro beer again?

Rounding out our trip, we also came away with some memorable interactions with the locals. The adage “everyone speaks English” was more or less true, but I felt most of the time we knew just enough information to get by and had to settle for being confused.

The Czechs loved hearing us try to pronounce some simple greetings, which I know we butchered, but for the most part were happy to help us order the best food or find the right monument.

Prague was such a big city. I know we only covered a few neighborhoods of it, but I look forward to the day I return and hopefully can pronounce dekuji, or thank you.

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