Jerxis Vandrevala , 30, businessperson, software and information technology-enabled services, took a 14-day break to travel to the Czech Republic, with his old friend, Xerxes Master. They rented a car and travelled from Prague to small towns around the countryside, including stops at Terezine, an ex-concentration camp, and the spa town of Karlovy Vary.
Isn’t travelling in eastern Europe difficult if you don’t speak the local language?
Language is a big problem, especially off the beaten track. But we managed quite well with English, a smattering of German, sign language and incessant gesturing that got more creative as we travelled along. The language issue also landed us in some challenging situations. For instance, in the old town of Cesky Krumlov, we were instructed by the hotel reception to park in a lot outside the town. We couldn’t understand anything written on the parking slip and ended up parking in the wrong spot, resulting in our car wheel being clamped. The next day, a local policeman wanted to fine us a whopping 600 koruny (Rs1,250) as a penalty. In true Indian style, we asked if it could be settled at 300 koruny “without a receipt”. Imagine us trying to explain this to a Czech policeman who spoke no English. So, we finally paid the fine (with receipt), took a few photographs with him and journeyed on.
What was Prague like?
Unfortunately, we were there during a big soccer match, so the city was overrun by loud, hard-drinking English fans, and the place seemed excessively rough and touristy. One night at a nightclub, we found Hindi pop playing, which was unexpected! Don’t get me wrong, Prague is gorgeous, with beautiful architecture and museums. The Old Town Square and Wenceslav Square are charming, in spite of the latter having skeletons hanging—which was strange, but not as strange as the Sedlec Chapel, a church decorated with artwork of human bones, which we saw outside Prague. It had a bone chandelier, bone chalice and other chilling decor.
And did you get a chance to visit Mozart’s house?
Yes, in fact Movenpick hotel, where we stayed, is across from Mozart’s house. The house itself is a small, quaint place with his belongings and three pianos. While we were there, a couple had rented the patio for their wedding; a unique location, I thought.
Why go to small towns?
We saw the customary castles and museums, which were striking, but we most enjoyed going to provincial towns like Karlovy Vary, Plizen and Brno, where you see real Czech life. We also visited and really liked the Unesco-protected town of Cesky Krumlov, one of the only places not bombed during the war, with narrow streets and frescoed buildings, an old Nazi camp at Terezine, and Cesky Budejovice, where the original Budweiser beer is brewed.
What’s special about Karlovy Vary?
Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) is where wealthy Czechs come to visit the spa resorts. Women in mink coats, accompanied by bodyguards, are the norm. The town has hot springs by the main walkway, where we bought unique spouted porcelain cups, filled them from the spring taps and sipped the therapeutic water as we walked around all day. The water is boiling hot and each spring has a plaque telling you its mineral content and temperature.
What was your impression of the Nazi concentration camp?
It’s a dark place. Terezine has been preserved as it was, with bullet holes in the walls and the Gestapo canteen as the restaurant. It’s like a small fortress. There is a tunnel called Death Walk, where the condemned had to walk through before they were shot. We started walking through, but I found it quite disturbing, so turned back and hurried out, though my blasé friend did the entire walk.
Any food or shopping tips?
I really liked the street carts everywhere selling large glasses of pivo (beer) and hot dogs, with huge pork sausages for just 10 koruny (Rs20). Pork is the staple food of this country and we ate it in various forms, including roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut, and pork schnitzel with potato salad. If you’re a vegetarian, be prepared to starve.
Czech glass is exquisite, so if you’re a glassware buff, the shopping is fabulous: Thun porcelain in Karlovy Vary, glassware from Bohemia, and some beautiful crockery. Needless to say, we bought lots, including a fabulous dinner set, which has all kinds of luxurious additions ordinarily absent, but that suddenly make perfect sense, like individual soup spoon rests to place your spoon after you’ve used it.
As told to Niloufer Venkatraman. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com