Czech Please!

That island life...

Loving that island life…

There’s nothing like one of your best friend’s arriving to change the pace of a trip. Prior to Andrew’s arrival on the island, Dan and I had entered a somewhat coma-like state and spent the majority of our two-week visit to Tenerife enjoying real rest. We joked that we don’t think we’ve slept that much in years; an accomplishment aided by an incredibly dark room and an amazing mattress (an Airbnb first!). On top of our demanding sleep schedule, I made my way through a couple of books, wrote a bit, Dan got in a good amount of work, and we both got plenty of sun; Dan’s olive skin naturally taking to it a bit better than mine! The highlight though, other than our evening pilgrimage to the corner store to pick out an ice cream bar for dessert (we got real crazy here, folks!), was the introduction of a new DeRose addiction: Breaking Bad. No spoilers please, we’re only in Season 2!

Kuiper posing with Dan's beard

Kuiper posing with Dan’s beard

So by the time Andrew strolled in last Thursday evening, it was time to wake up from our sunny fog, turn off the Netflix, and have some fun! The three of us enjoyed lots of time at the pool, ventured out to grab fun frozen cocktails at the beach bar, and sampled some not-so-bad-but-not-so-great island fare. And while the restaurants may have left a bit to be desired, our decision to go to a local water park on Sunday afternoon was a dream come true! The three of us ran around like little kids and tried to see how many slides we could squeeze in if we basically ran from ride to ride; let’s just say, we definitely got our money’s worth! Outside of a ton of fun tube slides, the pinnacle achievement was a slide that dropped you 28 meters, or 8 stories, while sliding on your back and then propelled you through a clear tube through a shark tank before letting you stumble to the pool deck to catch your breath. Dan’s fear of heights kicked in during the long climb to the top, but he braved one attempt down the daring edifice and watched at the observation deck while Andrew and I took our encore.   An afternoon not soon forgotten as the three of us hobbled around for the rest of the day with very sore muscles; the lasting impact of being thirty and trying to keep up with the kids…

Who's excited for water slides?!

Who’s excited for water slides?!

Famous brewery, U Flecku, in Prague where they have been in operation since 1499!

Famous brewery, U Fleku, in Prague where they have been in operation since 1499!

Around 4:30 AM the next morning, Dan and I met our shuttle to the airport to catch our very early (but very cheap!) flight to Prague, and Andrew enjoyed a few more hours of sleep before returning to London. After a long day of travel, we checked into our Airbnb in Prague and realized yet again, you get what you pay for…

Underwhelming living conditions aside, we crossed the street to give traditional Czech fare a try at a local brewery. After munching on potato pancakes and pork knuckle (the actual knee of a pig which has crispy skin with fatty meat and served with horseradish…surprisingly good!), we washed down our first meal in Praha with a pilsner, light beer that boasts its name from the area nearby where it was first created! We tried a few dark brews at the famous brewery shown in this picture while enjoying live accordion music; while we rarely saw the Czech smile during our time there, based on the sheer number of bars lining the streets, we think they like to have fun!

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Prague is a charming city with cobblestone streets and old buildings that mark the long history of a traditional European city, but one whose stories we knew very little about. Dan, who always knew his father was half Bohemian, just recently learned that Bohemia was currently a part of the Czech Republic! Refusing to let our ignorance continue, we joined a group of fellow tourists on a WWII tour of the city and learned about the storied past of the Czech people. What today is known as the Czech Republic is a fairly small country in Central Europe that has never been too far from the greedy grasps of Germany, Austria, and Russia; its struggle for independence a constant theme throughout its history. As such, Prague played a key role in Hitler’s plans to establish the reign of the Third Reich and near the beginning of WWII, the (then) Czechoslovakian president was bullied into succumbing to Hitler’s control of his country with an imminent threat of the whole city of Prague being leveled by bombs.   Eventually ceding control, he had an actual heart attack in the middle of these negotiations before he gave his signature!

IMG_1913Unsurprisingly, Hitler used Prague as one of the first cities to establish a Jewish ghetto and its Jewish residents were some of the first to be shipped to concentration camps; less than 2% of Prague Jews survived the war and there are gold plaques throughout the streets with victims names serving as a small memorial as you walk. While the city bears scars from the destruction of war, the Jewish quarter was left remarkably untouched; many theorizing that Hitler planned to use it post-war as a “museum” of an extinct people group.

What has continued to leave an impact on us throughout our tour through Europe is how each city has been deeply marked by war and how suffering, and the evil of man, seems to know no boundaries.  On our tour Dan said, “I wonder when I will stop being surprised when I hear another terrible story from somewhere?” And while its doubtful that we could become numb to such tragedy, it does feel important to learn about the stories of these people and celebrate their resilient cultures as we go along. One of the many privileges with have with this great travel adventure…

Continuing our tour of Central Europe, we arrived in Vienna by train last night. Today, we plan to try wiener schnitzel, the Austrian national food (hint: it’s not a sausage…who knew?!), and have tickets for the cheap seats at the Vienna Symphony this evening. We met some new friends from Los Angeles in Prague that are also in Vienna this weekend and are looking forward to spending time with them. I’m sure Dan’s looking forward to having a conversation with someone other than me for the evening!

And now that we’re back to the traveling grind, we’ll be sure to keep more posts coming along the way!

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