czech, czechoslovakia, czech republic, raphael jamin, europe
Vodnik, a water fairy who is said to lure and drown the unwary in order to steal their souls.
Photo: Raphael Jamin
Submitted by Raphael Jamin, Contributor

Twelve hours of delayed traffic due to an avalanche, six hours of driving to Edmonton, 24 hours to get a rushed passport, 20 hours of flying and layovers, and finally a nine hour time difference – you may be wondering what this all adds up to? Well this was the math that describes the start of my trip to Europe.

On January 15th I boarded my flight to Prague, alone and unsure as to what exactly awaited me across the sea.

Twenty hours later I arrived in Prague.

They say that the best trips start with the unexpected and this was no exception. As I followed the crowd out of the plane, down some stairs, and onto an open tarmac I was greeted by security guards, and an empty bus.

“What the..?” was about all my tired brain could think of but everyone else walked onto the bus with no question so I followed suit. The bus then drove us to the main terminal and from there I was able to find my baggage and meet up with my friend that had offered to host me while I was in Czech Republic. Funny enough the friend was Radka Zitkova, whom I had met while working for this newspaper.

The next day Radka gave me a quick tour of Old Prague. We spent most of the day touring Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, parts of the old city, and even a local favorite pub called “Hostinec u Černého vola”(Inn of the Black Ox). There is where I think I got my first true taste of Czech culture with a mug of incredible beer and odd traditional foods such as pickled cheese and a pickled sausage.

That night we drove down to Radka’s hometown which is a small village close to Tabor. Along the way we played games such as “Let’s see how far we can go once the car says you have no gas” and “Where the heck is a gas station”, but we were still able to arrive without incident.

The next part of the journey I like to refer to as “The Whirlwind Tour.”

czech, czechoslovakia, czech republic, raphael jamin, europe, architecture, statue, culture
Ornate ironwork hinge on Hluboka nad Vltavou Castle.
Photo: Raphael jamin
Within the following 48 hours we toured four different cities and two castles. Our First stop was Cesky Budojuvice, where we met up with one of Radka’s friends, Veronika. From there we traveled to a ski hill in Lipno where we rode an old bobsleigh track before we headed to our main destination, Cesky Krumlov.

Due to the fact that there is little tourism in winter and it was getting dark when we arrived, we basically had the streets of the old Cesky Krumlov to ourselves.

The city itself seems to be the product of some fairytale that has come to life. Tall and elegant red roofed houses are tightly packed alongside thin roads that all snake their way to the cities center where one of the largest castles in Europe resides. At night you can travel though the outer wall but unfortunately the main castle and the live bears kept at the castle can only be viewed during the day.

We then traveled back to Cesky Budojuvice and toured the local pubs and a karaoke bar before we went back to Veronika’s for the night.

The next day we went to Hluboka nad Vltavou, where we visited Hluboka castle, and ate lunch at a pub that could only be described as a hockey fanatics dream. The door handles to the washrooms were old skate blades and the tables had glass tops protecting the hockey articles that covered the table.

Finally we said goodbye to Veronika and we headed back to prague with a short stop in her hometown for some traditional duck and dumplings.

My last adventure in Czech happened a few days later when Radka gave me the keys to her car and said I should go see another city. So with no grasp of the local language and only a minor understanding of how they expect you to drive, I set off for Liberec.

Luckily their road system is fairly similar to ours so there were no incidents along the highway and I was able to use my phone’s GPS to guide me from Prague to Liberec and back.

Two days after that I was at the Prague train station, boarding my train for the next leg of my journey in Austria.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.