Prague is a tough city because everybody is busy. Everybody must work, make money, earn money to pay the insane rents. It’s getting so crazy expensive to live here!
Places in Prague are too expensive and they are the reason why we have to take jobs we don’t like. We end up with a boss we hate and colleagues we would never intentionally share a coffee break with, never mind an 8-hours shift.
So, maybe part unconsciously, we end up hating the very place we live in. And when the weekend comes – everybody leaves!
That’s right, for me it’s insane: when we finally have a moment to enjoy the place we live in, those four walls we are paying so much to just be in – we want to go somewhere else instead. This happens a bit to every major city. But Czech Republic is special because it has basically just one big city, surrounded by all this amazing countryside.
On the contrary, I love staying in Prague for the weekend. Parking space everywhere, theaters and parks are half empty, even the waiters seem almost happy to see you. Almost. Now that would be too much.
Czechs, on the other hand, love going to their summer cottages.
These places are fantastic solutions to escape boredom. And like all great escapes, they need careful planning. You need to prepare for a weekend like you are the “Shawshank Redemption” guy. Every detail matters. Cottages have only basic furniture, so you need to pack a lot of stuff with you. The tradition is to borrow each item from a different friend or family member, because buying is for losers. This process may take 2 or 3 days to complete, so you have to start on Monday, and it’s considered part of the fun.
(I agree that buying all that stuff for a weekend would be an unnecessary waste, but I also wouldn’t go anywhere in the first place).
Then, the biggest problem is how to get there. It takes an average of 4 to 6 hours. You wouldn’t guess, in such a small country. If you go by car, you end up stuck forever in traffic with all the other morons just like you. If you have any self-esteem left, better avoid at all costs the D1, the highway to Brno. It’s a living nightmare. Always broken. Every time I pass, they are always repairing it, but a different team must work at night to break it again, or I don’t understand what’s going on. They are constantly working on it, all year round, perpetually. It’s like the perfect Socialist dream realized – if the perfect Socialist dream included truck drivers from every central and eastern European country, high on alcohol and amphetamines, trying to kill each other. So, yes.
Just a few roads like this and you would have full employment everywhere. Other countries should take note. Fun fact, that piece of crap was built by the Nazis during the WWII occupation. Probably as a permanent punishment to the Czech people.
If you decide to travel by train it’s not much faster, but at least you get to see the wagons they used for “Schindler’s List”. From the inside. Yes, regional trains in Czech Republic are vintage little gems. One observer could call them “shabby chic”, or another (maybe not into lifestyle blogging) would just describe them as old pieces of trash that should be put out of commission immediately.
Public money to renovate infrastructures like these is available and abundant (thanks, EU), but Czech politicians are too busy putting said money in their own pockets, and then denying all the evidence. Procedures take forever (also thanks, EU) so nothing gets done. It’s understandable.
Anyway, after this terrible journey, you finally get to destination. The weekend is almost over and everybody is exhausted, but at least you can rest now. Or so you hope. Until you find out that the entire place is two square meters, seriously, so small once I had to take a shit while standing. Then I realized I was actually in the shower. Too late, the damage was done. And cleaning the mess was a painful operation using only cold water – ah yes, because the boiler takes about 24 hours to get ready and gets empty in like 5 minutes, so taking a hot shower requires equal doses of flawless sense of timing and a ruthless cynicism towards all your other housemates.
The house lacks the most basic comforts of civilization, like high-speed internet or a decent 4K screen, but at least you get to connect a lot with nature. There was a wasp nest under my bed. Mushrooms growing in the shower, of three different types. I opened the fridge, and I found only a half-eaten box of that old Russian vanilla ice cream, you know, the one that tastes like the tears of the working class.
It is, in general, a very interesting experience. If you are a history buff, it’s amazing. For breakfast you get to use stuff from four different empires and times. You have a teapot from the Hapsburg’s era, a knife from Hitler’s Youth (maybe a member of the family took patriotism a bit too seriously), a kettle made in the Soviet Union and you sit on an IKEA chair clearly assembled by someone who didn’t bother to read the instructions. All empires eventually collapse, and the debris gets stored in Czech cottages.
Other good news, there are many opportunities to keep in physical shape. Another reason why I just hate the whole thing. The place is so run down, it needs total and complete reconstruction every two weeks. Even when these cottages are new, they are made especially so that they need a lot of extra maintenance. People have fun with it, it’s part of their charm. The owners (and their unfortunate guests) can choose entertaining activities like fixing the roof, chopping wood, cutting down the ivy, stuff like that. Destroying nature is the best way to connect with it. All done, goes without saying, without even the shadow of any safety equipment or precautions. Who needs those? Drink another hruškovice (home made alcohol made with pears that has a non-zero chance of making you permanently blind) and stop worrying.
Once I knew a guy who was restoring an old car, in his cottage garage. He doubled down on unnecessary hard work. That was a masterpiece of weekend forced labor.
On top of all that, now it’s summer. It’s way too hot to do anything. One of the things I liked when I moved to the Czech Republic was that yes, winters were bad, but then summers were mild and very pleasant.
Now the weather is changing and they also get the super hot Italian summers here. Except Czechs don’t have the Italian mindset to go with them! They didn’t have the time to evolve that way. They want to keep busy, do all the things they would normally do. Maybe more, because the days are longer: more productive hours!
And they ask me, how do you deal with this weather? How do you do things?
Well. What things? There is only one thing you can do when it’s so hot outside. And that is: to nap. It took us two thousand years to elevate siesta to an art form. You have to trust the professionals on this. Italians know best how to take the afternoon nap. Together with Spanish and Mexicans, I’ll give them that. When siesta will finally be an Olympic discipline, these countries would always compete for the medals.
Wear only light underwear, move as little as possible, keep the sun out. Total silence, broken only by light snoring and the singing of cicadas in the distance. Kids also have to respect the tradition. Sleep and be quiet. If they can’t, half a glass of red wine will do the job for them. That’s what I call a perfect Italian afternoon.
Czechs, on the other hand, not great at napping. They like to keep busy. Even in the hot summer days they prefer to relax by doing something. The problem is, that something seems designed to break my body and spirit.
One of such activities is hiking. I never hiked when I lived in Italy. I used to walk to go to school, sure, but the only challenging thing about it was to avoid dogshit and heroin syringes. Once you knew where to look, you were sorted.
Here is what I learned about hiking after moving. It’s basically a walk through some very uncomfortable places, and it has to be at least 25 km. Less than that, it doesn’t even qualify. You need to be fully equipped with technical outdoor gear, from head to toes – although Czechs can go dressed like that even to the corner shop, the office or their wedding, so this bit can be confusing.
You do all that to finally get to a castle (there are over 200 in the country, which means that technically, all Czechs could live in a castle if they wanted), and have lunch. You will have soup and fried cauliflower, so exactly the same food you could have had at home, at the pub around the corner, and beer. This is considerably cheaper than the ones at the pub around the corner, so instead of two, you will have six. And when you are tired, drunk and sleepy, it’s time to go back. Another 25 km of rough terrain. Only maybe this time, it will rain.
I really don’t get how this can be fun. On a weekend day, I wouldn’t get that far, not even by car. When I see all those people tramping on a Sunday morning under the scorching sun and sweating I think, what is happening? Did a civil war break out in Moravia? Maybe Ostrava has invaded Olomouc for being too nice to visitors? It’s insane.
But people have found a way to make this experience even more annoying. How? By bringing their kids along.
Because if you think a one-day march under the summer sun is exhausting, try doing it with an extra 10, 12 kilos of screaming and kicking luggage on your back. Nothing says “family fun” quite as much. You carry them in one of those backpacks, that are just as uncomfortable as they look. You make one mistake wearing it, the kid is not going to get enough blood to their brain for the rest of the day. You think they are finally enjoying the great outdoors, instead their faces get purple, then blue, which at least color matches the rest of your gear.
By the way, you can do exactly the same things in winter, except with skis attached to your feet. That’s called “cross-country”. Because whoever invented that sport has been dragged out of the city gates and crucified, probably. Or should have been. People used to have better judgment in the past.
Another great activity to do on a very hot Czech summer day is canoeing. People here really enjoy their rivers and lakes. They have an obsession for being out in summer, because that used to be the only time when the weather was not trying to kill them, every single day. Now things have changed, but it will take time to adapt.
So they love water sports. Everybody in my wife’s side of the family has a great story of how they almost died during a canoeing trip. The mystery is why they insist.
This is how it works. You wake up very early and get on a boat around 6 in the morning, because that’s when the blood flies like to have breakfast. You have to put all your earthly possessions, the things you need the most, in a water-proof barrel, and secure it well. So if something goes wrong and you need those things, you cannot get them, because they are secured in the barrel.
And then you head out. It’s a perfect family activity, perfect if you want to endanger you entire family at once. You look around and you see father, mother, two kids on one of those little boats, happily paddling away. It’s early in the morning, and they are all drinking beer. That’s one very specific definition of “safe”.
And this is before they get to the places when water gets deeper. You have a look overboard and see fat, slimy, grey things slowly circling under your boat. These monsters may be good as a Christmas dinner, deep fried, but right now they remind me of something straight out from a cosmic horror novel, and I just don’t want to be their dinner. Also because I am still bleeding from a thousand insect bites and who knows what these beasts will do, once they have tasted human blood.
I look around and I see that everybody else is enjoying a dip into those murky, deep-green waters that could just as well be petroleum, if petroleum smelled and tasted like urine. So maybe I am overthinking all this.
Maybe, after all, these are advanced balancing mechanisms to keep the Czech population stable. Also useful to compensate for immigration. So that must be why some Czechs are so afraid of foreigners! It all makes sense somehow.
Once in a while something has to go wrong. People just look the other way. It is what it is.
When something bad happens, of course they have to send a rescue team, but if it’s on a weekend, every rescuer will also have a head-splitting hangover. So chances are for even more terrible accidents.
And if you survive all this, you still have to take the journey back home.