Living in a Bohemian Paradise

While traveling abroad, most people only see the “touristy” part of a country. They are usually only limited to visiting the famous attractions or the “tourist trap” shops waiting for them. They don’t really get to experience the country: they only see the country in a way that’s been catered for them. At no point do they get to see how the common person lives, works, or plays unless they take their trip off the beaten path. That’s exactly what I got to experience in the Czech Republic. I signed up for the College of Nursing Global Health trip because I am interested in a health profession, and I thought it would provide me with valuable experience for my future career. Not only did I gain this valuable professional insight, but I also gained valuable cultural insight by seeing more than what I was supposed to see as a tourist. I got to see first-hand how people live in the country-side villages way outside the hustle & bustle of Prague.

Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge, Prague

My friend Andrew and I decided to stay a few days longer than the rest of our class. In addition to our course program events in Budapest and Prague, we visited Dresden, Germany and the Bohemian countryside of the Czech Republic where his extended family still lives. The countryside was a nice change in scenery. I had several enjoyable moments in Prague, but I did not miss the moments of pushing through crowds on the busy walking streets or smelling alcohol and other fluids left on the street from the nights before. The countryside also held many surprises, but they were all pleasant.

The first of these little treasures was Litomysl. About 100 miles east of Prague, Litomysl is hidden behind the hills and dense spruce forests of Bohemia. It’s a town of about 10,000 people complete with its own castle. The town square was one of the nicest parts of the town.

Square
Litomysl Town Square Sunset

The beautiful colors of the buildings and the arched hallways that connecting buildings and opened up to the street made it pleasant to walk from store to store, buying fresh fruits and pastries or pottery or ice cream or gardening equipment or whatever your heart desired. The hilly pathways behind the town square led through parks and cobblestone pathways that meandered past churches of old all the way up to the town castle and garden.

Castle.JPG
Litomysl Castle

Probably the highlight of the stay there was the Night of Churches. This is a national event where all of the churches in the country are open at night to the public. While climbing the tiny spiral vertical corridor of the bell tower, the sounds of stringed instrument and pipe organ resonated throughout. After reaching the top of the bell tower, I felt like I could have stayed there all night. With the notes of wind and string echoing below our feet and the glow of candlelight around us, watching over the glimmering town nestled in the veil of night was a sensation that I will remember forever.

Church
Night of Churches, Litomysl

The second hidden gem of the Czech countryside was Budislav. It’s a small village of about 500 people where Andrew’s extended family still lives. His grandfather, aunt, uncle, and cousins all live in an aged farmhouse under renovation. Their farmhouse is complete with chickens, a fruit & vegetable garden, and a cherry tree. It was so refreshing walking to a hillside view while spitting out the pits of the cherries I just picked with my own hands. After a game of street hockey with Andrew’s relatives, we fire-roasted sausages that were produced from that very farmhouse. While there, I got to listen to the day-to-day conversations between many of Andrew’s family members. Some were farmers and were talking about the weather and harvesting crops. One was involved with construction and was talking about his employees and the progress they have been making on the farmhouse renovation. Another one was discussing his shifts as a manager. Another was taking about her education. I’m sure many more conversations like this happened, but these are all of the ones that Andrew translated for me in Czech. Not only did I just hear these conversations, but I also got to see them live, laugh, eat, work, and follow their regular routines. For example, I got to watch Andrew’s grandfather ring the bell in a tiny chapel at 12:00 PM exactly on Sunday like he has every Sunday for the last several years.

Hillside
Budislav Countryside

I am so thankful that I decided to stay longer to see the Czech Republic like this. Prague alone would not have been able to show me this. I will never be able to forget this trip or wonderful experiences!

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Explore!

While you’re abroad, an absolute must is just to explore whenever you get the chance. You will have plenty of scheduled and required events, but there is so much more to do and see. With today’s technology and our access to information, it’s easier than ever to find these opportunities to explore. This is exactly what we did in Budapest. We had multiple free mornings, afternoons, and evenings. One morning we used public transit to get to the mall and explore there. One afternoon, we explored a castle and park during sunset and ate outside behind the castle. Another evening, we explored the Jewish district and different nightlife venues before we sat down at a table behind a ferris wheel and made our dinner. It’s these little memories and so many more like these that really made my trip special and will stick with me. I would like to offer some tips for you the next time you find yourself abroad and are thinking about exploring:

  1. Be Safe But Don’t Be Afraid: Don’t let fear hold you back from exploring. This world can be a dangerous place, but there is always risk no matter where you are. However, you can mitigate this risk by thinking ahead:
  • Never be alone; always have someone else from your group with you
  • Be careful with anyone you meet including Americans (just because they’re American doesn’t mean they’re a safe person)
  • Never give away any personal information like where you are staying
  • Never leave your food, beverage, or belongings unattended
  • Stay away from potentially dangerous situations (dark alleys, suspicious people, etc.)

(Again, don’t let this get in your way of exploring. These are just precautions. You don’t take these precautions because you expect bad things to happen: you take precautions so that you are prepared just in case).

  1. Do Your Research: It’s best if you have an idea of what you are doing and where you are going before you go out exploring. Making a plan ahead of time can help keep you from wandering into dangerous situations or the wrong part of town. Additionally, it can help you make the most of your time. For example, reading a little bit beforehand can keep you from showing up at a restaurant that’s closed or can keep you from having to walk home or take a taxi if you accidentally missed the last train. Taking time to plan can help you get the most experience in for the amount of time that you’re there.
  1. Enjoy: All you have to do now is just go out and enjoy! Please take the time to explore wherever your trip takes you. Just remember to be safe and do your research. Doing so will give you valuable memories and experience that you will always cherish.

My adventures exploring Budapest not only gave me valuable memories with some of my favorite people, but they also reinforced the bonds I have with them. There’s no way I could have gotten this much out of my trip without these little expeditions, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat!