Novus Annus. Buon Anno! Bonne Année! Feliz Año Nuevo! Glückliches Neues Jahr! Happy New Year! Whether it be in Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German or English we welcome you to 2015. Last year was great for Rome Across Europe. This year, though, we are making sure everything is bigger and, of course, better.
With this being the premiere for the New Year, we thought it only fitting for Where To? Wednesday to come out of the gates with fireworks. For our first interview of 2015 we have a lady that we could talk with for hours and hours. She is my wife’s cousin, and has become a good friend of mine too. She not only travels a lot for business but also for recreation. Please give a big Rome Across Europe welcome to Mrs. Stephanie Strong!
Rome Across Europe: Welcome Stephanie and thank you for joining us today. In case you did not realize it, you are our first interview of 2015. Congratulations!
Stephanie Strong: Thanks very much for having me!
RAE: So I know you are quite the traveler. You told me before that there are many places you have enjoyed visiting. Where would you like to take us today? No pressure to start the year off strong (hint, hint).
SS: Oh, goodness. Today I would like to talk about one of my favorite cities in Europe, Prague, in the Czech Republic. It was a city that really surprised me with its charm.
RAE: Sounds quite intriguing. What drew you to Prague in the first place?
SS: I was on a family trip and it had been planned in advance without my knowledge, actually. We were in Europe for a little over a month and visited quite a few places, wrapping up in Prague. I knew very little about it before we arrived.
RAE: That would be very surprising. Glad you enjoyed it and wanted to share the experience with us. I know that Prague, and the Czech Republic, were once under Roman control so this is very fitting for our interview.
What stuck out most in Prague that made it the place you wanted to discuss?
SS: I think it was a combination of the people and the contrast of the city. For so long, it had been under communist rule and these beautiful buildings and structures and castles that had been lovingly designed prior to that communist ruling were just crumbling. The people weren’t allowed to have lovely things.
When I was there it was so beautiful to see that they were restoring these things again and trying so hard to make their city vibrant again. The people were all surprisingly friendly and warm. I felt welcome wherever we went.
RAE: When where you there? I imagine it had to be in the late 1990’s?
SS: It was, it was 1997. It’s funny that it’s been so long but it really does feel [like] just a few years ago. The city has [really] stuck with me strongly.
RAE: That does not seem odd. Great places tend to make a lasting impact on a person.
What time of year was it? Do you remember how the weather was?
SS: It was mid-summer when we were there, so June/July, but it was rather cool. I remember a few cold rainy evenings! But there’s nothing like walking across the Charles Bridge on a chilly night with a light rain coming down. Magical.
RAE: You said you felt welcome due to the friendliness of the people. Was there any moment or something special that made you feel that way? Or was it just the overall experience?
SS: There is a moment that really stands out to me. I remember being in a big market in the center of Old Town where artisans sold their creations, and there was a leather worker with a stall where he was making bags, briefcases, wallets, etc with this thick, gorgeous leather. I found a small coin purse that I couldn’t leave without, and when I asked how much it was, he asked in broken English if I was from America. When I confirmed, he wouldn’t let me pay for it. He held my hand and told me to take it, and that he was glad that a girl from America was there to see his beautiful city. It was a moment that was indicative of the older people there that had seen so much in the city’s rich and turbulent history; they were so welcoming to visitors and really wanted to share their city and the work they were doing there.
RAE: That is a perfect story to share! I can understand why you said the people were friendly. Situations do not tend to happen like that here in the states. Not even in Texas.
Do you still have the coin purse?
SS: I do! I don’t carry it daily anymore but I will never get rid of it.
RAE: You had mentioned the Charles Bridge. Is there any other building or place that stood out to you?
SS: Yes. Two places other than the bridge that really stood out were the Jewish Museum, specifically the Pinkas Synagogue, with the Holocaust Memorial as a moving tribute to those that lost their lives and the Astronomical Clock in Old Town. It goes off every hour on the hour and people gather just to watch. It’s really special!
RAE: Wow. That sounds amazing.
I know you had to eat somewhere while there. How would you say the food is?
SS: If you find yourself hungry mid-day, there is no shortage of pastries! Being Texan, we all know about the Czech Stop in West. Now imagine that times about a million.
Stop and relax after a day of walking and grab coffee and kolaches or Medovnik (it’s a honey cake with lots of thin layers) and it’s just out of this world.
RAE: Let us be honest, we all love pastries. There is no hiding that.
SS: What’s not to love? They’re all that’s right in the world!
RAE: How about main courses? Do the people there eat 3 large meals, or is it snacking throughout the day?
SS: There are usually two smaller meals and one main meal from what I saw. And there is very little meat, which I think may be a holdover from the past. I know historically, meat was saved for a special meal just once a week.
Now, it’s more available. The Czechs seem to be very big on vegetables and soups and dumplings, which are easy to fill up on! There is very little grazing or snacking, or eating on the go. You sit, you eat, you enjoy the people you’re with. I loved that.
RAE: That sounds like something it would not hurt Americans to try, slowing down a bit.
SS: I totally agree.
RAE: I know that since the fall of communism, and just progress overall, transportation and getting around has become easier there.
How was it for you back then?
SS: We had no problems at all. Taxis and private cars were plentiful, and it’s a great walking city. I felt safe everywhere we went. Roads were in the process of being improved, but there were some bumpy rides!
RAE: It seems that most towns in Europe are made for walking. Maybe people eat more desserts/pastries and drink more since it will just be walked off later?
SS: I think the cities there have been around since before cars and public transportation were the norm, so they were laid out beautifully for easy walking access. I love that about Europe! And I think you’re right, it gives a little more freedom to indulge in those fantastic pastries.
RAE: Is there anything else you would care to share with us today?
SS: One last thing that is one of my best memories of Prague, on the Charles Bridge itself, there are tons of artists painting scenes and selling their wares. One is a man who has been there for years and years who they call the Devil Man. He is a painter, and rumor has it that he’s a former university professor who went mad. He holds a tiny hand mirror and wears devil horns and paints himself in monochromatic portraits as the devil, making faces into the mirror.
When you approach, he will select the portrait he’ll allow you to buy; you aren’t allowed to pick which color or size or face you’d like. I have a blue one that’s about 5×7 where he’s giving a rare half-smile. I don’t know if he’s still living, but if you’re in the city and on the bridge, he’s worth looking for.
RAE: Good addition! I already had an interest in visiting Prague, but now I am truly sold on it. We shall see if your cousin is on board for that or not.
SS: I hope you two make it over there, it’s such a wonderful place. Thank you for our talk today!
RAE: The pleasure is ours. You made the perfect guest to start out 2015.
I had a feeling how the interview would be, seeing is how we have similar personalities and such, but it went even better than expected.
SS: Can’t wait to see it on the site! GREAT, thank you! I enjoyed it, as I enjoy the site itself. I like getting the updates.
RAE: Well, thank you. That is definitely kind and beneficial to know that our message is out there AND being understood. With that we say goodbye to our very special guest, Stephanie Strong, while we say hello to more interviews in 2015.
It is the start of a new year so it is time to get out and visit new places. Who knows where Rome Across Europe will go next? In either case, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
History: Toward the end of the 1st Century BC, Bohemia was compromised mostly of Germanic tribes. It was then, during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), that this area came under Roman rule. Bohemia itself was sometimes partly controlled by the Roman empire, and sometimes in conflict with it.
A good example of this would be in the second century when the Germanci tribes fought Marcus Aurelius (161 to 180 AD).
There is so much to love about Prague and the Czech Republic. From Roman times through the present this is a land full of culture.