For a country that has only been around since 1993, the Czech Republic has a fascinating history, and one that’s full of interesting phrases…
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When Czechoslovakia turned Communist in 1948, scores of non-believers were violently oppressed and imprisoned.  Twenty years later, during a 1968 movement known as the Prague Spring, it adopted a milder version of communism, which it described as “socialism with a human face.”  Unhappy with this development, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia later that year, and the communist reins tightened, only to be dissolved entirely when democracy came to the country in 1989 after a non-violent uprising known as the Velvet Revolution.  Four years later, in 1993, Czechoslovakia split in two; one part became Slovakia, the other the Czech Republic.  For its part, the Czech Republic has managed to attract hordes of tourists from all over the world, and we can see why.
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Our first stop in the Czech Republic was Karlovy Vary, a town famous both for its spas (the sulphurous springs that run beneath the city are said to have healing powers) and for its annual film festival.  We never made it to the spas, but we did arrive in Karlovy Vary just in time to check out the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.  We’d read that we didn’t need to purchase tickets to the various movies showing at the festival in advance but, instead, could procure them upon our arrival.  We’d read wrong.
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We got to the box office in time to find out that every movie being shown that day (i.e., our only day in town) was completely sold out.  If we were to make it into any movie that day, explained the ticket guy, we’d have to camp out in front of the theater at least an hour before showtime and hope for the best.  So that’s what we did, joining the throngs of other would-be movie-goers who also had neglected to purchase tickets in advance.  We waited in line for three movies and made it into only one, and that was by the skin of our teeth.  The movie we did see was called Man on Wire (see trailer HERE), about a French tight-rope walker who, among other things, snuck into the World Trade Center in 1974, strung a rope between the twin towers and then walked between them, high above Manhattan, for 45 minutes.  It was so good that it made the wait entirely worthwhile.
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Leaving Karlovy Vary, we made our way to Prague.  We’d heard great things about the city, and it appeared that millions of other travelers had, too–the city was jam-packed with tourists.  (How odd it feels to be someplace during the high season; that’s (intentionally) pretty rare for us.)  Happily, a few of those tourists were dear friends of ours from Nashville, Howard and Elizabeth Lamar and Heather and Todd Rolapp.  We had only one night with the Lamars, but the Rolapps would be with us for the next week or so.
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Together, we wandered through Prague’s old town square.  The square is dominated by a clock tower from which, every hour on the hour, a parade of apostle figurines and a bell-ringing skeleton emerge, much to the delight of the hordes of onlookers.  We also met up with an opera-singer-turned-tour-guide named Josef.  Josef led us through Prague’s streets and shared with us stories of life under communism.  (“People had to wait in line for hours to buy meat,” he said.)  He told us of the glorious days when democracy finally came to his country: “Thousands of people took to the streets, shaking their keys; it was their way of ‘ringing the bell’ on communism.”
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Derek and I also wandered over the Charles Bridge (a must-do in Prague) and made our way up to the Prague Castle.  The biggest castle complex in the world, it is the seat of Czech power, playing home to both the president’s office and the ancient Bohemian crown jewels.  (A side note: The ancient land of Bohemia makes up the western two-thirds of today’s Czech Republic.  The term “bohemian” comes from the French, who thought that Roma gypsies, who actually have origins in India, came from Bohemia.  Today, the label “bohemian” is often applied to anyone living an unconventional lifestyle.)  While at the castle, we watched the changing of the guard, meandered through the astounding St. Vitus Cathedral, with its spectacular stained-glass windows, and explored the Old Royal Palace, which was full of elegantly vaulted ceilings and offered incredible views over Prague.  All too soon, it was time to say farewell to the Lamars and to Prague and to climb back into the Peugeot for the 12-hour drive to Split, Croatia.