It was a last minute decision and after some debate on where to go we’d made our choice. I’d just returned from 3 amazing weeks in Nicaragua, part volunteer mission part backpacking adventure, and had satisfied my wanderlust, if only temporarily. Unfortunately my boyfriend K was left out of this Nicaraguan adventure due to work, but now he was ready for a much needed break. It didn’t need to be a long or complicated trip but just enough for him to relax and decompress after working around the clock for weeks trying to get a project finished.
K wanted to go somewhere with surf, sun and white sand beaches while I’d had my fill of these while in Nicaragua. I’d been visiting this Central American country during the hottest part of the year and couldn’t bring myself to commit to another trip that involved sweltering heat and sand in my underwear.
I counter-proposed and suggested the idea that we go to the Czech Republic to meet up with my dad in the town he grew up in, and join the rest of my relatives for a family reunion. My dad is from the Czech Republic, born and raised. He came to Canada (alone) in his early 20’s, met my mom and stayed, while all his family remained in Europe. It’d been 14 years since I’d visited my family on the other side of the world and had been talking about going back there with my dad on his next visit. But with my plans for Nicaragua already in motion, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it to Europe as well. In the end, with K pushing for a getaway, I didn’t think twice about getting another trip in and we really couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit my relatives at this reunion.
So we booked our tickets, made our travel arrangements and a few weeks later set off to the airport (I just love last minute trips as there’s no waiting involved!). This would be K’s first time overseas and we were both looking forward to exploring new cities and meeting/getting re-acquainted with my relatives.
We decided to fly into Berlin rather than Prague for a few reasons: 1) I’d never been to Berlin before; 2) it was cheaper than flying into Prague; 3) it was close to my dad’s home town of Decin located just across the German boarder from Dresden. We’d easily be able to catch a train from Berlin to Decin, as the trains pass through this town en route to Prague.
After our overnight flight into Germany we spent the day exploring Berlin on foot, trying to fight off the jet lag and switch our internal clocks to the local time zone. We were walking zombies, jacked up on caffeine as we discovered some of Berlin’s famous sites while sampling the beer and local cuisine.
The next day found us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on our next country after sleeping for 12+ hours straight. We enjoyed a beautiful train ride through the stunning German countryside, arriving in Decin, Czech Republic around mid-day.
My dad was waiting for us at the train station along with the husband of one of my cousins (I’ll have to warn you, I’m probably going to over use this word as I discovered that I have A LOT of cousins in the Czech Republic!).
Decin is a beautiful town nestled in a river valley surrounded by gorgeous roll hills and steep cliffs. The Czech Republic as a whole has done a wonderful job at preserving and maintaining its old world charm, and if you’ve ever seen pictures of or been to Prague you’ll understand what I mean. The rest of the country is the same: cobblestone streets, colorful, intricate building facades and that old world charm. Decin was no exception.
We made the short drive to my grandmother’s (babitchka’s) house were we’d be staying with my dad. Keeping with European tradition, there were 4 generations living in this 3 story house. My grandmother and aunt (my dad’s only sibling) occupied a little apartment on the first floor. One of my cousins (my dad’s niece) lived on the second and third floor with her husband and their youngest daughter, who is 16 yrs old. They have two other children who were now married with kids and living in their own houses in Decin.
After a delicious home cooked lunch made by my cousin M, my dad took K and I on a hike he’d done many times while growing up. We needed the exercise and it was nice to spend some time outdoors. We hiked through a beautiful forest, up a ridge and were treated with spectacular views of the countryside. We could see Decin tucked away in its little valley, rolling green hills and even a castle off in the distance. (One thing I love about the Czech Republic is its seemingly infinite supply of castles!). There was a lookout tower at the top of the ridge that we climbed and enjoyed the amazing view while sipping some beer.
Later that afternoon we made our way to a house that had been rented out by my relatives for the weekend to accommodate the large number of people visiting from various areas of the country. When we arrived at the family reunion my dad started by walking me and K around and introducing us to everyone. Some I remembered from my previous trips while others were new names and fresh faces. My dad would start each introduction with the words “This is your cousin so-and-so”. After this happened about 3 or 4 times I turned to my dad and said, “OK, so basically everyone here is my cousin?”. He thought about it for a moment and then replied, “Yep!”. Like I said before, I have A LOT of cousins! Everyone was very warm and welcoming to us strangers and took us in as part of their group.
Sitting on the large outdoor deck, we stuffed ourselves with traditional home cooked Czech foods and drinks and watched the sun sink behind the horizon. Conversation was difficult at times as I don’t speak any Czech. On my previous trips, I noticed that no one in my family spoke English and any communication I made was through my dad acting as the translator. This time however, pretty much anyone under the age of 20 spoke English and was able to carry on conversations with both K and I. My 16 yr old cousin T (who had graciously given up her bedroom at my grandmothers house for K and I to use) acted as our guide and translator when required. As the evening wore on, bottles upon bottles of alcohol appeared and it was futile to try and turn down a drink. Soon the language barrier was a mute point as everyone started singing, laughing and dancing as one big family. To think that just hours before we’d been total strangers, though related by blood, and now we were being treated as part of the family, as if we’d never grown up oceans apart.
The next day my cousin T, her boyfriend and another cousin took K and I on a wonderful walking tour of Decin. We visited spectacular lookouts, the town square, Decin Castle with its incredible rose garden, and a beautiful park by the river. It was a good chance for T to practice her English and K and I to learn a few words in Czech.
In the early afternoon we made our way back to the family reunion and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine on the patio while feasting on yet more Czech foods (they even did a pig roast!). My cousins brought out their guitars and entertained the group with acoustic songs in Czech and the odd English version.
The next day K and I bid a sad farewell to everyone and headed off to our next destination, Prague. I was left thinking that traveling to the Czech Republic was the best decision I could have made, as this trip ended up being even more special to me than I ever thought possible. To re-connect with my relatives a world away and to be taken in and treated as one of the family was truly special. I remember at the end of it all thinking, wow, I’m related to all these people! We share the same blood and ancestry though we grew up and live a world apart. It was very surreal to spend the weekend with this group of wonderful people who were directly related to me, yet I’d only just met them. While I’m in love with traveling and suffer from wanderlust, having this family connection to a country on the other side of the world made me feel connected to the Czech Republic in a way that other countries never could. This bohemian nation has and always will have a very special place in my heart. I plan on returning on a more regular basis and I hope that they will come visit me and K here in Canada some day!
NOTE: This article was written as an entry into a contest run by the amazing Viki of Chronic Wanderlust. Its her first contest and the prize is an Amazon Gift card supplied by CupoNation. She asked that we write about our best moment in the summer of 2014 and visiting my relatives in the Czech Republic was definitely the highlight of my summer! I thoroughly enjoyed writing this post and supporting another wonderful travel blogger!