PRINCETON CLASS OF 1972
GRAND TOUR – Prague, Czech Republic
May 2 – 14, 2018
See photos here.
On Tuesday May 2, a group of 38 classmates, spouses, and friends gradually assembled at the Lindner Prague Castle Hotel as they fought jet lag and hoped to stay awake for the first evening in Europe. The entire trek was planned and arranged by classmate Helena Novakova who did a fabulous job preparing to meet all of our various requirements, many related to our advanced age. The participants are listed in the Appendix. As is customary with the Class of 1972, Ed Strauss designed the official class trip logo which introduces this article, this time relying on the symbol of the Czech country with ball caps and “P”'s for Princeton and pivo (=beer).
In the evening we had our first assembly where we were introduced to our guide, Vitek Kloucek, who became a friend and confidant over the next two weeks. Although fluent in English, Vitek welcomed our corrrections to pronunciations so much so that he's now ready for Princeton. If it weren't for Vitek and Helena, all would have been lost, as none of the tour group attained any fluency in Czech, despite Helena's best efforts.
Following the meet and greet, we had our group kickoff dinner where we were treated to our first Czech food experience at the Saint Norbert Priory. The meal consisted of meat, more meat, red cabbage, potato and bread dumplings and Klasterni, the first of many beers we sampled. No one ever finished a meal on this trip hungry.
The next morning we were up and out by 9AM (that's 3AM Princeton time) so we might have been a little slow. We spent the day at Prague Castle with expert guidance from Vitek. We visited the cathedral (St Vitus), visited the houses of the medieval working folk and had lunch together at the Villa Richter winery on castle mountain. After moving on to the Mala Strana quarter below the mountain and catching sights from the Wallenstein Gardens to the Baby Jesus shrine to the John Lennon wall, most of us walked back up the hill to the hotel. This was our first experience with Czech flat walking which is much steeper than American walking.
On Friday morning we checked out and headed to Karlovy Vary. On the way we stopped at the Moser glass factory where we saw the actual crystal production process in operation. Moser allowed the group to stand on the factory floor where we saw and felt the heat from the glass blowing and cooling processes. After lunch we checked in at the Hotel Thermal, a massive 1970's vintage hotel full of Chinese tourists, from which Vitek took us on a tour of Karlovy Vary, a very historic town interlaced with purportedly therapeutic hot springs. The bravest among the group partook of the healing waters (at your choice of temperature) while the remainder of us drank beer with the Good Soldier Schweik, a literary character who many of us remembered from a Modern European Literature course Freshman year.
Always on the move, we checked out the next morning, Saturday, and headed to Helena's home town, Pilsen, where we viewed the Liberation Festival, a great parade celebrating the arrival of Patton's army to free the Czechs from the Nazis in 1945. There were many, many jeeps and trucks left by the Americans which are still in working order and hundreds of locals played the parts of the American GI's marching by the Thank You America monument in the center of town. There were even a few 90+ year old American Veterans in the parade who basked in the adulation of the crowds.