When our lecturer announced that the school trip destination would be Prague, I was overjoyed. My excitement with Eastern Europe, not limited to Czech Republic, is indescribable.
A SMUGGLER AMONG US
Having lack of sleep the day before and motion sickness prevented me from doing anything more productive than sleeping in the bus departing from Amsterdam at 7 am. So, nothing really special along the way until a poodle barked us in the custom and immigration area of Czech border, that changed the atmosphere of our journey.
Speaking of poodle, this one was anything but ordinary. He was big, black, robust, sharp eye-gazed and not groomed for (dog) shows. Cuteness didn’t belong to him.
The border officials summoned a brunette girl from our group for further investigation outside the bus area. An intense situation started to rise, especially they were eager to hear her confession for smuggling marijuana to their country. On the other hand, she struggled to convince her innocence.
I see. That’s why the black dog barked triumphantly: he noticed the smell of marijuana on her.
Our school mentor tried to calm both sides down, explaining the anxious Czechs nicely that her bag smelled like marijuana because she usually carried it every time she worked as a part-timer cash register in a Dutch coffee shop (not cafe), causing the smell all over the bag despite the absence of marijuana.
In the mean time, the other official and his four-legged companion, that happened to be the black poodle, jumped in the empty bus for a search. We, who were not allowed to approach the “scene”, could only watch and pray that things would go all right. The last thing I saw that they searched the brunette’s tote bag, taking out all the contents inside – which were basically like any other girls’ bag, from a wallet, a lipstick to tampons -, and no traces of dried and ground “leaves”.
They let the brunette go, and so the rest of us.
The road to experience the beauty of Prague was still not even after the incident. As hunger struck us, we dined in the worst Italian restaurant ever – while the reason for choosing an Italian cuisine over a local one remained unclear. Furthermore, non-wine drinkers, including me, had to pay the same amount as those who zip some wine, which was an unfair decision from the coordinators. Nonetheless, we were just too tired to argue.
I didn’t have any specific impression about Prague on the first day. We checked-in the hotel at night, a couple of hours behind schedule. Saving energy for the next trip was a top priority, so there was no space for night life.
DOWNTOWN LITOMERICE: PEACEFUL AND COLOURFUL
Next morning, we left for Litoměřice, a small town in the northern part of Czech Republic situated 64 kilometers from Prague, which is part of Ústí nad Labem Region. Our main purpose is to visit a garment factory as part of our study program. Here lies a hidden treasure of international business with its notable clients, including Tommy Hilfiger, who appointed this factory as their undergarment supplier. Nevertheless, I had quite an eerie feeling to see the workers cutting fabrics with a gigantic cutter machine without cut-resistant gloves.
I probably would not have a chance to be in the main square of the town I had never heard of without this trip. So, I was so happy about the accidental visit. The city centre of Litoměřice looks merrier with the density of colours of buildings that speak louder than its inhabitants. The mélange of various architecture styles, from Baroque, Renaissance to Gothic creates spectacular view in a small piece of land in the junction of river Elbe and Ohře.
However, there is always too little time to observe and unfortunately, time cannot be bought. After getting some Koruna (CZK) from a local bank, I made the most of my “little time” to capture the beauty of the East (Europe) for the first time.
TEREZÍN: OPENING THE OLD WOUND
About five minutes from downtown Litoměřice, we came to see the darkest side of Czech Republic history in a town called Terezín or Theresienstadt, named after the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa. The famous fortress of Terezín, originally built in 1780 for military defense, to to protect river Elbe and Ohře from Prussian troops during the reign of Habsburg Monarchy. Nonetheless, it gained its notorious reputation when the Nazi transformed it into a concentration camp in World War II called Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.
Overshadowed by Auschwitz, the largest extermination camp, the condition of Terezín was far from decent. The amount of overcrowded inmates didn’t comply the actual capacity of the prison, not to mention the mistreatment by the guards, causing malnutrition and death of Jewish prisoners before being transported to Auschwitz. The cell with just one toilet bowl for over 50 inmates is one of the silent witnesses.
Without a doubt, the history behind the camp attracts millions of people worldwide, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to call it a “tourist attraction”. It is the memorial of truth that hurts. Many of us expressed grief, sadness and uneasy feeling on location.
“So ashamed with what my people did.” The German schoolmates said with full of regrets.
On the contrary, I didn’t hear a word from the Jewish mates. I only could imagine what was on their mind.
However, I heard some “narrow-minded” comments as well.
“We should skip this part and go to the shopping centre instead.”
Confession of a shopaholic?
“This is not related to our (fashion) study.”
It’s time to learn some history. Deal?
May be now I can “vaguely” describe why I’ve been so excited with Eastern Europe. The old glory combined with traces of past oppression and the openness to the world after the collapse of dictatorship and communism produce some sort mysterious forces, like a huge magnet attracting me to the foreign beauty in places I know the least. Nobody, except the coordinators, knew that we would visit these places. But I was glad we did.
Finally, the bus headed back to Prague, the city everyone had been waiting for to explore. Here we come!