I don't know if you have ever heard Andy Griffith's very early comedy called "What It Was Was Football" about a country bumpkin pushed along into a UNC football game on a Saturday afternoon describing what he saw. If you have you know it can be funny to get a new perspective on something many accept as normal.
I say this as I begin to tell you about my first trip to Europe. When last I left you I was swallowing my phobia of flying and embarking on an eight-day adventure. The Delta pilot announced it was going to be at times "a little lumpy." We bumped, we shook, but a little turbulence was no match for the jets that hurled us through the air at 450 miles an hour.
My first venture over the pond took me to Amsterdam in Holland and to Prague in the Czech Republic.
Amsterdam was pretty with its canals and historic buildings and streetcars. The people were very helpful.
I had a nice long conversation with one student in a bar about his view of America. He mentioned the health care system and especially our obsession about guns. I told him that in America there is a difference between the government and the people and that unless you pay close attention you can live your life in this country pretty well without ever thinking about the government.
Amsterdam has this spectacular brick train station that dominates the landscape and is being renovated.
Because of the closeness of the countries, rail travel is alive and well and thriving in Europe and this aspect I so envy them for. I saw a black wool scarf someone had dropped outside the train station and people kept stepping over it but no one reached down and made it their own because it didn't belong to them. I wondered what would happen in this country. The same is true of the thousands of bikes that are everywhere. They leave them where they get off them and come back the next day and there they are. It is such a civilized and refreshing thing.
Gerrit Valkering, my student friend, tells me that one day Holland will be one giant city, because of the growth and sprawl. Amsterdam reminds me a little of New York city. Yes, there are a thousand differences. In case you are wondering everyone in the restaurants and hotels spoke great English and so it was no problem communicating. I found Amsterdam to be a fairly expensive city because the euro was so much stronger than the American dollar.
So much is made of the women in the windows, whose services you can rent, and the dope you can smoke. Yes, they are there. But they are tucked away on little cobblestone roads and therefore you can take your family and enjoy the wonderful city without ever seeing this aspect.
But I loved and respected the very nice people of both countries.
I even picked up a few new friends and now have some people to email and carry on good conversations with. Being a Southerner, good conversation ranks right up there with good meals and good liquor.
Being in the largeness and secludedness of the United States, we don't have a very good perspective on what it is like to be countries that are about the size of one of our states with borders to other countries. When you flip on the television, you get a well-rounded taste of what is going on in a dozen countries. Many of their problems are tied together many of their goals are intertwined.
You suddenly realize how much we only think about ourselves. What is always funny to me is that when few Americans could afford to travel the world, the papers were full of world news. Now that anyone with $475 for a roundtrip ticket from Atlanta to Amsterdam can travel, we get no world news. World news should be a vital part of our existence now because so many more Americans have seen the world.
The flight on Czech Airlines is only an hour and 15 minutes away from Amsterdam, but it is a million miles in difference.
I fell totally, madly, completely in love with Prague.
The one thing I noticed that was different from Holland to the Czech Republic is that many of the Dutch can fly to the United States while it is virtually impossible in the Czech Republic to get a visa and come over. So we hold more fascination for them. And they are so totally different.
Enough words were not created to talk about the splendor and beauty of the architecture. If God ever needs to take a week off and ventures out of heaven he will probably vacation in Prague because it is probably the closest thing to heaven on earth. And at Christmas time it is like falling back into the greatest child's dream of the season ever invented. There are kids ice skating, little shops selling wooden puppets and hot drinks, there are performers on wide bridges and churches and other buildings with such ornate and beautiful architecture.
I have always hated Hitler for his inhumanity to other humans, his absolute cruelty and disregard for humans, both those of other nations and even his fellow Germans. But after seeing the architecture of Prague that thankfully survived the ravages of World War II, I have a deeper hatred of Hitler. So many buildings like those in Prague were leveled by the horrible war that claimed so many millions. If you were quiet when you stood in the splendor you could hear down to the building's soul, you could feel those who had stood years earlier in that same spot.
My one piece of advice if you visit Prague is to hire a guide, someone whose Czech is perfect and English is good enough to communicate. There are so many who will, for a meal and some small amount of money, give you a day's tour. Everything in Prague was so cheap. Someone told me the average person makes the equivalent of about $500 a month. A meal of $6 or $7 was a big meal and there is not much tipping. Everyone in Prague eats with their knife in their right hand and their fork in their left, the knife doing all the main work. It was interesting to see. Being left-handed I kind of fit right in. You could drink all night at bars and not get sticker shock. Champagne or vodka mixed with Red Bull, the sweet stimulant, seemed to be one of the favorites. The beer had a bigger punch.
I defy you to go to Prague and not fall in love with it. All I say say is "What It Was Was Europe."
Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.