I recently returned from my second trip to Prague in the Czech Republic.
Just saying that leaves me a little in awe of the opportunities I have had in my life. I am a small-town West Tennessee girl whose grand adventures through my 40s totaled 2 – having once crossed the Atlantic Ocean (age 3) to join my Air Force father to live in Berlin and traveling across the state to attend the University of Tennessee. If you had told me I would someday visit places like Prague, Barcelona and Paris, I would have suggested you check the batteries in your crystal ball.
My mother, whose great adventure until she met my father was moving from West Tennessee to Mobile, Ala., seemed to know I was destined to wander someday. One of her nicknames for her hard-headed daughter was “Go Gardner.” From the time I was old enough to crawl into the car, if it was moving, I was in it and totally indiscriminate about the destination.
For a good part of my life, I was sidelined by a deep fear of flying. While it was understandable from a psychological point of view as my father died in an airplane crash, it was a true hindrance to traveling. When my younger son moved to Seattle, family trumped fear. It’s now hard to keep my feet on the ground.
Prague, however, was a reluctant destination the first time I went. My husband, a Discovery Channel geek, wanted to go as an add-on to one of our cruises. I rolled my eyes every time he mentioned it, but, it was his turn to pick, so I shut up and packed.
When my best friend, Michelle, wanted to go and was looking for a fellow traveler, I could have broken my arm waving my willingness to go back.
Part of the magic of Prague for me is that I’m still a small-town West Tennessee girl. Standing in Old Town in front of a church founded in 1385 left me breathless.
At Prague Castle, which traces its beginnings to the 880s, I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I stood in front of a gold reliquary from Charles IV that houses a tiny piece of cloth said to be from the loincloth of Christ.
I probably do not represent our country in the best way when I travel. While I don’t wear flowered shirts and shorts, I opt for whatever shoes are comfortable, always have my guidebook in my hand and, if headphone are available to tell me the history of what I am seeing, I’ve got them plugged in. On guided tours, I’m the annoying person who always has one-more-question. I take pictures of my bill at the restaurant that says I paid “414 korunas” for my meal, figuring my friends will be impressed with my extravagant lifestyle (it’s $18 in U.S. money).
But if the city’s tourism goal is to fill a country girl with awe and wonder and bring me back any time there is a seat on the plane, I’m your girl. Amazingly, I have now spent a total of 11 days in Prague, and there are still things I missed.
There have been very few places I have visited that left me with a “been there, done that” attitude about going back.
The French author Gustave Flaubert (“Madame Bovary”) said it best: “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
That is certainly true for Go Gardner.