A weekend in on the water in Prague

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The swans were among the first to greet us in Prague.

That was after our Airbnb houseboat hosts met us on a bank of the Vltava River and handed over the keys to their apartment. They gave us a quick rundown of things to do and see and left us with a bag of bread to feed the birds. They told us we’d probably see dozens of swans.

I didn’t expect that. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect in the Czech Republic. I had worried that staying on a houseboat in the winter in Prague might be risky, damp and cold. I was glad to be wrong.

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Marka and Michal’s place, Houseboat Benjamin & Franklin, ranks up there as a memorable place to spend the night. It’s a modern and cozy, heated two-bedroom apartment. We had mild enough weather to enjoy the waterfront balcony. Our hosts even supplied us with a wifi hotspot, a Czech cell phone and an electric dinghy to take into the city.

As our boys fed the ducks, seagulls and swans, Sarge and I practiced tying bowline knots so we could be sure to secure a parking spot wherever we might find one on the water.

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Our first glimpse of the “the city of 100 spires” was from our little boat gliding along the river on the first sunny Saturday of 2018. As soon as I saw the city skyline, I wished we could stay for longer than a weekend. I was mesmerized by the architecture and art in every direction.

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The only thing on our agenda was to walk around the city. We stopped at places that caught our eye, starting with the Dancing House, a twisty building with a top that looks like Medusa. Next, we checked out the sculptures and vendors along the Charles Bridge, and then we hiked up the hill to the castle.

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On the way down, we ducked into Tavern U Krale Brabantskeho for some refreshments. The pub claims to be the oldest in Prague and dates back to 1375. Our 10-year-old said this cavernous tavern was one of his favorite places of our whole year abroad. It looked like something out of “Harry Potter” with an old-world feel, swords on the walls, candlelight and a costumed barmaid, who, in medieval character, whipped Sarge on the back and asked if he was enjoying his beer. I’m sure the grandparents will be proud that we’re showing the kids great taverns of the world.

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At least we didn’t keep them out late. The sun sets early in January in Prague, around 4:30 p.m. By the time we got back to the dinghy, it was dark. We saw Prague aglow as we headed back to the houseboat. Once we tied up, a couple of swans returned, hoping for some bread crumbs and attention.

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I guess I am biased. I am a boat person. I like having my coffee while looking out over the water. There’s a peacefulness in watching the bending light, the ripples on the water and the world waking up.

This is how I will remember Prague: its steeples and swans, its beauty and its boats. And the kids won’t let me forget the pub.

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The time I washed Sarge’s passport

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Our latest European weekend road trip started with us loading up the car and checking to make sure we had everyone’s passports. Sarge thought I had packed his, but I just had mine and the kids’. So he went back inside and discovered his passport was in the pocket of a pair of his work pants that I had put through the washing machine.

We tried in vain to flatten the pages as we started our drive. We weren’t sure we’d make it past the border crossing on our way from Croatia to Slovenia, and we almost didn’t. The Slovenian border guard was definitely not pleased. He grumbled and looked like he was going to toss it in the trash. Eventually, he scanned and stamped our passports and let us through. I still have lingering border-crossing anxiety.

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When we made it to our Airbnb in Ljubljana, our host, Vandana, welcomed us with maps and a wealth of information about the capital city. She also runs a youth hostel, is a painter and a yoga teacher and is a real ambassador for Slovenia. We talked for half an hour about the region’s history, parks, caves and attractions.

Meanwhile, Sarge found a heavy table leg to press his passport, and the kids found an English-language movie channel and the wifi password. We had to pull the boys away from the screens to set off to see Ljubljana’s bridges, castle and dragons.

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We managed to miss the river cruise I had already paid for, the second time this has happened to us in a river city on our travels. I think the lesson here is to avoid buying boat tour tickets in advance. The boat will leave without you.

We abandoned our original plans and wandered past government buildings, Slovene statues and pedestrian bridges in search of food. Sarge and the kids saw a sign for a “Burger Bar,” and we decided we had to check it out. We hadn’t had American-style burgers in six months. The way they serve them in the city where we’re living in Croatia is more like Croatian meat patties on flatbread.

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I’m not sure if it was because we had skipped lunch or that the burgers, French fries and onion rings were that good, but we enjoyed the comfort food of Pop’s Place. I read later that it’s considered one of Europe’s top burger joints. I’m glad we ran into it on accident.

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There’s so much to say about Ljubljana (one of my newfound favorite cities) that it will take a few posts to get to everything. (See upcoming posts about the Ljubljana Food Tour and the castle).

For me, one of the highlights was just strolling through it. It’s small and walkable. Ljubljana stopped allowing cars in its city center in 2007. Now, its core is a pedestrian zone with open-air markets, shops and cafes and interesting architecture in every direction.

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We left our mark on Ljubljana by hanging a “lock of love” on Butcher’s Bridge. While Sarge and I have not yet made it to Paris see the famous love locks over the River Seine, I like the idea of leaving a symbol of unbreakable love alongside locks of thousands of other couples. Sarge carved our initials onto a padlock, and the kids took pictures as we locked it on the bridge and threw the keys into the river. They didn’t even cringe when we kissed.

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It’s hard not to fall in love with Ljubljana itself. I don’t know if many Americans have heard of it, much less can pronounce it (Americans call it “loo-blee-ah-nuh.” Local pronunciation is more like “lyoo-blyah-nah.”) It somehow escaped my memory of learning geography and names of capital cities. Part of me would like to keep it a secret. It’s still relatively uncrowded and underrated. It looks like something out of a fairy tale and even has tall tales about dragons to go along with it.

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Just don’t tell anybody else how great it is. I’d hate to ruin it.