The Last Time I Visited Europe Before Covid. Way Back in 2019.

We began with a short stay in London. We visited the Churchill War Rooms. Strode through several parks. Enjoyed a tour of Westminster Abbey to admire the resting places of Chaucer, Darwin, Newton, and, apparently, Laurence Olivier. Sadly, Big Ben tower was hidden behind walls of scaffolding.

We grabbed fish and chips at Red Lion pub. Visited Haggards, the oldest bookstore in London, because that's what you do. I was intrigued by a handful of American history books written from a distinctly British perspective. Finally, we hit up a couple bars and taverns for beers and to escape the rain, then called it a night.

Day two found us imprisoned in the Tower of London, or at least entertained by a funny tour guide with a brilliant accent. Before the tour, we took silly selfies on Tower Hill without realizing where we stood, only to discover that many thousands of people died in that very spot. Apologies to history.

On a similar note, I've read countless histories and fictional novels detailing Ann Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots. To see the Queen's house and the walkway across which she'd been marched to her death... To stand above the Traitor's Gate where she'd been paraded into the Tower grounds. It's really impossible to grasp such ideas. Those famous events, told and retold over hundreds of years in hundreds of forms, happened RIGHT THERE.  And as so often has happened on this trip, I wondered, "What would Ann think if she knew this house where she was imprisoned during her final days would someday be an entertainment venue with paid admission serving mulled wine so chilly tourists could marvel at the place where she and other nobles, as well as thousands of civilians, had their existence terminated?"  Think about your own world. Right now. Wherever you are.  Living your daily life in uninspired fashion. Remove one of the walls, put glass there, and picture other humans walking by to marvel at what it must have been like to be you.  It's crazy.

We escaped the tower, crossed London Bridge, and dined in a street market.

From there we visited Shakespeare's Globe. The tour was everything I hoped it would be. Our guide rambled, but we had the whole theater to ourselves. After the tour, we tracked down the plaques marking the original locations of both the Globe and the Rose. Everywhere I turned, Shakespeare in Love played in my head.

Our last stop in London was a speakeasy called Evan & Peel's Detective Agency.  To enter, you explained to an actor pretending to be a detective the crime you were investigating.  We entered at the same time as another couple. The couple claimed to have been investigating a murder. The detective asked us what we knew. Soon he  discovered we were from Chicago, and who better to know how to get rid of a body than some dudes from Chicago? We were immediately suspects and/or accomplices. But the detective didn't know how to play this, so instead he gave us a riddle. I don't recall the riddle, but the answer was Monopoly. When we guessed correctly, he indicated a certain book on a shelf and told us to grab it. The bookshelf swung open to reveal a stairwell.  At the bottom of the stairwell we found a 20's era bar with cocktails and people eating dinner. We grabbed a seat, shared some drinks, and called it a night. It was delightful.

The next morning found us winging our way to Prague. Our Uber driver spoke excellent English, as many Czechs do, and he gave us the rundown on places to visit, local sentiment regarding America (favorable!), and the best way to get around.

Day one in Prague we spent walking. Lots of walking. Mostly across the Charles Bridge and through the square. We grabbed a quick bite in a random burger joint where we discovered walls lined with Chicago Loop wallpaper. We could almost see our office! What are the odds?

Over the next few days, we hit many random places and touristy destinations. Prague Castle. St. Vilas Cathedral. The John Lennon Wall.

We stopped for a snack at the "oldest pub in Prague since 1375."  Loved its dark, candle-lit interior. The menu says Mozart ate there, but we couldn't validate the claim. Our heavy mugs were slammed on tables by a waitress who occasionally whipped us with napkins to get our attention. When Eric asked for cutlery because the sausage was hot, she said, "Cutlery?! No! What?! Absurd. Use your hands." So we did. And it was hot. But you don't argue with the woman who brings you sausages and beer.

We ate dinner at a highly regarded restaurant named Café Savoy. We sipped celebratory Champagne at a bar called Hemingways and tasted ink blot inspired cocktails at a pub called Anonymous Shrink's Office.  It, too, boasted hidden staircases and secret rooms, and we loved it.

We visited Prague's Jewish Quarters and took a tour of the synagogues and cemetery. Tens of thousands of people buried on top of each other. At one point, 60,000 people inhabited the space meant for 3000. Sad, painful, terrible history.

On our last day, we took an Uber to the town of Hanta Pora.  We visited the famous "bone church" in Seclac Ostuary, lined with the skeletons of people who asked to be entombed there. We hiked a couple miles to St Barbara's Cathedral. Took an Uber to the train station, and rode the rails back to Prague, which was quite the experience. We ate dinner at the top of an old bell tower converted into a restaurant. The food was amazing, and the ambiance was unique.

Our time in Prague was lovely. We stayed out drinking too late for guys in their mid-40s. We drank too much. We sang drunken songs and skipped through deserted streets lined with Autumn trees. In places, the Czech Republic is gorgeous. But it's old. And not far beyond the highly touristed city, the age and hardships begin to show. As is often the case, the beautiful photos we see do not accurately reflect the realities of life in the region.

That being said, every person we met was friendly and helpful. I'd encourage everyone who can to visit. It's beautiful, and historical, and worthy of your time.

We certainly enjoyed it.

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