What do you do before you visit a new country?
I always make sure that I read the "tipping procedures" for the nation so that I, as a visitor, do not do something wrong which could end up financially hurting someone like a person who waits on me in a restaurant. But with our weekend trip to Prague, I need to do more than just investigate tipping procedures; I needed a quick history lesson. That, I feel, helped me to see the country and the residents in a very different way than if I had not been aware of the struggle that they went through before arriving to the place they are in 2011.
a little History: For more than 40 years Czechoslovakia was a Communist state. This contributed to its nearly complete standstill of social and economic development at a time when the rest of the world was moving forward..... but the residents of Czechoslovakia were not allowed to do so. But in November 1989 the country experienced a drastic change through the "Velvet Revolution". This PEACEFUL revolution is what overthrew the communist government.
When I learned this, I was just amazed at the CZ people... after what they had endured for decades, they took their lives back PEACEFULLY. What a testament to who they were and are as a nation. After the split into the 2 independent nations of Czech Republic and Slovakia is 1993, the Czech Republic began to see so much development, but the people had such a long road ahead of them. However in 2006 it was recognized as a Developed Country (according to the World Bank) and in 2009 the Human Development Index ranked it as a nation of "Very High Human Development"....only 20 years after the communist regime was ousted from its seat of power....
Knowing this history helps you to really appreciate the beauty of Prague. It is not just a country of beautiful views and old buildings, but it is a country with a heart-wrenching and inspiring story....
Do you know WHY Prague's buildings are still in tact when so many historical landmarks were destroyed in Europe during WWII? We learned last weekend that Hitler planned to relocate the headquarters of the Third Reich to Prague after he won the war, so many of the buildings and sites we can enjoy today were actually protected and preserved by the Nazis....
A friend of Lisa's (who was having trouble communicating in English) was offered the chance to speak in German (since both of them knew German) but she declined, saying that the German language still today, 60+ years later, leaves a very awful taste in her mouth and she just cannot bring herself to use it. But there are also many things still to be seen in Prague that remind its residents of the struggles they have had to endure to get to the life and peace they are able to experience today.
And one of those is here....just at the border of the Jewish quarter where the world's largest monument to Stalin was erected in 1955. It was solid concrete measuring 15 meters high and 22 meters long.... and in fact when the people decided to destroy it, it took the use of 800kg of explosives over 5 days to actually destroy it. Today in its place stands the Prague Metronome which has a red arm that never stops moving. Young people use it as a gathering place and many have touted it as a great spot for skateboarders... In fact it is recognized by skaters worldwide. However many of the "old-timer" locals say that it is there as a reminder to those that lived through the past and what it took to bring them to this future....a future that many thought could never been achieved.
So again....what do you do to prepare yourself before you visit a new country?
Although tipping procedures are VERY important to research and know, I would also encourage you to go beyond that. Knowing a country's history will CHANGE the eyes through which you see it... In fact, you will be able to move from SEEING it to actually EXPERIENCING it.