Eastern Europe is not exactly the beaten track for those chi-chi trips to Europe we who are not of that continent dream of when we say we’re going to “The Continent.”
Rethink this, please. The Czech Republic is one of those gems that offer a visual, culinary and cultural feast for the Pinoy traveler, with the cost of accommodations, food and, yes, beer, within our ability to afford as well as enjoy. They have castles there, and gorgeous art deco libraries. They even have Santo Niños in abundance and, yes, the last letter of our National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal perfectly preserved there.
We learned this, of course, at the launch of The Flip Trip show of film-maker Jose Diokno and writer Jessica Zafra, which airs soon on CNN Philippines. The Czech Trek series is the first salvo of the duo, and we were treated to a sneak peek at the show’s first episodes in a screening at Acceler8 in Makati City, courtesy of the Czech Embassy in Manila.
“We have many beautiful sights, many castles,” Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa told the audience, structures that are prime examples of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Art Deco architecture, he said, which were not destroyed by war.
From the introduction video to Czech Trek, Diokno and Zafra gave the audience (both at the launch and those watching the program on CNN Philippines) seven reasons to visit the Czech Republic, with the first two already being very compelling:
“One: It is beautiful. The Czech Republic is famous for its fairytale towns. In Prague you’ll see Art Deco, Art Noveau and Cubist architecture, the Prague Castle and the impressive Charles Bridge. In Cesky Krumlov, you’ll be transported to the past as you walk down the town’s cobbled streets and see structures in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
“Two: It’s affordable. One Czech crown (koruna) is roughly two and a half Philippine pesos. You can have a meal for just a bit more than what you pay in Manila. Speaking of meals, the beer is overflowing and sometimes costs less than water. Need we say more?”
If the beer at the program launch is any measure of the quality of Czech beer, the beer alone would be reason enough for us Pinoys to go. We may love our San Miguel, but Czech beer will hold its own kahit iba na ang may pinagsamahan. Besides, variety is the spice of life, especially for a Filipino.
Oh, plus Diokno and Zafra inform us that writer Franz Kafka and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both lived in the Czech Republic. The Flip Trip hosts also found that the Czech Republic Santo Niños—and they dress them up in the same way Filipinos dress the Christ-child statues they are so devoted to here.
“You can follow in the footsteps of Jose Rizal,” Zafra says in the voice-over of this episode. “Litomerice isn’t a must-see, not even for the natives. But for historians studying our national history, it offers insights into the life of Jose Rizal. Our national hero spent a week here visiting his friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt who was instrumental in the study of the Philippines in Europe.”
Olsa and historian Ambeth Ocampo, who had visited the Czech Republic before Zafra and Diokno’s Flip Trip both said that Blumentritt is actually more famous in the Philippines than he ever was in the Czech Republic.
Ocampo also told the people at the launch that several indigenous Philippine plant species—some of which are already extinct—still remain in leaf and bloom pressings. In an article published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Ocampo recounts these highlights of his trip to the Czech Republic and the historical links between us and them: “I noticed a glass case with a display of an oversized book of botanical plates from the collection of Thaddaus Haenke, a Czech scientist who was part of an ambitious five-year (1789-1794) maritime scientific expedition funded by the Spanish Royal Philippine Company.
“This expedition spent several months in the Philippines, mostly in Manila, where the scientists went about collecting data. Haenke collected plant specimens and made drawings of Philippine flora and fauna that eventually ended up, not in Spain, but in the Czech National Museum.” This collection of pressed plants and drawings is composed of over 15,000 specimens, 700 of which were collected from the island of Luzon. Ocampo wrote that he also found taxidermy specimens, including those of a flying squirrel from Palawan, a tarsier from Bohol and a bird “collected from Luzon.”
There are many, many reasons to visit the Czech Republic, but the most poignant one is this: The 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution was one of the catalysts for the change that eventually brought the Czech Republic to where it is now. The Edsa Revolution showed the world that a peaceful change in power was possible—cue the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and, soon after, the breakup of the Soviet Union and, eventually, the emergence of Eastern Europe’s independent countries, including the Czech Republic.
Are you still reading this? Maybe I should stop writing so you can begin making plans to go on your own Czech Trek. Have fun, guys! G