Thursday, June 2, 2011

Up with Prague

Have you ever heard of Up with People? Most of the time when I tell people I traveled with them, I get a blank stare. “Up with who?” They were a big part of my teenage years; they would come to my hometown every two years and perform a show. At the end of each show, they’d have people in the audience hand out fliers explaining how to join. I picked up one of these fliers, and, two years later, I was boarding a plane to Denver to begin my 4 weeks of training.

Up with People (UWP) is an organization that travels around the world and performs a show, and in each town they perform, they also do community service. I traveled with them in the fall of 2000, with Cast A. We were a group of teenagers from all over the world, and we rode in three buses throughout the country. The plan was to do the USA in the first 6 months, and then travel to Europe in the second half of the year, but in December of 2000, UWP went bankrupt and our year was canceled. With heavy hearts, we all parted ways and promised to keep in touch.

Well, we actually did keep in touch. I’m more in touch with my fellow Uppies from 11 years ago than I am with my CA friends from only 4 years ago. UWP gets into your skin and never leaves you. It also pulled itself out of bankruptcy and is back up and running, as you can see from the website. I traveled to AZ last summer for my 10 year reunion, and now, finally to the point of my blog, last week I traveled to Prague for an UWP European Alumni Meeting (EAM).

Yes, I know, I’m not European. But, Uppies are welcome everywhere! I hadn’t been to Europe since 2004, and I am always up for a chance to hang out with my global friends. So ever since I heard about the meeting last July, I’d been saving money and talking about going with my sister, who also loves to travel, and is an honorary Uppie. We finally made our decision about 4 weeks before the EAM was scheduled and bought our plane tickets.

It’s interesting how the cheapest flights involve the most layovers. I would think using fewer planes and taking up fewer seats would be cheaper, but nope. We opted for the cheapest flight, and had 2 layovers both to and from Prague. Going to Prague we stopped in London for the night, and then were supposed to take a 6:30 flight to Dublin, but it was canceled and we were moved to an 8:30 flight which was then delayed, which caused us to miss our connection to Prague. The next flight wasn’t until the following day, so Aer Lingus put us up in a hotel, gave us food vouchers, and sent us on our way.

An unexpected day in Dublin! Very cool. My sister had never been, and I had only been once about 10 years ago, so it was a nice surprise. We saw as much as we could in one afternoon, including Dublin Castle, St Patrick’s Cathedral, and the River Liffey. The weather in Dublin was strange. It would be sunny for about 10 minutes, then it would rain for 5, and then be sunny again, and then rain, and would continue in this cycle. Good thing we had our umbrellas! We also tried Jameson whiskey for the first time, and I kind of like it. Who knew Jameson was actually pretty good...

The next day we finally made it to Prague, but not without a slight delay due to President Obama. He decided to visit Dublin the same day we were trying to leave it. Would have been nice if he had discussed it with us first...Air Force One must have been at the airport because hundreds of travelers were lined up at the window taking pictures. My sister and I tried to peek through to see, but all of the planes we saw looked like normal ones that we common folk take, so we gave up and went to go wait for our flight to board.

Prague is an absolutely amazing city. So beautiful. If you have not been, I strongly suggest putting it at the top of your list of places to see. The architecture is spectacular, and the people very friendly. We didn’t leave our hotel without getting a cheerful “Dobry den!” (Hello) from someone. The first afternoon we hung out in Old Town Square and tried Pilsner Urquell (the Prague beer) and just watched the people go by.

Getting around the city was so easy; the public transportation system goes everywhere. Our hotel was right off of one of the bus lines that took us almost directly to Old Town Square, and from there we could go to any part of the city. Once we had a tour of the city and learned what to see, we went all over the place - from Prague Castle to the Charles Bridge to Vysehrad Cathedral to Wenceslaus Square. 

We saw as much as the city as we could in the 6 days we were there, and we tried out as many Czech customs as possible, too, such as eating goulash, drinking Prague beer such as Pilsner Urquell and Budvar in beer halls, and taking shots of Absinthe. They say Absinthe gives you hallucinations and makes you high, but I didn’t really feel much after I drank it the Czech way (with burning sugar cubes). Maybe I had to drink more of it...Na zdravi! (Cheers!)

We even took a day trip outside of Prague to see Karlstejn Castle, which was about a 45 minute train ride. This castle was built in the 1300’s and was meant to store the crown jewels of King Charles IV. It was magnificent. We took a horse and carriage ride up the hill to see the castle, and it is nestled in a very quaint, adorable village in the middle of absolutely green countryside. I’ve always loved visiting castles, ever since my Air Force father was stationed in Germany, and this one did not disappoint. So much history in one tiny little village! I was in heaven. 

The weekend arrived, and as sad as I was getting to see the end of my wonderful vacation, I was excited to join up with my fellow Uppies who were here for the European Alumni Meeting. The only event I joined in on was the river cruise Saturday night which involved food, drinking, and dancing with all the Up with People folks who were there (not just my Cast A). Friends from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and even a few other Americans gathered on the boat for a cruise up and down the river. It was so much fun, and so great to see people I hadn’t seen in a year, a couple I hadn’t seen in 11 years. It really felt good to be with them again, especially in Europe, which we were unable to do a decade ago.

Then, all too quickly, it was Sunday. The day of departure. Our flight wasn’t until the evening, so we did get a last afternoon to say goodbye to my friends and make final souvenir purchases, but then it was off to the airport. This time we were flying to Vienna, then to London, then Boston. Our overnight was in Vienna, but we arrived so late and our next flight was so early in the morning, we didn’t think it was worth it to get a hotel room. So we tried (and failed) to make ourselves comfortable in the airport waiting area. I think I slept maybe 10 minutes...But I had no problem sleeping on the plane to London, nor on the plane to Boston! When we finally touched down at Logan Airport I was actually pretty happy to be home. It was a fabulous trip, but there’s absolutely nothing like sleeping in your very own bed.

As for UWP, if you know of anyone who loves to travel or if you’re interested, check them out. They do perform a show, but you don’t have to be able to sing and dance to participate; they have options for everyone. It’s a wonderful way to see the world, and give back a little to the community! UWP is an incredible program, and you will have friends for life.

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