I’ve always been the type to stop at the mall and enter to win the compact car on display in the commons area. I’ve never really been bothered by people shopping around for my address and information. Other than bills, the extra pamphlets are all I ever get in the mail and are usually a highlight of my day.
When I decided to enter the Brand g Vacations contest for a free European vacation I didn’t think I stood much of a chance. But I wrote my contest submission and told them why I’d like to visit Europe in 500 words or less. Although, I knew almost nothing about the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary – I didn’t think there was much chance of me winning so I didn’t overly concern myself with the destinations.
Call it good karma, call it damn good luck or just pure chance – after entering hundreds of contests, I was bound to win something. Whatever you want to call it, I won.
For months, the vacation consumed my every thought. Every morning when the alarm went off I’d think about how I’d soon be gallivanting through Europe. I started researching all my planned destinations. We were to start the vacation in Prague, Czech Republic and then board a boat and take a river cruise down the Danube River.
After watching every travel documentary I could get my hands on about Prague I was a little nervous I’d run out of things to do, and silently I lamented that the host city wasn’t Rome, Paris or London.
After landing, I was determined to see the entire ancient city so I wouldn’t ever feel compelled to return. I knew I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t think it would be able to compete with the more traditional tourist meccas of Europe.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you want to see museums and hear about history, by all means, go to Vienna or Rome. But if you want to be in a living museum of a city, go to Prague. The cobblestone streets appear more like a Disney film set than someone’s home. Everywhere I turned there were monuments, sidewalk cafes and neighborhood bars. With a similar population to Salt Lake City and the surrounding area, there are about 13 gay bars and cafes (I should know, I visited all of them). The average cost for a half-liter of delicious, 5.2 percent beer was about $2 with tip.
But it wasn’t just the ancient bridges, castles, streets and charming shops that made me fall in love with Bohemia’s capital. I was fortunate enough to visit during the Pride parade and festival. I joined tens of thousands of other costume-clad, rainbow-bright attendees in the streets. Unlike a Pride Festival in Utah, or other areas in the United States, Prague Pride consisted of about four floats and every spectator instantly became a participant.
As we packed Wenceslas Square – the same square where thousands gathered to protest the communist regime – I couldn’t help but feel a part of something greater. There were no corporate sponsors, but still plenty of beer. There were no floats advertising real estate agencies or insurance salesmen, but there were hoards of business owners, executives and community leaders. The festival was free, but it still had fabulous entertainment that lasted well into the night.
When I had the fortunate chance to speak with the organizer of the festival, I learned he, and everyone else is a volunteer. I asked him why they didn’t charge or find sponsors to help with some of the costs.
“We don’t need a sponsor. The festival isn’t about money or getting a job. It’s about something greater. It’s about gathering and making a statement in a country that wasn’t always so happy to acknowledge we were here. But now they have to. They can’t ignore us anymore,” he said.