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August in the Cold

August 19, 2014

Czech vacations 2Growing up Czech, I knew that Europeans had a different notion of how to spend a summer vacation than their American counterparts. Central and Eastern Europeans even more so.

It’s not that Czechs and other East-ish Euros don’t go on the same vacations we Americans go on – Disneyworld etc. It’s more that they have a different notion of what summer is all about.

There is a back to nature quality to the warm months. A stripping down from the complexities of modern life that manifests itself in a total re-imagining of simple living.

It’s about running around naked as much as possible. And bathing in the sea or any other body of water that is not a bathtub. Why open the tap when there’s a “natural” water source around? Spelunking, climbing trees, chewing on onion grass straight out of the ground and picking wild berries and mushrooms – especially mushrooms. Cooking your own meals, wherever you are. Even if you’re in France or Italy, where they will do it decidedly better than you ever could.

black sea woman

Lakes are a very big deal, particularly on weekends.

My Czech uncle will strip naked and dive into any old lake he happens to come across – even dubious ones just off the highway that might have signs reading “No Swimming.”

He’s suffered insults – “Hey,a**hole, what are you doing?”, warnings, “Sir, you’re not actually going to swim in there are you?”, and directives “Put some clothes on, there are children present!” Not to mention his having been escorted away from many a body of water by our friends in uniform.

But that’s never deterred him.

“It’s hot! What is the water there for if not to swim?” he says. And he’s got a point.

beware of crocodiles

Some years ago, when my husband and I were visiting Prague together, he caught a glimpse of a tiny RV with a big sign posted onto the rear bumper. It read in German, “Hotel betten? Nein danke!” [Translation: Hotel bed? No, thank you!]

“What’s that about?” he asked.

I went on to explain to him that refusing a nice, comfortable hotel was often not a matter of thrift, but ideology. We have all year to get all too comfortable in our overly-engineered lives – our Posturepedic mornings, filtered water, iPhones, multi-setting shower heads, and climate-controlled interiors. Summer, August specifically, is meant to remind us of what we’re made of. Our armpits should stink, our legs and faces should be unshaven, our beds hard and our creature comforts rudimentary at best.

It’s a time to visit family – even the people you can’t stand. And visit monuments to human achievement like the Eiffel Tower, as well as monuments to human eccentricity like the Corn Palace of South Dakota.

corn palace

But we should play games like children, strum a guitar and sing our hearts out, lie bare-a**ed in the sun, walk barefoot, scratch our mosquito bites with complete abandon, make love under the stars, and really get to know one another again after spending much of the year working and running from appointment to appointment.

“Is that how you spent your summer vacations as a kid?” my husband asked.

“God no,” I said. “We loved the American way!”

Czech vacations 5


From → family

  1. I always have big plans for an old-fashioned, lazy summer, but they never come to fruition. Always so much going on! One of these days maybe I’ll get it right and enjoy a more ‘European’ summer. 🙂

  2. Me, too, Carrie – only I’ll add a couple of restaurants, real showers and a comfortable bed to my old-fashioned summer 🙂 I live in the country, so I get plenty of back-to-nature experiences all year long. My neighbor just plucked a baby copperhead off of his bedroom pillow.

  3. This explains a lot, like why my children have never seen Disneyland, even though were an 8 hour drive away, and for the past few years we have an apartment 2 hours away. Snakes, murky lake water, fear of bears….that’s what vacation is.

    • My kids have never seen Disneyworld or land either and won’t if my husband has any say about it. Not that he’s against Disney for kids – just adults 🙂

  4. We often take the kids to swim in the creek or river. Luckily we live in the southern area of Australia as that crocodile sign is a scary reality. Though my husband did swim on the beach in the Daintree in Queensland -right next to the beware of crocodile sign, he said he’ll be quick Duh!

    • Bookgirl, my kids are fascinated with Australia as they feel the most dangerous creatures in the animal kingdom live there 🙂

  5. My family never considered summer (or vacations) a reason to rough it. Since we lived in a rural area and had grandparents who farmed nearby we wanted to see cities and sights. I never went to camp either – what was the point? I agree about not needing to travel or stay in the lap of luxury.

    • Thanks, Louis – my parents loved hotels despite their Eastern/Central Euro upbringing. It’s all the extended relatives who roughed it, while we occasionally tagged along or watched in fascination. Now, we live in the country, so we rough it all year round. Vacation is for relaxation and comfort.

  6. This post really makes me want to go out and do something before the summer is over.

    preferably in an inappropriate body of water while in a state of undress…

  7. Billy Ray Chitwood permalink


  8. Your uncle sounds like a character! Love it.

    When I studied abroad in Germany many years ago back in college, I loved the way summer was celebrated there…lazily. Every spec of grassy space was littered with people—both young and old—reading, writing, studying, playing, or simply staring at the clouds. I must profess that picturesque summer behavior has stayed with me and I sneak in as much of that as I possibly can in the warm months. : )

  9. He is a character, Britt – you have no idea 🙂 And I do love summer in Europe, although Chicago summers (at least when I was growing up) were a lot like that, too. I think it’s because the damned winters were so bad.

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