Steiners ‘Czech’ out their roots in European trip

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Eugene (Gene) and Beryl Steiner had two weeks set aside to relax and take a vacation, so they packed their bags and headed for Tabor and Pilsen.

Nice places to visit, but not exactly where you’d like to spend all your vacation time?

In this case, Tabor and Pilsen happen to be in the Czech Republic in central Europe.

“Our youngest boy, Rex, is an English teacher in Prague,” Beryl said.

Added Gene: “His students are mostly businessmen who want to learn a second language to come to the United States.”

Following World War I, the closely related Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia, or “Cesko,” which is the Bohemian equivalent.

After World War II, Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.

Following the collapse of Soviet authority in 1989, Czechoslovakia regained its freedom through a peaceful “Velvet Revolution.”

In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bordered by Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia, “Ceska Republika” is about the size of South Carolina.

When their son took his teaching job in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic (population 1,173,000), they knew they couldn’t resist the opportunity to travel abroad.

Beryl, who works in the food services department at Hillsboro Community Medical Center, and Gene, who’s a meat-cutter at Dale’s Supermarket, had the reason they needed to make the trip.

They left from Wichita and flew to Newark, N.J., where they stayed a night with their son Roy, who works for Scandinavian Airlines.

The following day they and Roy departed for Copenhagen, Denmark, which was about an eight-hour flight.

They had a layover there and then another one-hour flight to Prague.

“When we were about to land in Prague, the captain said we are landing in ‘Prah,’ and I thought, ‘I guess he can’t say it right,'” Beryl said with a laugh.

Spelled “Praha,” the locals use a variable pronunciation to our own. Likewise, Tabor (pronounced ta-boor) was pronounced differently.

“Once on the ground in Prague, we didn’t really waste any time,” Beryl said. “When you’re with Rex, you’re always afraid you’re going to miss something.”

“Wherever we ended up at the end of the day, is where we stayed,” Gene added. “We stayed at several bed and breakfasts.”

While there, the Steiners rented a compact car to tour the countryside.

“Ours was a diesel,” Beryl said. “We only had to fill the tank a couple of times in seven days.”

“They didn’t seem to think the price of fuel was very high,” Gene said. “But I don’t really know if stuff was expensive or not. I’d ask Rex if something is expensive, and he’d tell me if it was or not.”

Added Beryl: “We never did find out what the conversion rate was.”

Crowns are the standard currency in the Czech Republic and hellers are the name of the coins.

Public transportation is the mode of transportation most widely used by local citizens. Most use either the metro, bus, or tram.

“We saw very few kids driving cars,” Gene said. “Rex has a friend over there that has a drivers license, but she rides the bus all the time.”

Traveling wasn’t an obstacle for the Steiners and neither was communication.

“Almost all of the menus are in English and Czech,” Gene said. “Most of the storekeepers over there can speak English, too-at least enough to get by.”

Getting accustomed to the local food was only as difficult as they chose to make it, they said.

“I wanted McDonald’s one day, but Rex nearly came uncorked,” Beryl said with a smile.

Also available were fast-food stores such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, along with beverages such as Sprite, Pepsi Cola, and other “western” favorites.

“They had some very nice restaurants, though,” Beryl said. “You couldn’t really judge what the food would be like by their outward appearance, because the buildings are all very old.

“I don’t think the food cost all that much,” she added. “But I suppose if you’re a wage earner over there, it may have been somewhat expensive.”

Other Czech favorites the Steiners were used to dining on in Kansas were also available.

“They have kolaches, but they’re about twice the size of ours,” Gene said. “My favorite food was their potato dumplings.

“You had better be hungry when they bring you a meal, because they bring you a big pile of food.”

Rehydrating was a bit different in the Czech Republic.

“They drink more beer than water over there,” Gene said. “Beer is 15 cents a pint, compared to 55 cents a pint for water.”

Added Beryl: “If you go into a restaurant and get water, it’s bottled. They don’t just bring you a glass of water like they do over here.”

“I don’t know if they have drinking-age restrictions (for alcohol) or not,” Gene added. “We saw kids come into pubs and drink beer.

“They do sometimes have a separate room for them, though.”

While traveling the countryside, the Steiners saw varied landscapes.

“I grew up around a lot of hills,” Beryl, who moved to the United States in 1955 from England, said. “But nothing like the hills in the Czech Republic.”

The area around Prague, Gene said, was a mix of agricultural entities.

“The eastern part is what I call ‘poor farmers,'” he said. “They work the ground and there will be deep tracks in it, but they just go ahead and plant their crops and run a packer over it. In the west, they have big farms.”

“We saw five large grain elevators, much like ours,” Beryl said. “But the machinery isn’t nearly as large as ours is here.”

Breweries are a ‘backbone’ of the local working forces.

“They grow lots of hops,” Gene said. “To me, it looked like acres and acres of telephone poles, but it was just poles for the hops to grow on.

“One Sunday we went into a brewery that had eight vats that were 6 feet by 8 feet that were just filled with beer,” Gene said.

The Steiners also visited some of the local cemeteries, which was of particular interest to Gene, who has traced his ancestry to the former Czechoslovakia.

“It was kind of like walking through the Pilsen cemetery, with names like Steiner, Vinduska, Novak, Klenda, Holub and so many other familiar names on the stones,” he said.

Once the countryside tour was completed, they returned to Prague.

“It’s a very old city,” Beryl said. “They still have extensive damage from the floods last August from the Vltava River. Mortar was washed off of the houses up to the second story.”

“You don’t see hardly any cement,” Gene said. “All you see is lots and lots of cobblestone that are laid in sand, in 4-by-4 squares.”

“It’s a very old, but very pretty town,” Beryl said.

“We saw some new homes being built, but they were about 20 by 20, and all two stories,” Gene said. “The price of land is so expensive they can’t afford to build anything larger than that.”

Real estate was at a premium price they agreed, and consequently many businesses including supermarkets were underground.

“It’s a poor country,” Beryl said. “But they’re trying to get back on their feet. They were under communist rule for so long, that it will take awhile.”

With unemployment rates running around 8.5 percent, the locals look to tourism for an economic boost.

“There are Americans, Dutch, British and Australians among others over there,” Gene said. “Tourists have to be pouring a lot of money into their economy, because there sure were a lot of them.”

“We really had no negative reaction to us, being from the United States,” Beryl said. “We had a couple people ask us what we thought about the war, and we kind of sloughed it off, and not another word was said.”

Safety was never a concern for the Steiners, while flying or while in the Czech Republic.

One thing that was a big adjustment though, was the uninhibited nature of the local people.

“If they have to use the bathroom they just stop along the side of the road, walk out into the field and relieve themselves, and get back in their car and go,” Gene said. “They don’t care whether there are people around or not.”

Celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary in Prague with their two sons was a special memory of their trip.

“We celebrated on Easter Sunday, and the boys took us out to a very nice restaurant,” Beryl said. “Besides getting to see Rex, the other highlight of the trip was looking at all the beautiful crystal they have over there.”

Having made the rounds, the Steiners boarded the airliner and headed back to Hillsboro.

“It was fun to visit,” Beryl agreed. “But it sure is nice to be home.”

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