Last weekend I joined 19,000 people on the Prague- Prčice walk with my friend K. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard about it either. Turns out that this is a very Czech affair, slightly too obscure to be widely known about overseas, or even within the wider expat community in Prague.
The full trek is 70 km, in one day. We didn’t walk that route (far too far!) but joined the 30km route starting at Votice. This involved an early start at Prague main station. There cannot be many days of the year when Prague station is full to the brim at six in the morning, but it was absolutely heaving – full of Czechs wearing walking boots and holding rucksacks and water bottles. Several of them (this being Czech land) were enjoying their first (I say ‘first’, but who really knows?) beer of the day, at this ungodly hour. Like a weird, rather wholesome, stag-do.
K had to explain the purpose of the walk to me so many times that she may think I’m a bit simple. Basically: There are a number of different routes, from about 20 km up until the full 70. The routes merge throughout the day and all finish at Prčice. Thousands of people do this on the same day each year. But, (this is the point I struggled to get my head around), it is not a charity event and not a competition. No, no money is raised from this. It’s not like the Moonwalk or the WWF walk we did at school (World Wildlife Fund, not the wrestling…just to be clear).
And it’s not a competition. There’s not even a finish line. Or a winner. Some of you who know me (especially those who went to my school, where most things were quite competitive) will understand how I struggled with this concept. It is just a lovely relaxing walk in the countryside. With almost twenty thousand other people… There are checkpoints across the route where you get your map stamped and as long as that is complete, everyone (whatever distance they walked) gets a souvenir plastic boot and a Tatranky (amazingly nice chocolate wafer biscuit thing). This is fine after a 30 km wander through the lovely Bohemian countryside, but if i’d done the full 70 i think i might have wanted something more…Like two chocolate bars. Or a gold star.
The history of the walk is a bit random. It was first held in 1966 when a small group decided to master the distance of 100,000 Czech ‘elbows’. A quick Google search explains that an elbow is a medieval Czech measurement equivalent to just over 59 cm. The first walk was a sort of joke or dare, based on the Czech expression “jdi do Prčice”, which translates literally as “go to Prčice” but in common parlance means “bugger off” or “go to hell”. The initial group of walkers took this phrase literally and went there. What larks. They’re funny guys, these Czechs.
I wanted to make sure exactly what level of insult “jdi do Prčice” actually is. We’re struggling so much with the language lessons that we’re resorting to phrase-by-phrase learning. Like: ‘A table for two please’ or ‘How much is this hat?’ I thought a nice old-school Czech expression might be a useful addition. Apparently, “jdi do Prčice” is suitable for light-hearted workplace banter with peers or colleagues, but not something to say to your boss if you want a promotion. So there you go.
The walk showcases the best of the Bohemian countryside – I think I took a wrong turn when I first got here as I had previously laboured under the impression that the CR is not an especially pretty country. Wrong – it’s lovely. Full of bright yellow fields of oil-seed rape, nice-smelling pine forests and a landscape somewhere between fantastically flat and eversoslightly undulating. Perfect walking territory for someone who used to holiday in Norfolk. Anyway, a great day out. Amazing to be outside in the sunshine (note to self: buy sunscreen), lovely to stretch the legs and have a couple of beers along the way. I’ll go out on a limb and say Prčice isn’t really anywhere to write home about. I imagine for the other 364 days of the year it doesn’t get a lot of visitors.
But in the whole “no competition“ ethos I have tried to think about it in a much more karmic way: it is truly the journey not the destination that counts…