Want a great way to travel? Come to Prague and teach English – it’s the cool, central hub of Central and Eastern Europe.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” That’s what my student quoted at me a few weeks ago before she smugly skipped off for a three-week trip to the Philippines. Not all of us are lucky enough to hotfoot it to Asia on a whim. If you live in Prague, however, you can travel round Central and Eastern Europe, both freely and very cheaply. And that is just one of the reasons why I think it’s the best place to teach English.
But first, let’s start with the country itself – the Czech Republic. This solitary page in the gigantic book of travel destinations is a marvel on its own. Barring a sea, it has literally everything – beautiful mountains, sprawling vineyards, jaw-dropping architecture, cobbled streets, a multitude of hipster hangouts, and dumplings so large they could fell a swan.
If you lived here, you would be able to say to people, “I live in Prague.” Go on, say it out loud. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Well, after doing a TEFL course at LiveTEFL, you can easily pick up a job teaching English, start earning some money, and when you’re not enjoying the many domestic delights, you could use that money to explore Central and Eastern Europe.
Now, let’s check. Have you seen where the Czech Republic is on a map? Find Germany, then look at the tiny, beer-soaked pebble to the right. Got it? Yep, that’s where we are. What you’ll notice is that this miniature country is located slap-bang in the middle of Europe, and with a hop, skip and a jump (or bus-ride if you prefer), you could be visiting all manner of fascinating places.
Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Baltic countries, Romania, Bulgaria – all of these places are well within trekking distance. To whet your appetite, here are just a handful of cool experiences I’ve had in Central and Eastern Europe since I’ve been living in Prague. I’m not sharing them to boast, just to try and persuade you that you really need to get your backside over here. And fast.
Pig-killing party in Moravia
Being invited to a party in rural Czech Republic is normal. Being invited to one where they kill a pig then spend the day chopping it up and eating it is not. That’s what one of my Spevacek colleagues took me to a few years back in her tiny Moravian village – and I have to say, it was incredible. Drinking plum brandy from 7am, we chopped, sliced, stirred, gobbled and gawped all day long, ending the day at midnight with a rather surreal and inebriated Czech sing-song. The unexpected highlight: brains on toast. Delicious.
Truffle-hunting in Croatia
Occasionally, a student invites you to the pub, or perhaps to a concert to hear their God-awful death metal band (Please stop asking me, Jindra!). But when one suddenly asks if you’d like to come to Croatia on a team-building weekend at an all-inclusive 5-star hotel, you hardly turn it down. My task was a difficult one – simply speak English to people. When playing golf, drinking wine, swimming in the sea, or hunting truffles in the Croatian forest, I simply had to engage in English conversation. A tough gig, right? Everyone there seemed to enjoy it too. All except the truffle-hunting dog, that is. After sniffing about for five minutes, finding one small truffle, the dog decided that that was enough for the day, and promptly fell asleep. The truffle tasted nice, mind.
Wine-tasting in Slovakia
Have you ever tried speed wine-tasting? That’s what me and my girlfriend – now wife – did in a village called Pezinok in Slovakia. Spending the first night in nice wine cellars being all civilised, the second afternoon was spent racing round a chateau full of award-winning wines. There were two options: pay for 90 minutes or for 45. As two complete cheapskates, we went for the 45 option, then like a couple of thirsty tramps, darted Usain Bolt-style around the displays, sipping and slurping until our time was up. Slovakia – and the Czech Republic – have some delicious white wines, and spending time in these wine regions is a must – though consuming 35 small glasses in what is only the first half of a football match could be regarded as excessive.
Oktoberfest in Munich
First things first. Oktoberfest is not in October; it’s in September. I know this because the first year I missed it entirely. When I finally did make it, it was incredible. Taking a very cheap, four-hour bus from Prague, the city – very beautiful I might add – is taken over by all things giant: giant beer tents, giant beer glasses, giant pretzels, giant beer bellies and a forest of giant German moustaches. It is as beery and German as can be. Meeting a mate, who’d befriended a load of these Teutonic chaps, we found our way to the Paulander tent. Hundreds of drunk Germans standing on tables and belting out Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’ is a terrifying memory that – thankfully – can never be etched.