Visiting the Land of my Ancestors – Part 1

Life is an adventure. Something to be experienced and enjoyed. I often ask, ‘How does it get any better than this?‘ When I ask that question, magic happens.

For many years I didn’t feel like there was much of that unless you count raising three boys an adventure, which I often do. Having twins has made most days an experience beyond anything I’d known. Then in 2015 I embarked on a new adventure – traveling to Europe. Since that trip and the choices I made because of the experiences I had, life continues to be ever changing and some days I don’t even recognize myself.

Who am I today? That is a question I often ask.

We all make choices in life to pay attention to some things while ignoring others. To stay isolated versus being with new people. We stick so much to our family stories and who we ‘believe’ we are and our family members are, that we often shut out the possibilities of what could be. We often close ourselves off to the possibilities of experiences, people, jobs, travel, and healing that could change us in ways we desire but are too afraid to embrace. I speak from experience.

Yet when we take that one chance, our entire reality can change. I took that chance after my first trip to Europe and it led to meeting the most amazing man, who is now my husband. Johan offered up several places for us to go on honeymoon. One was Prague. When he offered this as a possibility, my entire body and soul lit up and started dancing and yelling, ‘YES LET’S GO THERE!!!’

Feeling there were reasons beyond my immediate understanding of why I had to go to Prague, I was completely aware there was something greater than myself at work here. I knew without a doubt this trip would change my life and the lives and souls of others. I also knew it would bring me home.

My Czech Family

This was my first trip to the Czech Republic. Our plane ride from Amsterdam to Prague was short and my heart beat faster as we got closer to Prague airport. Seeing the land of my ancestors made me almost cry as I heard their voices welcoming me home and reminding me I was not only here for myself but also them.

All of my family lines, which I have traced back to the early 1800s in most cases and 1600s in another line, were in what was Bohemia, then Czechoslovakia. All of those who emigrated, came to Chicago. Where did my ancestors come from before where my research ends? I’m starting to figure that out after not looking at my genealogy for several years. I’m also waiting for a DNA kit to arrive so I can learn more and hopefully have some questions answered. Many who heard my surname, Holik, welcomed me home. It felt so good to be welcomed home.

What surnames make up my family?

Holik from Senetín and before that, Ledec nad Sázavou

Rataj/Ratay from Pisek

Brouk from Holovousy, Chric,

Schubert/Subrt & Kocka from Hresilavy and Chric

Tregler & Svihlik from Kladno, Motycin near Prague

Kokoska/Kokaska from unknown at this time but likely near Osek as he married a Priban.

Priban from Osek where the family lived for over two centuries

Zajicek from Pilsen

Hammer/Hamer from Drakov, Kraj Tabor

Exploring Prague

Johan and I stayed at the K+K Hotel in Prague just down the street from the Powder Tower and Municipal Center. This hotel was full of Art Deco, which Johan loves. Seeing so much Art Deco and Mucha art in Prague, I’ve now become a fan. We arrived late afternoon and there were two main things I wanted. Kolacky and for dinner – either roast duck or roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut. Of course I wanted to see some sights, but Czech food was high on my list.

We ended up walking first to the Powder Tower and passed some WWII war memorials on the buildings as we walked. Next to the Tower is the Municipal Center, which is filled with Art Deco. Simply gorgeous. One can spend hours looking at all the details and stained glass and mosaics. We were in need of a snack so headed into one of the restaurants in the building called Kavárna, which had a cart filled with cake options. Of course we each chose a different cake so we could sample two options.

After enjoying our cake and coffee and exploring a little more of the building, we ventured out …. destination unknown. Thankfully Johan is a master navigator and we can walk all over a city and he always knows where he is and how to get anywhere we want to go. I’m not always so great at this.

Having made only a short list of things we ‘must-see’ on this trip, we were happy to see where our feet took us and what showed up along the way. Our walking took us down a long road to the Old Town Square where we found Our Lady of Tyn Church. This was on my list of things to see. We arrived after 5 p.m. so it was closed. Outside there was a sign for a classical music concert the following evening. How amazing would it be to hear that in a centuries old church? We bought tickets and I asked, ‘How does it get any better than this?’

Walking back to the square we admired the gorgeous architecture on the buildings, watched people as they made their way through from one place to another. Watched street performers and heard bits of music. We made our way across the square to another church (I love churches) and found St. Nicholas Church. They were having a concert that evening at 7:30 and were going to play something from my favorite composer – Dvořák and his From the New World! I may have gotten VERY excited over the possibility of hearing this in a church so Johan agreed we could get tickets. Two concerts, two nights in Prague! ‘How does it get any better than this?’ It didn’t take long to find out! We kept walking the square and soon found the Old Town Hall and when we walked around the side, there was the Astronomical Clock! Needless to say, I kept asking the question the rest of the night and amazing things showed up.

By this time it was getting close to 6:00 and we needed to find some dinner before going to the concert. As luck would have it, we found The White Horse restaurant which had outdoor seating. It was very noisy and getting chilly, so the hostess suggested we eat in their cellars. That sounded interesting and less noisy so we agreed. We walked down two levels of old stone stairs and ended up eating in the Roman Cellars. It was magical! And of course, they had roast duck, dumplings, and sauerkraut! It was a lot and I ate it all. Delicious!

After dinner we went to St. Nicholas Church to hear the concert. The music, atmosphere, lighting, and history all brought ghosts from the past to join us to enjoy the magic of the music and space. The group consisted of violinists, cellists, and a bass. They played Ravel’s Bolero, Dvořák’s Symphony Number 9 in E Minor, Pachelbel’s Canon, and some Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi. Many times tears came to my eyes as my heart swelled with the rise and fall of the music in that sacred space. It was an amazing way to close out our first day in Prague.

Prague at night is magical. The buildings, art, lights, people, music. We enjoyed the way the Old Town Square looked after the concert on our walk back to the hotel. Little did we know one more surprise awaited us…..champagne and chocolates from the hotel staff wishing us a happy marriage.

Our first partial day in Prague was incredible. So many emotions and experiences and a profound sense of being home. Where would the next three days take us? Who would we meet? What would we see and experience? How would our lives be changed? What did my ancestors have in store for me beyond the magic provided this first day? Stay tuned to find out and learn some travel tips in the final article.

© 2017 World War II Research and Writing Center

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