Disclaimer – This post is as much about staying healthy while on the road traveling (or to be precise when getting ready to travel), as it is about visiting Prague.
My travel target was actually Africa (the last continent for me to conquer travel-wise), and I had enough points for a free first class flight to Europe, but not to my actual destinations of Kenya, Tanzania, etc. Instead, I settled for a free business class flight to Europe at the start and end of my trip as a stepping stone. Prague immediately came to mind as an interim destination, since a few years back I had been angling for a trip to Prague for work, and had a week long visit actually approved (well approved for a whole hour before the bean counters in finance reconsidered and yanked it). Technically, one could say that I have been waiting in standby to get to Prague for nearly a decade… and this was my opportunity to rectify that gross injustice!
I had already been to the other part of the former Czechoslovakia on a previous trip when I visited Bratislav with a buddy who was Slovak, and stayed a few days at his family’s home (by the way, Bratislav’s castle is quite spectacular, and you can actually see it from a huge distance away in the countryside). However, I had to leave Slovakia after only a few days on that trip, because my buddy’s Uncle Duso was trying to poison me (with kindness) via Slivovitz (a local plum brandy). I am sure Duso thought it was purely for medicinal purposes and a great “tonic” for my good health, and while I enjoy booze, each day in Bratislov started out with a healthy shot of Slivovitz at 8 am. Things went downhill from there. After only a few days of this “healthy” regimen, I was suffering from acute alcohol poisoning… and I had to make a graceful escape from Slovakia.
On the Czech side, Prague is famous for its architecture (e.g. Prague Castle is the largest contiguous castle complex in the world), and famous for its beer. Since I was on my own, there was no need to be polite and have to accept shots of Slivovitz or the like (not withstanding the copious medicinal benefits of Slivovitz I am sure). In fact, I was actually trying to recover from a several month long bout of the dreaded “Bunga Bunga Fever”…. a term which you won’t find in any medical books, but is my personal label for symptoms that consists of major fatigue, sore muscles, and flu like feeling.
Given the amount of traveling that I do each year, and the conditions that I experience in some countries, it is actually a huge surprise that I don’t normally get sick while on the road. Perhaps it’s that I am running on pure adrenaline for months on time while wandering around, and or perhaps it is that I am well armed with travel potions (see my post on the “Snake Oil” remedies that I carry while on the road). However, when I get back home its almost always time to “pay the piper” so to speak. Invariably I actually crash and burn and get sick as soon as I return home (perhaps the travel gods are trying to tell me to just stay on the road). This time was no exception, shortly after I completed trip a multi-month through many parts of South America and down to the Antarctic I succumbed again while at home, but this time it was different in that the malady not go away for some reason?
My general philosophy is not to travel in a plastic bubble, in that I don’t tend to use Purell or things like that. I try my best to gradually ease my system into accommodating and getting used to the local bacteria by gradually starting to eat food at local restaurants, obviously looking for ones that are clean etc., and I use a special water filtering bottle designed to catch the bacteria and critters associated with most food borne illnesses. Neither did I imagine that I contracted any kind of ancient disease being newly re-released from the melting southern polar cap’s ice fields, like in some B grade Sci-Fi movie.
A batteries of tests over months at home turned up NO indicators as to what actually was going on, including tests for exotic heavy metal poisoning, and parasites (frankly it’s also somewhat surprising that I haven’t contracted some insidious parasite given all the third world countries I tend to visit), as well as tests for things like Malaria, Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya. Wrongly or rightly I was almost hoping it was Malaria, since at least it would have been identified and a course of treatment available. My working theory is that I caught a dose of the Aussie Flu (H3N2) once I had returned back home, since similar symptoms were going around with many friends and acquaintances there. However for some reason my system wasn’t strong enough to completely fight it off, hence it kept coming back repeatedly.
What had me freaked out though was that the “Bunga Bunga Fever” was lasting for months on end, and I had already committed to a new adventure, including locations in both Europe and Africa… with only a month to go before I was due to venture out on this next trip, I was down to about 20% of normal energy levels and activity (as measured by my trusty fitness band, and my level of pissing and moaning about how bad I felt overall). Alas, Western medicine and remedies seemed to be failing me at that point.
In that last month before I was due to leave, I finally turned to Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture in order to try to stack the deck in more my favor towards recovery, or at least regaining some level of travel capability. In the past, acupuncture had provided me with a brilliant solution to a very painful torn rotator cuff that I had suffered with for years, so I know it actually can work, and work well. In this case, my local TCM practitioner (more than a mere “needle nudger” she is an accredited Doctor of Chinese Medicine) also subscribed to the “Food is Medicine” concept, which I completely believe in, so in addition to weekly acupuncture treatments, I started taking some Chinese herbal remedies designed to boost the body’s immune functions, and coupled that with things like Keifer/Wheatgrass/Kale/Ginger smoothies every day, supplements like Chlorella & Spirulina, and Turmeric, and finally a bit of a regimen of Thai herbal soups like Tom Yum Goong – and it worked!
Well, it worked to the extent that at least I was back up to about 60% capacity for normal “at home” activity just before I started off on my new journey. However the months of resting and inactivity didn’t do much for my general travel capability and stamina, as I had forgone my usual pre-trip conditioning of daily treadmill workouts. My usual practice of being able to walk around for hours and hours on end while exploring new cities or locations was very much compromised. However, I had taken that into account in my trip planning and left myself a lot of transition days to get over things like jet lag etc.. and my visit to Prague revolved around it being mostly a stepping stone to bigger adventures.
When traveling, photography is my main activity, which is something generally not well suited for the middle of the day when the sun is high overhead and the shadows are very strong and contrasty like this:
So most of my wandering around Prague was done late afternoon, and into the evening when the golden hour and blue hours kick in. Being the world’s laziest photographer, I also skipped any dawn/sunrise photo shooting in favour of sleeping in and getting as much rest as possible while my body re-adjusted to the different time zone and new locale.
Prague is indeed beautiful and the architecture is quite remarkable, and besides the traditional Czech culinary fare being available, there is quite variety of cuisines available to sample.
I also noted a plethora of Thai massage venues (not quite as many as in Stockholm where it seems like there is one on every street, but it was getting close). Thai massage has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine, which is an alternative holistic approach that emphasizes diet, herbal remedies, exercise, meditation, breathing, and physical therapy. If you haven’t tried it, it is highly recommended.. think of it as “Yoga for Lazy People”, and after a good session you will feel like you just float out of the room, the perfect remedy for any sore and aching muscles from walking too much!
Unfortunately, August is high season for Prague, so it is often quite hot, accommodation can be expensive, and its definitely flooded with tourists. Spring or fall might be a touch more pleasant if Prague is your sole destination.
In my case, the timing of my trip was targeted towards Africa to catch the Great Migration of animals on the Serengeti (June to Oct), to hit Turkey & Egypt once the heat had diminished a touch (Sept & Oct), and to catch the best water temperature for diving in the Red Sea. So Prague was merely a stepping stone as I said, but a relatively comfortable one!
See the full set of photographs on the Prague Image Gallery page.
The next legs on this adventure are safaris in Kenya and Tanzania!
Sidenote on Fitness Bands: I find them to be an essential tool for both travel and in general. I always used to rail against the saying “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” when it applied to others managing me, but I have grudgingly accepted it as truth, particularly when trying to manage myself. A fitness band gives me a daily metric of my activity (and to some extent sleep), the actual numbers are not particularly important, its the relative difference day to day that is useful, as its hard for people to assess their activity levels. Features that I find important while traveling include:
- Does NOT require a Connection to the Internet – while I liked the brightness of the display, and the low profile of my Garmin Vivosmart HR, its completely retarded that the unit requires an internet connection in order to sync with my mobile. I made the mistake of presetting a 6 am alarm on it before I went to Antarctica, and without an internet connection I had no way of shutting off the alarm for nearly 3 weeks… Ugh. Stupid engineering.
- Easy to Charge without any bulky cables, and holds a charge for a week’s use or more – I explored some cheap bands from China, one had a feature I liked initially whereby you slipped one side of the strap off to expose a USB connector so no charging cable was required at all, but after a few months it started to accidentally come loose
- A Secure Wrist Strap – having left several Xiaomi bands scattered around the globe because the lozenge size unit easily pops out of the rubber band, I was looking for something more secure. Likewise my Vivosmart band wore out in less than a year, and I was resorting to crazy gluing it together.