With palaces and castles, bridges and beer, for years the Czech Republic has ranked among Europe’s most popular destinations. But if you’ve been itching to visit the Central European nation, you’re too late—it doesn’t exist anymore.
By Simon Vaughan
With palaces and castles, bridges and beer, for years the Czech Republic has ranked among Europe’s most popular destinations.
Unfortunately, as of July 1, it won’t appear on any tourism lists at all.
Fear not, the land of Prague and Pilsner hasn’t actually gone anywhere—but it did undergo a name change of sorts.
This summer, the Czech government officially changed its name to Czechia instead of the Czech Republic, the name it has gone by since Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
Technically, “Czech Republic” will remain its political name, but for everything else from its Olympic team to its official United Nations title, its postcards to its beer labels (think: “Brewed in Czechia”), the new name will reign.
What does this mean for travellers? Not a lot, really, unless your travel bug is entwined with a collection bug, as it tends to be for a surprising number of travellers.
“Czechia” sounds quite similar to “Chechnya.” And while Prague is the fifth most visited capital in Europe, Chechnya is arguably the first most avoided federal republic of Russia
And if that’s the case, you may want be among the first to visit the just days-old Czechia.
Some travellers can be funny like that.
When Hong Kong announced it was closing its former international airport at Kai Tak and replacing it with a new cutting-edge facility on Chek Lap Kok Island, eager travellers rushed to book trips to Hong Kong. This was their last chance to add Kai Tak to their portfolio of visited airports.
Its reputation as one of the world’s great airport experiences was not due to some high-tech baggage retrieval system, a Jetsons-structure designed by Frank Gehry, or even an especially fine Starbucks. Instead, travellers flocked to Kai Tak because it had always seemed to have had its edges greased with lard, so that it could slide into a tiny slice of land wedged between Hong Kong’s mountains, its teeming skyscrapers and Victoria Harbour. Coming into land at Kai Tak just after sunset enabled passengers to watch local residents enjoying family supper at eye level as their aircraft’s wingtip dashed by, seemingly inches from their 14th-floor living-room windows. The new Chek Lap Kok airport is more modern, more efficient and easier to use, but few hardcore travellers would pick it over the thrill of Kai Tak.
While Kai Tak disappeared entirely, it’s often just a simple change to a destination that gets many travellers scrambling to visit somewhere ahead of schedule.
There were those who raced to Berlin before all of the wall had fallen, those who went to Burma before it opened more to the outside world, and those who are now heading to Cuba in the belief that recent improved relations with the U.S. will forever change the unique island nation. There were probably a few eager types who clamoured for one of the last true “Czech Republic” passport stamps, too—not unlike stamp or coin collectors, some travellers treat the passport game as a hobby.
In a drawer stuffed full of old cancelled passports, there lies a few manhandled pages of which I am particularly proud. These pertain to a visit to Zaire, a country that only existed as such from 1971 to 1997. Prior to that period, it had been known variously as the Belgian Congo, Republic of the Congo and the Congo Free State, amongst other names, and now as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The grandiose full-page visa in my old passport is a throwback to a different era and one that, because no one else can get them today, I am strangely (and sadly) proud.
To be fair and less hyperbolic, I doubt that anyone really rushed to the Czech Republic ahead of the name change. Czechia will still be part of the EU, so you won’t need a visa—hopefully. It’s doubtful that the country’s passport stamps or postage stamps will change, and therefore there’s probably little reason to rush, unless you’re the sort who props themselves up on the farthest stool of some moth-eaten travellers’ bar and likes to opine unsuspecting victims with tales of “when I was in the Czech Republic…”
However, the name change could present a challenge of a different and possibly undesirable sort for travellers. As you may have noticed, “Czechia” sounds quite similar to “Chechnya.” And while Prague is the fifth most visited capital in Europe, Chechnya is arguably the first most avoided federal republic of Russia. And if you thought it was unlucky for anyone headed to Sydney, Australia, to end up in Sydney, Nova Scotia, winding up in Grozny could provide you with a whole new perspective on fortune.