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Serious travelers treated to ‘trip’ to Czech Republic

DUTCHTOWN – More than 70 lovers of travel took a trip to the Czech Republic on Saturday that involved every sense.

A sellout crowd of globetrotters gathered at Gretchen’s Inn of the Feasting Fox restaurant to gorge on a Czech-themed meal that included bratwurst, kielbasa over sauerkraut, chicken schnitzel and spaetzle dumpling. Afterwards, those gathered at the restaurant at 4200 South Grand Boulevard listened and watched as a true-blue daughter of the Czech land instructed them in the glories of the land of her forebears.

Those who came to the 2019 summer lunch meeting of the International Travel Club of St. Louis were serious travelers, who often count countries visited in the dozens or even in the hundreds. Members of The St. Louis Travelers Meetup Group and the St. Louis Chapter of the Travelers Century Club attended.

Those who came a distance to the event included Sheila Monk, who drove about 125 miles up Interstate 44 from her home in Richland, Mo. 

“If I’m in the States at home, I try to drive up,” Monk said.

“I retired in 1998, so that’s when I started traveling in earnest,” said Monk, who has been to 39 countries. “It’s just so interesting to see cultures that are so different from my own.”

Kevin Hughes has Monk and everybody else who came to Saturday’s meeting beat. The secretary and chapter liaison for the Travelers Century Club, he stopped counting at 319 countries or regions. Now, he said, the experiences are most important.

Hughes flew in Saturday morning from his home in Phoenix and flew back after attending the meeting. 

“Uncle Sam started it all,” Hughes said. He traveled a lot in the Navy. He kept going and then connected with the Travelers Century Club, which is open to those who have visited at least 100 countries or regions. Someone who has visited at least 50 can become a provisional member.  He’s been a member since 1982 and joined its board 19 years ago.

“It gets you to go places you never would have gone,” Hughes said. “The other benefit is stuff like this, socializing. Everybody’s got a great story. Sometimes the best stories are when things go bad.”

Ann Mracek had only good stories at the meeting about the Czech Republic. Mracek, a piano teacher and Olivette resident, she traces her family history through the Czech composer Antonín Leopold Dvořák. 

The area of the Czech Republic was populated by Celts in the fourth century B.C., she said. At one time, Prague was the third most important city after Rome and Constintanople. It was a center of magic and alchemy.

After combining with Moravia and Bohemia as Czechoslovakia in 1918, the Czech Republic split off peacefully after an election in 1993. 

Mracek shared the glories of present-day Prague when she talked about and showed pictures of a trip she and her daughter took to the capital of the Czech Republic.

“It’s such a beautiful city, a beautiful city,” she said. But she warned, “All the streets are cobblestones. You need really, really good shoes.”

And she answered a question. “Why do the Czechs eat so much pork? Because it goes with beer.”

The St. Louis Travelers Meetup Group had a number of members at the meeting. Founded in 2014, it meets several times a month to help people find travel partners. It also organizes trips.

The organizer of the event was Hill resident Charles Merkel, acting director of the International Travel Club of St. Louis and coordinator of the St. Louis Chapter of the Travelers Century Club. 

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Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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