Eliska Randa-Iskat, was six when her family, vacationing in Split, Croatia, heard that their hometown of Prague had been invaded by the Soviet Union. In a brave and heartbreaking move the family went to Vienna before coming to Canada on Oct. 4, 1968 as refugees. They left their families, never saw their home or belongings again and never looked back.
Eli, her husband, Irek, and her mother, Drahomira Randa, returned to their once-upon-a-time homeland, Prague, a few years ago. They went seeking closure; it was an emotional return but cathartic.
Irek, a true romantic at heart, decided to complete the circle of closure and surprise his wife for their 50th birthdays. He arranged a trip for himself, Eli and her mother to revisit both Split and Prague one last time. The dates would coincide so that they would return to Canada exactly 45 years after the day of their arrival here – on Oct. 4, 2013.
It was an emotional trip.
Split, located on the Adriatic Sea, is a small town, most of which has now been designated a UNESCO heritage site. Everything is within walking distance, says Eli, so they rented an apartment and walked or took the bus. The beaches, consisting of large boulders, were just as they remembered and the water was perfect for swimming. “It was absolutely gorgeous,” says Eli.
The journey back to Prague was still hard, but to Eli worth every second, especially seeing how it made her mom feel like a little girl again. “Just getting to watch her and Irek as she related everything to him; she knows the city so well.
“We grew up in Lesser Town by the Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge on the planet, I think,” laughs Eli. “Most of the area is now a UNESCO heritage site as well. We have a friend who still lives there and she has an old iron key − it is, like, seven inches long and heavy − but she can’t change her locks because of the heritage designation.”
On their first trip back to Prague, Eli remembers her mother taking them to the Alchemist Hotel, the building where they used to live. “It’s a high end hotel now, but my mom just walked right up the stairs and started talking to the doorman. Next thing we knew we were getting the grand tour and royal treatment. It was an unreal experience.”
Eli sighs, “It was wonderful to go back and see my mother so happy. My husband is a wonderful man and I am so lucky.”