I dubbed Prague the Fairytale city after spending approximately 15 minutes in it. The reason is quite obvious to anyone who has visited Prague, or even just looked at pictures. It looks like something out of a fairytale, or something that was dreamed up in Walt Disney’s imagination. Everything looked so beautiful that it made my heart ache.
The first night in Prague I ate dinner in the Old Town Square, I did not care one iota that the restaurant was touristy or cost too much money, I ate a whole margarita pizza, by myself, (which became a staple in my European diet) while my head swiveled in every direction, absolutely drinking in the beauty around me.
It’s a testament to how beautiful this city is by the fact that I took pictures of everything three times (and sometimes more). I took one picture at night, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon, just to get different lights, or in some half-hazard attempt to capture some of the beauty around me on film; I should have known it would never work, pictures never turn out as beautiful as the actual thing.
My time in Prague was nothing short of perfect. For some reason, being on my own clicked. And, I met really awesome people at my hostel, a girl from Croatia, who I pretty much toured the city with, and a girl from Germany, who went absolutely crazy at a low-key Czech bar when Germany and Argentina were playing in the final of the world cup. And to my delight, I spent an evening with a group of Czechs eating and drinking and talking about the world, seriously, it couldn’t have been better.
My hostel was the best hostel in Prague. Hands down. It is called Charles Bridge Economic Hostel, located about fifty feet from the Charles Bridge. Not only is the building itself stunning and old, and the location unbeatable, the people are actually what makes the hostel so good. They made me coffee every morning, handed out bottles of water, maps, and advice like it was nothing. At some hostels, you’re treated like a irresponsible child who they know is going to screw something up. I’ve had to pay a key deposit, sheet deposit, safety deposit, and basically sign my life away to some of these hostels. Not this one. I was treated like a guest, like someone special, their hospitality impressed me so much that when I come back to Prague, even if I’m rich and can afford to stay anywhere I please, I will stay here.
Prague is an easy town to walk around and see things. Most tourist locations are located in a small area (as it is with most historic European city centers) and are easy to get to just by a short walk. I spent countless hours roaming the city and exploring every nook and cranny. This was made even more exciting by the fact that I have absolutely no sense of direction. During the day it was easier, but I got lost twice at night, by myself, and I did not get lost in any historic center. I never once felt scared. I know a lot of people, women mostly, worry about being by themselves in Europe. Don’t. I felt safer in Europe than I did walking around Washington DC at night.
My first day In Prague I met up with a friend from Croatia, and we took a guided walking tour. Our guide was hysterical, originally from Vienna but going to school in Prague, he had a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor, and he was quite wonderful. I had seen about 90% of things on the tour just from walking around, but its fun to get to know the history of a place, even if it is only a brief history.
The astronomical clock was probably a favorite of mine, as was the Charles Bridge. And basically every single building and statue in old town square.
I paid money to see some of the Jewish sites in the city. I saw the Spanish Synagogue, a couple museums, and the old cemetery. Hitler originally wanted to make a Jewish museum quarter, dedicated to “a lost race”. So there are many well-preserved sites in Prague. I enjoyed the sites, but anything having to do with WWII makes me extremely sad.
I also splurged and went on a castle tour, which was well worth the fifteen euro I paid. The castle looks out over the city of Prague.
Perhaps my favorite day in Prague was spent wandering the woods, on the other side of the Charles Bridge, visiting Kampa Island, and the infant of Prague. The woods were blissfully tourist-free, and I was lucky enough to get some gorgeous photos overlooking the city of Prague.
After being in Prague, I knew that I wanted to live here. My plan, at the time, was to go home after my three-week trip, find a teaching job in Prague for the fall, and return. Alas, it was not to be. But I know that I will return to Prague.
There were a few things that I was learning in Prague, about travel, and myself, which I only partially understood at the time. The first was that I was slowing down, and taking time to appreciate things. I would walk around in the morning, find a small café, and eat breakfast by myself, lingering over the good food and wonderful coffee. When I returned home, my sister remarked how much slower I eat. How much time I take when appreciating something beautiful. I didn’t even notice this while traveling.
I had a few friends in Italy, who were astounded by me traveling alone. They asked me a lot of questions about my experiences, and one stood out: being alone. Was I ever alone? Yes. A lot. Was I ever lonely? Never. I ate by myself almost every meal and I was fine. I walked around by myself all the time. And I loved it.
Another thing I learned in Prague was how easy travel really is. Maybe easy is not the right word, maybe available. I met so many people, so many people, who had lived abroad, studied abroad, and traveled extensively abroad. Traveling, especially to Europeans, Asians, and Australians, was not that big of a deal. I constantly met people who were taking an entire year off to travel, or at least three to four months. It was astounding to me. In the US, at least where I’m from, not many people travel extensively. This could be due to the fact that we have so few vacation days, or maybe, it’s because our culture doesn’t value travel as much as other countries do. In Europe, almost all young people travel. And it made me jealous. But it also made me realize that I have the ability to travel far and wide.
I started to lose this fear that I had. I had a fear of failing, or not being able to make it for a long time on my own, in a foreign country, with no friends and family. But slowly, as I met more and more people, heard stories, and changed as a person, I realized that there is nothing to be scared of, that mysteriously, everything seems to work out, even in the worst days of traveling and living abroad, there is always something good. And everything seems to somehow work out in the end.
I didn’t realize that I was shedding my fear and trepidation, that I was growing bolder, more confident and less afraid. I started to appreciate the little things, and the big things. History took on a while new meaning, I developed a better knowledge of culture, and my place in the world, and just how small and beautiful and magical the world is, and how incredible the people are, and, how thoroughly blessed I am.