Prague holds a special place in my heart. Leaving the airport on Bus 119 towards the Nádraží Veleslavín metro station, my eyes scanned the vast sceneries from my window, and immediately I felt an air of relief and calm — contrary to what I had felt when I arrived in Paris.
If Paris was my Clyde, then Prague was my Bonnie. Whereas I had envisioned Paris to engulf my senses in its masculine energy, with its constant hustle and bustle, I had envisioned Prague to be the feminine goddess — mythical and enchanting, with a power to both seduce and excite.
The evening I arrived in Prague, I set out to explore the Old Town, and had my first two tastes of the city: a sausage and the infamous trdelnik, the latter being an iconic street pastry in Prague. It’s basically rolled dough that’s grilled on a stick and then topped with cinnamon and sugar, and sometimes nuts. You could also order them with chocolate (Nutella), ice cream, whip cream and fruit, and the like. My first eat was the plain and classic trdelnik; it was warm, cinnamon-y, and hearty! If you’re a kid at heart, you might just end up playing with your trdelnik, because frankly, they’re fun to pull apart (at least I thought so).
It’s customary for me to research the local and staple eats and make a list of them before venturing to a new place, and being a desserts fanatic, I was ecstatic to try the trdelnik in Prague, except I had originally thought that it would be one of those eats that I’d have to locate on a map and hunt for. To my surprise, when I exited the metro station in the heart of Old Town, trdelnik stands were virtually everywhere; the only real challenge was choosing which stand to try. I ended up eating five of them during my stay, some of which were the plain ol’ classic and some of which had toppings, which you shall see later.
Prague was indeed a fairytale city (the fine architecture itself transported me back in time), and that’s one of the reasons it’s become a destination attracting crowds of tourists — and it’s also the main reason I scurried away from the main sites like a little mouse.
Fellow travellers were surprised that I stayed in Prague for so long; many people would’ve stayed for a few nights at most before venturing to another city. It was mainly my romanticized notion of the fairytale city that drew me to it and that prompted to stay (I later learned that I have a propensity to romanticize places and everything in my head far too much). At the same time, it was also an economical choice; Prague was inexpensive, and it was majestic. For the budget traveller and the starry-eyed adventurer, that was a sweet deal.
Of course, there were times when I regretted having stayed for so long when I could’ve journeyed to another city; however, after hopping from train to train (with my most recent stop being in Brussels), I realized that travelling can be taxing, and that I wasn’t ready to cover vast surfaces in such a short period of time — at least not now. For my first trip to Europe, I knew that choosing a few countries and spending more time in each would be far more fitting for me. Of course, firsts are always a hit and miss, and thus a bittersweet learning experience. (I know now that buses are dramatically cheaper than trains, and that I needn’t always do round trips in Europe. Of course I had always known this, but I’m prone to making bizarre decisions anyway.)
Paradoxically, although Prague was the most challenging city that I had visited to date in terms of the language barrier, it was also the city that’s gifted me with an unparalleled authentic experience. At least in Paris and Brussels I was able to speak fluent French and manoeuvre myself fluidly, but in the Czech Republic, it was different: I didn’t speak Czech. Moreover, unlike where I had grown up where one is apt to see diverse ethnic backgrounds, the Czech Republic was a homogeneous country — and that’s why I found it so endearing and why it’s gifted me with such a neat learning experience: as an outsider, I was prompted to learn to integrate, and in the process, step out of my comfort zone and grow.
Prior to coming to Prague, I had researched common greetings and phrases, and watched informative YouTube videos. Still, I butchered the melodic language every time I greeted and thanked someone in Czech, but I tried and that was the fun of it, and I could sense that the locals I came across appreciated my effort — another reason I felt welcomed and at home. I’ve learned time and time again that a smile, humility, and an effort to learn go a long way when interacting with locals, no matter where I go.