Mom- and wife-to-be ♥️

Hello, Friends,

It’s been over a year since I’ve last posted here — my soulful corner of the universe. Many sweet happenings have sparked into motion since then.

I wish I could carve out every detail of my memory in writing, and obsessively so, like a neurosurgeon carrying out his finely tuned daily surgical brain procedures with a scalpel fit for a competent touch. But because much time has passed, I’ll do time-sweet-time the honour of letting it just be, and simply scan the surface of my vague and pirouetting thoughts.

A memorable milestone was travelling with my boyfriend (now fiancé) to Spain in October 2018, to visit his family. It was a very emotional and revealing experience for me as an autonomous and growing entity, and for us together. My growth was vast, deep — and tall — like an olive branch steadily peeking its worldly head through dust and debris towards the all-knowing sky.

The good ol' butt poke (Valencia, Spain)

The good ol’ butt poke (Valencia, Spain)

And he proposed to me, at his aunt’s apartment in León where he’d spent a grand majority of his childhood. It was no perfect moment. It was in fact the most imperfect moment we’d experienced as a unit — comically clumsy, too, in retrospect. Yet it was a transient moment of our lives that was most true and raw — that revealed the promise of stars on a gloomy night — and that ultimately revealed the wisdom of profound strength and compassion, and the truth of our hearts. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

No two stories are ever alike. And when I ponder back at that point in time, I feel both tears and a smile overtaking me. This was our story. This was the story of how our yesterdays synchronistically carved the expansive path of today. And how thankful I am for the love of my life, and for us.

El Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

El Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

I loved walking hand-in-hand with my sweet love at the El Retiro Park in Madrid. The city was alive and bustling with social synergy, drinks and food, and everlasting life. But sometimes, a walk in the park was all it took to rejuvenate my tired spirit. Luckily for us, this park was only a walking distance from B’s parents’ home. It was filled with greenery, colourful leaves (we were reaching autumn at this time of year), and many cats!

El Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

El Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

Nighttime walk in Madrid

Nighttime walk in Madrid

View from a top part of El Corte Inglés, near Sol metro station (Madrid)

View from a top part of El Corte Inglés, near Sol metro station (Madrid)

La Plaza Mayor de León (León, Spain)

La Plaza Mayor de León (León, Spain)

León, SpainLeón, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Lookout from Parador de Toledo

Lookout from Parador de Toledo

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Aqueduct of Segovia

Segovia at night

Segovia at night

Our trip to Spain was almost one year ago, and I miss it and B’s family very much. Even if I’d like to return right now or travel and explore unlimited terrains like the freshly grated, citrus-y younger version of me, I can’t, and for good reason: I’m pregnant (and fainting has become my best friend), and we’re getting married next year. Yay!

I look back on my blog since the me who began blogging in December 2013, and I’m astonished and heart-warmed by how much has evolved in my life — from university-days-me to career-woman-and-soon-to-be-mom-and-wife-me. Somehow, and with a graceful touch of serendipity, it’s been my experience that the beautiful always nested itself in unexpected territory.

I indeed still dream of foreign heights and the homey and comforting feeling of transitioning in airports and “what next’s”. But more than ever, my mind and heart have cradled themselves in the joyful comfort of knowing that next year, I’ll be walking down the aisle on the way to marrying the father of my child and husband-to-be, with our little bundle of fluff alongside us.

My heart is elated.

Ghent, Belgium: Two feet, two wheels

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The port city of Ghent, sitting in the Flemish region comfortably between Brussels and Bruges, was another convenient and endearing day trip I took, being just about a 30-minute train ride away from Brussels.

When I arrived at the main train station in Ghent, I wondered which direction to take: right, left, up, down, diagonal? (I should’ve flipped a coin every time this happened, which, funnily, was often.) But once I spotted the historical centrum sign, I followed the same sign until I arrived at my destination. It took about 30 minutes to walk there, which gave me an opportunity to explore quiet, off-the-beaten tracks and sneak a glimpse of the local way of life in the process.

Once I was greeted by the imposing monuments at the historical centre, however, I was surprised to see many travellers and tourists — even more than in Bruges. I had read that Ghent is Belgium’s best kept secret, so with that in mind, I was expecting to stumble across nary a soul, but I was wrong — the historical centrum was bustling with visitors. It sounds paradoxical and rather comical, but I guess many people are highly aware that Ghent is a gem that not many people know about.

I also noted that there were many locals, young and old, riding bikes in Ghent, which I thought was a charming sight, giving the city an idyllic feel. With my appreciation of the sight of bikes and canals, I realized that I could’ve visited Amsterdam as well, which was also just a short trip away; however, time was short and I didn’t plan my trip as efficiently as I could have. More importantly, for the time being, I had Ghent, and Ghent was all I needed.

Another waffle!

Another waffle!

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Like Bruges, Ghent sits at the top of my list of places that I adore the most. Walking along the streets of its historical centre was a feast for my hungry eyes and inquisitive soul; I felt like I was in another world altogether, with the splendid panoramic views of medieval churches, cathedrals, castles, and merchant shops, which have been so beautifully preserved.

Ghent is also a dream place for people whose favourite mode of transportation are their two feet. I walked to and fro and in numerous circles, losing myself in my immediate surroundings; after all, the port city was big in scope, with many things to do, eat, and see. Still, time wasn’t on my side, and I regret not having had the chance to fully immerse myself in the culture of this gem of a place.

Bruges, Belgium: We Love Chez Albert

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If it were possible, then I would’ve wrapped my arms around Bruges, hugged it tight, and kissed its cheek in gratitude. Because while I held my breath in Brussels, I found peace, quiet, and balance in Bruges.

I adored it dearly, particularly its essence. Despite being minuscule in scope — which I found rather alluring — it was modest, warm and inviting, and its beauty was timeless. It is to date, one of the places from my travel diaries that I cherish the most.

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Markt (Market Square)

Markt (Market Square)

Markt (Market Square)

Bruges made for a convenient and enchanting day trip out of Brussels, being about 1 hr 20 min away by train. No reservation was necessary, either, for trains from Brussels to Bruges left regularly throughout the day.

When I arrived at the centre of Bruges, I was surprised by how quiet it was; it might’ve been the cold weather, but there weren’t many travellers or tourists roaming the streets that day (something I secretly celebrated in my mind).

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The first waffle I ate in Belgium was actually in Bruges (I had the strawberry waffle when I returned to Brussels afterwards). It was a plain waffle from Chez Albert, and it was so scrumptious that it set the bar exceptionally high for the waffles to come. That, plus the almond croissants I had in Paris, were my favourite sweet eats throughout my whole trip! The waffle was warm, sweet, dense, and oh so comforting. Y’s had caramel on top, and one bite of hers had stars and baby chicks circling my head.

I learned that there are two types of waffles in Belgium: the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle. The waffle here was a Liege waffle, which is irregular in shape and rich and dense, with caramelized sugar baked inside. The Brussels waffle, on the other hand, is rectangular in shape with clearly defined edges and is lighter and fluffier. The strawberry waffle in my previous post was a Brussels waffle. After having the Liege waffle in Bruges and in Ghent, I can say that I liked it much more than its Brussels sibling.

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Walking along the canal with Y was calming; we were the only two around who weren’t locals. We walked continuously with no plans in mind and were greeted with some lovely sights, and even lovelier people.

One of the fondest moments for me was simply walking along the sidewalk and exchanging smiles with passersby. A simple gesture, to be sure, yet it was the simplest of things that prompted me to develop a sentimental attachment to Bruges.

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Brussels, Belgium: The Three Amigos

Town Hall at Grand Place

Town Hall at Grand Place

Guildhalls on the Grand Place

Guildhalls on the Grand Place

Grand Place (French) or Grote Markt (Dutch); central square of Brussels

Grand Place (French) or Grote Markt (Dutch); central square of Brussels

Each place is imbued with its respective characteristics, and there are aspects that I appreciated dearly about every city I visited, be it its fine architecture and historical artifacts, the local food and people, or the overarching feeling of belonging and oneness that I experienced. While I spent the least amount of time in Brussels, my experience there was a colourful one. It was simultaneously the city where I’d experienced the greatest sense of unease, and the city that had armed me with unparalleled emotional comfort.

When I arrived in Brussels, I felt spiritually nauseous. It might’ve been because the sky was dark and gloomy (I was also sheepishly sick with a raging cold), but it was also much deeper than that — an overall feeling that I couldn’t pinpoint or articulate in words. It was when I arrived at my hostel and met my roommates, that I learned that there had been a few incidents the day prior. Thus I understood why armed soldiers were roaming metro stations, and why there were military vehicles lining the street a short distance from my abode. Of course, this sight wasn’t new to me; I had seen it in Paris. However, if I was aware of the slight chance of any incident happening in Paris, then I was also aware of it in Brussels — and tenfold.

I didn’t like that eerie awareness. I didn’t like that my mind was being inundated with suggestive imageries and programmed into fear. I knew, statistically speaking, that the chances of anything occurring were much lower than the chances of crimes happening back at home and dying in motor vehicle accidents. Being a skeptical person, I was also careful not to allow my private sphere of thought to be proliferated and my psyche to be governed, and to fall into the trap of collective neurosis and fear. At the same time, that’s not to say that I wasn’t alert or cautious every breath I took — I was. Yet I was bent to enjoy my time there and everywhere I went, because to live in a state of fear is crippling.

On the other hand, I thought I was alone in experiencing an off-putting vibe in the cities I visited — until I met my roommate, Y. She, too, had just left Paris, and meeting her felt as though I was meeting a twin — similar in thought and character and life experiences. Like myself, she had experienced a magnetic pull towards certain cities, only to be greeted with the harsh realities of these places; and it was in her experiences that I found solace and comfort. There was also N, another roommate, whose hobbies and interests mirrored mine almost completely. (Geeks can easily recognize other geeks.) I have these two lovely individuals to thank, for they were the catalysts behind me having such an exciting and heartfelt time in Brussels. (After Brussels, N and I even met again in Paris, where I had returned to for the nth time.)

It’s an enticing thought, in retrospect, how travel can fuel synchronistic events such that you end up meeting similar souls (and starkly different ones) along the way, that would serve as catalysts along your journey of evolution and growth. It reminded me of a man I’d met at a laundromat in Paris (I’d like to remember him as the lone artist philosopher), and J, another friend I’d spent much time with, whose personality was uncannily similar to someone that was once part of my life. There was also the hostel receptionist in Paris, whose friendly and bright disposition made me understand why I’d subconsciously done the things I’d done in the past — and why, in the final analysis, it was for the best. For that brief moment in time, their mark on me was profound: I learned that I’d healed and was capable of opening my heart again.

Carbonnades Flamandes à la Leffe Brune, Frites

Carbonnades Flamandes à la Leffe Brune, Frites

Strawberry waffle from Mokafé

Strawberry waffle from Mokafé

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a very old and classic shopping strip built in the mid-nineteenth century. You can find boutiques selling luxurious items such as fashionable clothes, hats and gloves, jewellery, and chocolates. There were a few notable chocolate shops, one of them being Neuhaus, founded in 1857 by Jean Neuhaus, who had apparently created the praline. I purchased a few boxes to bring home and a customized bag for myself to enjoy that day. The chocolates were absolutely divine. Brace yourself though, because the infinite flavours and selections can be at once heavenly and overwhelming.

You can also find classic cafes at the Galeries, one of them being the widely visited Mokafé, known for its delicious authentic Belgian waffles, which the three of us tried together. I had a regular waffle topped with powdered sugar and strawberries, which I didn’t find special — I found it too crispy and rather flat in taste. I shall give the cafe a benefit of a doubt, but perhaps it was because they were in a rush to serve customers and were short on staff, with only one server that day. It was a Saturday and the cafe was full to the brim, and people left because they were waiting too long to be served. But I felt for the server; he was a nice guy who was running to and fro. Kudos to him, he deserved a cape.

During my time in Brussels, I also visited Maison Dandoy, a very old sweets shop created in 1829 by Jean-Baptiste Dandoy. They specialize in biscuits and are known for their speculoos cookies. I purchased a package of speculoos biscuits from one of their quaint biscuit shops, and after finishing the package, I wish I’d bought more. (I wish I’d also taken a photo of the shop.) There are a few Maison Dandoy shops around Brussels as well as tea rooms. Apparently, they also make fine Belgian waffles.

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My time in Brussels was short and I regret having spent the least amount of time there, for there were activities that I wish I’d had the time to do, such as going to the Belgian Comic Strip Center and the Musée Hergé, and simply walking around exploring Brussels’ comics-based street art murals, which I really looked forward to. Brussels is the hub of comics, and if you grew up with older siblings who read Belgian comic books like the infamous Les Aventures de Tintin, then you’d have an appreciation for them, too.

Rouen, France: Pianos and reveries

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After Prague, I returned to Paris for a couple of days. Although Paris was the city I liked the least, ironically, it was also the city where I had spent most of my time — too much time many people would add, and to which I’d nod in agreement. Nevertheless, I was excited to return to Paris for the simple reason that I knew I’d be leaving the city and heading elsewhere, with one such place being Rouen.

Paris. I woke up early to get a head start to my day, but when I arrived at Gare Saint-Lazare to buy my train tickets to Rouen, I couldn’t find the ticket office (I wasn’t aware it was on 7th heaven) so I went to Gare de l’Est to buy them, only to return to Gare Saint-Lazare again to board my train.

Once I arrived at the platform at Gare Saint-Lazare, I realized that I could make the earlier train but then I learned that it would cost me 13€ just to change the time on my ticket. “Alas, I might as well order a coffee and sit back and relax while I wait for the next train,” I thought to myself happily.

I felt worn out that morning from running to and fro — so much so that I lost my wits and mistakenly threw away my train ticket in the garbage along with my coffee cup. The only way to retrieve it was to dig my hand through the garbage, which I did, and which prompted a passerby to gasp in horror. (Luckily, it was a relatively new garbage bag and I saw my ticket sitting upright.)

As bizarre of a start my morning might’ve adopted, to me it was a comical twist in my travel adventures, and after having settled the minor details, I enjoyed unwinding at the train station and people-watching, and losing myself in the recesses of my own thoughts and emotions as I usually do — that is, until, scanning the horizons with my eyes, I spotted a piano with a sign over it that read in French, “For you to play.”

In the midst of all the commotion at the train station, the piano stood motionless — seemingly lonely and lifeless at first glance. I watched as people went about their daily lives, bodies moving swiftly to and fro. There was motion all around me, yet all I saw was a blur. Many of us were going, and going nowhere at such an intense speed. The only sure sign of life was that piano.

I wanted to touch the keys and undress myself into nakedness — into all my musical, soulful elements. But I couldn’t. So I waited patiently for someone else to come by and breathe colour and passion into the insipid air that enrobed many of our lives — until someone did come along and play.

Once again, time had stopped for me, just like it had in Prague when someone was playing Yiruma underneath the Charles Bridge — only this time this anonymous individual was playing Yann Tiersen. The keys, the notes, the emotion — I felt my throat constrict and eyes water.

Few things in life moved me and elicited a powerful emotional response in me as much as the sound of piano keys, a musical piece with emotion and reverie. Again, I observed passersby, innocent souls going about their days, and I pictured Paris in its recent heartbreaking events. How fragile life was. And that piano, at that moment in time, was the only symbol of light and hope in the face of destruction and death.

Gros Horloge

Gros Horloge

Gros Horloge

Gros Horloge

Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Rouen. Seen in some of Claude Monet's paintings.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Rouen. Seen in some of Claude Monet’s paintings.

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Rouen. Most of my post centres around my adventures getting to Rouen, not so much on Rouen itself. But I think the photos speak for themselves, for I myself feel crippled in my efforts to find the right words to describe my experience there.

Rouen was one of my favourite places I had visited. It was there that I felt transported back in time. It was also the only city where I experienced bittersweet nostalgia and a vague familiarity for the unknown — as if I’ve known this place from another existence and my being there this time was simply a second greeting.

Auzou Le Chocolatier Normand @ 163 Rue du Gros Horloge, 76000 Rouen, France

Auzou Le Chocolatier Normand @ 163 Rue du Gros Horloge, 76000 Rouen, France

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The first chocolates I tried in France weren’t from Paris; they were from Rouen. I was fascinated by the quaint exterior of Auzou, a classic chocolaterie, and when I walked in, golly gee, was I ever greeted by an entire universe of sweet treats, especially chocolates!

Even though I’m not a big fan of chocolates, I knew I still had to try chocolates while in France, otherwise I’d be committing a sin against the gods of glutton. So I asked the helpful lady for a bag of 100g of chocolates, and being an adventurous eater, I also asked her to recommend me some unique flavours, the first one I tried on the spot being fig.

I’m quite ashamed to admit it, but I ate the whole bag in a day because they were so divine — and indescribably so! “Save some for later? Forget it,” I rationalized. “Tomorrow’s a new day, which means new eats.” Though, while savouring these fine creatures, I wished I had loved ones to share them with.

(Fret not, I did purchase chocolates from Pierre Hermé and À la Mère de Famille when I was in Paris, as well as chocolates from Neuhaus when I was in Brussels, to bring home as a gift for my dad, who’s a big chocoholic.)

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic: Fairytale town

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Something I appreciate about solo travel is exploring places alone at my own leisurely and spontaneous pace, which I had done throughout most of my trip; other times, I’d meet a fellow solo traveller and we’d explore a city to both of our likings, together. But when it came to visiting Cesky Krumlov, I decided to do something different: I decided to join a group tour.

When I inquired about a group tour to Cesky Krumlov at a nearby Office of Tourism in Prague, they prompted me to a renowned group tour company, which I just had to go to and request to sign up for a tour, and then I was ready to go the following day. The tour cost 1600 CZK — indeed a bit hefty when I could’ve done the trip myself, but given how tricky it was to get there, I decided that it would simplify my time and nerves to just have all the logistics sorted out for me.

It was 9:15am the next morning, I met my tour guide, and the bus was ready to embark on its 2.5 hour journey to the small town of Cesky Krumlov, situated in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. Our tour guide was a lovely and hospitable woman with a great sense of humour. However, I’m ashamed to admit that during our bus ride, there were moments where her monotone voice and heavy accent serenaded me into the deep, dark abyss — something called sleep.

When we arrived at Cesky Krumlov, I stood in awe of what stood before my eyes. The town, which was built to encompass its 13th century Castle, was adorned with beautiful and timeless Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural influences. Sitting on the banks of the Vltava River, Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO World heritage site, and for good reason: the remnants of this old medieval town are a long-standing, historical gem.

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I know it’s ironic and defeats the purpose of joining a group tour to meet fellow solo travellers, but the best part about being part of the group tour, was really being allocated the time to explore the town on my own. (Besides, most people on the tour were couples joined at the hip.) So, like a little mouse who had just been let loose from its cage, I scurried away in a frenzy. After all, I didn’t have much time to put on my Sherlock Holmes suit until it was time to meet up again for a final tour together at the Castle.

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This boutique, called Cesky Krumlov Original, was my haven; there were cakes, beautifully-lined shelves of jars of homemade jams and honey, and enormous traditional Czech gingerbread cookies carved into themes and characters. I didn’t end up purchasing gingerbread cookies, but I picked out jams (cherry and apricot) to bring back home for loved ones instead. The packaging was adorable, and what’s awesome is that the jams were locally made by the family owners themselves.

Old Town Square at night

Old Town Square at night

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Later that evening, the bus dropped us off where we had started our journey: at Old Town Square. Everything looked and felt different in Prague at that time of night — the physique, the vibe, the aroma — as if I were in a different setting altogether. It was interesting to note how cities, no matter where I go, can embody such a stark contrast between night and day.

From Prague to Karlstejn Castle

View from the Klementinum

View from the Klementinum

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The Klementinum in Old Town Prague is a very old institution comprising of many historic buildings, the major ones being the Mirror Chapel, the Baroque Library Hall, and the Astronomical Tower. The way to enter this complex is by signing up for a tour on the spot which costs 220 CZK and lasts for about 45-60 minutes.

I was drawn to the Klementium because of the infamous Baroque Library Hall — listed as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. I was astounded when I learned that it houses 20 000 books beginning from the early 17th century, with works from some of Europe’s finest philosophers, scientists, astronomers, and musicians.

We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Baroque Library Hall, unfortunately, but I was simply happy to have been there and experienced its enchanting beauty. A steep climb up the Astronomical Tower later, I was also greeted by a lovely treat: a picturesque view of Prague.

Following the tour of the Klementinum, I grabbed another trdelnik to go. I had had five trdelniks during my stay: three plain cinnamon and sugar ones from three different stands, one with chocolate or Nutella (I didn’t take a photo of it), and one with vanilla ice cream (I bought an umbrella and braved the pouring rain just so I could try this last one on my last day in Prague).

I loved the plain cinnamon and sugar trdelnik the most, the best one being from the stand directly across from my hostel. You could tell a place had good eats if everyone (especially locals) were lining up to wait; and how lucky I was, in retrospect, to be greeted by the sweet scent of this delicious creature every time I exited my abode.

Little market selling souvenirs, local fruits, and biscuits and treats

Little market selling souvenirs, local fruits, and biscuits and treats

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The same day I visited the Klementinum and had a trdelnik, I stumbled across a lovely lady selling strudels at a stand in the market. I had read that the strudel is one of the gems that one ought to try in Prague, so when I saw it, my eyes began salivating even though my tummy was already satisfied.

When I asked the lady which flavour to try — she had apple, poppy, and plum poppy — she recommended her personal favourite: poppy. It was flavourful with a unique texture from the poppy seeds. I also tried the apple strudel the morning I left Prague; it was from the local bakery where I had bought the medovnik cake.

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The medovnik or honey cake, a classic Czech cake layered with honey, was another famous dessert I had tried in Prague (this was on a different day as well, I promise). I found it slightly dry with a crumb texture, but at the same time, oh so moist and soft. It wasn’t too sweet either, which I loved.

When I first met this cake, I thought it rather reserved, complex, and hard to get to know. Yet while it looked simple and unassuming, to me it was imbued with secrets and wisdom of the ages. Needless to say, after getting to know it in all its depths, I fell in love and felt transformed, for I knew then and there what I had been missing in all my years of existence.

(I think this post speaks for itself, but while I became a human baguette with four dangly limbs during my time in Paris, I definitely became a walking cube of sugar while in Prague.)

Naturesque scenery on my walk to Karlstejn Castle

Naturesque scenery on my walk to Karlstejn Castle

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Besides having a list of treats to eat in Prague, I also had a list of day trips to take out of the city, with the Karlstejn Castle being one of them. Only 29km southwest of Prague, it made for a convenient day trip, with trains leaving regularly throughout the day from Prague’s Main Station (Hlavní nádrazí), which was about a 5- to 10- minute walk from Wencesclas Square.

I did get confused when I arrived at the station though, because I couldn’t read Czech on my ticket and I wasn’t aware that I’d know the platform number until only 15 minutes before departure. Plus, there was always that one question, “Is this the right train?” which I’d ask the next confused-looking individual, whom I’d often resort to uniting with in solidarity. Funnily, I met an elderly man at the platform who, upon learning that I was from Canada, sarcastically said that he was surprised I wasn’t wearing furry knee high boots. We both laughed.

Once I arrived at the Karlstejn train station, it was a 20- to 30- minute walk up the hill until I reached the Castle. The hike itself was the highlight of my experience; not only were there quaint boutiques, cafes, and restaurants along the way to serenade my eyes, but the gothic Castle looked evermore majestic from a distance.

Prague, Czech Republic: To climb or not to climb

Charles Bridge far off in the distance

Charles Bridge far off in the distance

Let the dancing begin

Let the dancing begin

View from the Charles Bridge

View from the Charles Bridge

Yellows

Yellows

At the foot of the Chrles Bridge

At the foot of the Charles Bridge

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Besides the visually striking sights that made Prague so memorable, were the moments where I had connected with fellow human beings. When I visited the John Lennon Wall, a graffiti-filled wall expressing Lennon themes of love and peace as well as grievances since the 80s, I came across an artist whose voice was so harmonic that I became crippled in my tracks. Passersby would pause to admire the Wall and pose in front of it, but more than the Wall itself, I was drawn to a stranger whose music was filled with so much depth and passion that it could’ve breathed poetic existence into dust and ashes.

There was also a time when I deviated off of the Charles Bridge towards a park, and drawn by the familiarity of a tune, I followed the sound until I stumbled upon a young lad who was playing his piano — he was playing Yiruma. “What are the chances of me stumbling across a stranger playing Yiruma in Prague?” I ask myself in awe. I smiled while his playing Yiruma serenaded my stroll in the park. Meanwhile, my heart was on fire, as if it wanted to leap out of my chest because it was happy that someone far away, a stranger somewhere out there, shared the same sentimental and soulful longing and nostalgia. I wanted to thank him for playing Yiruma, but hesitant to disrupt him, I simply walked by, caught his eye and smiled, and continued on.

If someone were to ask me why I was deeply drawn to Prague, it’s because of such snippets in time, moments which felt like an eternity, moments where I felt that I wasn’t isolated in this vast universe. It wasn’t enough for me to know it, but I needed to feel it, to experience it; and these two instances in time made me feel that I was part of something much grander than myself — something universal and cosmic.

Gothic architecture of St Vitus Cathedral

Gothic architecture of St Vitus Cathedral

View from a height at the Prague Castle

View from a height at the Prague Castle

Inside the Prague Castle complex

Inside the Prague Castle complex

My visit to the Prague Castle was a neat experience. When we think of a castle, many of us including myself, would picture just that: a castle. That’s why L couldn’t find or pinpoint the Prague Castle, even though I assured her that it was actually a Castle complex that included churches, palaces, halls, and gardens. One would feel infinitesimally small in comparison, to be sure.

Just a note: The highest fee to get into the Castle complex was 350 CZK, which was the most I had to pay to see “everything.” However, I realized that it didn’t include the price to climb the Great South Tower of St Vitus Cathedral; to do that, I had to pay an extra 150 CZK. For L, it wasn’t worth it for her to pay the 350 CZK if she just wanted to go up the Tower to get a bird’s eye view of the city, but it wasn’t something we noted when we bought the tickets, so make sure to clarify what your tickets include and don’t include.

150 CZK extra and 287 steps to climb later, was the Great South Tower of St Vitus Cathedral worth it? Yes and no. Yes, because I enjoyed the challenging climb, only to be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city (I also got a free souvenir coin); no, because there are other hills where you can get a comprehensive view of the city without the price tag.

View of the city from the Great South Tower of St Vitus Cathedral

View of the city from the Great South Tower of St Vitus Cathedral

Another view from the Great South Tower of St Vitus Cathedral

Another view from the Great South Tower of St Vitus Cathedral

Colourful and lively street

Colourful and lively street

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After spending the afternoon exploring the Prague Castle, it was time for lunch and I decided to have goulash. I had read that goulash is a staple dish and a must-try in Prague. Hungarian in origin, it’s basically a soup or stew consisting of beef and veggies that’s garnished with paprika and other spices, and that’s often served with bread or bread dumplings. It was hearty and tasted like comfort food — like childhood, even. And with a Czech Pilsner beer, my afternoon meal was complete.

Another view from the Charles Bridge

Another view from the Charles Bridge

Prague, Czech Republic: Dobrý den

Market at Wencesclas Square

Market at Wencesclas Square

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.

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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.

Old Town Square

Old Town Square

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.

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock

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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.

Paris, France: Tales of arrests and baguettes

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Merci Used Book Cafe @ 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003, Paris

This was the entrance to the Merci Used Book Cafe, or the Cafe itself. If you walk through the gate on the side, you’ll end up in a small courtyard (where my little red car was parked, of course) that leads to Merci’s chic and trendy department store, and through which you may also enter the Cafe.

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Dreams do come true. Merci Used Book Cafe and Shakespeare and Co. have been on my to-go list since time immemorial. I had discovered these two bookstores when I was on Tumblr years ago, and I would often flood my blog with photos of them.

I knew I was going to venture to Merci Used Book Cafe in Le Marais during my time in Paris, but the best part of the excitement was learning that scones were on their menu. Scones constitute my favourite breakfast, and to have it at this dreamy cafe, wow, was I ever on Cloud 9!

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The scones were orange, and so was the jam. The hint of citrus was scrumptious! Their coffee was ace, too. And their butter? Well, let’s just say that any butter in France is tummy- and fat-approved.

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A cozy corner fit for coffee and philosophical discussions on a fine autumn afternoon, don’t you think?

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Besides Merci Used Book Cafe, Eric Kayser’s bakery was also on my to-eat list. I had read that he makes mean baguettes, or mean breads and pastries of all types in general. Many people recommended his financiers, particularly the pistachio financiers.

Being a fan of pistachio desserts myself, I tried one, and it was heavenly — not too sweet and it actually had large chunks of pistachio baked into the cake. Even my partner loved it more than her pain au chocolat.

Eric Kayser’s bakeries are widely dispersed around Paris, so it’s relatively easy to find one while getting lost in one’s exploring adventure. I stumbled upon one quite easily myself when I ventured off the Seine River into the Saint-Germain-des-Près shops area.

Love locked

Love locked

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The following day was low key; it was Juliana’s last day in Paris, and since it was raining, we thought spending the afternoon at the Musée d’Orsay would be ideal.

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Out of all the works of art at the museum, Van Gogh’s paintings were my favourite, not only because they brought back memories of my art classes in high school, but because back then, to me Van Gogh was, and today, still is, one of the most enlightened men who had ever lived (even if throughout his life it seemed otherwise).

Back in high school, I felt enamoured every time I looked at photos of The Starry Night, Starry Night Over the Rhone, Café Terrace at Night, and Bedroom in Arles in art history textbooks; they were among my favourite paintings by Van Gogh. I even tried replicating La méridienne or La sieste with oil pastels (my favourite art medium besides charcoal), and Bedroom in Arles with oil paint and papier-mâché!

I was lucky to see some of his famous paintings at the Musée d’Orsay. Whether it was the younger me in high school looking at his paintings in books, or the current me standing physically in front of his paintings, my feelings never changed: I didn’t see what people would often call a passionate artist, because to me, this man couldn’t be labelled; instead, I saw a regular individual, a human being like you and me, who had reached a depth of self to such a staggering degree, that this painful and sweet process itself became a work of art. And I see in his works of art just that: the depths of his vulnerabilities, in all their madness, darkness, passion, and beauty.

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After navigating the Musée d’Orsay, we walked around looking for a place to eat lunch, until my partner pointed to a cafe/bistro that had just what I’ve been wanting to try: French onion soup, which was perfect for a cold and rainy day.

I wish I remembered what the cafe/bistro was called, because that French onion soup was delicious (and so was their margherita pizza). Some people will cry at the thought, sight, and smell of onions; as for me, I might as well marry them. I love onions so much that I can eat them with anything, even raw (while praying to my biochemical processes that I never smell like one).

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Something else I tried spontaneously was gelato from Amorino. After seeing people licking these purdy looking rose-shaped gelato, Juliana and I both knew we had to try one. A few days later, we saw a family of three eating them again, so we did what normal, sane people would do: we stalked them to trace the whereabouts of the gelato store, and, Bingo.

If I get arrested in Paris, it’s probably because of one or all of the following reasons:

1. Stalking someone because they have good food;

2. Walking over uncharted grass;

3. Whacking someone with a baguette to test its freshness.

There were many incredible flavours to choose from, and you were able to choose however many you wanted. I chose speculoos, pistachio, and fig — the flavours were really nice! At first I thought it was an artisanal gelato chain in France, but to my surprise, I came across one here in Prague, too.

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One of the neat things that we often take for granted, is learning how to survive and perform our normal daily routines in a new country. My first time at a laundromat in Paris was memorable — fun, even. Normally, people don’t equate travel and fun with doing laundry, but for me, it was an opportunity to learn how to live like a local. Of course I had to ask for help, but that was part of the neat experience; and frankly, I found sitting at a laundromat quite calming.

The second time I went to a laundromat, I met a gentleman (sounds like a romantic love story, doesn’t it?) who was, I’d say, about twice my age. I asked him if the machine was working as it should, and this later sparked a conversation. Perhaps it’s my intuition about people, but I read his energy even before we spoke. From his physical appearance alone and the air of malaise and ennui about him, I knew we were similar in profound ways.

Some people — a rarity for me — feel safe at first encounter, as if I recognize them on a soul level. It might sound crazy to some, but it’s an experience many empaths can understand. As it turns out, I wasn’t far off in my observations. I learned that we’ve read the same books and appreciate the same authors, that we think similarly philosophically and ethically, and that we share an overall similar life perspective. This is no love story, but I appreciate having met someone who shares so much with me.

In retrospect, I’m still amazed that the universe can conspire two individuals with such uncanny similarities to meet at such an unusual place. For lonewolves like myself, we often feel alienated and alone in the universe, but when we can connect with someone (at least one other person) who understands us, it feels amazing — more than we can ever articulate in words.