When you book a flight almost 6 months in advance so you can comfortably save on money and when that airline just happens to collapse, there isn’t much you can do but spend some time moping around about your losses, wallowing in self-pity for the credit card bills that are bound to pile up and the unavoidable situational crisis that ensues. So, when I had to book another flight for Prague from Bombay (thanks Jet airways) I did it. Vidhi, my best friend who I did the trip with is more hands on than I am and so our research, planning and itinerary was sealed tight before we even had time to process that we are actually flying.
Now there are different ways to travel, I feel. Some people prefer taking it as the day comes and just going with the flow. Letting a day happen to you, is what I call it. Rather than you happening to the day. These are people who are perfectly happy taking two hours more at lunch ordering another glass of Sauvignon Blanc and making merry. There is no rush, a tad bit less excitement and an attitude befitting a middle-aged gentleman. The other kind of traveller is the hustler. These are people who have a checklist ready before they even book the flight tickets to the destination & a collage of the "breathtaking views" you will possibly witness on the trip with the locations pinned on your social media accounts. The brain, mind and heart has flown to the destination way in advance of one's physical presence and excitement is unconstrained. Deliriously happy. It’s almost a state of mind.
“I spent a lifetime in a garden one afternoon.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough
So, when we planned to cover Eastern Europe, Vidhi and I made our own itineraries, which ran into pages and pages with different sections marked libraries, cafes, restaurants, tourist attractions, the works. What seemed to be a task was to fit the whole thing into the days available and then to make it happen seamlessly. A really important aspect of travelling, according to me and thankfully Vidhi and I were always on the same page, is making sure you stay at the center of the city. While there are many choices that will tempt you which lie farther away, staying in a buzzing area and nearer to most of the places you would want to visit is almost non-negotiable when you are visiting a country for the first time. Also, safer if you travel solo. Exploring, going off track and giving yourself time to explore the other areas, streets and the people can be something to delve into when you visit the city again, we decided. So, we booked a hotel which around 10 minutes away from Mala Strana, the most famed street in Prague.
The day we arrived in Prague it was bright and sunny, almost too bright. The sun is unlike what we have back here, it doesn’t make you perspire and sweat and the lack of humidity keeps your spirits up and your enthusiasm on an all time high. A tired state of mind doesn’t come easily with such great climate and a spot of rain doesn’t really dampen spirits. Not when you are used to road rage, roads filled with potholes and a crowd sentiment that toughens you up from the inside.
Our first day was all about Charles Bridge. It took me a while to get used to the fact that I was FINALLY in Europe and that trams and cars were on the same road, very organised as well. There was no chaos though there was ample buzz. Disconnecting from our super Indian surroundings (Read: absolutely uncouth rickshaw drivers, pan spitting bus drivers, no specific lane allotments and chaotic roads that go splendidly with our lovely attitude that forgives and forgets and moves on) and acclimatizing to Prague’s energy takes a while even if you have travelled abundantly. The city isn’t as bustling as Paris but it’s not really slow or dead either. Surprisingly we didn’t come across a lot of Indians in Prague and I genuinely felt like I had finally left home. We started off with Charles Bridge and being absolutely driven to take gorgeous pictures, I wore boots. Biggest mistake you can make while you are travelling is to be uncomfortable and wear an outfit, especially shoes, that do not support a good 10 km walking stint every day. I could barely walk around and so we had to cut out Kampa Park from the day’s plan. Vidhi was probably dying inside but I my feet had literally died so we succumbed and stuck to what we do best, WE ATE.
There are quite a few cafes, restaurants and street treats that you can indulge in when you are in Prague. One delicacy that you will see in Prague being sold on the street is the Trdelnik which is a sweet cone made from dough. Sprinkled with powdered sugar and filled with an icecream of your choice, this is a dessert that you need to roll up your sleeves for. Getting overexcited and being juvenile about the order as usual, we got one each and the story ends with Vidhi throwing her cone in a garbage bin. I must add that each cone costs around 5 euros if you buy it at the famous street cart just outside Charles Bridge but will be relatively lower in other places. I also bought the Hungarian speciality that is also sold in Prague, the uber famous ‘Langoush’ which is basically fried bread with sour cream, tomato sauce and grated cheese on top.
Our 3 nights in the city were full of visits to the National Museum (absolutely beautiful), the Astronomical Tower, walks along Mala Strana, gaping at the street art on Charles Bridge, marvelling at the gothic and baroque styles of architecture of St. Vitus Cathedral and just being wonder struck throughout. We went for a walking tour on the second day around the city with a tour guide who made us laugh throughout. She joked about their Prime Minister who is a lazy old hag, laughed at their political and social issues and amused us all along with her insight into historical figures and how some aspects lose relevance today. I also visited Strahov Monastery which happens to be the largest monastic library in the country with two great baroque halls. You can get yourself some beer at their brewery and call it a day. We ended our Prague hopping with a visit to Agave restaurant which is a Mexican place serving some of the best nachos and burritos I have had.
We left Prague happy and content. We had walked our way through the city, trust me taking the tram or the train can sometimes make you lose out on the bits and pieces you tend to gather from just observing an entire city unfold on foot. We walked around 15 kms everyday and it wasn't the slightest bit inconvenient. In fact, it was absolutely erratic. We zoomed past people like our house was on fire and slowed down when we felt like it, we had a coffee stop once in a while but our clocks were always ticking. We didn't have a bus to catch, a tour guide to report to or even a fixed schedule to abide by and that kind of freedom when you are travelling is liberating. It comes at the cost of having to sit down and do grueling research for hours to come well in advance and being open to last minute changes or a bigger issue like having to tug along your baggage at the euro rail stations.
More on that in the next blog.
I am glad we are still alive though.
Happy and thriving :)
See you on the other side!
Strahov Monastery Library
Strahov Monastery Library
National Museum of Prague