When travelers visit Europe it is so easy to get caught up in trying to see everything. In every major city you can make a list the length of your arm of sites to visit and things to do, which is practically impossible due to the length of time most people are able to spend in one place. Yet, the tendency is to cram every moment full of things on the list. But, in my opinion, this is so counterproductive. Now, that’s not to say that I am not guilty of this, but I have learned that taking your time to “smell the roses” will definitely enrich the experience.
On this particular trip, we are spending 5 full days in Prague, a half day on the train to Vienna, then 6 full days in Vienna. While two weeks in Europe is such a luxury, it goes by quickly and can be quite harried if not (un)planned properly. Choosing a great place to stay both in comfort and location will take the stress level down a notch or two. When we arrived yesterday, our airbnb host greeted us and showed us around. We followed him around exclaiming “wow” every time we looked in a room. The place is lovely and has a full kitchen equipped with a DeLonghi coffee machine.
After settling in, we found the local grocery store and stocked our kitchen with the necessities – milk for coffee, yogurt for breakfast, and some fruit. This is always a fun way to dive into the culture. It’s so interesting to see the local flavor and how things are marketed, not to mention it can always bring on a good laugh . . . like this: (What the?? Since when did Texas become synonymous with corn and kidney beans?!?!?)
Enough about groceries – let’s hear about Prague. To be sure, the sites and sounds of Prague evoke romance. Everywhere you turn you can see stunning architecture, which is lit up at night adding to the drama. Ironically, while the city went unscathed by the bombing during World War II, its Jewish population was all but eliminated by the Nazis. While a solemn choice of sites, no trip to Prague is complete without a visit to the Jewish quarter and museum, which we are planning to visit on our last full day in Prague.
One of the amazing things about our travel group is the planning that goes into the trip. It always pays off and it certainly did on the first night. We had a reservation at Kampa Park, a lovely restaurant on the river within walking distance of our flat. The food was delicious, and the views were breathtaking. One of the best things about eating at a restaurant in Europe is that you can take your time without having a waiter interrupt your conversation and meal throughout it. Typically, you have to ask the waiter for the check because nobody is in a hurry. We took our time eating dinner then sat and chatted for another hour. Once we were ready to leave, the server brought his card machine to the table and took care of us there – so convenient. Given the lovely weather that night, we leisurely walked back to our flat. Of course, I wasn’t ready to turn in so one of my partners in crime and I decided to head back out and walk around. It started to pour rain before we even crossed the bridge into town. Drenched and cold, we walked back to call it a night. Luckily, before it started raining too hard we were able to take a few stunning photos of Prague castle bathed in light.
While some may scoff, taking a bus tour around the city is a great way to get your bearings and see the highlights in a quick fashion and leave you with an idea of where you would like to focus your time. In addition to the bus tour, we purchased a Prague card, which allows us entry into all of the main attractions. Armed with tickets and cards, we scooted around the city on a small bus with tourists from around the world. Being a group of 5, I was the odd man out and ended up sitting by myself until another couple came on board just before we left. Begrudgingly, I moved to another seat on the bus next to a woman that was not comfortable having someone sit next to her. She gave off this energy like she was praying I would just go away so I tried to give her as much room as possible.
Near the end of the ride the bus dropped us off at Prague castle for an impossibly short stop of 30 minutes to look around. (Of course, I managed to squeeze in a little art.) While standing around to wait on the bus to return and pick us up, I smiled and greeted my seat mate. Having seen that she was listening to the French language version of the tour, I decided to tell her that I spoke a little French. It was like she had encountered human life after being on an island alone. She started to talk to me as if I was a native speaker and, surprisingly, I understood a great deal of what she said and was able to have a conversation with this woman. I learned that she was from Grenoble and that she had flown into Prague for a 2-day visit. Once we returned to our seats, she showed me all of the things she had purchased. It was a lovely experience for both of us. She found someone she could talk to, and I was able to practice my French.
Once the bus tour was over everyone but Lori and I decided to head back to the flat. We decided we wanted to walk around a bit. After asking me the silly question of whether I wanted some coffee, we quickly crossed the street to this tiny café called Café Ebel. It was the cutest little shop with just 2 bistro tables and a short bar. The menu on the wall fascinated me – it was a visual explanation of every kind of coffee drink you could think of without the burden of choosing a size or flavor. I was in heaven. Entering the place we were thinking of ordering our coffee to go, but one of the tables cleared so we took it over. For the next hour we sat with our delicious coffee and talked. This is the European vacation of my dreams – sitting in a café with another lovely human being enjoying a coffee crafted with care. We never felt rushed or unwelcome. Our barista kindly explained about the coffee and how it was purchased directly from the growers around the world. On this night in Prague, we drank the finest coffee made from beans grown in Columbia.
On any trip, it is always the unplanned and unexpected experiences that make it so rich and memorable. When I am flexible and keep an open mind, then I can turn a bad seat experience into a lovely conversation where I make a new friend or stumble upon a cozy café where I can share the best coffee in town with a fellow traveler. All in all it was not a bad first day in Prague.