You may have noticed that I glossed right over my trip to Prague with Meagan – the last stop on my summer tour before landing in London. At the time, writing about all the touristy things I saw didn’t hold enough weight to warrant writing about.
Type “Prague” into the search bar and images of colourful buildings, ornate architecture (with chopstick-like spires punctuating the skyline) and lush, green parks will pop up. It is a gorgeous, well-preserved medieval city coupled with a rich history, raucous nightlife (for those with more stamina than me!), and a hint of romance. While I could warn seasoned travellers how fantastically underwhelming the dancing figures are at the astronomical clock are or how crowded Charles Bridge can be mid-afternoon, this isn’t a travel blog per se and I didn’t feel like there was a story worth sharing. What could I add except a few touristy pictures of art and food?
But given a little patience, all things can turn into stories; and your patience has been rewarded.
It’s been said that serendipity favours the bold, brave or prepared but I’m here to tell you it also favours those who feast.
As a diehard foodie, I plan my travels about the meals I want to taste. I scour the internet comparing recommendations and triangulating Yelp and Lonely Planet reviews like geometry problems to be solved. I’m ready to walk miles for a scoop of ice cream or famed slice of pizza or to queue for local delicacy that simply cannot be missed. But mention a hop-on, hop-off bus and I’m out. Prague was no different.
When I first went to Prague in 2004, the city was off-the-beaten path and not ‘in vogue’ except within certain circles (those chill, avant garde travel posses that seem to go everywhere before it's been featured in a trendy Condé Naste article). During that first trip to Prague, we arrived at the break of dawn after an overnight train ride from Munich. We had no accommodation booked and probably hadn't even read the appropriate section in Rick Steeves Shoestring Guide to Europe. As we disembarked the train, we were swarmed with little Czech grannies offering us places to stay so we took a leap of faith and followed one to her tiny flat on the edge of the city centre. In our sparsely decorated flat, with frilly curtains and doilies taking place next to utilitarian furniture, a hint of Communist, we “lived” like locals for the few days we were in town – eating heaping portions of goulash followed by endless pints of beer and spending no more than $5 for the evening. After weeks of endless churches and museums on our summer backpacking trip, we needed a change of pace. In Prague, we spent afternoons in the Petřín Park doing handstands and secretly snapping pictures of local police in the Jewish quarter perched on barstools grabbing lunch in the pub. I have photos of both and they became favourite travel snapshots as they capture powerful memories from the summer of 2004. Prague holds a special place in my heart. I grew as a traveler here.
This time around, things were a bit classier... and much busier. In the thirteen years since my last visit, Prague has had a tourist infestation and I guarantee Meagan tired of my complaining about the other tourists crawling out of every nook and cranny with their trdelnik pastries (the essence of a tourist trap in Prague.). Despite the need to elbow our way through the crowds, we covered the city from top-to-bottom and edge-to-edge. Along side the churches and majestic castles, I could tell you about the magical food tour we did or the restaurants we ate in Prague but my the crown jewel of this trip is about unexpected connections. The serendipitous charm of food.
After a long day of tourist-ing on Meagan’s first day, we found a quiet restaurant for a bite before an early bedtime to neutralize her jetlag. While we waited for glass of chilled, cheap house wine, they seated a beautiful woman at the two-top table right next to us. Of all the free seats in the sparsely filled restaurant, we were elbow-to-elbow. Awkward. At first, I thought that she must be waiting for someone to join but when she ordered without the arrival of a mysterious guest, it became clear she was traveling on her own. As frequent solo traveler myself, I did what I wished everyone would do for me. Without hesitation, I turned to her and casually said, “So you must be travelling on your own. How is it going?” I then introduced myself and Meagan and welcomed our new Australian friend into our dinner discussion, thus adopting her for the evening.
I couldn’t have known the impact of the spontaneous dinner chitchat between tourists. The conversation could have been a polite exchange of a couple niceties that fizzled out quickly but instead it was as if we’d been friends for years. It turns out Alina had been living in London (my future home) for the last couple of years and this was her final hurrah around Europe before returning to Oz (yet another victim of visa disappointments). At the end of the evening, we exchanged numbers intending to meet up when we were both in London a few weeks later. Her number could have become one of the many random ones that you stare at during the annual purge of your contacts wondering, “Who does this number below to?” But I pride myself of being the queen of follow through and despite living in London before, my university friends had long scattered so I had secret hopes of leveraging Alina’s connections since if she’s cool, she must know cool people.
I had been in London a couple weeks when Alina returned to collect her bags and say her final sayonara. We almost didn’t get a chance to see each other but she had a fail-safe backup plan. prompted by the poorly aligned timing of my arrival and her departure, she created a Whatsapp group of all the amazing women in her London life that should know each other, and introduce the latest arrival – Me. What a welcome! Fortunately, we met up for drinks with a couple of her friends on her final evening in town and just like the tables turned and I was the lucky one who was adopted by a wonderful group of friends.
Serendipity is about more than just happy accidents. It’s about making real connections to real opportunities. If you catch yourself thinking “why bother?” the next time a stranger starts talking to you, remind yourself that you never know what might unfold if you approach the world with a little more openness.
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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