This was a very special holiday to me for many reasons, the first being it was my first adult holiday, meaning that there was no parental supervision, no adults to hold my hand because I was an “adult”.Secondly, it was my first holiday where I went with friends, more specifically one good friend. Lastly, it was special because Prague was gorgeous. Overall we spent just 5 days there including travel and it was the perfect amount of time, we walked 10 miles a day and tried to see as much of Prague as was on offer. Although getting up early probably doesn’t seem like much fun for those going on holiday to relax, being a tourist is serious business and when you are going in August and the temperature is hotter than the sun you want to be back at the hotel as early as possible to be reunited with the air conditioning. Although travel is usually romanticised as being for finding out who you are, deeply engrossing yourself in a culture or to experience the landscapes and food here are 5 things I learnt in Prague. I was not expecting to be on the flight home with a different mindset from just one holiday but as we landed I knew I would keep these experiences and they would be useful to my future development not only as a traveler but as a person:
Being an adult is simply about being brave
As I packed the night before my flight I was level headed and calm, my family most likely didn’t think I was very excited. I said I would be once we were in the hotel and the stress of travel was out of the way. My experiences beforehand with airports were that, aside from just being busy they were full of people who knew what they were doing. Not just the businessmen and women with their black suitcases and prim suits walking with purpose to their gate, but even the massive families all holding hands and laughing carelessly on their way to Spain seemed to have a plan of action. Although I had checked more time than I can recall that I had my tickets, passport, phone, suitcase etc. I felt completely unprepared. The idea that I was going to be traveling to another country was daunting because if I couldn’t survive the airport how would I survive Prague? Once myself and my friend arrived at the airport we went through the motions, going through airport security, finding our gate, getting our passports and boarding passes checked and once we were on the plane the realisation came over me. We had done all of this without a hitch because we believed we could. The anxiety I felt the night before was gone once we arrived simply because of the “fake it till you make it” thought process. With my friend by my side I felt I needed to appear more confident than I was so she wouldn’t become as stressed out as I felt. It worked. Once we landed in Prague this bravery continued, from ordering our taxi to speaking with the hotel staff, ordering food and asking for directions,each new challenge I took face on because I realised that being an adult meant not fearing being wrong. This summer I have my plane tickets booked to visit Munich for a week and I shall be flying over alone, the idea of it may arise some nerves but I know I can do it.
Manners are a virtue
While the Czech language can sometimes sound harsh to foreign ears there is a strict but polite nature to the people we met. The same however can not be said for some of the tourists, Prague was full to brim including us there were easily thousands at each location we went to. Old Tow, New Town, Lesser Town and Jewish Town were crammed with camera carrying tourists all waiting to climb the central tower, picture the many bakeries and as many cathedrals as they would allow pictures. This is common for a capital hotspot, however, the etiquette most of us are used to especially in the UK was lost. I found myself taken aback by the pushing in line, the kids left to roam and reek havoc on the streets and by how much I would say ‘thank you’. It almost became an odd word in my mouth ( all be it not as odd as ‘děkuji’ which I didn’t even attempt to mispronounce), I didn’t notice how much I would say it especially when it came to ordering food. When the waiter would bring the menu we would say ‘thank you’, when they brought us drinks we said ‘thank you’, when they took back the menu we said ‘thank you’, when they brought us our food, when they gave us the bill. Even when we left the restaurant we said ‘thank you’ to the staff. Speaking English in a foreign country makes you aware of what you say. Although the excessive ‘thank yous’, the waiting politely in queues even if others overtook and constant apologies for not knowing Czech or even walking into a table taught me anything it was that this behaviour was a rarity among tourists. It gave me a sense of pride to know that despite the healthy dose of embarrassment, manners were instilled in me from a young age. I cherished it when I returned to England in each person I met, appreciating that it’s free to be polite.
Second homes are made faster than first
On the first day we arrived the hotel room was a blessing because it meant sleep finally! We threw our suitcases on the floor, rang our parents to tell them we were safe and then slept for the next 10 hours. Although we arrived at around 7pm the airport wait, flight, and taxi to the hotel was enough to knock us out. The next day we woke up to the sun shining, birds singing and a whole city to explore. We packed away the rest of ours clothes, brushed our teeth, combed our hair, got dressed and were quickly out the door by 10am. After a long day, we returned to the hotel and it was as though we had lived in Prague for months. Our room no longer felt alien, rather all of our possessions in their own drawers or on their individual hangers, the toothpaste laid out on the sink and our beds a mess it already felt lived in.I was shocked by how quickly we had made Prague our home, it didn’t feel unfamiliar. Rather by the third day, we were so used to our surroundings it felt like a small student accommodation apartment. As someone who dreamed of one day living in another country but feeling too nervous to ever believe she could this gave me a new perspective. As there were no parents around and the hotel was not merely a fun place to sleep in before running out to explore like it had been when I was younger it was treated as a living arrangement. I understand that I had no job to attend, no bills to pay and it was merely a room yet despite this naivety I felt happy to simply know how quickly it would take to get acquainted with living across Europe in a miniature flat and feeling at home.
English being your first language is a blessing
Any English student who has given one thought as to wanting to live aboard has thought about teaching English. The demand is high and the global, our education system is rarely language focused simply because we know the language most countries learn as a second one. This is an advance many of us take for granted. The tourists we encountered daily were from all over the globe, France, China, Greece etc. Yet I heard not one speak Czech, nor did I see a language phrase book peak out of any pockets or an amateur attempt at small talk. Each one spoke English to the Czech tour ticket sellers, the waiters and even the street performers. Yet for many English was not their first language. This was an advantage I had not truly realised until we arrived in Prague. I never felt uncomfortable speaking English or using hand gestures, most menus were written with English subtitles as it were, all the hotel staff spoke English, our bills were in English and even our cashiers at supermarkets spoke English. It is easy to say this is the case because the expect tourists and , therefore being able to speak English is a necessity. London, for instance, is a tourist hot spot, yet to expect the tour guides to be fluent in any other language, the menus to be re-written in different languages or for the other tourists to be speaking anything but English would seem absurd. However in Prague, a Czech city, English is everywhere.It is truly a blessing to be able to land in most places in the world, especially Europe, and know that your own language will sustain you. As someone who struggles with languages as much as I do it makes travelling far easier than for those whose first language is anything but. This trip definitely saddened me in regards to not being bilingual, yet taught me to be happy with the language I was born with.
Appreciate your surroundings
When we accidentally got lost into the outskirts of the city we were met with remote pubs, small houses, and locals sitting under trees with a few beers laughing with their friends. The atmosphere was one of serenity and calm. Once we moved towards Old Town, finally heading the right direction we were overwhelmed by how beautiful the buildings were, the large lake that ran through with multiple gorgeous bridges and stunning architecture. It was as though we had stepped into a Prague created by illustrations rather than tangible monuments. At this moment, I was reminded of those who preferred their own small towns, happy to rest in a hot pub drinking cold drinks than gaze at these glorious sites.It seemed insane to me that they wouldn’t be in awe as much as us. However, it then occurred to me that we all take these same views for granted. It’s much like how when you are younger and you first enter a new school it feels huge, you constantly get lost and wonder if you will ever feel settled. Then after a few weeks, it suddenly feels very small and you wonder why you found it so hard to find your class in the first place. I guess the same can be said for anywhere, once you are familiarised you are no longer stunned by your own surroundings and merely disregard it. Taking for granted the sites you get to take in daily is simple to do yet can be unlearned. When I returned to England I began to become a tourist of my own city, appreciating what I get to see every day and beginning to understand why so many tourists adore sights I barely glance at. Prague let me drink in its sights and then created a thirst for my own birthplace.
Although these musings appear to be the typical student reaction to going abroad which is to make the experiences all about them and how they’ve grown from experiencing another country is it cliche but true. I do feel as though next to the experience of Prague as a beautiful place with great food and a deeply interesting culture it did change me. I knew once I returned home and got back into my own bed that I wouldn’t forget what the experience taught me and I am thankful to say I still haven’t.
If you have been to Prague, let me know what you thought below!
Side photo credit: Flickr/ ‘Prague’ by Michael Livine-Clark