Guest Author Stephanie Mercado is an aspiring documentarian of eclectic style and taste. Here she explores her infatuation with travel and cultures.
The city of spires and the inspired. Prague, kept sane under the shadows of neighboring big-city tourist highlights such as Krakow, Vienna, Berlin and Munich, was an overwhelming achievement; providing the sense of a personal discovery, as if the city itself only came into existence upon my arrival. It was as if the world was flat, vampires did reside in Washington State and animals could speak, or at least understand different dialects (a revelation I came to in learning the words "sit" and "stay" in Cesky). Columbus would be proud.
The capital of Czech Republic and the center of Bohemia, a culture of sophisticated frugality, of dark coffees and small-portioned meals, 1920’s-era bookshops, and a pallette of art and alcohol; Prague was home to me for two months. I chose to study here because of its bargain exchange rate and Central European location...as I had already anticipated a common leave from the country on weekend excursions to the more presumptive populated. I had low expectations for the city, but was incredibly excited nonetheless. Before my departure, many responded with “what’s Prague?” rather than where; but perhaps that goes to show the geographical awareness of American college students. Given the overloading precautions of naivete and enthused tunnel vision that set the stage for the action-packed return of Liam Neeson in Taken, I was confident to trust that my dad would do just the same.
One week after moving into my new apartment (surprisingly not in the stereotypical hostel-like conditions of American expectations) and overcoming the minor trials of purchasing lotion instead of shampoo and a newly developed sense of direction, I found myself walking alone at one in the morning without even a second thought to my safety. For two months after, still there was something always new to see in my daily commute from the green metro line "B" at Jiriho Z Podebrad to Malostranska and tram 12, 19 or 22 to Malostranska square and the 5 minute walk through tourist-congested cobblestones into a clearer path just to the right of Charles Bridge. From the start of the Eurocup screenings in Old Town until the Greek euro crisis and the American zombie apocalypse, Prague provided something so surreal while at the same time something more real than all the chaos in circumference.
It was hard to tell when the day ended or began, if people were headed to work or just coming home. The lights were another almost insignificant detail I can speak romantically about, how the city felt aglow from the ground up. I'm homesick for Prague. I'm not fit for a 9-5, in-gym exercise and rushed dinners. I can say that my adventures to the Berlin wall, Amsterdam coffee shops, and the finish line of the Tour de France at Champs-Elysee in Paris fall just short of my infatuation with Prague. It wasn't the sight seeing, the skydiving, pub crawling or shopping even, but the contradiction of an extravagant simplicity that shone through the architecture, the people and their culture.
I do my best to be unbiased, having travelled to some of the most beautiful countries in the world, so before you overlook Prague as just a place you’d only perchance to, know that it already has defeated your expectations.
Here are five thoughts on prejudgments about my first experience alone outside of America that were joyfully overturned:
1. Everyone will know I'm American and intentionally mistreat me.
2. I'll be the only Asian within a five country radius, let alone Asian-American.
3. Hostels will be scary.
4. As an American and a young female traveling solo, I will be a "target" (subject to location and sobriety levels of supposed predators).
5. I'd need to stash hidden dollars and my passport under my shirt.
Truthfully, these predeparture assumptions were most entirely, with the exception of some subjectivity to numbers 3 and 4, proven otherwise. If I've learned one thing from my trip from a big picture perspective, is that America is consumed and sadly restricted by paranoia.
To let go of fear and hesitation in a country that was not my home, led me to some of the greatest and most memorable adventures of my life. If I'm to advise of the top 5 things to do in Prague as a better outlet of focus than safety and expectations, then take note:
1. Petrin Park- the view from the mini Eiffel Tower is the best you'll find and a quiet tourist spot compared to the common hotspots within the city.
2. Bring paint for the Lennon wall. You'll be thankful to be apart of it afterwards. I, thinking myself engulfed as a temporary local, didn't appreciate the tourism of it at first...but grew to love how the wall literally was in constant change.
3. Have a Kozel or Gambrinus beer. Yes, Pilsner is all over, but that's like having a Miller in America. Also, go to at least one beer garden.
4. United Islands Festival is in the summer, as well as the Eurocup screenings in Old Town Square. Events typically followed by friendly encounters and unplanned pub crawls.
5. Make use of "dobry den" and "dekuji".