My life as a backpacker began in Prague. I arrived there two months into my trip. But those two months were spent staying with friends and driving across the US. It wasn’t spent in hostels or meeting travelers. Up until that time, my trip had always felt like an extended vacation.
But all that changed in Prague.
Prague was the first place I stayed in a hostel and had to make friends with strangers in dorms, navigate on my own (no one was there to meet me at the airport), figure out signs in a different language, and really get by as a traveler. It was the first place where I was truly a stranger in a different land.
I was on my own, and I loved it — from the hostel happy hours with the giant four-deck game of kings, to the craziness of being in a 20-bed dorm room, to that cute Aussie girl (call me), to the friends I met who I stay in touch with to this day.
Prague showed me the wonders of hostel life and backpacking, and I was hooked.
Then, three days later, I was gone… off to Milan to continue my adventures.
I haven’t been back since, but with my Central Europe tour starting in Prague, last week I flew back to re-acclimate myself to the city, get the lay of the land, and connect with the local operators I’m working with.
After being away for eight years, I was worried the city would have changed too much, and the memory of my first visit would be so powerful that Prague could never live up to it.
But thankfully I was wrong.
Prague is different (and more expensive), but the essence of what makes it wonderful is still there. When I came to Prague in 2006, I fell in love with a city steeped in history, beautiful medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, cafés, beautiful women, lots of travelers, and cheap beer. Prague seemed to have it all.
And it still does.
Time changes places, especially ones so popular with travelers. And sometimes it’s not always for the better. There are many things different with Prague—some good, some bad. There are more tourists, prices are much higher (euros are widely accepted), English is more widely spoken, and there’s more international food, including a lot of vegetarian options (be sure to check out the Country Home buffet!).
What made Prague special as a city was still there, and that made me happy. There was Letenské sady (park), where I stared out across the city from a lookout as couples posed for photos and an art student drew the skyline. There was the slow meander through Královská zahrada, where the noise of the city fell away as the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral rose above the trees, and all that could be heard were the whispers of travelers talking about the park’s beauty.
As I wandered cobblestone streets, walked across the Charles Bridge, traipsed up and down the river, and plotted out walking routes for my tour, I fell for Prague once again. I remembered what made this city so special to me the first time: the feeling of being lost in time and in some place truly different. This time around that feeling was still there.
I’ve written about chasing travel ghosts before. It’s a thought that haunts me throughout my travels. Will a destination be as good as I remember it? Will each subsequent visit tire me out or renew my love? Sometimes, like in Paris, returning renews my love. Other times, like in Ko Phangan, it makes me realize that it’s time to move on.
But returning to Prague, my love was rekindled, and that’s something special. Each visit anywhere is unique in its own right, and it’s only natural to compare them. But when the essence remains the same, when that original spark is still there, you know your connection to a place is deeper than just one good time.
And that’s a great feeling. I can’t wait to come back in August and share this wonderful city with my tour group.
P.S. I’ll be writing a much longer post on what to see and do in Prague in the future!