What follows is a story I wrote for a travel journalism contest back in January. I didn't end up winning the contest, but having a deadline to turn something so ineffable into a 250 word story was a good reminder that I love doing that. Enjoy xx.
Sometimes, when falling in love, you see it coming. You feel the familiar butterflies. The way the object of your affection begins to take up space in your brain. Before you know it, you see it everywhere and can’t stop thinking about it.
Other times, it’s an unstoppable avalanche that gives no warning to the pile of snow it’s about to dump down the mountainside of your life. You’re not even looking for it when it happens, but the moment it makes its presence known you are changed forever.
The latter is what happened when I got to Prague.
It came at the perfect time. I was on break from university in Berlin. I was newly heartbroken and looking for some kind of solace; anything to make the hole in my heart ache less. My best friend and I bought train tickets and planned a four day adventure. I brought one small backpack with clean clothes and a tote bag with my journal, drawing supplies, and lunch for the train ride. We didn’t look back.
As a child, I never felt any real draw to the Czech Republic. I'd always dreamed of Italy’s Mediterranean shores, but the hostels in Prague were dirt cheap and my friend had an interest so we went. I was excited, but my expectations were low. I had no idea how wrong I was about to be.
As the train pulled into the Prague Central Station and we stepped outside, I suddenly knew we were in the right place. The sun was slanting softly through the trees. Kids were skateboarding past us. We hopped on the tram and the city slid by us as we crossed the river to get to our hostel. After checking in, I immediately unpacked, and then proceeded to stare out the window in awe.
My friend and I explored and ate and drank and laughed in the Czech sunshine and then she was off on her next adventure and I decided to stay, and then I kept deciding to stay. A four day trip turned into two weeks. I’ve never been happier cancelling tickets home.
One of my solo days stands out to me still. I had been there eight days. I had the lay of the land. I had a grocery store I went to each day and a daily rhythm. Wake up. Get dressed. Get coffee. Explore. Draw buildings and the sky. It was starting to feel normal.
One evening, I was on my way back to my hostel after a day by the Vltava river. It was nearing sunset, and as I made my way closer to the bridge the streets got more and more crowded, to the point where I almost couldn’t move between people. After more than a week there I already felt like a local, and I was hungry, tired, and wanting to get to the grocery store so I could get back to my hostel and cook dinner. Thinking of what I did in Berlin when the streets were full, I put in my headphones. I picked up my pace, and the people seemed to part like water around a rock in front of me. I felt like I was flying. Walking to the beat of the song in my ears, I felt powerful. To the tourists, I looked like a local. To them, I was living my normal day to day life. For a moment, that place was mine, and people around me saw it.
A global traveler, I put down roots wherever I go, and both slowly and all at once, my heart had a place in Prague too.
The way I fell in love with that city wasn’t loud. It wasn’t sudden. It wasn’t what I’ve ever felt in love before. It was like pulling on a familiar sweater and pouring tea into a cup you’d had since childhood. It was like driving past that field you used to run around in as a kid, giggling, long blond curls streaming out behind you in the summer sun. Like seeing someone I hadn’t seen in years. Like coming home.