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Rated: E · Essay · Travel · #2227973
The only way to travel is alone!
In 2018 I was thinking I had been fearful of new experiences for most of my life and went through some therapy; I was too comfortable and rarely took risks My life felt like one gigantic rut. The time had come to change that: no one could do it for me. I had to stick my neck out and be courageous for a change. I love to travel; maybe it was time to challenge what I knew about traveling and about myself.

I booked a solo 10-day trip to Prague.

Everyone, except thankfully my husband, thought I was nuts. Maybe I was, but I needed to see what I was made of. I needed to be on my own in a strange place and be open to new experiences. What was my identity away from my comfortable life and a husband who spoils me rotten? I live a safe and cushy life: what would it be like to just rely on myself for a change? Was I be scared? I was more determined as each day brought me closer to my departure date that I would be fine. It was more than fine.

Prague is an incredible European city with castles, towers, and cobblestone streets. The history and architecture envelop you, even if you’re not into history or architecture. We, as Americans, think we have history, but we are newbies to the game. The museums and churches were full of knowledge of the Czech Republic's history.

Not once did I feel less than perfectly safe; all streets were very well lit and police were visible if you cared to look for them. My brother, a former police officer, collects police badges and I went to the closest department office and asked if I could get a badge for my brother. I got a tour and a badge! The officer that showed me around was so friendly and answered questions I had about the city. I'm guessing that not many people would think to stop into a police department, but it's something I will definitely do from now on.

You have to have good eyesight to figure out the money system in Prague. I am sure if you lived with it your entire life it would be easy to differentiate the myriad of coins, but to someone who is used to easily read bills, it was confusing! I would put the coins in my hand and just hold it out to the clerk and hope they were honest. It was easy to see the clerks were quite used to my technique. I changed my American money for Kronas at the airport which turned out to be a good move as there was always a long line to exchange money at the small stops on the streets. I exchanged $400 and it was more cash than I needed for ten days.

Growing up in rural Maine I have never gone solo on public transportation; I was a virgin, so to speak when I arrived, but by the time I left I had taken the tram and the metro to get around the very visitor-friendly city. I also took a daylong guided trip to Cesky Krumlov, an ancient castle that has remained untouched in the Czech Republic (now Bohemia), in which I learned about what rural life is like. It reminded me much of rural Pennsylvania with its rolling fields, some growing with grass, some with corn, and others with canola.

Walking around the city was my favorite pastime. I have a small tablet that I take on all my jaunts because its camera takes great shots, and I would walk for a while. When my feet got tired of walking on cobblestone streets I looked for a coffee shop, where I would sit and make a rough draft of what I had been doing that day, but more importantly, my perceptions of this wonderful city. I love strong coffee, which is served everywhere, but after a while, the body just doesn’t want any more caffeine. I discovered there are no benches on the streets to discourage the homeless population, so my choices for a break for my feet included bars and restaurants. The first place I saw a Burger King and I was ready for some food. I was surprised to see that beer and wine were among the offerings. Every little storefront offered beer and wine, and vendors were selling it openly on the streets. Seemed strange to me, but, hey, it’s their country!

I saw only two homeless people the entire time I was there. One very old woman reminded me of a very crooked cane because that’s how skinny she was and how she hobbled as she walked the street with a tin can in her hand, outstretched in front of her. The first full day I took the metro into the Old City and strolled across the St. Charles Bridge in the early morning hours. Well, it was early for me anyway. There was a perhaps 40-year-old man squatting on the ground and as he stretched out in front and lay his hat open in front of him, his dog got into the same position. When I came back, the man was sleeping, his back against the side of the bridge and he held his dog like a baby. He had even wrapped it in his own coat. Yeah, that got me and I added my coins to his hat.

Prague is on a beautiful river and the powers that be decided those old barges, no longer in use, would make housing for the homeless. They divided the barges into rooms along with cafeterias to give those who need a helping hand a hand up. That explained why there were so few homeless folks on the streets.

Now, there are a few things I couldn’t do while I was there. Some of the immense churches weren’t allowing visitors, some museums were down for maintenance, but the biggest obstacle for me was reading signs. Here in the States, all the signs are mainly in English. If you are near New England, some of the signs are in French; if you're in Arizona or Texas some of the signs have Spanish alongside the English. Not so in Czech Republic: they are written in Czech, German and Russian. No hint for simpleton me when I was trying to find my way back to my hotel one Sunday morning when I got brave and took the train to the outskirts of the city in search of the zoo.

The biggest change in me was the empowerment I got from going it alone. I didn’t need someone to bail me out when I was afraid of the unknown; I learned to do it anyway. I went to restaurants alone and navigated foreign menus, learned to read the metro and tram schedules, and got myself through what previously would have given me great angst. I felt more in touch with myself than I had in many years. For the first time in many years, I felt truly alive.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Italy, 2021. Bring it on!
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