Have you ever visited a new country and it was exactly what you expected? Or been somewhere where your expectations were completely wrong?
Researching different parts of the world is very interesting. You see pictures and read stories but NOTHING at all compares to your unique experience. And it is definitely that, unique. Everyone experiences the world in different ways and that is one thing in particular I love about the world of travel blogging. You can get the impressions and experiences from many different kinds of people and many different kinds of travelers.
The major tourist websites may tell you how to use the rail system in Europe, but they won’t explain to you the sickening feeling of being robbed on the train. They may show you beautiful pictures of Hawaiian beaches, but without experiencing it for yourself, you’ll never know the bliss of a ukulele-accompanied piña colada buzz in a beachside cabana.
So all-in-all, do we ever really know what to expect?
This is the first in a series about travelers’ first impressions. I will be collecting stories and interviews from people that I know personally who have recently visited a place for the first time – a place that I haven’t visited myself (yet).
Let me introduce you to my friend Marla. My Filipino friend from Tennessee who teaches me how to say words in Tagalot – the really important ones like “bubbles” (“bula”). This is Marla doing something to my face at some point during my wedding day. Despite what you may see in this photo, we are not nude! It was not that kind of wedding!
Marla recently spent a few days in Prague, Czech Republic where I have been dying to go and drink beer out of the tap on my own table.
Update: I’ve now been! Read about it here:
What were your preconceptions of Prague before visiting?
I didn’t know much about Prague except I had been DREAMING of visiting since I first saw Samantha Brown explore it in one of her Passport to Europe episodes. All I remember was seeing her walk through cobblestone streets surrounded by medieval style buildings and I said to myself, “Totally going there one day!” never really knowing for certain if I ever would, let alone be going there for my honeymoon! (Because of this my husband now refers to himself as my dream maker, hah!)
What were your first impressions of Prague?
My first impression was the taxi ride from the airport into Old Town where we were staying. We went through the modern part of the city first and it was full of interesting graffiti on abandoned buildings, colorful vagrants going about their business, and lots of billboards in Czech, and with the cabbie going almost 160 kph, I’d say it was an unexpected first experience. But, I kept the visuals of that Samantha Brown episode in my head and as soon as we got to into Old Town I was like a kid seeing Disney World for the first time! I was right on the cobblestone streets surrounded by old buildings, Prague history and seriously just a few steps from the famous Charles Bridge! I was in awe.
Do you think the reality of it met your expectations? Was real life similar to how you imagined it?
Reality for sure met my expectations. I think it really helped that the place we stayed was right off of the Charles Bridge and if you’ve seen any pictures of Prague, almost every one of them is of the bridge with Prague Castle in the background. It was pretty damn awesome to be smack dab in the middle of it all!
Tell me a little about the city.
The part of the city we were in reminded me of being in an episode of Game of Thrones, very old and medieval-like. Apparently Prague is one of the few cities, if not the only city, that did not get destroyed during the invasion of the Germans in WWII. Old Town is straight up gorgeous and small enough to be able to walk everywhere we wanted to go: Prague Castle, the Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, and even Wenceslas Square which is in modern Prague. There were street musicians everywhere we went which I just absolutely loved! We made sure to always stop and listen for a good while.
Sounds awesome! I love old medieval towns. Way more than anything modern. Did you have a favorite thing you saw?
Me too. I prefer historical sides of town way more than their modern sides. I loved the whole outing at Prague Castle. It took a whole day and we got to see the changing of the guards, the gardens, the torture chambers and the cathedral. I got to shoot an old timey crossbow (and hit several bullseyes). But my favorite thing I saw was something we came upon by accident – The Wallenstein Garden. We wanted to take a shortcut to the restaurant we were going to and ended up cutting through this amazingly beautiful garden. Peacocks everywhere, even an albino one. I, of course, stalked them all!
Tell me about the locals.
The first that we met was our host, Veronika, who owned the studio that we stayed in. She was so sweet and even took us to lunch at a local restaurant called Lokal when we first got there. While at lunch she gave us suggestions for restaurants, bars, sights, and even made suggestions for the food we had that day. Lokal has a menu that changes, daily specials, and we had a pork and gravy dish with their version of dumplings, DELISH!
She explained to us that most likely any other locals we come across will speak English since they teach it in schools now. So if the person looked under 40, they most likely spoke English, which was awesome for us because Czech is one of the hardest languages to learn. The only words we learned to say even semi-correctly was:
- cheers: na zdraví
- please: prosím
- thank you: děkuji (dya-koo-yee)
- and the easiest one, hello: ahoy!
Ahoy, that’s awesome. I said that to a couple of sailors recently at the Statue of Liberty and they were not amused.
Did you feel welcome in Prague?
For instance, my first trip to Venice was a nightmare because the shop owners and salespeople were so rude to us, calling us “stupid tourists” and literally cussing at us if we walked into a shop and didn’t buy anything. Sir, would your shop even exist if it weren’t for stupid tourists like myself? Ma’am, if you hate tourists so much, why the hell are you selling cheap souvenirs for a living?
Yeah, we felt very welcome especially after meeting Veronika. Most everyone spoke English and was very friendly. Although, when we tried to check out modern Prague, we totally got screwed at the subway station. The clerk didn’t speak English and didn’t explain how the ticketing worked and that we needed to get our tickets validated before boarding. When we got off at our stop, there were subway police checking tickets and of course they spotted the one Asian in the crowd and probably thought, “$weet! A touri$t!” Because our tickets weren’t validated we were fined 60 USD! Other than that one encounter with Prague travel we had nothing but pleasant experiences.
What were some of your favorite things that you ate/drank in Prague?
We learned one thing very quickly in Prague… when in Prague, you drink BEER! And with each liter costing about $1.50-$2 (USD) each, you can drink to your heart’s and wallet’s content! Each restaurant or bar sold exclusively one brand of beer. The ones we liked were: Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Budweiser (not to be confused with the unrelated and far inferior American version (sorry southern friends who love the stuff). FYI, Prague was calling it Budweiser first.
We also learned that there are different pours of Pilsner Urquell. The traditional pours are Na dvakrát (crisp), hlandinka (smooth) which gives the beer a larger head of foam for a smoother taste, and mlíko (milk) which is very little liquid beer and almost a full glass of foam. The last two must be an acquired taste but I just considered it less beer and a waste of moola.
Traditional Czech food is similar to German food from what I was told. Lots of meat and starches. We enjoyed the special at Lokal very much (we ate there three times). Our favorite breakfast spot was called Cukrkavalimonada. It had my favorite dish I ate in Prague, the ham tagliatelle. Fresh pasta with ham, spinach, Parmesan cheese and a cream sauce that I could just drink with a straw if they’d let me!
What surprised you the most about Prague?
The thing that surprised me the most was the affordability. Our studio in the Mala Strana neighborhood was close to all the things to do in Prague, was newer and had all the necessities and then some, with the most gorgeous view. It cost us less than $100 USD/night! Almost all our meals (beer included) never cost much more than $10-$15 USD per person, most of the time it was on the lower end! We even had an eight course meal at the restaurant Sansho (it has a Michelin star, which is apparently pretty great) for about $50 per person and yes, that includes all the drinks we had! Anywhere else I would have expected it to be $100 just for one person!
What other countries have you traveled to? And how does Prague compare to these?
I haven’t been to any other countries as an adult except to France as part of this honeymoon, right before we went to Prague, and we stayed in Paris. I loved that both places surround you in so much history with their architecture and the culture. I will say I loved the food in Paris much more even though it was way more expensive. (Except the wine – a cafe or restaurant’s house wine is always yummy and inexpensive. Paris is where my love for sauvignon blanc began!)
While I’m sure there are plenty of locals in Paris that can speak English, I almost never heard it spoken. It was French all the way. Prague had so many English speaking locals that we didn’t worry too much about things getting lost in translation. But, in my opinion, both countries’ locals were just as nice as the other. The public transportation in Paris was much better and more efficient than Prague’s, but we chose to mostly stay in Old Prague anyhow and thankfully didn’t need to make much use of the trains or buses.
Prague was nicer in that we could walk to just about everywhere we wanted to be. I loved seeing two very different European countries in one trip and I can’t wait to go back to explore more of both of them!
And my favorite question, what was the weirdest thing you saw in Prague?
One night, Ross and I were walking on the bridge and we were at about the middle of it when I see these screaming, pale figures coming at us rather quickly. We quickly realized all these dudes (and dudettes) were completely naked! I got my phone out to capture this moment and catch them running by as they continued to run the full length of the bridge! There was a straggler, a lady who looked to be about 30, naked, carrying all her clothes and probably some others’, out of breath, and WALKING! I felt really awkward continuing to film a naked lady casually walking by so I stopped filming. I guess her lungs couldn’t handle all the yelling/running! We heard later that it is supposedly good luck to streak across the full length of the bridge.
If you could describe Prague in 3 words, what would they be?
For me in particular, as cheesy as it sounds, I would describe Prague as a “dream come true.”
Thanks again to my friend Marla for her thoughts and photos!
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