Travel

Looking back with gratitude

I enjoy writing about my travels very much and while somehow I didn’t find a moment to sit in front of my laptop and do so until now, I hope this post finds you well, healthy and safe wherever you are in this unsettled world at the present time. I promised to update you about where I had been these past few months so the simple answer is I took a gap-year from my life in Australia and found myself in Italy via Prague and Austria. If you had to put a label on it I suppose you could call it an extended holiday with the possibility to work as well, a “working holiday” – it’s a way to recharge my batteries and re-focus my energy and just find my happiest self again, which has always been when travelling. I have now called Italy my temporary home for nearly 7 months and everything was going reasonably well until the world got turned upside down over the coronavirus pandemic. Italy was devastatingly impacted by COVID-19 but now we are slowly starting to live a “new normal” type of lifestyle. One that includes wearing a face mask and gloves when interacting as a community and staying at a physical distance from one another.

Looking back on the past 8 months of travel that I have been very fortunate to do, it’s worth acknowledging that my memories of the trips I have taken and moments I experienced stand a tower above the anxieties and fears I felt during these past 2 months. What we’ve lived through and continue to live through is unprecedented and unnerving so let’s dive straight into the good moments, shall we?


Prague is a timeless, majestic city that impresses you from the first moment you step onto its streets. I had visited Prague one time before and on this occasion wanted to show my mum around the city I once fell in love with at age 19. Prague has so much charm and elegance and I could spend hours gazing up at the details in its architecture, with its intricately ornate facades and buildings straight out of a fairytale. There are so many more things I could tell you about Prague but thinking back to my visit in September feels like a lifetime ago, so let’s allow my photos to tell a better story…

Remaining in the Czech Republic, my mum and I travelled onto Cesky Krumlov by bus from Prague one afternoon for a short stay. It was love at first sight! I know I mentioned that I thought Prague was a fairytale city but this town was straight out of a classic children’s storybook! The town has a castle overlooking a river, picture-perfect squares with typically cute buildings, lots of green spaces and many spots to just stand still and admire the views of this incredible place.

We needed to make our way into Italy from the Czech Republic and Austria was the perfect place to spend a few more nights as we navigated south. The town we chose was Kufstein, “the pearl of the Tyrol”, a town so beautiful in autumn that I found myself thinking a lot about it during lockdown. Thinking about the heavenly mountain views and breathtaking vistas that opened up when we braced ourselves for dear life on the only single open-air chairlift remaining in Austria and reached an altitude of 1,256m for an experience I will never forget. Kufstein had some of the friendliest people and most amazing memories for me and from there it was a 6 hour direct train ride to Bologna, Italy.

If you allow me, I would like to devote more time to the Italian cities that I visited in future posts. I can just simply tell you that in 7 months I was fortunate enough to call 6 apartments my home in Bologna, Pistoia, Florence and now Viareggio. I have barely scratched the surface of this fascinating country when travel was halted but I have hope within myself that there’s still more discoveries just waiting to be made and I can see a few more cities before returning home around October this year. Nothing is for certain during this time but at least I have these incredible memories to look back on and be proud of. Hopefully we can make more travel memories together again very soon. Stay safe out there, dear friends!

If you enjoyed these photos, please feel free to follow me on Instagram where I post a lot more often. Cheers!

Travel

Timeless Prague

Church of St. Nicholas_Jan Hus MonumentAnyone that’s ever visited the capital of the Czech Republic knows that Prague is sure to leave its mark on you in some way or another. The city is filled with beautiful squares, striking building façades, breathtaking views and enchanting vistas.

I first came across Prague when watching the film Chasing Liberty (2004) starring Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. The plot centres around the US president’s daughter as she decides to run from the Secret Service agents that monitor her every move in order to feel a sense of freedom and explore Europe without their constant protection. Long story short, she bumps into a man on a motorcycle in Prague, they fall in love and go on a journey through Venice, Austria and Berlin, without her knowing that he is actually employed by her father as an agent. It’s a cheesy romantic comedy but with lots of stunning European scenes. After seeing Prague as the backdrop in this film I felt a very strong desire to go there some day and experience the Bohemian capital for myself.

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

When I travelled to Mainz in September 2008 for my university exchange program, I knew that I had to put Prague on the top of my list of must-see European cities. Within two weeks of settling down in picturesque Mainz, I entered a travel agency in the city-centre to enquire about travelling abroad. Perhaps the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done is booking a ticket for an 8-hour overnight bus to Prague from Frankfurt departing the next day! Luckily for me we had acquaintances living in the Czech Republic that I could stay with. Nothing was going to stop me from squeezing in this trip before study would commence in October, as I knew that my course would take up a lot of my time.

So on a cold, dark autumn night I boarded the train from Mainz to Frankfurt and awaited the bus to Prague to depart at 10:45 pm. My memory of the trip is a bit hazy, as I was in and out of sleep, but I do remember the driver letting us out of the bus for a quick bathroom break at a petrol station somewhere in Germany. It was freezing cold and we were all happy to be back on that warm bus once again!

Architecture

As dawn broke over the Bohemian capital, the bus arrived at Florenc Station and I had butterflies in my stomach, having never felt so uncertain in my whole life. I’d like to point out that this was the very first time (apart from my solo journey into Mainz from London on board 3 different trains!) I had ever gone on a holiday all by myself in a foreign country. Excluding Mainz, which would later become my home away from home, Prague was a really BIG deal for me as I was out of my comfort zone on so many levels. Even til this day I think it’s the bravest trip I’ve ever completed.

The city was only just starting to wake up. I took the metro a couple stops and disembarked near the main square. Dragging my suitcase along the old cobblestone path and making a heck of a lot of noise, I ended up in Prague’s empty Old Town Square. I was beaming with happiness and even though I still had the difficult task of finding my accommodation in a town miles away, nothing could stop me from smiling. I made it to the iconic Charles Bridge, usually filled with artists, musicians and entertainers with crowds and pick-pockets also a common occurrence. Upon seeing the view of Prague Castle (the largest ancient castle in the world) before my very eyes, I remember very vividly laughing out loud and whispering to myself “I’m here, I’m in Prague!!”. The bridge was deserted at that time of morning, making the moment just that extra bit special for me.

The research I did on the internet prior to travelling informed me that to reach the home of our family friends, I would have to catch a train from Praha Masarykovo nádraží Station. This proved a difficult task for a tired and hungry 19-year-old adventurer who was by then running solely on adrenaline. I ventured into a fancy hotel where the kindest lady printed out a map for me and pointed me in the right direction. Next thing I knew, I was on board the right train heading towards my home for the next 5 nights. I disembarked at Úvaly in central Bohemia.

Uvaly Station

With a hand-drawn map of the small town and the address I needed to find, I had absolutely no idea where to start. This was at a time prior to GPS tracking on iPhones I might add! After about 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering around the town, I located a name on a gate that sounded like what my dad told me to look out for, so I buzzed it. A second later, a lady appeared in the second-storey window of the building and started yelling something in my direction. I was so scared that maybe I’m in the wrong place but decided to tell her my name and the name of the woman I’m looking for. She nodded and granted me access to their property!

I wasn’t going to waste a single second and after a quick lunch and a short round of getting-to-know-each-other-better questions, I headed back for Prague. By this time I was already much more confident in my abilities to navigate myself to and from the capital and could now explore in a more relaxed way.

Breathtaking Views

Prague is such a timeless city filled with many beautiful vistas of the Vltava River and countless bridges that cross it. Fragments of history are on every single building façade, monument, fountain and sculpture wherever you look. I must admit, I didn’t read a great deal about Prague before my spontaneous trip. I wanted to learn about it as I went and to be surprised by what I discovered. This had both its advantages and disadvantages. If I could do the trip all over again, I would patiently queue up for a visit to St. Vitus Cathedral, explore the Jewish Quarter more thoroughly, enter a few more notable buildings and try some authentic Czech food. As a young and inexperienced traveller, I only took inspiration from the exteriors of buildings, ate home-made sandwiches or store bought snacks and walked from morning to evening, never setting foot on any iconic Bohemian trams.

Old Town Square Buildings

Enchanting Prague dazzled me from beginning to end. I walked up and across Charles Bridge to Lesser Town and up the winding roads for breathtaking views of the city from near the Castle. I marvelled at marionnettes and handmade glass in souvenir shops, felt the grandeur of some of the most striking national buildings and enjoyed river views second to none. Wandering the intricate lanes of the Old Town was my favourite activity and admiring the beautifully decorated façades of buildings that looked like they came straight out of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), made my days so much more enjoyable. I found the Czech people to be friendly, helpful and kind and their city mesmerising, magical and full of unforgettable memories. It was the jewel of Eastern Europe to me.

Views over Prague

The journey back to Frankfurt was quite uneventful. I remember shopping in a large shopping centre during the evening, before taking the metro to Florenc Bus Station and awaiting my Eurolines Bus. I strongly remember how customs personnel boarded our bus, took everyone’s passports, left all of us sleepy passengers for about 15 minutes and then returned all our documents. I was so worried that something were to happen to my passport or that I would be given someone else’s back but thankfully not! I got back to Mainz by about 7am and spent the rest of the time convincing myself that it wasn’t all a complete dream. Prague is the land of fairy tales after all.