When my friend and I arrived in Prague on Christmas Eve, we didn’t know a soul. We didn’t know a word of Czech. All we had was an address to a hostel, one smartphone with working data (mine), and one contact I’d met on Facebook.
Five hours later, we became a group of seven people from three different countries: USA, Morocco, and India.
This blog post has 2700+ words, and 50+ pictures. If you’d rather look at the pictures and not read everything, the paragraph below sums up my time in Prague:
Christmas in Prague was a fairy tale come to life. The city looked like the Christmas cards I used to sell when I worked at a gift shop in college. And the people we met made it even more fun. This Christmas has been one of the most memorable Christmases I’ve had in my life, and my favorite I’ve spent abroad.
Those of you who are willing to read a 2700-word blog post (with 50+ pictures!), read and enjoy!
Black Friday 2019: The Best Flight Deal I’ve EVER Received
Guess how much our flights were to Prague. Go on, guess.
Are you ready?
Are you sure?
My dear readers, my friend and I paid 15 euros for our one-way flights to Prague.
15 euros!!!* Go on, be jealous. I would be.
Black Friday is a real thing in Madrid, and the deals carried over to flights.
Google Maps was open while we were looking for flights. At one moment, during our travel deal high, I noticed something.
“You know … Berlin doesn’t look that far away from Prague.”
Google said it was a 4-hour car ride away. Out of curiosity, we checked omio.com to see if we could take a train from Prague to Berlin. We could. We then checked to see if it would be expensive to fly from Berlin to Madrid. It was not.
Two flights and one train ride later, our Christmas trip to Prague and Berlin was booked!
Also, I must add that, during our flight, we had a gorgeous view of the Pyrenees.
*Technically, the ticket was 30 euros, as carry-on luggage cost extra. 30 euros is still the best flight deal I’ve ever found.
How to Easily Make New Friends in 5 Minutes
Hostels are the best places to make quick friendships. People are generally open, friendly, and down to meet other travelers to hang out with. That’s why we decided to book a hostel instead of an Airbnb.
Within the first five minutes of getting settled into our rooms, my friend striked up a conversation with two other guests in our room. They were from Morocco, but were studying in Germany. And they speak at least 5 languages. My friend invited them to join us, as we were about to check out the Christmas markets in the main plaza.
The Christmas markets were full of lights, music, sausages, and beer. Seriously, there were sausages everywhere. Strike one against the vegetarian. At least I’m not gluten free, and could drink the beer.
Next, we crossed the Charles Bridge to find a café. We were tired from our early flight, and it had started to rain. At the café, we found coffee and cakes. Strike one for the vegetarian. At least I’m not vegan.
After we finished our coffee and cakes, and learned how to say “thank you” in Czech (it’s děkuji, pronounced deh-kwee, which apparently sounds like an interesting word in French), we met a girl I’d connected with on a Facebook group for women travelers. She mentioned she was going to be in Prague the same dates as my friend and I were, which was incredibly convenient. Our group became five.
We all walked back to the hostel to fix our hair before going back to the Christmas markets. While my friend and the guys from Morocco were in the room, my new friend and I were in the kitchen, talking to two guys from India who were studying in Germany. (Was everyone in this hostel studying in Germany?)
We invited them to join us. And that’s how we became a group of seven.
We went back into the Christmas markets. I was finally able to find something somewhat vegetarian: a sauerkraut-potato salad with ham. (Why do I keep traveling to places who insist on putting ham in everything?) I don’t even like sauerkraut that much (unless I’m drinking a liter of beer like I was in Vienna), but I like potatoes, and potatoes go well with beer, and I was getting hungry.
After we got our beers, we walked around the Christmas markets some more, and took a bunch of group selfies by the decorations and tree. It was great fun, and highly amusing to think that, hours before, we were strangers, and now here we are, taking selfies together like we’ve been besties for years. I love travel.
We eventually went to a bar with live music, and stickers of people who’ve visited from all over the world. I was with new friends, drinking Coca-Cola and whiskey, listening to acoustic 90’s hits, and I couldn’t have been happier or more grateful. That night, I knew that this Christmas would be one for the books.
Sightseeing, Starbucks, and a Traditional Czech Christmas Dinner
Our Moroccan friends left early Christmas morning for Vienna. That’s the sad thing about travel friendships: they’re instant, but fleeting.
During the day, my friend and I walked around the city center, and crossed the Charles Bridge to see what it looks like in daylight. There were so many people walking around that I felt like I wasn’t even walking – just being swayed through the sea of people.
“These statues look creepy. I don’t have a good feeling about them,” my friend commented. On our tour the next day, we would learn why.
The rest of the city, however, was delightful. Picturesque buildings, Christmas trees in plazas, even the trams looked charming.
Our new Facebook friend had suggested a place for us to eat traditional Czech food, so we met later that evening. The restaurant was on the other side of the city. Google told us to cross a different bridge. My friend and I called it Makeout Bridge because it was full of couples kissing in the starlight as if they were lead characters in an old-fashioned holiday film.
The restaurant had a similar vibe to the Vienna restaurant, except with more options. Thankfully, they had a menu in English, and even more thankfully, they had a section specifically for vegetarians. I got a traditional Czech soup, Czech beer, and cheese with potatoes. It wasn’t my usual Christmas dinner that my mom makes, but drinking beer and eating good food with friends is still a lovely way to enjoy a damp Christmas evening.
How to Not Lose Your Phone on a Free Walking Tour
“McKenna, the guys from Poland and Switzerland have Swiss chocolate for us downstairs,” my friend told me, as I was putting on makeup.
“What?! Why?” I asked. I was still half awake at this time.
The night before, we got two new roommates (or bunk buddies, as my friend called them): two cousins – one from Poland, and one from Switzerland. They were both working in Switzerland at the moment, and were driving to Poland. They decided to break up their long driving trip by staying in Prague for the night.
My friend and I had planned to go on a free walking tour that morning, and we invited them to come with us. They agreed, as they weren’t leaving until later that night.
So, with our generous Polish and Swiss friends accompanying us, we headed off to the tour.
Until this point, Prague had felt nothing short of magical. Every building we saw, all the tourists we came across, were sparking and happy. I hadn’t felt so giddy during Christmas since I was a child and believed in Santa. Prague was my wonderland.
That was all about to change.
The tour guide talked to us about the buildings in Prague’s Old Town Square, including the astronomical clock, which was built in the 1400s and still works. The clock shows the position of the Sun and Moon, and the daylight hours.
We also learned that the Old Town Square used to be lower, but was built a few meters higher due to flooding.
However, we also learned about terrible things that had happened there, like the Old Town Square execution in the 1600s. Some people were beheaded. Others were thrown out of a window (this was also happening in the 1400s). Why? A lot boils down to religious conflict.
We walked through one of Prague’s nicest neighborhoods called Vinohrady. This was supposedly the nicest and most upscale area in the city. But it wasn’t always that way. It used to be more of a working class neighborhood, and then a bunch of buildings were torn down, and nicer ones were put up.
Throughout the tour, we continued to learn more about religious persecution amidst these beautiful buildings all around us. One particular haunting thing the tour guide told us was about the Charles Bridge. Apparently, during the beheadings in the 1600s, their heads were placed in baskets that hung on the statues to basically tell everyone, “Don’t mess with us.”
“That’s why I had a creepy feeling about those statues!” my friend commented. So she wasn’t wrong after all.
During our tour, I also spoke with the Polish guy. I mentioned that I’d been taking art classes in Madrid for a few months, and he told me that he did art of his own. Showing each other our work was a relief from hearing about beheadings and people getting thrown out of windows.
We had a quick break during our tour, and ate treats in a small bakery. I bought a bottle of a Prague soda. This bottle would put me into a stinky situation in another hour.
The second half of the tour wasn’t as depressing, from what I recall.
After the tour, we tipped the guide, and I threw out my soda bottle. That’s when I noticed my phone was missing.
“Where is my phone?! It was literally in my hand two seconds ago,” I’d said, searching through my purse and pockets. I’d kept my phone in my coat sleeve to easily take pictures at any time. It seemed like a better option than keeping it in my purse pocket.
My friends and I looked around, talked to the tour guide, but we couldn’t find it. We tried calling it several times, when I remembered that I had my phone on silent and set to no notifications. No one was picking up.
We went back to the hostel, where I logged in my Facebook and sent a notification that I’d lost my phone. I was more upset about all the pictures and contacts I had on my phone. My phone cost around 250 dollars; that could be replaced. But the pictures I took, and my friends and family at my fingertips, no matter how far away … that was upsetting.
My friends were smart, though. One remembered that I’d noticed my lost phone around the time I threw away my bottle. Someone else suggested that maybe it had fallen out of my coat sleeve into the trash. We were near that trash. It was worth a shot to check.
So we ran back to that trash can. I saw my soda bottle sitting on top, but no phone. If someone had seen a phone, wouldn’t they have taken it? I moved around a few things in the small yet nearly full trash, but found nothing. I walked away, ready to accept that my phone, and all its pictures, and my contacts, were gone, and I’d have to send myself an obligatory Christmas present to my apartment via Amazon.
“Wait! I think I see something!” The Swiss guy reached further into the trash, and to my joy and surprise, fished out for me . . . my phone.
The next minute was full of me hugging all of my friends and cheering and jumping for joy next to a garbage can in the middle of Prague. It was bizarre and beautiful. Somewhere, I’m sure there’s a video that some Gen-Zer uploaded on TikTok of this moment, and if you come across such video, it’s probably us. You’re welcome.
After cleaning the shit out of my phone (hopefully not literally), I learned to never put my phone in my sleeve while I’m taking pictures ever again.
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around, looking for an open pizza restaurant for nearly an hour, and then getting treated pizza from our new Polish and Swiss friends.
During the dinner, our Swiss friend told us why he was vegetarian – due to environmental reasons. His speech deserved a round of applause, because we’d never heard anyone speak about their choices and values so eloquently and intelligently. It sounded a lot better than what I say, which is simply, “I don’t like meat.”
After dinner, they headed back on the road to Poland, and it was just the two of us again. For about five minutes.
Meeting Our Neighbors in Prague . . . It Really Is a Small World.
We got two new roommates: one from Texas, and one from Malaysia. Both said they were living in Madrid.
“Us too! Where do you live?” I asked, telling them our neighborhood.
“We live there too,” they said.
Turns out they both live about ten minutes away from my friend and me.
What are the odds?
We exchanged contact information, and then left to explore the city in the time we had left. My friend and I were on a mission.
The Face, the Freud, and the Dance
“Okay, so we’re going to do the face, and then the Freud, and then the dancing.” My friend paused. “That sounds kind of funny.”
We were planning our last morning in Prague before our train to Berlin. I wanted to see the moving statue of Franz Kafka’s face, and the Dancing Building, which I’ve seen on Instagram for years. My friend wanted to see the statue of Freud. So, we planned a mini scavenger hunt to see all three that morning, and then, if we arrived back in time, see the astrological clock chime in the hour in the Old Town Square. Google said we had about an hour.
And we were successful in seeing all three! We even found a fourth statue. And we got back just in time to see the clock chime the hour (TL/DR: if you miss it, it’s not the end of the world. Also, this is a prime moment for pickpocketers, since everyone is looking up at the clock.).
Would I Go Back to the Czech Republic?
I absolutely would. I would love to visit in the spring, and check out other cities (Brno being one of them). Several people were also traveling from Prague to Budapest, Hungary, which I think would be a fun road trip.
I also found the Czech language delightful. Apparently, it’s similar to Polish (our Polish friend said they could get the general idea when people spoke). While it didn’t enchant me as much as Romanian has, if I visit again, I’d like to learn some basic phrases to use with locals. (Forever a language-linguistics nerd.)
Overall, I found Prague delightful, and am looking forward to visiting again someday. My time in Prague was one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had.
After our last sightseeing in Prague (for now), we grabbed our things, and set off for Berlin. The next post will be about our journey in Berlin.
And here’s a cliffhanger for the Berlin post:
Our experience was nothing like Prague . . . .
TO BE CONTINUED!