The Great European Adventure

Saying “Yes” in Prague

My mother and I in San Francisco when I was 13.
My mother and I in San Francisco when I was 13.

My mother is a self-proclaimed “new experience junkie,” and, for better or worse, I am too. We like seeing new places and trying new things — we are jacks of all trades, and masters of none. We have varied interests, but we also keep trying things to see what fits, and we return regularly to the metaphorical dressing room because something new may fit better.

How will I know if I like solo travel unless I try it? (Turns out, I like traveling solo because it makes me feel confident and self-reliant more often than it makes me feel lonely.) How will my mother know if veganism is right for her health unless she tries it? (She’s been vegan for over a year now because, although she misses cheese and eggs, she has more energy.)

A more recent photo of my mother and I, in Paris, last November
A more recent photo of my mother and me, in Paris, last November

Every moment is an opportunity to make a new and different choice, and I try to remember this fact. (This is what my blog’s name is all about, and it probably merits a longer post.) “When will I ever get this opportunity again?” can be an empowering question, and reflects an outlook that is compounded when we travel. For me, as an introvert, an important part of being open to opportunity is saying “yes” when people invite me to join them.

In my previous post about Prague, I mentioned that I met a lot of people there — mostly through organized tours. I took free walking tours in Krakow, and organized tours outside of Reykjavik to see more of Iceland, but usually I wander cities alone, taking photos of architecture, popping into cute cafes to drink cappuccinos and write postcards. And while that can be a romantic way to travel, it’s not a great way to make friends.

So, in Prague, I decided that I would have a new experience and try to say “yes” more.

After taking a walking tour around Prague Castle in the rain, I warmed up with new friends and hearty Czech food because, when someone I met on the tour invited me to dinner, I decided company was more important than dry socks. New friends included an Australian guy from Melbourne (I feel like all the Australians I met were from Melbourne…) and two American women studying abroad in Dublin.

Fun Fact: People often mistake the cathedral with spires for Prague Castle, when in fact the Castle is made up of a series of buildings, which includes the cathedral.
Fun Fact: People often mistake the cathedral with spires in this photo for Prague Castle, when in fact the Castle is made up of a series of buildings, which includes the cathedral.

There was a pub crawl that night, but with the crummy weather and our frozen toes, none of us could decide if we wanted to go. Australian Guy had plans for a mountain biking adventure the next day and didn’t want to risk being tired (or hungover), but assured me and the other American women that we definitely wanted to go out that night. He was completely charming about it, not overly pushy, simply encouraging us all to have a good time. And so we did. We said “yes” to the guy who didn’t even plan to come out with us, and we had a great time.

The next day (October 27th), there was a freak snow storm in Prague, and although I had planned to go to Kutna Hora, I was contemplating backing out. This was my only opportunity to go (tours to Kutna Hora don’t happen daily), and I didn’t want to miss it, but the majority of this day trip would be outside, and I’d been told part of this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s charm is being able to see its streets and buildings… which is hard to do with snow blowing in your face.

But I went to the meeting place to chat with the other people who were going, and, lo and behold, Australian Guy was there, his mountain biking plans canceled due to the weather. He said Kutna Hora had sounded cool when I’d been talking about it over dinner the night before. When I said I was thinking about skipping it, he insisted I come, as did some Australian sisters who looked like twins, and a woman from my hostel with whom I had eaten breakfast. So, I said, “yes.” And Kutna Hora was stunning in the snow.

Australian Guy wrote Kutna Hora in the snow with his finger.
Australian Guy wrote Kutna Hora in the snow with his finger.

On my last day in Prague, I ran into Australian Guy again, and, this time, he said “yes” when I invited him to join me wandering the city and photographing the architecture. We went to the Lennon Wall, and admired the Fall foliage — the snow from the day before had already melted, and the city looked seasonally appropriate again.

Cuddling with John Lennon
Cuddling with John Lennon

When one of us would frame a photograph nicely, we would jokingly tell the other, “you know you want to copy this shot.” We found a building that was open to tourists and tried to guess what was interesting about it because there was no information in English.

Kolovratský palác: Home to the former Czechoslovakia's Ministry of Information
Kolovratský palác: Home to the former Czechoslovakia’s Ministry of Information

That night, we ate dinner together, compared Australian turns of phrase with American ones, and talked about where we were going next — we both planned to visit Paris and Barcelona during our trips. After dinner, we went out to a bar with some friends from my hostel. It was a lovely evening, and when the bars closed (unreasonably early, I might add) we wandered back to our respective hostels.

Australian Guy and I parted ways for the last time — he was mid-conversation with two women we had met at the bar, and I was chatting with a man from California — but we shouted our goodbyes to each other across Old Town Square. He had paid for my last drink with the assumption that I would get the next round, but there hadn’t been another round, and so I told him, “I’ll buy you a drink in Paris!”

“Or Barcelona!” He shouted back, and we grinned.

Our paths didn’t cross in Paris nor in Barcelona. He visited both of those cities weeks before I arrived, and was traipsing about Morocco by the time I was ready to buy him a drink. But I remember him fondly because he encouraged me to say, “yes,” and he was a part of how I experienced Prague. Maybe someday I’ll buy him a beer, but, if not, at least I learned that I can can meet nice people in the moment, and pass the time pleasantly. All I have to do is be open to the opportunity.

Do you second guess yourself or do you say “yes” to the Australian Guys in your life? Obviously we can’t take chances all the time, but tell me in the comments about a time when you said “yes” to a new person, place, or idea.

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


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