The previous evening, chilling in my PJs, I met Stu. He was from Canada, had been travelling for seven months, with another three to go. We chatted and laughed. Went for a beer and bought takeaway pizza. It was nice to feel a connection with someone. I’d been sad to leave that behind in Berlin.
I laughed, “Every five minutes? You’ll be lucky if I check it every hour.” I wasn’t joking. Travelling alone, separated from everyone, I was enjoying it. I didn’t want to feel attached to my phone waiting for a text. I wasn’t even sure I wanted company.
The weather was brighter but chilly, the sky had cleared. My plan was to cross the Charles Bridge, visit Prague Castle, and then go to the monastic brewery.
I caught the number 22 to Narodni Trida and from there walked the streets until I found the Charles Bridge. I wasn’t in a rush. I was happy to see where the roads took me.
The Charles Bridge was heaving. It was thick with people.
A homeless man knelt at the foot of the bridge with his head on the floor. A woman stood with her children taking photos of him. None of them gave him any money. I knelt down and placed coins in his cupped hands, let my hand rest on his shoulder for a moment, gave him a squeeze, heard him mutter thanks and sorrow.
When I got to other side of the bridge I stopped at The Artist’s Cafe for a coffee. It was a gallery and cafe with flats above where the artists in residence lived. It was slightly off the street down an alleyway. It was nice to be away from the business of the streets filled with tourists.
I turned my data on and read my messages from Stu, “Any interest in a free walking tour at 2pm??” I didn’t want to reply. I wanted to be alone. Or did I? It didn’t feel as clear cut as that. This wasn’t about wanting to be alone, but not wanting to be dependent on someone else’s company. I felt like I’d come so far since the fear on my first day arriving in Neukölln. I was scared of losing that.
“Sounds good but I’m in Old Town. Where are you catching it from?”
“Where are you? I’ll come.”
I told him which metro to catch and felt anxiety creeping into the pit of my stomach.
I got up and started walking around Old Town. I turned my data off.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was being intentionally elusive and for no good reason that I could explain or put my finger on. I knew I wasn’t being fair. I shook the feeling and wandered up the winding streets.
Everywhere I looked in Prague, a piece of architecture would jump out and delight me.
The blackness of the stone contrasting so beautifully with the gold detailing.
I walked the grounds looking at the huge building. Its white stonework.
You weren’t actually allowed in the monastery. But you could stand in front of two huge glass windows and look in. No photos were allowed. And for once, I actually didn’t want to take any.
The sight of the monastery was almost sickening. The gold dripping. It oozed with wealth in a way which made me feel uncomfortable. The ceiling, curved, was painted with the finest Baroque and Rococo artwork.
Making my way to the cafe I rang Flora. We caught up. It was lovely to hear her voice. She would love Prague.
In the monastery restaurant I ordered a rack of ribs and a chocolate stout.
As my food arrived I noticed that everyone else eating ribs in the restaurant was sharing a plate between two, carefully peeling the meat off with a knife and fork.
Should I follow suit? Pain my way through slicing the meat off the bone?
I sat there and gorged myself. It was beautiful. I rang Sion.
“I’m so happy. I just want to share this with you, because you should be here. You would love this. I’m drinking beer made by monks in the monastery that I’m sat in, eating the most delicious rack of ribs. I’m really sticky.”
An hour later and I was enjoying another pint, this time, an autumn dark larger called Antidepressant. A waiter came over. “Are you depressed? You’re sat here drinking alone.”
I looked up. “Umm, no, I’m just enjoying my beer…” I took this, awkwardly, as my cue to leave.
I decided to walk the ninety minute walk back to the hostel. There was still plenty of light left and the weather was favourable. The air fresh after my feast in the monastery.
Getting home Stu and I met up. The night before, we had chatted about becoming travel buddies and moving on to Austria together. Our trip was due to take a similar route anyway.
We were on opposite bunks so we sat on our respective beds discussing options. I wanted to go to Salzburg, maybe Innsbruck, he wanted to go straight to Vienna. We tried to find a compromise. We looked at a map. Innsbruck was way off course. It was closer to Italy than it was to Vienna, and I did want to go to Vienna. We debated, exchanged ideas, looked at tickets…
I could feel anxiety rising. Or was it excitement? It was difficult to tell.
A travel buddy had never been part of my plan. Changing my next destination the day before leaving had never been part of my plan.
Part of how I’d dealt with the moments of anxiety until this point on my trip had been by reassuring myself that I was in control and could always just fly home. You can do this. You are in control. But in this moment I was letting go of some of that control. Or at least, it felt that way. It was uncomfortable. It was challenging.
I rang Lili.
“I know it’s OK. I know that I just need to get a grip. But it feels like everything is suddenly slipping away from me. Like it’s not mine anymore. And I know that’s not the case. Nothing has changed. I’m still in control. And I can always not do this. It’s just different. But different is good. And this is part of the journey. This is cool.” She agreed, reassured me, loved me, held my hand across an ocean.
Stu and I agreed that we would go to Cesky Krumlov – a town four hours away from Prague – for a couple of nights, and from there travel to Vienna. We booked tickets. Sorted out times. And went to bed.