Need happy stories or some good news for a change? Look no further! Every Monday, I’m posting happy travel stories to brighten your day and temporarily distract from these uncertain times! Today, it’s about an unlikely friendship in Prague.
If you’ve ever been to Prague, one of the best, if slightly out of the way sites is Karlštejn Castle. It’s a monstrosity of a fortress that’s resided in the sweet little town of Karlštejn since 1348. It’s roughly a 40-minute drive from Prague and, at the time of my visit, had no transit options to get there. So it was either: drive myself, pay for an Uber, or join a tour group.
Yeah, no way am I renting a car in a country where I stumble over the language. I don’t trust my driving abilities in a foreign country. Or any country, for that matter.
A quick Uber calculator pointed out that I might as well sign up for the damn tour because it was more or less the same price, and the tour came with commentary.
In typical Midwestern fashion, I arrived the morning of the tour so early that I had time to walk across the street to the mall and get breakfast. I never learn.
By nine, the hotel pickups were complete and everyone on the tour had all piled into a van. The little group consisted of our driver, our tour guide, a Belgian family, a solo tourist, and myself. Honestly, just the drive to the castle was worth it. The rolling hills and sparse buildings were a stark contrast from the city center I had grown so familiar to. And, even in November, it was somehow still green and gorgeous. I couldn’t say the same for back home.
40 minutes later, we were at the landing of the castle and… holy cow. No picture could have prepared me for just how big this place was. No wonder King Charles was a fan.
We made our way up the super steep walkway, introducing ourselves as we went. Our guide was careful to rapidly translate any English spoken into Czech, as it turns out the Czech solo traveler only spoke a handful of English phrases. Huh, that was about where I was at in my attempts to learn Czech. I could relate. The guide introduced the traveler, Oksana, to me, but we couldn’t say much beyond a “hello.” And I was internally cursing myself for not trying harder at mastering Czech.
Once inside the castle, the historic part of the tour began. I was spellbound. I have such a love for history and could have listened all day. Oksana and I were close by our guide, hanging onto her every word.
Following a quick tour of the outside castle walls, our guide gave us some time to explore the surrounding area. The town’s main focus was tourism, and there were a few shops and stands to poke through.
The Belgian family was already well on their way to exploring, so after a quick final view of the castle, I followed in their footsteps.
I was meandering through the area, taking in the town’s endearing charm, when a “Maggie!” caused me to turn around and see Oksana not too far behind. She waved and I waited for her to catch up. Once she did, the rest of our time in Karlštejn was spent wordlessly slow-roaming the main street. Occasionally, one of us would see something neat that we’d point out to the other. Sometimes Oksana would motion to an area and hand me her phone to take her picture. We couldn’t talk to each other, but we didn’t need to.
Soon, we arrived near a trdelník stand, and Oksana enthusiastically motioned me over. If you’ve never had trdelník, you’re missing out. It’s a giant chimney cake that’s rolled in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Sometimes, depending on the season, it’s filled with fruit or honey. It’s addicting. The amount of trdelník stands I frequented while in Prague… well, I try not to think about it.
Watching someone make trdelník is a fun experience too. And in the cold November weather, it was nice to warm up by the open coals. The man behind the stand quickly finished rolling the dough, bagged two trdelníks and handed one to me. “She got one for you,” the man explained, gesturing to Oksana.
I was so touched. Here was someone I had just met, who had already gone out of her way to be kind to me. We’d likely never see each other again and couldn’t even talk beyond a simple phrase or two. But it didn’t matter. She saw an opportunity and took it.
“Děkuju,” I said, thankful I could still remember some Czech.
With that, we found a park bench and enjoyed our desserts just as our van pulled up. I’ve never eaten a trdelník so quickly before. It was so, so good.
A few minutes later, we were back inside the van, on our way back to Prague. Occasionally, our guide would point a place out, and Oksana and I would both nod and smile.
A language barrier didn’t stop Oksana from showing kindness. In fact, it only cemented how significant her gestures were. When words won’t work, actions do. And… the trdelník. She couldn’t have made a better choice.
Soon, we were back at the mall for my dropoff point, so I waved a final farewell to my tour companion.
And with that, I was back in front of the mall. I debated catching the tram back to my dorm or browsing the shops for a bit, when a voice behind me said,
“Hey there! You look like you could use some trdelník.”
The stand had the kind of trdelník with the blueberry filling. Who was I to pass up round 2?
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