Earlier this year, I took at 17 day trip to Eastern Europe, and Prague was one of the stops. This was the city I booked the trip for; this was the city I had been waiting years to visit. I was finally here and I was going to take advantage of every single second.
On this trip, there were 38 people. I loved getting to know each and every one of them, but sometimes it could be a little overwhelming. It was a large group filled with larger than life personalities. Every now and then, I needed a break. While everyone was at a beer tasting, I decided to take a solo walking trip around Prague.
I had read about a small section of Prague called Mala Strana, known for it’s gorgeous side streets and alleys. I left my hotel, hopped on the nearest tram, and headed towards Mala Strana. I was not disappointed. This section of Prague was quiet, quaint, and definitely not a popular tourist spot. I was in heaven. I even stopped for a “trdelnik,” a donut cone filled with ice cream, Nutella, or whatever else you want it filled with. It was 15 degrees outside but I couldn’t have been happier. Seriously, if you’ve ever in Prague, you have to pick up one of these delicious food items. They’re everywhere, it’s street food!
After finishing the cone of magic, I still felt I had plenty of time in my evening. It was still early. So I started walking. And I never stopped. I walked almost 10 miles that night. I came across some incredible things. I walked to the Prague castle, through government building courtyards, and found myself climbing higher and higher up. I had no idea of where I was or where I was headed. My only decisions in those moments were, “do I want to go left or right?”
Higher and higher up hills I walked until suddenly, I was at the Petrin Lookout Tower. Completely by accident, I had climbed to Prague’s highest point. Unfortunately, the Tower closes early in the winter but I didn’t need to climb it to see the incredible views. I could see the entire snow covered city, and in that moment I completely fell in love with the city. (Yes, there is a cable car that takes you up and down the hill. But I was completely lost when I found the top of the hill and it was closed by the time I reached the top.)
As I began my walk down the hill, I noticed a small, quaint building sitting on the side of the building. I thought it must be a tourist information building. As I got closer to the building, I noticed the lights were on and there was an open sign placed outside. Was it a bar? I continued to walk closer I realized this was not an ordinary building or business. The door was blocked ¾ with a small square of visibility at the top. I could see there was tons of artwork hanging on the walls. There was a small sign on the door that stated to ring the bell for entry. My curiosity piqued, I rang the bell.
An older, long haired gentleman answered the door and after figuring out that I only spoke English, asked me if I wanted to see his gallery. It would only cost me the equivalent of $3, so it was an easy choice. He gave me the names of the artwork and told me to begin downstairs. As I headed down the spiral staircase, I began to realize that this was no ordinary art gallery. The paintings were of mythical creatures. But that’s not all. The walls themselves were a work of art. They were painted and build out. It was incredible.
As I walked around the bottom floor of the gallery, I was blown away. The detail work of each piece was incredible. Hundreds of paintings surrounded me, each following a similar theme, but incredible unique. I had never seen anything like it. As I moved through the gallery, I discovered a book of newspaper articles. I couldn’t read any of the articles as they were in Czech but I was able to look at the pictures. The man who had answered the door was the actual artist of all of these paintings! He had met almost every Czech leader and countless celebrities had visited this very gallery I was standing in. I worked my way through the base level and then made my way to the top floor. Again, I was met with hundreds of incredible paintings, all different sizes and creatures.
It was tough to capture just how incredible this little gem was due to the lighting but trust me, it was incredible.
As I walked down to the main floor I rang the bell to signal I was finished. The older gentleman walked out of his side room and asked me how I liked the gallery.
I asked, “Did you create all of this?”
“Yes,” he said.
“This is beyond incredible. Thank you so much for allowing me to experience this. It’s unbelievable.”
He responded, “A pretty girl likes my paintings. This makes me very happy.”
We chatted for a few more minutes about where I was from and how I ended up at his gallery at night alone. When we parted ways, he wished me a beautiful life.
The night continued to be amazing, but in smaller ways. I helped two young women from Madrid find their hotel, I Facetimed my parents while walking the city, giving them a peak at what I was seeing, I stumbled upon a spontaneous fireworks show, and watched a football (actual football, folks) game with a bartender while drinking $1 beer.
I learned an important lesson that night: it’s okay to be lost. Not only is it okay to be lost, it can lead to the most beautiful things. I will cherish the moments from that night for the rest of my life. No one believed me the next day when I told them about the artist’s gallery.