“Look at this, now – it is extraordinary. And the art and the buildings, the lakes and the mountains. Wonderful things I’ll never see again, but for the first time I’m seeing these things alone. I keep opening my mouth, and realizing there’s no need. Of course, I tell myself that it’s healthy and good for the soul, but I’m not sure yet that we’re meant to be alone. It’s a good experience to have, one is pleased to have succeeded, but it’s still not the best.” ~David Nichols, Us
Snapshot 7. A Friend From Manchester
My first time traveling alone had me worried like none other. I researched and prepared and fretted and asked everyone I knew if they had traveled alone before, and everyone reassured me that it was alright, it was no problem, that as long as I knew what I was doing and where I was going, I would be just fine. And you know what? They were right. I even did more research than was completely necessary. And it was freeing, to be able to do anything that I wanted to do, to take all the time in the world at museums, to wander aimlessly around the Prague Castle with no goal in mind, to stop wherever and whenever for food – it really was nice. Nevertheless, after one day of doing that, I realized that I still like traveling with people, sharing experiences, thoughts, discoveries. I get too lonely. And there’s something to be said for learning how to be lonely, how to be on one’s own, to being independent in finding happiness or contentedness, but I feel as if a part of my happiness is derived from seeing the happiness of others. And part of my experience is derived from seeing how others experience something.
But traveling alone did allow me to meet some new friends: three USC students studying in London for the semester, who, after only knowing them for a few hours, I felt like I had known them forever. At my hostel, I met a girl from Manchester who was between architecture jobs and was back-packing Europe for eight weeks. She had been traveling for two weeks and was starting to get tired of traveling solo and eating alone. “I’ve only been doing it for a day,” I said, “and I still don’t like it! I can’t imagine doing it for six weeks. You have so much courage!” She laughed, “No, not at all. I’m a mess with directions. I’m surprised that I’ve gotten this far. My brother keeps telling me, ‘You can come home anytime. You don’t have to go for a whole eight weeks.’ But I’m going to stick it out – a week at a time.”
We went to Café Louvre for brunch, a place that supposedly was frequented by Einstein and Kafka. We found a sweet little table right by the window. The high ceilings and walls of the café were covered with delicate paintings and charming decorations – small mirrors with ornate frames, framed pictures of landscapes, old vintage russet-coloured wall-clocks. The velvet auburn-backed chairs and striped gold-red of the booths lent the place a warmth and coziness, despite the crazy bustle of dishes clattering in and out of the kitchen, the coffee-pot gurgling in the corner of the bar area, waiters rushing in and out and around, skirting tables and barely missing one another.
We sat and talked about university, about classes, about hoping to find who we were meant to be with or even if that exists, and it was one of the most wonderful brunches. She had to run to catch a tour bus leaving that afternoon, so we said our goodbyes a little hurriedly in Wenceslas Square, a “It was so good to meet you!” and a “Best of luck with everything!” and a “Perhaps we’ll catch up later?” although we both knew that it was not likely. And then I was back to blinking in the bright sunshine, crossing the street to catch the tram up to the top of Prague Castle to explore for an afternoon.