Kristyna sits next to us on the plane. My friend had won our fight over the window seat (then promptly fell asleep as soon as the engines kicked in, not that I’m still bitter or anything) and for whatever reason I am never able to read on planes, so the decision to start chatting with her is an easy one. Since we’re clearly both travelling we start in with the go-to travel conversation starter “So what brings you to…?”
My friend and I are visiting Prague for the first time. The trip seems to have snuck on both of us; I’ve recently started a new job that has turned out to be way more intense than I was anticipating and my friend has been covering for a buddy and working nights at a radio station for the last month. Basically we’re both mentally exhausted and completely unprepared for this trip. Kristyna must pick up on this when she asks what we would like to see in Prague and I have literally no idea. Like not one.
After we land and collect our luggage at the airport she helps us find the bus stop, then after reading the timetable and figuring out we’ve missed the last bus, gets in the taxi with us. “Where is your hostel?” She asks and my friend and I look at each other in bemusement. “Errr…this is the name of it.” I mumble, handing her the crumpled piece of paper that I’d luckily jotted down just before I ran out of work to hightail it to the airport. Kristyna dutifully gets out her phone and finds the full address for the driver.
By the time we pull up outside the hostel David and I are having a frantic conversation in the backseat, having realised another epic mistake we’d made.
“I thought you were going to get some Koruna from the post office on your lunch break?!”
“I was but they didn’t have any in stock so I was going to change some at the airport.”
“Yeah so was I but the exchange place was closed!”
“So we BOTH only have Euros?!”
Kristyna comes to our rescue for the millionth time that night and pays for our taxi. We are so so grateful (and pretty humbled as well) so we exchange numbers and promise to contact her later in the week so we can buy her dinner and pay her back.
We meet up her a couple of days later. It’s a nice day so she suggests we go walking in one of Prague’s lovely parks. Afterwards her boyfriend joins us and we grab lunch. Kristyna and Yakob explain some of the dishes to us and we end up sampling some Czech delicacies we never would have tried on our own. We ate Topinky (raw minced beef on top of garlic toast) to start, dumplings for main (with cranberry sauce of course) and a dessert I can’t for the life of me remember the name of but it was like sweet dough balls in a custardy milk sauce that Kristyna explained was a pudding traditionally eaten by children. There’s a picture below!
So to put it mildly we were eternally grateful to Kristyna and were so pleased we got the chance to hang out with her and Yakob and treat them for lunch to say thank you. But turns out she was not done helping us out! Our original plan had been to spend a couple of days in Prague then head out of the city and stay in one or even a couple of smaller towns so we could see more of the country than just the Capital city. But due to our ridiculous lack of planning, general tiredness and the fact that we both actually really liked Prague we decided to scrap that idea and just take a day trip.
On my lunch breaks at work I’d found out about a Cathedral of Bones in a near-by (ish) town that we both thought sounded worth a look, however the only way we could figure out to get there would be to either get a train to the next town over then see if we could walk or hitch-hike or something or pay for a tour bus to take us which was pretty expensive. We were talking about this with Kristyna and asking her advice on Czech trains when she volunteered to drive us herself! She said it was an area that she used to visit a lot as a child with her Grandparents and that she would like the chance to go back and see it again (also she was meant to be studying for an exam and was looking for excuses to take a break!)
The trip was great and we saw such a different side to the Czech Republic with Kristyna guiding us and explaining things. On the car on the way back while my friend napped in the back (a recurring theme of the trip for both of us!) we ended up having a great chat about life and travel and what our priorities should be and choices we’d made but regretted etc. All that good stuff! So basically turning to my left and starting to chat to Kristyna on the plane out not only made our visit a whole lot easier, it actually turned out to be a highlight! She was so nice and welcoming; going above and beyond to help us out, it really struck a chord and made us think about how we treated tourists in our own country. So much so in fact that as we were travelling back we spoke to another traveller and helped him get on the right train and now we’re friends with Kristoff from Hungary!
I really like the idea of travellers paying kindness forward. The people you meet in a country can have such a huge influence on how you perceive and remember that place, I have a big soft-spot for Prague now and a lot of that is down to Kristyna. It’s made me stop and think about the way I react to tourists in London and how when you live somewhere you can forget how completely foreign and confusing it must be to someone who hasn’t been there before. I try and keep that in mind and be more considerate of my fellow travellers and hopefully they’ll pay it forward one day too!