Here YA contributor Kirsty spills the details about falling in love with her tour guide while traveling in Europe to a place she misjudged.
I’d really been enjoying traveling alone when it happened; you know, love. That thing that always happens when we least expect it, right? Yes, I fell in love with my tour guide on a solo trip.
While I think solo travel is something everyone should do at some point in their life, often life will surprise your plans. After all, there’s nothing quite like losing yourself in foreign cultures, following your well-worn paper map, trusting your gut instinct, and doing whatever the hell you want exploring the world. You don’t need me to tell you that it’s absolutely liberating.
I’d been doing just this for six months in Europe. I’d looked at stunning views in Scotland, skied in the heart of the French Alps, sunned myself in the south of France, and eaten my fair share of Andalucia olives in southern Spain. Biking across English countryside with a good friend, breathing in the history in Berlin, and guzzling the original Czech Pilsner, I was in heaven. My eyes had feasted on golden Portuguese cliffs and my spirits had risen high.
I was a solo female traveler through and through, trekking my way across borders with no end date and no end destination. Living one day at a time. Taking each moment as it comes. Being present and being me. It was amazing.
But then it all changed from a miserable low to a huge high in the blink of an eye, just like that. Let me tell you.
Farewelling Prague on my solo travels, I arrived in Brno to explore the Czech Republic’s second-biggest city.
Tired, I dragged myself off the sweaty bus, hauled my bag on my back, and headed to the hostel I had booked just that morning. I was too early to check-in but thankfully the receptionist let me drop off my big pack.
That was all though; no welcoming map or the wifi password or any kind words (some other hostels are amazingly welcoming). A cursory glance around told me the hostel was very basic. And I was the only one there too.
I headed out to Brno with my small bag of valuables, eventually sitting down in a park called Kluziště (at the time, I thought this was the center of Brno; later I found out how wrong I had been). Plopping down underneath a tree, I ate some disappointing bread and hummus I’d had with me on the bus.
I had to move trees because some people next to me started furiously arguing, a bit too close to comfort. I feared for my bag. It also smelt like piss. What was I doing here? I wished I had gone straight to Poland. The loneliness pricked at me after seeing some Kiwi friends in Prague and having such a good time with them.
Leaking silent tears and feeling sad and sorry for myself, I waited until it was time to check-in to return to the hostel (and on wifi).
I made a plan to get out of my despair; I’d go to a big supermarket that looked nearby on the map, and choose things for a really tasty dinner. I’d have a bit of self-care time, make a decadent meal for one. Planning to have a movie night in, I chilled out. The next day I could work on my laptop in my private office (a.k.a. hostel dining room) since Brno seemingly didn’t have much to offer and I had no bunkmates – thankfully.
I did it all – and just as I was heading to bed, I saw on the edge of the reception desk a flyer for a free walking tour. Aha! I thought. There must be something in this town if there’s enough to make a walking tour out of it! Resolving to give it a go the next day, I felt better for having a plan that would involve other people and not just my currently miserable self.
Little did I know, I would meet Martin.
When I woke up in the morning, I’d slept off my bad mood, and realized it had been my first uninterrupted sleep in weeks. Clearly I was exhausted!
The sun shone brightly into the hostel, and I almost skipped to breakfast. I poured the oats I’d bought into a bowl – only to realize they weren’t oats. Did it look suspiciously like semolina? I looked at the packet again and Google Translate confirmed my suspicions. Sigh. Determined not to let it burst my new positivity bubble, I added yogurt and banana and chewed and swallowed the grit anyway.
I downloaded offline maps and walked a few streets over to Náměstí Svobody, the main square. Laughing guiltily, I realized I hadn’t even been to the center yesterday, but I had already judged the whole city.
The sky was bright blue. Today would be a good day.
I spotted the guide preparing his tour stick, and people started to gather around him. Soon we were in a group, signing a clipboard and chatting and I felt involved again. In a team. Not so alone. The guide’s name was Martin, and his enthusiasm was infectious. I could feel his passion when he spoke drawing me in.
He explained that it was a public holiday, and most locals had left the city for the countryside; that’s why it was quiet.
Halfway through the tour, I realized I was actually enjoying myself. I started to love this city!
How quirky is the crooked spire on the Town Hall because of the architect’s revenge of not being paid a fair amount! How captivating that once upon a time there was an escaped crocodile in the River Svratka and people thought it was a dragon! Who knew about Brno in the Thirty Years War and how they managed to hold off the Swedes in a giant siege? And what about the couple making love over the window of Jacob’s Church? Not to mention the well-endowed horse, the student population, vegan scene, indie coffee shops, and freelancer paradise…
After the tour, I sat on a bench nearby, trying to recall every detail, every nugget of information. Brno truly was a beautiful, undiscovered place. Realizing my misjudment, I felt a mix of guilt and appreciation.
Martin came over to me, asked what I was writing, and then suggested we continue our conversation over coffee. Coffee turned into lunch, and we met again in the evening for beers.
Beers turned into wines. And as the view of the city lights stretched out before us in the dark, as our legs swung on the city defense walls, our fingers interlinked.
I returned a month later, and we spent the last of the summer exploring together; the regions, countryside, and each other.
We crossed borders and traveled countries together, and then he took me home to his family in Germany. Back in Brno, it grew colder, and autumn turned into winter. We made plans to travel to Asia and then move into an apartment together, right in the heart of the city where we’d met. Falling in love with my tour guide was beautiful and unexpected.
I soon became an English teacher, and he still helps people who come to Brno experience the city in the best possible human way. We often joke together to his tour guests that I am his greatest success story.
These days, I walk with purpose through that same park – Kluziště – to get to work, dressed in fresh blouses, smelling of shampoo, well-fed, safe, and inspired. I occasionally glance over to the tree under which I sat miserably, almost two years ago, and remind myself not to take anything for granted.
Life – just like traveling – is a network of paths, and every day we choose which ones to walk down. There are inevitable highs and lows on this journey of time, and it’s our job to navigate them – without a map or guide.
Well, I have my guide.
Would you believe I fell in love with my tour guide while on my solo trip of a lifetime? Can you relate? Have you ever misjudged a place before? Spill!