So much had I heard about the beauty of Prague that the idea of visiting the city had been germinating for some time. The reason for delaying the trip lied simply in the fact that there is no direct flight between Hong Kong and Prague. The thought of a 17-hour flight was enough to put me off, and that’s not even counting the waiting hours in transit.

In June 2014, I became resolute enough to plan for a two-week trip that would take me not just to Prague but around the country. My encounters with people and things there were so full of surprises that I rank it as the most impressive of all my travel experiences so far…

Impressed by its beauty

The country’s capital, Prague, is definitely a beautiful and romantic city worth spending a week in just for leisurely strolls and sightseeing. Each building in the Old Town has a story to tell and is symbolic of an architectural style and design of a particular period. What piqued my senses most, however, was not Prague, but some other cities…

Kutna Hora, with its historical town centre which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, is a must-see. The Bone Church, with the artistic decorations crafted by the bones of up to 40,000 people, reminded me of life’s ultimate destination – death – and that it is nothing to be fearful of. The Church of St Barbara looked so grand and rich in history that my ego shrank instantaneously as I stood before the shrine. One unexpected gain was a visit to the newly opened Jesuit College that houses thousands of meaningful quotes from philosophers. There, I gained a glimpse into the life attitude, belief and value of the Czech people. These are all very much in line with what I pursue as an existential practitioner.

Ceske Krumlov, a small town situated on a hilltop, was another big surprise for me. My three-day visit coincided with the Five-Petalled Rose Celebrations. Each year, people donning Renaissance costumes from different parts of the country flock to the city for this local festival. I was treated to a wonderful display of jousts, street plays and fencing duels accompanied by medieval music and craft booths. The highlight of the festival was a spectacular procession featuring knights on horseback and many notables linked with the history of the town dressed in historical costumes. Costing less than a hundred Hong Kong dollars, an entrance ticket gives access to all the performances over the three days. The festival dates for 2015 have been set for June 19 to 21. Remember to book accommodation much in advance.

Olomouc, a city less known and traveled, captured my attention as it was recommended as one of the ten most beautiful European cities worth visiting by Lonely Planet in 2014. Today, the city is the seat of the regional government and Palacký University, the oldest university in Moravia. It is also significant as a religious city as it has been the seat of the Catholic Archbishop for almost 1,000 years, so naturally it has some of the most beautifully decorated and meaningful churches.

Impressed by its food

Czech cuisine is famous for its meat dishes – pork knee, duck, bacon, etc. Throughout the trip, I was impressed by the quantity and quality of the food available at very affordable prices. Goulash soup, grilled steaks, ice-cream and desserts could be found everywhere. For beer lovers, this country is paradise. To save you time and effort to search for reliable restaurants, Tripadvisor is the website to browse. Travelers have written very reliable comments and recommendations.

Impressed by its people

I like babies that flirt. One noticeable difference between babies in Hong Kong and those in the Czech Republic is their reactions to strangers. In Hong Kong, some babies are told by adults not to play with or trust strangers. They tend to hide behind the adults or turn their heads away when I attempt to attract their attention. Babies there, including their caretakers, are very friendly and receptive to strangers. I had a good time chasing after these lovely companions.

I like observing how old people live as I am preparing for advanced age. In the Czech Republic, I see ‘gangs of oldies’ touring the country on their bikes, playing their musical instruments and singing for others. I see life and zest in them.

I have a lot more memories from this trip. The Czech Republic is definitely a country worth visiting at least once in a lifetime!