Mandy Sanchez was sitting in her bedroom in Texas when she saw the listing.
A spacious room in an Art Nouveau building in the buzzy Vinohrady neighborhood, near the city’s Riegrovy Sady park, known for its beautiful sunsets.
It was December 2019. Mandy was a 22-year-old about to graduate Texas A&M University. She was planning to move to Prague to teach English.
She’d joined a Facebook group called “Flatshare in Prague”, hoping to find somewhere to live. The Vinohrady room was advertised by a Facebook user called Marcus Wecksten. Alongside photos of the apartment, Marcus wrote that the current inhabitants were two guys – one Finnish (Marcus) and one German (his roommate, Boris). Marcus and Boris were both students in Prague and were looking for someone to move in ASAP.
Mandy thought the apartment looked perfect: great neighborhood, nice-looking space – and the room was within her budget. It was almost too good to be true. She fired off a message right away, expressing her interest.
Marcus was studying in his bedroom in the Prague apartment when Mandy’s message popped up on his laptop.
“Sounds great,” he said. “Can you come by sometime next week for a viewing?”
“I’m in Texas,” explained Mandy. “I’m moving to Prague in January.”
Marcus considered this. They wouldn’t be able to meet Mandy before she signed the lease, which wasn’t ideal. He wrote back to Mandy, apologizing, explaining it wouldn’t work out.
But Mandy was determined. “We could Skype?” she suggested. “I really want this room.”
Marcus – who, back then, was 25 and midway through a medical degree at Prague’s Charles University – had met his roommate Boris at college. The two had lived in the Vinohrady apartment for a couple of years.
“It was a super-nice apartment in one of the coolest neighborhoods in Prague,” Marcus tells CNN Travel.
A revolving door of fellow students had rented the third room over the years.
“We were looking for somebody social, who wanted to hang out with us in the communal space, in the living room – that’s where we spent quite a bit of time,” Marcus recalls. “I don’t know what the other requirements were, but probably the basic ones – somebody clean…”
In the subsequent Skype interview, Mandy recalls Boris being particularly concerned about her potential cleanliness.
“He asked a lot about if I would help out with the cleaning,” she says. “But I was the one who was more worried about, ‘Are they going to be clean?’ Because it’s two guys…”
Shared standards of cleanliness confirmed, Mandy, Marcus and Boris spent much of the Skype call talking about the Vinohrady neighborhood and the nearby amenities. Towards the end, they segued into chatting about themselves.
“I thought that it was super-interesting that Mandy was from Texas,” says Marcus. “I had never met a Texan in my life. I had this stereotypical picture of a Texan in a cowboy hat and boots and a revolver.”
For her part, Mandy hung up the call with the impression Marcus and Boris were friendly and “normal.”
“I hung up and basically was like, ‘Okay, they’re not going to murder me. They seem like nice people. I probably could enter their apartment and we would be okay.’”
After a follow-up call to iron out details, Marcus and Boris offered Mandy the room. By coincidence, this message arrived on the day of Mandy’s college graduation.
Midway through celebrating her graduation, Mandy filled in her parents and sister on her new home. She extolled its virtues – amazing location, great-looking building, and mentioned in passing that the roommates were two guys who were medical students.
“My parents were like, ‘We hope you don’t fall in love with either of them, because if you do, that means you’re going to live in Europe forever,’” Mandy recalls.
“I was like, ‘Why would that be the case?’ And they said, ‘Well, because they’re going to be getting medically licensed in Europe, and then that’s not going to transfer easily to the US. So, if you fall in love with one of them, you’re staying there forever.’”
Her parents were speaking in jest – at least in part. But Mandy cut through their teasing tone, wanting to set the record straight.
“That is not what I’m going to Europe for,” she said.
And it was true.
“I wasn’t moving there to fall in love,” says Mandy today.
But the universe had other ideas.
Mandy had never been to Prague before. She’d scrolled through photos online and marveled at how beautiful it looked. She’d got tips from friends who’d visited and fallen in love with the city. She’d started to imagine herself living in the apartment in Vinohrady.
But none of this could prepare her for the whirlwind of her arrival day.
“I don’t really think I was thinking – it was just all happening,” Mandy recalls.
She remembers getting into an Uber at the airport and peering out the window. It was only 5:30 p.m., but it was already pitch black outside. As she got closer to the city, the spires of Prague Castle were illuminated. Mandy felt a mixture of exhaustion, excitement and disbelief that this new stage of her life had started.
Meanwhile, Marcus and Boris had spent most of that day deep-cleaning their apartment.
“We were cleaning corners of the apartment that hadn’t been cleaned in a long time,” says Marcus. “We wanted to make a good impression on Mandy.”
Marcus had just taken out the last trash bag and dumped it in the communal bins when Mandy’s Uber pulled up in front of the building.
“She gets out, the driver helped her with her bags,” Marcus recalls. “My first impression is that she’s super-cute. She’s tiny, but she seems to have a lot of energy and she’s very cute.”
Mandy smiled as the Uber drove away.
“Oh, you must be Marcus,” she said.
Marcus reached out his hand for Mandy to shake. The moment was a little awkward, but friendly.
Then, Marcus took Mandy’s bags and carried them up the stairs.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s very nice that he took my bags. Duly noted,’” recalls Mandy.
Inside the new apartment, Mandy met Boris and offered to treat her new roommates to take-out.
The next thing she knew, Marcus was putting through a pizza order on his laptop.
“I had to awkwardly hand him my credit card,” says Mandy “He’s typing in the details. And then, Google Chrome asks if he wants to save the card. And I was like, ‘You better not save that card information.’”
Mandy was only half-joking. She recalls thinking: “This is kind of weird. I just met this guy. And I’m giving him my credit card information.”
For the next couple of hours, Mandy, Marcus and Boris sat around eating pizza and chatting.
Mandy appreciated how welcoming her new roommates were. And she thought Marcus was “cute.”
“But also I was tired,” she says. “I was like, ‘Maybe I’m delusional.’”
After dinner, Mandy, exhausted from the flight, decamped to her bedroom and went to sleep. She woke up wondering if she’d still find Marcus attractive after sleeping off the jet lag. Her question was answered as soon as she saw him in the kitchen, smiling at her.
Over the next week, Mandy and Marcus got to know each other. They ate dinner out most nights – just the two of them. Boris was always invited, but often had plans and couldn’t join.
Mandy says she and Marcus “clicked right away.”
“There was a lot of chemistry between us. But it was chemistry that you’re not sure what you should do with,” she says.
Mandy was conscious they’d just moved in together – she didn’t want to halt a potential friendship or upset their living situation.
But Marcus didn’t quite have the same reservations about potentially dating his roommate.
“I was probably more riding the wave of what was happening,” he says. “I didn’t really think about the potential consequences so much, I was more like, ‘Feels good. Let’s go for it.’”
Despite Mandy’s hesitations, she and Marcus grew closer and closer. Mandy couldn’t deny what she calls “the immediacy of the draw we had to each other.”
Before long, they were dating in all but name. They went out to dinner together, explored Prague side by side, and spent hours talking together in the apartment. They traveled out of Prague to the Pilsner Brewery together, enjoying a tour and spending the evening sharing beers. On Valentine’s Day, around a month after she’d moved in, Marcus cooked for Mandy. Boris walked in and raised an eyebrow at the obvious romantic undertones.
But all the while Mandy and Marcus grew closer, the shadow of coronavirus was becoming harder to ignore. When Mandy arrived in Europe, the pandemic was a distant rumbling of thunder. By early March, the storm had broken over Europe.
Mandy woke up one morning to an email from her parents. The US border was closing. They’d bought her a plane ticket home.
“Here’s your plane ticket, it leaves on Thursday, and we have 24 hours to cancel it. So it’s fully refundable,” read the email. “You’re an adult, you can make your own decisions. But we would really like you to come home.”
Mandy wasn’t sure what to do. If she left, her visa would be nulled and it wouldn’t be easy for her to come back. Her burgeoning connection with Marcus would end before it had even begun.
But on the flip side, this was a global crisis. Surely it made sense to be with her loved ones in her home country? If she stayed, would she be stuck in Prague indefinitely?
“I think I’m falling in love,” Mandy thought. “I don’t want this to end. But I also don’t know if this is a mistake not to go home.”
Boris had already returned to Germany. But Marcus wasn’t sure if he would go back to Finland. He hadn’t spoken the words aloud, but it seemed like he was waiting to see what Mandy would do.
Over the next 24 hours Mandy flip-flopped between staying and going. Eventually, she and Marcus talked through their options together.
“We didn’t go out and say, ‘Hey, we will fight through this Covid together, united,’” says Marcus. “It was more carefully trying to pique each other’s interest.”
“If you stay, I’ll stay,” Mandy and Marcus eventually decided.
“Once we had decided that we would both stay, it felt very exciting for me,” says Marcus.
Over the next few months, as Prague descended into a strict lockdown, Mandy and Marcus were together pretty much 24/7.
Marcus started experimenting with cooking elaborate meals. Mandy would sit on the couch, drinking wine, cheering him on and keeping him company.
The two spent long evenings sharing stories and talking about their lives.
“We grew much closer and developed much stronger feelings for each other,” says Marcus. “We spent so much time together, just the two of us and got to open up about stuff.”
For Marcus, the more introverted of the pair, spending time with Mandy at home was the ideal way to get to know her properly.
“I felt quite comfortable and safe in that home environment,” he says. “So I felt like I could be myself. And also with Mandy – just her personality meant it was very easy to be myself.”
Mandy found it harder to be in the moment. She loved spending time with Marcus, but she couldn’t help but worry about the potential future complications of dating someone from a different country.
She also struggled not to let the grim realities of the pandemic infiltrate their bubble.
“Everything was still quite up in the air,” she recalls. “We hadn’t defined the relationship, but I stayed for this man, basically. And I’ve just moved here, and I’m still under a visa process that’s ongoing, and the world is up in flames and all of these things…So it wasn’t necessarily like, ‘Oh, I feel safe and at home with you.’ It was pretty hectic for me still.”
Despite this, Mandy recalls many bright spots.
“We spent a lot of time in the park, drinking prosecco and having a grand old time,” she says.
Prague, usually packed with tourists, was sleepy and empty.
Mandy and Marcus recall “walking on the Charles Bridge, and absolutely no one was there.”
Despite the grim circumstances, the empty city “was pretty cool.”
Summer rolled around, Prague’s pandemic restrictions eased a little. Marcus was set to head back to Finland for his summer vacation to work. He was set to be away from the Czech Republic for three months.
“The night before he left, I’m crying and I’m like, ‘Oh, gosh, you’re leaving and I’m so sad,’” recalls Mandy.
That was the moment Mandy and Marcus finally spoke their feelings aloud – and confirmed they were committed to being together.
During their three months apart, Mandy and Marcus only grew more certain of this fact. Mandy recalls phoning her mother, telling her she knew she was in love with Marcus and she hoped he felt the same way.
When Marcus returned to the apartment in Vinohrady, he told Mandy he was in love with her.
“Thank goodness,” said Mandy, laughing.
It was then that she finally let herself relax into this new reality. Marcus was her boyfriend, and despite the stresses that defined 2020, Mandy was happy. She loved living in Prague. She decided to extend her time there, using the pandemic as an excuse – pretty much all her teaching had taken place online, after all, she hadn’t really had the experience she’d planned.
Whenever she was asked, Mandy was vague about how much longer she’d stay.
“It was always, ‘A while longer,’” says Mandy. “Never really a defined end.”
Boris returned to Prague, bemused by how Marcus and Mandy’s relationship had grown in his absence. He was happy for them.
“I left Mandy and Marcus as two new roommates and met them again when I came back as a well established couple with their own traditions and habits,” Boris tells CNN Travel. “It was a very cute situation to witness.”
The following summer, in July 2021, Mandy traveled with Marcus to Finland to spend time with his friends and family and get a glimpse into his culture and country.
“Introducing Mandy to my friends felt really great,” recalls Marcus. “She seemed to click with everyone.”
“Meeting his family and coming to Finland was that final puzzle piece for me,” says Mandy.
When the US borders reopened later that year, Marcus traveled with Mandy to Texas to meet Mandy’s loved ones.
“Her parents and sister, they were all super-embracing and I really felt like I was part of the family from the get-go,” says Marcus.
After those important introductions, “we felt it was getting more serious,” says Mandy.
But Mandy and Marcus’ future still felt like it came with a lot of question marks. If they stayed together, where would they live? Mandy’s parents’ initial tongue-in-cheek comments about marrying her medical student roommates still stood – Marcus wouldn’t be able to practice medicine in the US, so living there seemed out of the question.
During this time, Marcus and Mandy decided to go to couples therapy, figuring it was important to talk through some of these uncertainties.
“I think that was really helpful for us in terms of – there’s so many things to think about with an intercultural relationship – where we’re going to live and all of these really heavy questions,” says Mandy.
“We had a really great therapist in Prague, and that really helped us to feel a lot more serious and have a very solid foundation.”
The couple confirmed they “saw life together” and decided it was OK to just “try to figure it out step by step.”
“We feel very secure,” says Marcus. “We know that it’s going to be the two of us going forward.”
Cut to spring 2023, three years since Mandy moved to Prague, and three years since she met Marcus.
The couple were starting to suspect they’d have to leave the city they both loved. Marcus was about to graduate medical school, and it was looking like it would be easier for him to get a job in Finland.
To mark three years together, Marcus decided to surprise Mandy with a photoshoot – he figured they’d both appreciate having some nice photos at some of their favorite Prague spots.
The couple, photographer in tow, headed to a park where the trees were covered in pastel-colored blossoms. Mandy had long been obsessed with the blooming spring trees, she’d never seen anything like them in Texas.
As the photographer took a couple of preliminary photographs of Mandy, Marcus seized the moment. He knelt behind her. When Mandy turned around, she was initially confused. Then it twigged – he was proposing.
The subsequent photos captured Mandy’s pure delight. In fact, in all the photos taken that day, Mandy and Marcus are glowing with happiness.
The shoot concluded on the Charles Bridge. As Mandy and Marcus stood there, looking out over the city arm in arm, Mandy suggested they should celebrate at their favorite restaurant.
“Well, it depends on how long it takes you to pack,” said Marcus.
“He’d planned a night or two at a spa hotel in Karlovy Vary, which is a spa town two hours outside of Prague,” explains Mandy.
The couple spent the rest of the weekend toasting their future.
This past summer, Marcus and Mandy left Prague and moved to Helsinki, Finland. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the city that shaped their relationship, but the couple are excited for this next chapter, and plan to stay in Helsinki for the next couple of years.
Mandy and Marcus will return to Prague next spring for their wedding – a weekend celebration in which friends and family from across the globe, including, of course, their former roommate Boris, will convene in the Czech Republic to celebrate Mandy and Marcus’ love story.
On their wedding website, Marcus and Mandy listed some of their favorite places in Prague for guests unfamiliar with the city. They eschewed the obvious spots – they’re available for anyone to Google – in favor of the local haunts they loved. Naturally, the Vinohrady apartment is top of that list.
Marcus and Mandy look back at their time there very fondly. Marcus marvels at the “small, tiny events” that lead them to cross paths, live in that apartment together and fall in love.
Mandy expresses “how absolutely joyful, smitten, and thankful we are that we allowed ourselves the joy of loving each other – even when we weren’t sure how things would turn out.”
“We’ve experienced quite a bit in these few years together and are so happy that we get to continue going through life together,” Mandy says. “It’s been the greatest and most unexpected adventure.”