My heart hasn’t left Prague.
Sometimes, when nostalgia kicks in, I flick through my old Prague photos. The classic postcard shots stir unique memories in my mind. Seeing the peaks of Prague castle brings me back to getting off the tram after work and watching the sun sink behind it in the distance, the hills of Žižkov and the train station between us. When I see the ornate bridges crossing the Vltava, I think of every time I crossed them to head to a park, pub or wine bar. It was when I saw the water sparkle beneath me that I most realized how lucky I was.
It seems so surreal that this was once the city I called home. It just looks like a fairy-tale, a fantasy.
Why did I move to Prague? I’m still not entirely sure. I was restless, saw an opportunity for a TEFL course I could take in Prague, and thought “why not?” I knew next to nothing about the Czech Republic. I was open to anything.
I stayed in Prague for a bit over a year. If it hadn’t been for my mediocre salary and insatiable wanderlust, I could have stayed a lifetime.
Of course, it wasn’t all a fairy-tale. There were bad days.
The first summer, when I had no money and few friends, when I was trying to stretch 80kc (4CAD) to feed myself for the upcoming week and wondering how I’d make my next student loan payment, I sometimes felt like I’d made a mistake. Later on, when I had more work, I despised the sound of my alarm summoning me out of bed in the early morning. If I wanted the money, I had to put in long hours, and with that inevitably came exhaustion.
There were romantic misadventures that I won’t get into right now (ahem, or ever) that would leave me pounding my fist on the wall of a bathroom stall in an underground pub so my eyes wouldn’t fill with tears, when there was only one person in the world I wanted to talk to, but she was in Canada, too far even for a text.
I missed my brother’s wedding, my sister’s first heartache, and countless other little moments that I’ll never even know about. The distance was hard sometimes, and I couldn’t help but feel selfish for leaving, especially as Facebook constantly reminded me of what I was missing out on.
I had no cat, and I missed my Bico every day. Our regular visits to the cat cafe nearby never made up for the lack of her furry, loving presence on my lap, in my bed, inconveniencing every aspect of my life.
I didn’t see the sun all winter, it was so overcast. I’d always associated seasonal depression with the cold, but apparently darkness can cause it as well.
There were moments of frustration at work, when I couldn’t communicate with my Czech boss about the most basic things. Or when I couldn’t communicate with the foreign police about the most basic things. Or the bus drivers. Or the grocery store cashier.
Living abroad is still living. Not everything can be sunshine and kitten cuddles. But the good things… They made it all so, so worth it.
I had the best of friends in Prague, people who lifted me up and made me want to be a better person. Interesting, creative people who threw cucumber and stripper themed surprise parties and created interactive art installments celebrating love. People with whom I’m still in touch, and will meet up with somewhere in the world.
The city of Prague took my breath away on a daily basis. Everything was so old, so intricate. I loved exploring and getting lost, finding hidden beauty in alleyways and side streets. I cherished every sunset, every hidden garden.
For once, I actually enjoyed my job. I liked seeing the way my kids’ faces lit up when I arrived in the morning, and I loved hearing all the stories my adult students told me about their lives, about their country.
I got to explore so much. I took weekend trips around Europe, or within the Czech Republic. For a country I hadn’t given much thought to, I got to know it pretty well. I fell in love with the accessibility and decent prices of the Czech railway system, the old-school trains making me feel like one of the original vagabonds. I shared the Czech appreciation of hiking, and would wander far down the well-marked trails, immersing myself in the Czech countryside.
I learned so much while I was there. I heard first-hand stories that fueled my growing fascination with the Soviet Occupation and the Velvet Revolution, and felt the harsh reality of the Second World War. I learned of ancient myths, older than the hills. I learned about the changing political landscape, and better understood the instances of xenophobia I witnessed. I learned to listen before judging, that every action has a back story.
I got in touch with a side of Czech culture I may have never seen if I’d only been passing through. I learned bits and pieces of the language, managing to string some sentences together, which earned me respect at work. I attended gallery openings and underground concerts, seeing what Czech artists were all about.
There’s something odd about living in an extremely touristy city. You quickly learn that there’s so much more behind the facade, so much that the rushed traveller will never witness.
When I look back at Prague, I don’t think about joining the hoards of tourists at Prague Castle, on the Charles Bridge or in Old Town Square. I think about sunset picnics at Riegrovy Sady and unexpected lightning shows, of escapes to Divok Šárka, of electro-swing parties where everyone was dressed to the nines. I think of mushroom picking and drinking on trains, of biking for burgers and writing in parks. I think of the time we accidentally danced the night away in a brothel in Žižkov, or the night we spent sleeping under the stars in the backyard of a pub as we were hitchhiking to a local music festival on a farm. Those are the memories that will withstand time. I think of countless other moments whose perfection I could never describe, but that I will cherish forever.
I think of another life, one I lived in a gorgeous city surrounded by amazing people, and no matter where I wander, Prague will always be stuck under my skin.
A View of Life in Prague: