I stepped off my flight into the hundred degree weather of an Arizona night; in exactly 14 hours, I had to fly back to the east coast (after spending a week in New York City) and across an ocean to Prague. Rushed packing, little sleep, and a canceled connecting flight did not keep me from a customs officer that did nothing more then take my passport and stamp Frankfurt across it. A short flight later, I finally arrived in Prague after almost a day of exhausting travel. It was a mild relief to find a taxi driver holding a sign with my name on it and a …pleasant… surprise to be sped through the suburbs of the Czech Republic’s capital while listening to All About That Bass blare familiarly on a car radio.
For me, no culture shock hit per se. People watching became bereft of the ease dropping because I knew only a handful of words in Czech. I will admit, when I entered my hotel room, I could not for the life of me find the light switch- turns out light switches are big square buttons. Of course other experiences reminded me of my starkly American lifestyle: the water- exclusively carbonated- easily doubled the price of a beer. Sitting to eat at a restaurant cost extraordinarily less and constituted a casual affair with an unfamiliar etiquette. All that aside, I felt completely comfortable walking the cobblestones of the city and interacting- as best as I could- with the people.
Over the five days I spent in Prague, I walked about 50 miles. I learned a few things too. If you were a 18th century aristocrat and built a palace, the communists took it away in the 20th century, and the current government has turned it into an art gallery- without exception. Having seen thousands of paintings across Prague’s national galleries, I can conclude that if you were not rich, a saint, or Jesus you were not going to be painted. Unlike in the States, security guards actively avoid you when you tour a museum compared to hawkishly tracking you just waiting for you to reach out and touch a work of art.
Outside the city’s castle, I saw a hilarious exchange between a couple over a cobblestone in a language I did not understand. The man, bright-eyed, picked up a tiny cobblestone sitting out of place on a staircase and turned to his wife. After showing her and exclaiming his intention to pocket it as a souvenir, he, with a defeated look completely in antithesis with his wife’s scolding glance, laid the cobblestone back down. How do I know what was the said between the two… well my dad tried to pick up a cobblestone earlier in the day and the occasion played out exactly the same way. Maybe people around the world aren’t so different as we make them out to be.
I caught a train to Vienna a day after the terrorist attack in Nice. While walking through the streets, I came upon the French embassy- candles burned and flowers adorned its metal fence seeming to grow into vines as they weaved through the bars. Silence pierced the somber air. The small crowd gathered stood both in shock and in sadness but most of all in solidarity- vive la France! We are not as different as we make each other out to be.
While in Vienna, I came one step closer to achieving my goal of becoming truly cosmopolitan. While navigating through the streets, I saw this girl with a clipboard approaching me. I stealthily dodged around another pedestrian yet, by invariably colliding with this man, the girl caught up along side me. While shaking my hand, she enthusiastically talked at me in German. After a moment, she realized I was not as I seemed and was but a tourist who could, sadly, not be resisted to vote in Austria. Turns out, to my satisfaction, I can pull off European youth rather seamlessly.
During a trip to a grocery store, I discovered a little piece of home amongst the selves- Arizona Ice Tea! There are two things you can never truly escape 24 hours a day of CNN on television and American branding. On a day trip into the countryside, I gazed upon countless hillside castles and riverside bicyclists from a boat cruising the great Danube. Wandering the gardens of a grandiose hilltop monastery, I bathed in the scent of mint from the fauna cultivated along a path. You tend to notice the atmosphere and aroma of life more when traveling. The novel becomes the extraordinary and the habituated the mundane- the awe surrounding everyday life is too often overlooked.
Across Prague and Vienna, I forsook the streets to visit many a church. Massive domed citadels covered in sculptures and paintings never failed to capture my upward gaze. On a few occasions, I found myself the only person wandering through the pews and basking in the glory of a church older than I could imagine. I cannot describe the feeling of being alone and in complete silence in a place so beautiful and grand. While the foundations of my life and my beliefs do not reside in the God worshiped in those halls, I cannot but be impressed by the dedication to the extravagance of faith. My final day in Vienna, I entered a church for the last time on my trip to hear a concert. Ave Maria and Four Seasons, opera and violins, Mozart and Bach echoed across the marble and stained glass windows. When I closed my eyes, the music swept me away; those sounds of a genius reverberating across generations amplified by architectural brilliance graced me with a religious experience.
After a train ride back to Prague, I had half a day before my flight home yanked me away from a city in which I could one day unequivocally reside. Having learned the most important words in Czech- those with which to describe wine- I enjoyed a glass on a hillside overlooking the entire city. Red rooftops mixed with green trees competing with church spires to dominate the skyline, interrupted only by a winding river, covered the eye’s expanse- I can think of nothing else so European. On the demands of my father we stopped for cake and expressos and then cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate that last night. I did not sleep well after that- turns out a glass of wine, an espresso, and champagne are not the best match in short order.
Everyday of my trip, I soaked in my journey from dawn until dust. I cannot count nor put down on paper all the places I visited for they were numerable yet all exceptional. I am so grateful for the chance to enjoy such a set of experiences. I cannot wait to travel abroad again and continue to live my life by experiencing the world in all its colors and hues.