I first wandered to Prague in 1998. It was my first international trip. My friend, Trisha, was going to Europe with her sister, Tara, and were going to visit our mutual friend and my Polish host brother, Wiktor. Contrary to my insisting it wasn’t possible, Trisha convinced me I was going.
I happen to have large feet. This was helpful because how the hell was a poor college student like myself at that time going to muster the money to make it happen. Trisha offered ideas to gain a helpful credit limit but fortunately I didn’t have to resort to that to get there. I delivered pizzas at the time and didn’t like dealing with change. At the end of the night any change I had left over from tips went directly into an old pair of shoes. Coincidentally the shoes were full just as I needed to buy the plane ticket and the roughly $400 in the shoes covered that cost. Now I just had to save for spending money, but that was no problem since I was 20 and could survive on bread, water, and the occasional pizza. On that trip we did 7 countries in 10 days, sleeping on night trains. It was a much different time then, no uber, no airbnb, very little internet accessibility.
When we got off the train in Prague I was in “Chicago mode” I coined it. I wasn’t making eye contact and on a mission to get somewhere, though I had no idea where that would be. Suddenly I noticed Wiktor, Trisha, and Tara were no longer near me. I looked back and Wiktor was talking with a burly gentleman pulling what looked like a large wallet out of a bag. I pulled Wiktor aside to ask what the hell he was doing and he assured me it was all good. The wallet was a collection of pictures of some living spaces around Prague. At that time, without digital photography or any central place to submit photos, people camped out near the train station and called out “Accomodation? Accomodation?” to the new arrivals to try to rent their extra spaces. We scored a place about a 3 minute walk from the Old Town Square for $11/night each.
The next time I came to Prague was again with Tara in 2000. I believe she had just finished nursing school and this was her celebratory adventure. I made the mistake of buying new shoes after our arrival. I quickly had a blister or two and couldn’t keep up with the exploring she wanted to do so we split up during the days and would link up in the evening to grab a drink and discuss our days.
One evening as we went searching for a good dinner spot we heard a Scandinavian character, Stephan, yelling at people, “Hey Sir! Will you come over here and reason with me?” We decided it could be amusing to sit a couple tables away from him. A few minutes later a Canadian guy laughed his way out the door of the neighboring building. Stephan asked what happened to which Tim chuckled out how he had been randomly buzzing people in the building until someone responded to the buzz with “Are you here for the interview?”, in English. Tim replied “Yes” and proceeded to the interview and landed a job teaching English in Prague. Upon hearing that story, Tara joined the discussion and Tim eventually buzzed the number again and Tara landed a job as well!
One afternoon I noticed Pearl Jam was playing while we were planning to be there. I got a ticket and managed to get lost on my way to the show. A helpful young woman on the bus gave me directions to get to the arena. Just as it seemed the bus was leaving and I was regretting having not asked for any of her contact info I saw Monika open the door on the bus to join me as I waited for the right bus.
One year later, in October 2001, I returned to Prague, this time I came solo and didn’t make the mistake of buying new shoes on the trip so was able to explore during the days. I linked up with Monika and after work she’d meet up with me and show me around. We saw Faust performed inside a castle wall, not inside the castle walls.. inside the wall itself. It was a cozy space and between my own familiarity with the play and Monika’s help, and the performers’ expressions I followed along.
I’ve heard that each time one recalls a memory we damage it a little. Much of this post consists of snippets from my “story”. Bits that I would tell over the past almost 20 years. The small parts that I’ve told numerous times seem so clear, those times, those adventures shaped me in many ways I feel, yet, the clarity is only in the small parts I’ve told over and over. I hope doing this, writing these, if I can coax myself into doing this regularly can help make these memories being built with this current adventure with Rachel just a bit more solid.
I’ve rambled on so long about my previous visits and now the nature of memory that any information of the past 2 weeks in Prague will have to wait for another post.