Words and wanderlust fuel my imagination. These words are a part of me, a desire to move, to explore, to visit new worlds. Sometimes those worlds can only be found in books and sometimes you just have to find out for yourself. Armchair travel is one thing, but that first step on foreign soil – that is a rush.
As the plane taxied slowly toward its gate, a number of the passengers began unbuckling their seatbelts, gathering their belongings, and moving toward the aisle as though to jump ship before it crashed. I sat in my seat watching and listening. The captain spoke over the PA in three languages I didn’t understand. Suddenly, everyone began laughing and returned to their seats. By this time, we’d arrived and stopped at the gate, but no doors opened. Someone translated, “The captain. He will turn the plane around if we don’t sit down.” We had touched down in Prague. My translator was Russian. I laughed, strangely comforted, at this introduction to my adopted city.
I’d left San Antonio, Texas on the heels of a hurricane. A gate switch-up in Dallas, a four-hour layover in London, and I was back in the world I’d come to know as my own. I’d been here once before, a weekend only, while studying abroad in Austria. I still find it strange that my Czech is now better than my German.
Disembarking from the plane, I was glad for the small airport, and the simple signs. Once outside the confines of the airport, things became a lot more interesting. Though all the signs were in Czech (strangely enough the signs were for tourists), a few missteps in learning the public transit system, tiny elevators for too large suitcases, and locks that were reverse of what I knew, I was ready for this change. I let the culture shock wash over me and three weeks into my four week stay, I chose to truly immerse myself in the culture.
The first page of a Lonely Planet Guide by my side, I turned to its authors page and read their “If I Only Had One Day to Explore” these sights filled my first days of exploration and a favorite stop? The bookstores, of course. On an early morning jaunt, after a small cup of coffee at a local cafe (the first one on the list had closed, but another recommended worked as well), I followed the directions to the book shop. The shop wasn’t large, but there were a few steps to go before you were truly in its belly. I wandered as I usually do, picking up books and seeing a number of English authors and titles I knew, until I was ready to leave, I hadn’t seen anything I wanted to buy. But, going back up those same few steps, on my right was a low, small bookcase – new titles and new authors caught my eye. I bought three books (R.U.R. by Karel Capek, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klima, I would return a few weeks later for Vaclav Havel) and and as a gift, the book shop owner gave me a blue coffee mug, with the shop’s name emblazoned on it. When I asked him why, he said, “Those books are by Czech authors. A few weeks ago, I decided anyone who wanted to learn more about their culture and history, I would gift them a little something as a thank you.” The shop has long since closed, but I will never forget that simple exchange.
Every experience, every escape from my comfort zone, every person I meet, I imagine the stories, the settings, the plots, and daydream. In my mind, I can sit on the cool grass of Riegrovy Sady, have a glass of wine near Vinohrady, take the funicular up Petrin, and wherever I am – I can hear the jumbled voices in some languages I could distinguish and some I couldn’t. Faces and places that would soon become as familiar to me as my hometown. Though this wasn’t my first time abroad, or living abroad for that matter, it still somehow resonated more, than at other times. Perhaps because I stayed so long? Or perhaps because that is where I began to write. To write with purpose. To want to make writing my career. This was the beginning.
Where did your story begin? What catalyst put you toward your dream?