Clocks and Cobblestones
Written by Katherine Shield (Tufts University)
The last thing on my list of expectations for Prague was to get homesick. I expected to get stressed, to be confused, to feel frustrated. But I did not expect to get homesick. I spent three months in Australia and never felt homesick. I’m a Junior in college – I didn’t get homesick freshman or sophomore year. I didn’t get homesick when I went to Costa Rica; the last time I felt homesick was my very first day of the second trip I took to Japan. I was 16 years old and completely alone.
So last Tuesday, when Anna went to bed and turned on BBC, the sudden wave of homesickness completely shocked me. I was feeling frustrated with the difficulties of communicating in Czech, I was stressed about my weekend trip to Oktoberfest, I was overwhelmed by the sudden onset of homework in my normal classes. But I expected all of that. The longing for NPR, for the San Mateo Farmer’s Market, for the bento box store on the corner. That all surprised me. But there isn’t much to do about homesickness, except to accept it and move on. So that’s what I tried to do.
I decided to embrace my feelings of cizinec (foreigner) status, and played tourist on Friday. I took pictures of Prague castle, of the famous clocks (orlej) around town and the cobblestones covering the sidewalks.
One of the first things I noticed when I got to Prague was the cobblestone roads, and the cobblestone patterns. Everyone talks about the cobblestones. About how hard they are to walk on (Don’t bring heels!, they say), about how annoying they are, about how they ruin your shoes. But for me, honestly, they are beautiful. I love the fact that different streets have different patterns, and that there are new patterns on every corner. I love that sometimes there is a loose cobblestone in the middle of the sidewalk. (Although I’m sure I won’t love that so much when I trip and sprain an ankle on one….) I loved it so much when I got here that I took pictures of the ground, and my fellow students became convinced I was crazy.
Prague has three internationally famous clocks – the most famous of which is the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square. Prague’s Astronomical Clock is the oldest of its kind still functioning. The other famous clocks are the one in the Jewish Quarter, which runs counterclockwise, and one on St. Wenceslas Cathedral in Prasky Hrad, which actually has two faces – one for minutes and another for hours.
And then I spent the weekend at Oktoberfest, which was actually perfect timing. I was feeling like I didn’t belong in Prague, so I left for the weekend. I got to spend the weekend with friends from America, kinda. Regardless, we spoke English all weekend, and we wandered around Munich, and we visited the biggest carnival/beer drinking festival/wedding celebration I’ve ever seen. It was a wonderful whirlwind of tourism, and then I took the 6 hour train back to Prague.
And this post comes full circle.
On the train ride home, the first 3 hours is in Germany. All the announcements are in German, all the people getting on and off are speaking German to each other. I sat in a corner and worked on my Czech politics/Czech and Jewish history homework assignments and tried to ignore the fact that I had no idea what was happening around me. When we got halfway through the journey, however, and crossed into the Czech Republic, all of a sudden the announcements were in Czech first (then English and German, which the Germans were not kind enough to provide). And I understood the essentials of the Czech announcements! I knew, before hearing the English announcement, the name of the next stop, and what time the train would be arriving. When we arrived in the main station in Prague, I understood that this was the last stop. And I felt like I was coming home.
I didn’t feel lost or confused any more, and I knew exactly how to get back to my bed, my house, my family. I realized, as I sat on the train from Munich to Prague, that returning to Prague now felt like returning home.
And when I woke up this morning to the sounds of Emma and Jachym playing, I couldn’t help but smile. I was home.