We Were On a Boat…

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 15. Farewells, Prague by Alice2 Comments

It’s really hard to believe that this semester has already come to an end. As I walk through Old town Square, Vinohrady, and some other places I’ve frequented throughout the year, it seems surreal to me that this may be the last time I see them.

I’ve been around many places, come and gone from city to city, home to home. This feeling should be familiar by now. But this time things feel different. This is a city that has never belonged to me. It is as temporary to me as I am to it. Four months is just about enough time to settle into the rhythm of things, and Prague was just beginning to feel like home…and now I’m leaving, without knowing if I’ll ever set foot in this country again. Or even Europe. I know I’ll still be traveling places, but nothing in the world is ever certain. When I leave Europe for good—fortunately (or unfortunately—I’m a little tired of traveling by now, for reasons I will explicate later), I still have a good month of traveling left—I never know when and if I’ll ever return. It’s disconcerting to think I’ll spend the rest of my life so faraway from a place I have come to call home, until it gradually fades away from my memory.

I really thought I would still be returning here during my month of travel, but plans change, and now I find myself regretting pushing things off because I always thought I would have more time. I haven’t had a chance to be a proper tourist here. Or inhabit the city enough to know it’s intricacies. I wish I’d eaten out more instead of opting to save money and cook, so that I would at least have some insider’s knowledge to the hidden gems of the city. Of course, I feel like that about almost every place I’ve lived in, so perhaps this is normal. This is just the way I tend to inhabit a space—more from the comforts of home and routine than out and about in the center of action. In many ways, it makes Prague special, more like Beijing or New York to me than any other city I’ve visited.

And I’ve visited a lot. My roommate and I even scheduled in a last weekend trip to Amsterdam before finals. Things were going great until our flight back on Sunday got cancelled because of the snow, and we had to take a late night train to Brussels to fly back from there on the next day. I not only lost a day of work and study, but also had to miss my two finals on Monday, which I had to reschedule to Tuesday, along with my presentation and essay that were originally due on that day as well. So I arrived home at 1am Monday night, worn out and a little fed up with life (but also thinking that the “Travails” topic should have come along later so that I could have written about this trip instead), and did some last minute work on my presentation and essay so that I could still get in a few hours of sleep before my makeup finals. In the end, it all turned out well, but I still feel like a character in a movie who pushed through that hefty climax only to find that her catharsis was a hasty goodbye to the one place she had been so desperate to return to.

Life is funny like that sometimes. Especially goodbyes. The buildup always seems more ceremonious than the actual thing itself.

I’m going to conclude with an anecdote. As we were walking down the streets of Old Town Square yesterday, my friend said, “I feel like we were on a boat…” and I really thought she was going to say something poetic out of nowhere, but it turns out she was talking about how the first boat cruise during orientation week seemed like just a month ago. But her words triggered some emotion in me, and I’m going to finish her sentence my way, because these things always make more sense in writing than when you say them out loud.

We were on a boat, adrift in a journey that took us far from the earth in a dream longer than ever before or ever again, but now it is time to dock and return to reality. We can never be sure if we’ll ever return to this exact spot, and even if we do, the sea one day is never the same as the day before. But despite its perils, it was a beautiful dream. I learned so much, grew so much, and despite the sadness, I miss New York. I’m ready to go back and face my future. Maybe—hopefully—one day I will return to Prague and recount my time here. But for now, I will get ready to say goodbye to the part of myself that this city has molded. It’ll never truly leave me, I hope, but my time as a European is about to come to a close.

It was a good ride.

Comments

  1. Alice! This is beautifully written. I love the line where you say it’s different this time because you don’t belong to the city and it doesn’t belong to you. I resonate with that, I’ve always had the mindset here that I am this separate entity humbly trying to learn about the place I’m in. I don’t think you should say you might never come back! Life is long, and you never know. Also, I understand the feeling of regret that you didn’t do certain things you now wish you had, but I like to remind myself that we shouldn’t regret what we have done because in the moment, it’s exactly what we wanted. I’m glad you’ve had a meaningful experience and hug New York for me.

  2. Hi Alice,

    I understand your feeling of regret because I also didn’t have the time to visit every part of Shanghai that I wanted to as well 🙁 Especially when you say that you regret not eating out more because that’s true for me too! I like your metaphor about how studying abroad felt being on a boat in a dream. Our time there was only temporary and now we need to go back to New York but I think we can find comfort in knowing that Prague (or any other location) will always hold a special place in our hearts. I hope you have a safe journey back as well!

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