Travelling Full Circle

17. 09. 2018

Do you also sometimes feel that you have returned to square one? Or – that you are spinning in circles? Journeys of discovery meander and test us. When mulling over a glass of wine in an empty flat without even a wardrobe and with only a stick of butter in the fridge, a person easily starts to think about what these years of travel brought, what it means to explore life in other countries and when a person will “finally arrive” home. But understand me well – this isn’t mere whinging. Or maybe it is a bit…?

I come from a small town in Moravian Slovakia, a cultural region in the south-eastern part of the Czech Republic. My discovery of the wider world began upon leaving for university. To Brno to be exact. Student accommodation, classmates from the all over the republic, trams and a bit of pocket money for a beer in a smoke-filled pub – it was a real adventure! The people in Uherské Hradiště are dying of boredom. I could never live there,” I declared with self-assurance and a Sparta Light cigarette in my mouth on Brno’s Zelný trh. One year rolled into another, and an offer for work in Austria as a substitute summer au-pair came. To this day, I can still see my family waving proudly at Uherské Hradiště train station and Mum saying good-bye with tears in her eyes. Despite the unbelievable number of shirts I ironed and my room like a maid’s quarters, I gained necessary self-confidence and the title of professional globetrotter after this mere three-week(!) experience.  

The following summer I left to work as a field-hand on a farm in Switzerland with the courageous intention to explore the world. Two months of hard labour on the farm, up at 5 am, carrying buckets of milk, sorting an endless amount of potatoes and collecting crates full of plums pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone, but Switzerland enthralled me with its sophistication, cleanliness and exquisite nature. Most of all it gave me a chance to speak in a foreign language. Actually, when I think about it, it was the freedom at this moment to transform into a new person that was so beguiling to a girl from a small town.  

When I was in my third year at uni, four free places for foreign internship in Germany were announced. Two students applied. My trip to Leipzig again started at Uherské Hradiště train station. It wasn’t Mum who cried this time, but me. Just so you know – the main reason I went to Germany was to make my then boyfriend proud of me. He was also an experienced globetrotter. But suddenly after a couple of beers, he decided it wasn’t love. For me, it was the end of the world. But nothing could be done, and I cursed him every time I had to go to the cellar for coal to heat up the tiled stove in our East German flat. But what is more important: a friendship that forged then has lasted until today.  

“To Australia??! You have gone mad! Under no circumstances!” Dad strictly said, prohibiting me right before graduation, when I tried to explain to him that Europe is always “only” Europe and the world beyond the ocean is totally, totally different. Better even! People live better lives at the beach, and no, there are definitely no spiders and snakes there, and people are not murdered in the middle of the desert. I don’t know if he understood me at the time, but living overseas stretched out to almost four years. It brought tough times, but at the same time, I shed my prejudices and attempted to see things in a positive light. 

Seen from abroad, we tend (probably from longing) to idealise home a little. But the truth is that Bohemia and Prague seemed upon return even less bearable than before. Unfriendly service still predominated then. Unsmiling people were on the street. Envy was everywhere. Endless complaints could be heard. Fortunately, service in Prague is today comparable to countries in the West, and a pleasant atmosphere can be found in the city. But it in those days, it only took a couple of months before I packed my suitcase and bought a plane ticket without a second thought. This time it was to Barcelona. Dad only shook his head in disbelief.  

Spain is untamed – full of emotion and music. Barely organised, but more free-spirited. Loud and hot. And back then it was filled with unemployed and unmotivated people. It taught me to accept failure and dance on the ruins of a collapsed building. But maybe that’s for another time.  

Today I’m looking out of the window at Prague, shining with lights. I can hear crickets chirping in the garden and in the distance a tram, and I ask myself where I once found this desire in me to set off to new places and tempt fate with new challenges. Was it necessary to explore, or was I only trying to run away? Or was it only “the rashness of youth”? Why was Uherské Hradiště small, Brno mundane, Prague too Czech and Europe too European? Maybe you see it differently, but sometime it’s necessary to go full circle to reach the starting point. Personally, this figurative ten-year circle helped me find my place in the middle of our extended Czech family and to be proud of what I have. The yearly seasons with bumblebees and collecting mushrooms, mountains and rivers and vineyards, Czech ingenuity, unique Prague with its bitter-tasting beer and talk full of ironic humour. 

 

Your Kristýna