I miss yanking on the brass handles of the heaviest door imaginable. Walking into the courtyard of the apartment building, dingy from the outside, dirty still yet from the common interior, yet a sight to behold once in the confines of our apartment. Still outside, yet through the first line of defense, the cobblestone courtyard was half-covered by the higher floors of the building and half in the open air, this being where the dumpsters sat. I miss turning the bigger of my two silver keys into the lock of the second set of doors, slightly easier to open, and reaching over to the adjacent wall once I was inside to press the singular button. Only one button to push from any floor because there was only one elevator to go up or down. It would light up and you’d hear a satisfying “clunk,” and see the traction cables begin to rise through the auto-locked glass door as the lift descended, quite noisily. The door didn’t slide open like one would envision; it came outward like a store’s front door, and the opening was not wide enough for two people to walk into at the same time— single file only. Although it creaked at times, we weren’t afraid of all six roommates getting in at once. If we were collectively sober, however, two of us would be sensible enough to take the stairs to the fourth floor while the other four enjoyed the unsettling ease of the thing— our gravity was always felt intensely as it grunted into liftoff, and then not at all for a nanosecond upon its sudden, inevitable jolt of a stop.
I miss getting out on the fourth floor landing, which always smelled heavily, disgustingly, of fried fish— the only floor that did, based on empirical evidence. I miss twisting the smaller of my silver keys two full times counter-clockwise to unlock the door that led to the Havel Suite. Shouting “Dobry den,” regardless of whether anyone or everyone was home, and opening the translucent door to my bedroom where I’d either find two unmade twin beds separated by the grey and yellow rug, or Steph swaddled in hers. The jet black couch against the window, the many Havel photos and even one caricature of him smiling at us, and the black and white bookcase wallpaper that will be in my future home one day. Taking off my varying layers of jackets depending on the month, throwing it/them on the ground below my hanger bar, and wandering to the kitchen where six girls kept their appetites in one refrigerator. Pouring a full helping of white into the comically small wine glasses provided to us, which never once stopped us from reaching our drunkest— only doubled the amount of time it took to pour— and decompressing as I cooked chicken on the stove or poured pasta into a pot, all the while singing to the Dixie Chicks.
I miss Milka nights. The six of us became so concurrently enamored with the Swiss Alpenmilch chocolate that somewhere along the timeline of our semester together in that apartment, we went from each buying our individual bars and surreptitiously stealing squares of it while the owner wasn’t home, to wheeling through turns of who was buying the lot for everyone that night when someone announced their craving. Whomever’s turn it was to bulk on the layers and prance across the street, literally across the street, to the mini mart which traded us Milka for money all semester long, would go do so while we all waited for our vice-mother to return with the goods. Then we’d push open my bedroom bay windows to sit on the ledge and stare at the surreality of Jungmannova while sharing our "Rose and Thorn" of the day, or planning our next trip, or already reminiscing about our latest one as we ate and drank and made merry.
I miss the chaos of grocery shopping. Knowing that I needed a game plan or I wouldn’t make it out alive— what an exciting twist on the mundanity of such a chore. Walking past the bread section and thinking, I don’t even eat bread like that, and having that be a better reason to buy it than to not. Searching for coffee filters in four stories of a shopping mall and never finding them for 4 months. Paper towels sufficed. Walking the short length back to the apartment from Tesco, wondering if there would be room in the fridge for the grocery load, or who would be making the family dinner that night since I bought the food this time. Seeing, without fail, rain or shine, dusk or dawn, tourists photographing the glittering rotating Kafka-head statue directly outside our shopping center, and having the luxury to even think at all, even in error, oh, tourists. That’s not me. Buying a spiced apple cider from the pop-up booth that appeared sometime between the fall equinox and the winter solstice, right beside Kafka, and then wondering with Steph why we were standing in the cold for 15 minutes while the vendors took that long to heat the cider back up to give us their very best version of it, before realizing that we had not a thing in the world to complain about.
I miss passing the tiny obscure corner bar on my way home from class, the only one in our vicinity we never went into as it was always filled with men who appeared to have just gotten off work, regardless of the time of day, shouting their woes in Czech over pints of Pilsner. Popping into Wok In, our favorite Asian fusion place, far more than was acceptable for our blood pressure when we got off the tram at our stop, Národní třída. Alternatively, and just as frequently, eating goulash and dumplings at the sit-down restaurant right through a misleading alley-way smack in the middle of our own street, whenever we felt like it. Hanging a right for 10 steps from our building and walking down the stairs of U Sudu, the cave bar that you knew to wear your already-worn clothes of the week into because the cigarette smoke would set itself into the cotton and require an immediate wash, if not for the Czech public, then for yourself. Ten steps to the left, Anonymous, the bar that served drinks based on a menu made exclusively of Rorschach drawings which left you hoping you’d interpreted them correctly and chosen a drink with a fruit base you liked. But you could just never be sure until it came to you in whichever plush love seat in a dimly lit corner you’d settled into.
I miss Cafe des Taxis, the cafe of Anglo American University, where I’d grab my coffee and croissant on Wednesday mornings for my 3-hour 8am, and also, where Steph, Mark, and I would order “discreet wine” in lidded coffee cups so we could drink our way through Visual Culture on Wednesday afternoons. The lectures of my social theory professor, the sound of his Czech inflection on a British accent of English as he discussed Weber, Durkheim, Foucault, and many others I won’t remember now. Walking the streets with our Art and Architecture professor and studying the distinct styles of the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque eras in every monastery, bridge, and garden in the city. I miss the view of the Prague Castle from directly outside my school, perched on a not-so-distant hill, unobstructed by any taller buildings or trees. Walking across the bridge from Lesser Town that led directly to the Rudolphinum Museum and onward into Old Town Square, where all our favorite markets, bars, and restaurants were, and the memories began on that inaugural visit to Chapeau Rouge during week one. Week one, which is already over a year ago. I miss finding new places to eat or explore all the time, hidden treasures, walking through a door not knowing what would be on the other side, only that it would be spectacular in its own way.
I miss the comparative analysis it took to travel efficiently— which country to visit next and why, which mode of transportation was cheapest, which hours of day to leave and return to maximize time yet minimize lodging costs. Getting cultured by learning the histories, participating in the traditions, eating the foods, partying with the nightlife, and internalizing the zeitgeists of every city we visited. Buying train tickets from Czech-only kiosks that had no English option, hoping it worked, and pulling up the bootstraps when it didn’t. Hiking Hungarian hills that would yield views we couldn’t have even imagined at the base. Scanning a menu in a French courtyard surrounded by potted plants and other groups of 20-somethings, while being serenaded by a woman and her concertina. Eating wiener schnitzel with the beautiful Austrian family who housed me and Steph during our time in Vienna at their favorite restaurant, and exploring their wine cellar when we got home. Watching Love Actually in London with Erin, 5 weeks to Christmas, and walking the Millennial Bridge the next day. So many more places, surprising experiences, joys so tiny and simple that they seem easier to remember because they were easiest to infuse into my life once I came back home, small ways to keep living the way I lived while abroad.
I miss these days which were the genesis of the memories I’m still clutching, and I keep writing about them so that they don’t slip out of my grip. Maybe I’ll write about these 4 months for the rest of my life— I hope I do. And it’ll be more and more time that’s passed since I arrived and departed Prague, and maybe it’ll get fuzzier, but with any luck, not by much. So I’ll keep writing about it, not to be stuck in the past, but rather not to lose what’s added so much to my perspective in the present. Maybe it’s sad to keep saying that I miss these things, and actually more accurate to just say that I lived them, and I loved them, and I think about them enough to know that I won’t forget them.