One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad in Prague was so that I could experience life in cities that had long, rich histories. At home, towns are at most 300 years old, and everything is new and shiny. But here so much is preserved with the cobblestone roads and rich with thousands of years of history.
Walking around castles and churches I am able to witness the most treasured and best preserved pieces of history around me, but I’ve noticed one particularly off-putting thing: the lack of respect tourists have for these sites.
Last Friday I visited a small Czech town Kutná Hora with a group of my peers from school. Our first stop was the Sedlec Ossuary, a 13th century cemetery that contains a catholic chapel decorated with the bones of 40,000-70,000 people. This morbidly interesting spot took my breath away, but not everyone around me was cast under the same spell. I heard classmates making jokes and other tourists taking pictures of themselves instead of the church around them.
This church is essentially a grave, and people were taking selfies with the skulls. I cannot understand why they would want to keep a picture like that. After leaving the Ossuary, my roommate compared the tourists to people taking selfies at places like Auschwitz. It’s just plain rude (and creepy).
All of this history has made me truly appreciative of taking a quiet moment. Walking around the Ossuary and two of the other churches in Kutná Hora, quietly taking in the beauty and history without the distraction of my phone or camera truly made the experience better.
When you are able to unplug and absorb the history around you, visiting these places becomes so much more rewarding. Yes, I took pictures to remember the experience (and to show my mom), but I also made sure to take time to enjoy the area around me from my own eyes, not a lens.
Since I arrived in Prague, I have had a stronger desire to go explore by myself and get lost in my thoughts. Often on the way home from school I’ll stop in a park or along the Vltava river and reflect on how gorgeous this city is. Reflective moments like this not only make me feel extremely deep and artsy, but help me collect my thoughts as I adjust to living in a new city/country/continent.
To quote my seat partner from my 12 hour flight to Switzerland, “Europe is so amazing. Life is so much different there. They live a fast paced life, but it’s also slow at the same time.”
This sounded crazy when he said it, but I finally understand. While during the work week everyone is bustling around the city, Czechs still remember to take time to enjoy the simple things, like meals, time with friends and the outdoors.
The Czech people are also very soft-spoken in public, so I’m taking a cue from them and their mandatory quiet hours law.
So here’s to a semester of stopping to enjoy history and taking quiet moments to detach from my customarily fast-paced and loud American life.
Na zdraví (cheers)