The art of opening doors

Prague Generic3

My friends and captors on Charles’ Bridge, February 2014.

“Just pull the handle down,” Kat said in a tone that suggested I didn’t know how to open a door.

“I tried that.”

The large double doors of the Old Jewish Synagogue in Prague sat there lazily, refusing to budge. I felt mocked.

“Maybe it’s closed already,” said Kačka. She too attempted to open the door – like Americans don’t ever do that sort of thing and must not know how.

Kat smirked at both of us – it’s a friendly kind of smirk that Czechs are good at. The clouds rolled over our heads and began misting us with cold droplets of sky, so we walked to the other side of the narrow lane and through a door (which did open for us) to ask about the Synagogue. It was late Friday afternoon so Prague’s Jewish Quarter was settling down for the Sabbath. We, however, were just getting started.

Kat and Kačka are both are typical Czech girls – they are accutely sarcastic, extremely observant and have an insastiable itch for adventure. They had invited me to my first viewing of the Jewish Quarter with passes to get inside the buildings and cemeterys. Also, they promised we’d get hot chocolate.

That was in February.

Last February – think 2013 – I was more of a pizza gal. Every Thursday night I’d race home from work in time to exchange my heels for some jeans and then drive into the sketchier area of National City (who am I kidding, it’s all sketchy) to watch a movie with my friends and dine on cheap pizza. I think Pizza Club got me through a lot of last year. Mabye it was all the indie flicks and musical slasher films (yes, those exist), probably it was all those carbs that come with Little Caesar’s hot-n-ready menu, but the official story is that I have some incredible friends in San Diego who kind of made the world go round for me.

Then there were soup nights after church on Sunday, hiking and beach trips with family friends on the weekends and of course movie dates and midnight Denny’s runs with my sisters. Minus the detective-ing, street smarts and a Mexican biker gang, my life was basically a Veronica Mars episode.

I talked about it with friends from home a few times – how do you start over? How do you leave everyone you know behind and rebuild from the bottom up? I’ve had years, a whole life, invested into the people in San Diego. Fly across the world with nothing but a suitcase, and address book and an accordion…then what?

The weather today tells me it’s April. Almost a year that I’ve been in Prague. Amazingly, Kat and Kačka have been routinely proving to me that I don’t know the city as well as I think I do.

For starters, there was the graduation dance and the football game, both of which have been documented on this blog. I think getting bloody over a leather ball in a Czech meadow was almost as exciting as spending three hours hunting for food in formal attire with a German girl and a Polish boy I met while Kat and Kačka paraded around their Prom like real live princess, complete with enormous dresses and pageant sashes. You know me, always happy to be included. (We did find food eventually and I have never wolfed down anything as inelegantly as those tea sandwiches).

That day in February we had food plans of our own (aside from the hot chocolate, which I was sure to remind them about every half hour). After leaving the Synagogue (the door did open in the end with a little push), we took a metro (two stops in the wrong direction before realizing our mistake because we’re pathetic) and then followed our feet around the twisty cobble stone streets till we came to The Candy Store. It’s exactly what it sounds like – A STORE OF CANDY. Not just any candy, my friends. Imported American and UK merchandise comprise the sole product inventory of this establishment. I’m talking pop tarts, Kraft’s mac n‘ cheese, brownie mix, the whole Reese’s line and a Jelly Belly dispenser, to name a few highlights.

We oooo-ed and awwwww-ed at all the excesively overpriced reminders of home and then bought some Butterfingers before tripping out into the wet street again.

“Thank goodness that door was already open,” I said. “We may never have made it in otherwise.”

I received a well-deserved push from Kačka and we started towards our next destination.

We stumble through streets lost quite frequently. The day we went to the Czech festival in March we wandered around lost for almost half an hour (going up hill, because of course it was uphill) till we found the rear park enterence. After polishing off a pasta salad, homemade cheesecake and a very delicious chocolate bar we laid back on the muddy grass and let our stomachs settle while watching huge clouds drift across the picnic-perfect sky.

Turned out, letting our stomachs settle was a good call because they dragged me onto a huge spinnging, high-rise attraction at the festival and I ended up sick for the rest of the afternoon (the relief being that vomiting was not included). Here all I had wanted was a pony ride and some cotton candy. But my girls don’t settle for anything less than thrilling – the border between this-will-be-a-great-story -one-day and I-might-regret-this gets a little hazy at times.

Whenever I feel like we’re crossing that border (and the signs start appearing if we’re out later than midnight), I call a mandatory ice-cream run. Whatever pub or bridge or rickety night-tram we’ve been haunting gets left behind and we search for gas stations or McDonald’s to find some zmrzlina. Nothing will ground you back in reality and help you make good choices that your parents will be proud of like an ice-cream cone.

“When are we going to make it onto your blog?” Kačka asks me. February again. We’re walking across Charles‘ Bridge with our loot from The Candy Store and our directions to “Prague’s best cup of hot chocolate.” It’s not raining anymore but it is getting dark and, therefore, it is getting cold.

“When we do something exciting enough!” I tell her, confident that hot chocolate in February will not merit a blog post. The windy, medieval road drops us off at a hole-in-the-wall café. We all grimace when the door doesn’t open at first shove.

The hot chocolate is thick and warm, perfect for travelers who are wet and cold. I got white chocolate with pistachio nuts. Talk about adventurous.

The thing about good friends is that you don’t really get to choose them. They choose you. This has been profoundly true of every truly good friend I have ever had.

This time last year I was driving home from a night of soup, guacamole and good conversation with friends, thinking to myself, “Am I making a huge mistake? Can I leave my entire support system of friends and family?”

I’m not the only twenty-something who has asked this. In fact, I may be a little late to the band wagon.

Any of my friends who moved away to college must have thought the same thing. Now, all my childhood pals and school mates are moving across the country, across the world even, following jobs, dreams…spouses. Crazy how fast life came at us.

Okay, my point here (because I almost always have a point) is that life will give you a set of doors – those doors are friends. You can stay outside in the rain or you can figure out how to push the doors open. Some are easier than others, some might not open at all and you’ll have to look somewhere else. Some will almost swallow you up in their warm, welcoming frames. The point is that you need to try. Trust me, I know it’s daunting, but you have to make an effort to meet, know and love the people in this world.

The adventure will come from the knocking. The joy will come from being welcomed inside.

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