All posts by emilyraasch

Getting to the starting line

How signing up for a half marathon in Dresden paved the way for an unexpected travel adventure

When I registered to run the Dresden half marathon back in the summer, I hadn’t imagined that getting to the starting line would turn into my biggest challenge. I was more worried about whether my knees could handle the 26-kilometer distance.

A year ago, I had undergone a tibial tuberosity transfer (TTT) to repair a knee problem that had bothered me for 20 years. The operation was successful; however, I was left with a large screw just below my knee. For months, I had been limited to biking and swimming. There was a point that I had believed I would never be able to run again.

As my tibia bone healed (and, yes, it eventually did), I became obsessed with proving to myself that I could still run distance, even if it hurt. I was turning 40 soon. I wasn’t getting any younger or any faster. Now was the time.

Although I had run Prague’s half marathon twice, that race wouldn’t be held until next spring. My knee wasn’t strong enough to try the Běhej lesy series on Czech trails that many of our local friends ran. When I found the Piepenbrock race series in Dresden, the flat course, cobblestone streets, and small competitor field seemed like a good fit for my first race post-operation.

Ever the multi-tasker, I began planning. From our house by car, it took a little over an hour to reach downtown Dresden. We often took a pre-Christmas shopping trip there, so I figured running the mid-October race would be an ideal way to knock out some holiday shopping. We could shop on Saturday, sightsee, and enjoy the city.

The children were begging for a return visit to Karl May’s museum, with its Vinnetou memorabilia and its American Indian art and artifacts. Saying “danke” and “bitte” when they ordered their bratwursts would give them a chance to practice their rudimentary German and remind them of the world that existed beyond the Czech Republic. On Sunday, I would run my race. It would be a win-win for everyone.

A few weeks after I registered, Radek received an invitation from his elementary school classmate inviting him to a 30-year class reunion in his hometown the night before the race. It was a no brainer. Radek would attend the event. The children and I would accompany him. They would sleep at babička’s (Radek’s mother’s). Radek and I would stay in a pension nearby. Radek would party with his former classmates, and I would have the evening to relax and walk the wooded paths around the dam in Jablonec. The following morning, we would rise before dawn, collect the children, and drive the two hours from Jablonec to Dresden. Settled.

All summer, I ran. I ran the rolling 6-mile trail loop at Hungry Mother State Park in my Virginia hometown. I ran the flat asphalt of the industrial Brunswick Lane where the sun beat down and tractor trailers rolled past. I startled fawn and rabbits on my early morning runs to the Mormon church behind my parents’ house. In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I raced my brother and sister-in-law, who were talking the golf cart out for a morning doughnut run.

In the village of Bakio, Spain, I ran the steep, hilly path to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe where locals gave me friendly, if slightly puzzled, looks. In Bielefeld, Germany, I ran on logging trails, through a mini-zoo, and on the walking paths near the town’s castle.

Back in Prague, I ran laps around the perimeter of the Hvězda park, along the paved Vltava A1 and A2 cycling paths, and on the trails near my house. By late September, I had run 20 kilometers on three different runs. In all my 28 years of running, I had never prepared for a single race so thoroughly. My knees hurt, but I was ready as ready as I’d be.

As the race drew closer, I began to get a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. For weeks, I had tried to adjust to the fact that I would arrive in Dresden just in time to pick up my race number before the exhibition hall closed at 9:00 a.m. and make the 10:30 a.m. start. Online, I studied the course plan and the city map. It could be done, but coming to the race last-minute wasn’t the way I had planned it. At all.

It took until Wednesday of race week to admit to myself (with encouragement from Czech friends who race regularly), the inevitable. I had trained too hard to spend the time leading up to the race obsessing about whether I would get to the starting line on time. I should go to the race on Saturday, even if it meant traveling alone.

I booked a cheap hotel room in Dresden for Saturday night, bought a train ticket, and explained my reasoning to Radek. If my family didn’t have to get me to the race registration, then they could sleep in a bit and still arrive in time to see the end of the race (or at least to drive me back to Prague). Radek raised his eyebrows when he saw how far the hotel I had chosen was from downtown but didn’t say a word.

As soon as I arrived at Prague’s main train station, I wondered if I had made the right decision. It would be the first time (ever) I had traveled alone for the sole purpose of running a race. I had no chance of winning the race or even placing in my age group. Wasn’t it selfish of me to take off on my own?

I didn’t have long to ponder my choice. As I was standing in line for coffee, I saw the board flash with my train’s arrival. I skipped coffee, jogged to the platform, and hopped on the train.

I was traveling light – wearing warm-ups, a sweatshirt, and my running shoes. In the backpack I had borrowed from my ten-year-old son were my racing clothes, a toothbrush, my water bottle, and a book. I had opted not to bring make-up, pajamas, or any of the things I’d usually take for an overnight. I would soak up the experience and pretend, for a moment, that I was backpacking in Europe like I had 20 years ago.

As the train headed out of Prague past Roztoky where I often run, instead of scenery, I saw only fog. The fog thickened as we traveled through Czech Switzerland along the Czech German border. In the Czech Republic and again in Germany, I showed my ticket to ticket agents. No one asked to see my passport.

When the train stopped at the main station in Dresden, it was 2:30 p.m. I had the entire afternoon and evening to myself. Once the thrill of my successful arrival wore off, I headed to a food court for a lunch of spicy Thai curry. Even though I knew most runners would have opted for noodles, I couldn’t pass up a chance to eat Thai. After I ate, I needed to find the Congress Center to pick up my race number and arrive at my hotel by nightfall. How hard could it be?

As I wound my way through the main shopping streets, with each step I grew more confident in my decision to travel alone. I couldn’t buy anything because I didn’t want to carry it, but it was still a thrill to window shop. I kept checking out passersby to see if (like me) they were wearing running shoes. In my mind, the whole city must know about the marathon and other races that would be run the following day. But, I didn’t find anyone who looked like a runner, and when I stopped in a sports store to ask directions to the Congress Center, the shop assistant had no idea there was a race on Sunday.

I kept walking in the direction of the river. It was a beautiful day, and the sun was shining. I heard snippets of Czech as I wandered along. Twice I asked at an information center for directions, only to find that the employees didn’t speak English. I had gotten so used to making my way in the Czech Republic using my Czech language skills that I was surprised to find how handicapped I felt by not speaking German. After what seemed like forever, I walked toward a fairground that reminded me of Prague’s Výstaviště. I finally saw the Congress Center, an impressive building situated on a bend in the river.

I walked toward the steps of the Congress Center, where a drum band was warming up. I followed signs to the registration where I picked up my race number and chip. A band was playing country music and some racers were eating the pre-race pasta dinner. Again, I heard several people speaking Czech. The Dresden race exhibition didn’t look that different from Prague’s and apart from my difficulty understanding German, I felt as if I belonged.

By this time, I was ready to check into my hotel and relax. On my way through the city, I had passed numerous chain hotels close to the exhibition center. But, I was still confident that I had gotten a great deal on Booking.com for my room (40 Euros), which said it was within a few kilometers from the city center.

I went to the race info counter to ask for directions on public transportation. None of the German volunteers spoke English, and as they talked, I had the first inkling that getting to my hotel might not be as easy as I had imagined.

More than an hour later, after riding a tram, a commuter train, and a bus, I came within a kilometer of my hotel just as it was getting dark. A light rain was falling, and my legs were weary. I had stopped to buy food for dinner and breakfast, and my backpack and race gear weighed on my shoulders. Using the Waves application, I walked in the direction I thought my hotel should be. I regretted not asking Radek’s advice before I had chosen my accommodation and started to worry about how long my return trip would take in the morning.

My hotel turned out to be an empty villa in a residential neighborhood. There was no reception to greet me (just a note pinned to a billboard addressed to Frau Prucha with a code to the main door) and no hotel bar (or nearby grocery store or restaurant) where I could buy a drink. The hallway was dimly lit, and my basement room window opened to the backyard where trash was kept. But the room was clean, the heating worked, and I had hot water for a shower.

I had gotten what I wanted – I was (totally and completely) alone in Dresden.

I didn’t think I’d fall asleep because I was nervous someone might break into my room, but I did. In the pre-dawn darkness, as I walked toward the commuter train I’d ride back to the center, I saw workers preparing a tent and putting out orange traffic cones to divide the road. I realized (with a shiver of excitement) that I was walking along part of the race course.

When I got to the Congress Center (with time to spare), I had a coffee and waited. Radek and the children arrived to give me hugs, take my backpack, and run a few warm up laps with me around the parking lot.

As the starting gun sounded, I shuffled into a slow jog along with 3000+ other half marathon and marathon runners. No matter what happened now, I had made it to the start. The race was on.

I didn’t see Radek or the children until the 20th kilometer mark, at which point my legs were dead, and I was praying for the finish. At the same time as I heard my family shouting, “Go, Mama!” I saw a banner ahead of me that read something like, “YOU ARE HERE.”

I pushed all the energy I had into a final sprint. As I crossed under the banner, I realized (in horror) that the actual finish line was still another 500 meters ahead of me. Slowly, almost walking, I stumbled across the finish line, nearly throwing up. Despite misjudging the finish, I had run a PR of more than 20 minutes.

The kids were pumped from watching the races. There had been a 4-K Family Run and a 10-K before the marathon. They had ordered bratwursts and had walked along the river near the Congress Center. They were sorry there hadn’t been time for the museum. Next time, they said, they wanted to run with me, too.

As I retold my race story to family and friends, I realized that getting to the starting line on my own terms had been as important to me as running the 26 kilometers. I might no longer fit the profile of a youthful backpacker, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t still have my own adventures. Traveling alone by train was something I planned to repeat.

And, assuming my knees hold out, running another half marathon might be in my future, too.

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An apple a day

apple pictureStaying balanced by teaching English

After 15 years of teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Prague (with a few gaps for birthing babies), this year I decided to quit. In lieu of teaching, I planned more writing, researching, and proofreading assignments – jobs I could do waiting at sports practices, after I put the children to bed, or in the mornings when they were at school.

I had been teaching the same afternoon conversation lessons to the same group of students (elementary school learners in first – fifth grades) for the past four years. I believed both my students (and I) needed a change.

Also, I needed more flexibility to provide better support (i.e. transportation, cheer leading, and homework help) for my own children during the hours when I had previously taught. Radek worked away from home during the school week, and I was the primary caretaker. The responsibility took its toll.

At the end of the summer, I informed the school and my students that my English conversation courses wouldn’t be held this year. I turned down offers for private lessons and arranged my schedule to be available when my children needed me. Then, I tried to work. But, I couldn’t focus.

During the month of September, I nearly drove my children (and Radek) mad with my inability to settle. I felt guilty when I greeted the parents of the children I had previously taught, and I tried to explain (again) why I couldn’t even teach private lessons this year.

When I expressed my frustration to friends, they replied, “But wasn’t that what you wanted? Freedom from teaching?” I nodded, but every time I said no to an offer to teach, I felt a bit empty myself.

Could it be that teaching was what I needed to make the rest of my life balanced?

Each night when I packed my children’s snacks, I put a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a sweet treat (i.e. a muffin or a muesli bar) into their snack boxes. My two older children were willing to experiment with the fruits I gave them. Oliver liked grapes, plums, and pomegranates, while Anna favored bananas, kiwis, and berries. Samuel always wanted an apple. When I tried to substitute a different fruit, he brought me his snack box after school saying, “My svačina was good, but where was my jabko, Mommy?”

I tried to explain to Samuel that he needed to diversify his palate and eat different fruits. He nodded and said, “I really like apples, Mommy.”

To get inspiration for the memoir I was writing, I reread my journals from arriving in Prague in the winter of 2002. Back then, teaching English was THE reason I had come to the Czech Republic, and my gateway to Czech culture.

On January 11, 2002, I wrote, “It is late, and I am exhausted. We taught our first lesson today. I was nervous. The 40-minute lesson flew by. In an instant, we were saying thank you and goodbye. The students are delightful. I am looking forward to developing a relationship with them over the coming weeks. I think I could become attached to teaching. So much planning. Then, your work is done. You are a bit like a zoo animal on stage during class. But, if you walk around, direct attention to the students, encourage interaction, then you disappear.”

I recorded my students’ words in my journal. Jarka, an adult student in my 7:00 a.m. morning class described her Prince Charming. “My prince has a beautiful, butterfly tie.” Miroslav, an engineer, wrote, “I learning English for five years in university but I learn English whitch brakes.”

 In response to Miroslav, I wrote, “Cheers to that. If we could all speak a little more English, ‘whtich brakes’ and convey the essence of our thoughts, it would not be bad at all.”

When I reread my journals, I remembered how much I had loved my beginner students. I wrote, “I can feel their pain, see the grimaces on their faces as they strain to understand me or watch as their cheeks flush and they stammer their words – slowly, painfully releasing them into the air. Waiting for a nod of approval from me, their teacher.”

In some lessons, particularly those with children, I felt much like a student myself. From teaching the preschool-aged Novak children, I learned more Czech than I did in my once-a-week “Czech For Foreigners Course.”

Before our English lessons, five-year-old Honzík said, “I am a Czech man. I speak only Czech, no English.”

His mother, answered, “Oh, if we want to be smart Czech, we must learn English.”

Sometimes she stayed during the lessons. “Where are your feets?” she would ask Honzík. “Tickly, tickly on your feets.”

While Honzík and his brothers chattered in Czech to me, I used hand gestures, symbols, and games to teach them colors, numbers, and basic phrases in English. I taught them the words for “hands” and “arms” since the children used the Czech word ruky for both; “feet” and “legs” since they said simply nohy; and I explained that in English there is a different word for “fingers” (prsty) than “toes” (prsty na nohách).

And, when it was the right time, I told Honzík’s mother that the plural form of “foot” is “feet.”

The Novak family seemed to like my playful approach, and I appreciated being in a Czech home and getting a taste of Czech family life. Not to mention all the Czech vocabulary I learned.

It wasn’t only my lessons with children where learning went beyond the language school. Once I hosted a “potluck” party for my high school students. Each student surprised me with a favorite homemade dish. We feasted on jaternice (sauasage), salty mushroom pastries, sweet poppy seed cake, apple strudel, and a homemade beránek (an almond flavored cake baked in the shape of a lamb). I made chocolate chip cookies, hot spinach artichoke dip, and deviled eggs. At first, everyone watched me eat and drink, a situation which I described in my journal as “funny” and “slightly uncomfortable.” Eventually, my students (and I) relaxed, and we spoke both English and Czech together.

For me, teaching English had always been an exchange – of languages, cultures, ideas, and words. Even though more than a decade had passed since my first lesson, nothing had changed about my desire to connect with Czech culture (and Czechs) by teaching English. Even though I now had my own children to look after, I realized (only by not teaching) what an important role teaching English played in my life.

I might not have been able to teach in the classroom this year, but the answer to my time-management dilemma was not to quit teaching altogether.

In late September, when an adult student that I had taught a few years ago wanted to start up private morning lessons again, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Teaching adult learners was something I had missed in recent years. Then, I went back to the first parents who had approached me about small group conversation lessons. I told them I was willing to try.

These days, instead of teaching in a classroom, I tote my teacher’s bag around Prague. It’s a black canvas bag from Books-A-Million. It’s filled with stickers, paperback First Readers, Highlights Magazines, and other tools to encourage English conversation. Like I used to 15 years ago, I teach in the public library and at my students’ homes.

My children were so disappointed when they learned I wouldn’t be teaching at their school (even if they had been the motivation for the change), they agreed to do all they could to help me continue teaching. When my lessons run into the afternoon, Oliver walks to the library where he reads while I teach. Anna has learned to take the bus home from school on her own. Samuel plays in družina until I can pick him up. On occasion, I may have to pause my lesson to take a call from a child who has forgotten what time practice starts or one who needs a lift. However, interruptions are minimal.

The week I started teaching again, Radek was working from home, which was a rare treat. He remarked what a good mood I was in, saying, “I’ve never seen you this happy before. Usually, only when your parents are here visiting.”

I told Radek I was in a good mood because he was home during the week, which was true. We all enjoy family life more together than apart.

However, I also knew that the energy I had been missing was coming back. For me, teaching wasn’t just a job, it was an essential component in my balanced life. I needed my students as much as they needed me.

On the days I teach, I eat lunch on-the-go. Like Sam, along with my sandwich and my treat, I’ve got an apple in my lunch bag.

Sometimes, sticking to what you like, may be the best way forward.

 

 

 

On Spanish Time

IMG_6022Bringing a third language (and culture) into our family’s linguistic mix

Anna turned to wave at her brothers and me. Then, she lifted her suitcase off the security belt and disappeared with the other travelers into Prague’s Terminal 2. It was Anna’s first solo international flight, and my stomach did a flip flop as I watched her stride off. She looked confident and self-assured. A few minutes later, she texted a picture of Gate C11 with a sign saying the departure time to Bilbao.

To help our children see the benefits of learning a third language, we had initiated a summer swap with close friends who lived in Spain. Our friends were a Czech/Spanish family whose 12-year-old daughter had been Anna’s first friend in her Czech preschool years ago. Neither girl had known that the other was also from a bilingual family, but they had lined up together on the first day of preschool and had stayed friends in the years to come.

This summer, nearly a decade after the girls met, our friend’s daughter joined us for two weeks of our US vacation. The girls spoke English together, made slime at my parents’ house, and watched the fireworks at a baseball game on the 4th of July. They checked out Nancy Drew books from the library and ate my father’s garden vegetables. My mother delighted in introducing both girls to her friends by saying, “This is our friend from Spain, and this is my granddaughter from the Czech Republic.”

Now, Anna was flying to the Basque region in the north of Spain. She would spend the first week on her own with our Czech/Spanish friends and their extended family. The rest of our family would join her for the final two weeks. Anna (and her younger brother Oliver) had been taking private lessons in Spanish for a few years. However, until this year, neither child had been able to put his or her language skills into practice beyond the weekly lessons.

In Prague, Anna attended a public Czech school called a “jazykova skola,” (language school), a distinction which meant that the school offered additional lessons in the children’s first and second foreign languages. For Czech students, mandatory English lessons are taught three times a week starting in 3rd grade. A second foreign language is mandatory from the 7th grade, but often taught as early as 6th grade. Anna’s school started its second foreign language in the 6th grade, offering German, French, Spanish and Russian. Anna chose Spanish because she knew the basics.

This spring, Anna’s first ever trip to Spain had been a 10-day school trip with her Spanish teachers and 40 classmates ranging from 6th-9th grades. The trip wasn’t mandatory, and parents were required to pay circa 650 USD for the plane tickets, language instruction, and home stay. Still, most of the parents of Anna’s classmates agreed, the experience was an opportunity worth funding.

Anna and her classmates lived with Spanish families, attended morning language school, and took afternoon sightseeing trips through the Andalusian region of Spain. Anna returned from Spain with a better command of the Spanish language. She was also full of enthusiasm for the lively late-night culture. When we spoke on the phone at night, she talked about Spanish tortillas, visiting an arboretum, and swimming in the sea.

As both Radek and I have learned from years of living in a foreign country, attaining fluency in a second (or third) language comes faster when you need to use the language – to order food, to communicate with locals, and to express your preferences. Immersion isn’t easy.

Yet, years of speaking Czech in my daily life have shown me that having patience (and a good sense of humor) are as important as being able to perfectly roll my “r” or make the authentic Czech “r with a hacek” sound. If I were as shy speaking Czech as I had been in my high school French lessons, I would have never learned as much or gotten as far as I have living in Prague.

For our children, adding Spanish to the Czech and English they already speak seemed logical. Our friends’ bilingual children were already learning English and French in school, in addition to the Spanish and Czech they speak at home. Years ago, it would have seemed unthinkable that I’d be parenting children who speak three or four languages. Now, it seemed normal.

In Basque country, Anna would take surfing lessons, taste “txistorra” (spicy traditional local sausages) and homemade flan, stay up far later and sleep far longer than she ever had in her life. She’d communicate in Spanish with our friends and their cousins, order ice cream on the boardwalk, and shop in the local supermarket.

When we joined Anna, we would swim in the Bay of Biscay’s clear waters and walk to a local historical landmark, San Juan Gaztelugatxe on the day of the patron saint of Biscay, the Virgin Begona’s birthday.  We would run from a “galerna” (sea storm) when white clouds and strong winds appeared at the edge of the beach, eat mussels, and drink red wine from the Rioja region just south of us. Oliver would try to surf, and all three of our children would practice saying, “agur” (goodbye in Basque), when we left a shop or a cafe.

We’d learn that Basque culture should not to be confused with Spanish culture and that “El Ratoncito Perez” (a rat) is the Spanish tooth fairy. When we biked up the winding hills, I’d learn to shout “coche” to warn bikers ahead of me of approaching cars. Oliver and Sam would fish with a Basque fisherman who showed them how to bait a many-legged worm, and they’d see their surf teacher carrying a basket of freshly caught octopus.

The green hillsides, blue waters, and rocky cliffs of Basque country would be the backdrop for our family’s first experience in Spain. As we sat in the outdoor cafes, shared tapas with our friends’ family, and watched our children fly past us on scooters, I listened to the languages at our table – Spanish, Czech and English – the words rolling over me and wrapping around me, seeping under my skin like the sand from “la playa” that was everywhere.

When Anna waved goodbye to us that day at the Prague airport, I couldn’t have imagined the experiences that awaited her (and the rest of our family) in Spain. But, a part of me must have known, because once upon a time, many years ago, I had been a similar girl who waved goodbye.

Welcome Home (Czech style)

Trip to PragueTransitioning back to life in the Czech Republic

Waiting at airport security for our return flight to Prague, my 10-year-old son, Oliver, said, “Mama, can we talk Czech now?”

Although it seemed strange to break out our Slavic phonetics when we were standing on American soil, the time had come in Oliver’s mind to jump back into our Czech lives. For the past decade, my family has taken a summer trip to the US. My children always surpass me with their versatility, both linguistically and culturally.

After five weeks speaking English, I couldn’t have uttered a coherent sentence in Czech, even if I’d needed to. I told Oliver he could speak whichever language he wanted, if he left me in peace to read my book on the plane.

Later, waiting at Czech Airlines’ baggage claim for our missing luggage, my mind still didn’t switch into Czech mode. With my children’s help, I remembered the word for “kufr” (suitcase) and stumbled through dictating our address. A more confident command of the Czech language might have sped the process along, but my mind was stubborn.

Unlike my children, I can’t switch languages (or cultures) on cue. I need a little bit of time (and a beer or two) to ease back into life in the Czech Republic.

But, circumstances don’t always allow for a gradual transition. Luckily, Czech beer isn’t hard to find.

Within a few hours of our arrival in the Czech Republic, I was sitting on our neighbor’s terrace with Radek and two other couples. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and the garden birthday party for our neighbor’s 7-year-old son was underway. Our neighbors had postponed the party till Sunday, so that our family could join the fun, too.

I wasn’t thrilled about being thrust into a social setting straight upon return. But, there’s not much of a chance to ease back into Czech life slowly, when you find yourself seated at a table filled with Czech delicacies and surrounded by neighbors who expect you to eat (and eat) and who never let your glass go empty.

We drank white wine and cold beer from the local Unetice microbrewery and snacked on “chlebicky” (open-faced sandwiches) topped with garlic spread and fish paste. Our children played on a slip-and-slide and sucked on slices of watermelon while swatting the occasional bee. Some children wore bathing suits, others wore their clothes, and the smallest ones were naked.

Between slides, they hurled water balloons at each other, jumped on the trampoline, and had a scavenger hunt. Although they were far more interested in playing than eating, eventually, we all had cake and sang “Happy Birthday” (in English).

The temperature was supposed to reach 35 C mid-week, which for the Czech Republic was record hot. I sat on the terrace with beads of water rolling down my arms and legs. Air-conditioning in the US seemed a distant memory.

As I listened to my neighbors, Czech words and expressions seeped back into my memory bank. When I tried to jump into the conversation, English was all I could manage. For the moment, it was enough.

As the afternoon wore into the evening, our neighbor lit his grill and brought out hamburgers and skewers wrapped in aluminum foil. Prepared in the Slovak style called “zivanska jehla,” the skewers were made from thick chunks of pork, chicken and beef alternating with slices of bacon, onions, mushrooms, and peppers. They were delicious.

When we had eaten seconds (and had turned down thirds), my eyes grew heavy. My children were sprawled on the grass, jet-lag winning out over the adrenaline that had powered them through the afternoon. It was time to go home.

The neighbors shouted their goodbyes. We received invitations to come back for leftovers the next day, offers to join the other moms in an outdoor yoga class, and tips for which pools to visit during the coming heat wave.

On the walk home, the sun was setting above our house, and I heard a rumble of thunder. I thought about what we had to look forward to still. There was swimming (with the masses) at the outdoor pool in the village of Kralupy nad Vltavou; camping at Macha Lake, an hour’s drive from Prague; and picking strawberries, carrots, and red currants in our garden, which had grown wild during the month we were away.

It wouldn’t feel like summer, if we didn’t get soft serve, the kind you wait in line to buy on a village street corner, served in swirled flavors like butter cookie and vanilla or blueberry and chocolate. We wanted to take our inflatable raft and paddle from one side of Macha Lake the other. And we planned a family bike ride through the forests near us. We’d finish at the Unetice brewery, where the children could order raspberry soda, and we’d have a beer.

Before the heatwave had passed, we would visit my husband’s family, where his mother would serve us hen soup and a meal of roasted rabbit, white cabbage, and dumplings. She’d tell us how she’d sweated over the meal and shrug off my offer to help her with the dishes. We’d have seconds, turn down thirds, and be sent home with leftovers. We’d exchange a few more pleasantries with our neighbors as they worked in their gardens or puttered around in their garages.

As the days passed, words in Czech would come easier for me. Sure, I’d make mistakes. But fueled by the generosity of our Czech friends and family and, the occasional beer, I would transition back into my life here. I wouldn’t be as fast or as skilled as my children. But it didn’t matter.

Whether you’ve traveled far to visit family or have spent your holiday relaxing and exploring close to home, I hope, like mine, your transition home is a smooth one.