Ales and I met in Ohio back in 2008. It certainly felt like fate brought us together in a strange way. He left his home in the Czech Republic when he was 21. I left Vietnam when I was 15. We both wanted to build a life on our own, thousands of miles away from our families, and experience what the big world outside of the small places where we grew up had to offer. While my first years living in New Zealand were faced with the language challenge, I fortunately had teachers and friends around that helped me. Ales's teacher, on the other hand, was just life. He worked all kinds of jobs to survive, and through that process, he learned English. Unlike me who was lucky to be able to visit family in Vietnam almost every year during school break, Ales only got to see his family in Czech once before we met.
In 2014, after we have moved from Ohio, to New York, New Jersey, Fort Worth (Texas 1st time), Atlanta, then back to Dallas (Texas 2nd time!) because of my jobs, we finally felt settled enough to plan a trip to Czech. And there we were, in the Czech Republic, one beautiful summer to remember.
Ales's home is in a tiny, beautiful village called Krásný Jez, located outside of Karlovy Vary, 2-hour drive from Prague, and 40-minute drive to the western border with Germany. As we arrived on a rainy night I was not able to see much of the scenery around on our drive home from Prague. The next morning I woke up to a view outside of my window that was unbelievably beautiful. I remember when I got up, Ales was already downstairs hanging out with his parents. I looked outside of the window for ten minutes in disbelief, then ran downstairs to drag Ales upstairs with me, pointed at the window and asked "Is this real??". The village sits in a valley, surrounded by five or six hills. Blue sky, green hills, and little houses. Only one word that can describe how I felt. Peace.
Over the next few weeks we traveled to Karlovy Vary, Český Krumlov, a historic, UNESCO-protected town in the Southern Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, and of course, the beautiful capital Prague. Walking the streets of Prague is an unforgettable experience, one overwhelmed with the sense of history. The magnificent architecture of Prague represents 8 centuries of history, later I learned. The represented styles include Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical and Neo-Renaissance, Historicism, Art Nouveau & "Cubist", Functionalist, and Modernist.
Thousands of years of history were right in front of my eyes. It felt like I was on a trip going back in time. Charles bridge is still standing there, crossing the Vltava river since the early 15th century. Many buildings go back to the 13th century. The city is a live history book. It has been through countless settlements, stages of civilization, and wars, yet its artistic and romantic charm is unmistakably magical. The same cobblestone streets are still there, so are the old cathedrals and castles, except the people of the past are now gone, replaced by us the people of the presence, who will, one day, also be a part of history.