We tell our friends it all began with our honeymoon. We say it was Venice and the coffee, the architecture, the little grocery stores: they won our hearts. Flying home from Milan, we were ready to go back and see more, but knew it would be a long stretch until we could afford our next vacation abroad. We started talking about jobs in Europe before the plane reached Greenland.
Or maybe it was earlier, when my twin sister and I were in college and we traded a debutante dance for a trip to Europe. We traveled around Belgium with two great uncles and our great aunt, visiting every cathedral and art museum in the country, pretending to be the urban Europeans we were not but our great aunt certainly was and our great uncle would (on occasion) deign to be. This was the great uncle who left S.C. and never moved back. Who skipped out of his PhD work to defect to Europe in the 50s, marry an art historian, become a professional bird watcher and houseboat owner. He was the breaker of all family traditions, an iconoclast, the most infamous black sheep of the family. Ellen and I thought he was wonderful.
My first trip to Europe was in 1991. At the other end of the decade, in 1998, Will and I married and traveled to Italy. Then we came home to our respective jobs: I wrote for a research magazine in N.C.; Will went back to work on his dissertation in a university up north. We knew one of us needed to move but which of us and where - that was the great debate. It got easier when Will won a fellowship to finish his PhD. I decided we could live anywhere as long as we had an internet connection and started to look for jobs in San Francisco and Europe. Europe bit first, so to Prague we went.
That sounds simple, right? It helped that my sister had moved to Zurich to be a consultant the year we got married. I got my job in Prague because the person who hired me worked with Ellen. He told her he was looking for someone, just like her, who could run the design department in his new start up. She turned the job offer down, and sent him my way instead. The job paid start up wages and had a dubious future but we decided it would do for a bit. My editor offered me a year's leave of absence, we gave away our cars and arranged our wedding presents and library in Will's mother’s attic. We flew to Prague with four suitcases and a violin. Will’s suitcases were mostly full of books, but I didn’t find that out until later.
Our first week in Prague, we stayed in a pension right on the river. For ten dollars a night we were the proud renters of a drawing room in a fin-de-siecle flat. Despite its decay, I loved our room's fourteen foot ceilings and high windows looking out onto the water. The bed though, with its inch thick mattress and humid feather blankets, lost its charm quickly. As soon as we could, we moved into our own flat, empty of furniture but with our four suitcases to prop us up.
What happened then? The person who hired me quit to form another start up. I took over the office - the development arm for a tiny consulting company. In the excitement of the internet bubble, I conveniently forgot why we had moved to Europe. Instead, I worked until midnight for months on end, building that office into a medium sized business with its own income. It was thrilling. I learned a lot. I didn’t see much of Europe though.
In 2001, the bubble burst, my first company and I parted ways and I launched my own business with two partners. Around that point, we began to travel, take longer vacations and try out a more European life style (weekends, hello!?). Caroline came along in 2003, and we discovered just how much more you become a part of a country when you have a child in it. Having C turned Prague into our home, not just a place to work and explore Europe from. And so, here we are.
* Eurolush asked me the other day how we happened to move to Prague. I often wonder about other expats' arrival stories, so I thought I'd post our own too.
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