Thursday, May 6, 2010

Prague, Rain and Common Sense

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Do I have a relationship with Prague? We’ve been on a few dates, had a few fights, a few laughs, a few beers. I suppose you could say we’re getting to know each other slowly. I just got back from a rainy weekend in Prague. It took me back, so I’m taking you there.

Sixteen years ago, Prague and I were much more alike. I had long hair; Prague still had post-cold war charm. I was standing on a train platform in Nürnberg all those years ago with a Eurorail pass and the desire to see every inch of this planet, both burning a hole in my pocket. The next train was to Prague, and I took it.

The main station in the Czech capital was crawling with rain-soaked touters trying to make a koruna from the fresh influx of dry tourists. I didn’t have a hotel (or very much common sense), so I allowed myself to be taken in by a woman offering a room for 10 dollars a night. She was dripping wet and had an impressive smoker’s cough. My travel guide had warned against leaving with such people, but--as I’ve just said--I didn’t have much common sense.

“Where is your home?” I asked the woman once we were on the train.

She smiled at me with tarred teeth and said, “Rainy.”

OK. This response answered so many questions. I tried German: “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

Ja, ja,” she replied.

Super,” I said. “Also, Wo wohnen Sie denn?” We’d passed seven or eight stops, and I was beginning to think the woman didn’t live in Prague at all.

Ja, ja,” she said. “Rainy.”

So, I suspected at this point that the woman didn’t speak anything but Czech, which I didn’t speak. The train rolled on. The woman kept smiling. “Rainy.”

“Yes,” I said, “Rainy.”

The apartment was about thirty minutes outside the city in a run-down high-rise building. The room where I was expected to sleep was the only bedroom in the apartment. The woman and what might have been her adult son apparently slept on the floor in the kitchen when they had visitors. She showed me a long list of people and their passport numbers who’d slept in their bed. Yes, oh my Lord. Live and learn. Common sense does not come easy. You might have to sleep in some old woman’s bed (which she probably shared with her adult son) before the dawning comes.

When the next morning dawned, I got up early to take a cold bath—cold because I couldn’t figure out how to get the hot water to work. I then told the “adult son” that I’d be looking for other, more appropriate, accommodation. I could have told him that Jupiter was falling from the sky; he didn’t understand anything I said.

I took the train back to the main station and went straight to the Tourist office.

“You should never go home with those people,” the woman said at the “Acomodations” window.

“Yes, I know,” I said.

“But you went home with one, so you obviously don’t know,” her look said.

“OK, stop looking at me that way. I’ll be smarter in about sixteen years. Give me time.”

“I like your sweater,” she did not say, but I wished she had.

“Thank you. It makes my shoulders look broader,” I said as she handed me the voucher for the four-star hotel I’d just booked in the center of the city.

On my first visit to Prague I met some nice people (none of which at the main station), had my first view of the Prague Castle (one of the most stunning views in the world) and learned one of my first traveler’s lessons:

Ignore anyone who approaches you in a train station. Whatever they want from you is probably not anything you want to give them.

I’ll be remembering Prague for the next few weeks, so Ahoj! for now, but I’ll be back with more.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire)