Monday, May 10, 2010

Third Time's the Charm?

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Gelid. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of my third trip to Prague. It was fifteen years ago. A friend who was teaching in Lithuania had come to Munich for a Christmas visit. She was interested in Eastern Europe, so we planned a trip to Prague and Budapest. After a few days in Munich, we—together with my Cocker Spaniel, Bodie—took off for Prague on the train.

At the border to the Czech Republic, when the border police started coming through to check passports, someone punched me in the stomach—or at least that’s what it feels like when you realize you’ve forgotten your passport.

“You’ll have to go back,” the officer said.

Scheiße,” I said.

The train fare wasn’t exactly cheap, so “we” decided that my traveling companion and Bodie would continue on to Prague, where we already had hotel reservations. I would go back to Munich, grab my passport and be on the next train back.

A few hours later back at my apartment in Munich, I called the hotel in Prague.

Dobrý den. Blah blah blah blah.”

“Hello. Do you speak English?”

“A little.”

“I’m calling from Munich. A young woman with a dog—”

“We’re full.” She hung up.

I called back.

Dobrý den. Blah blah blah blah.”

“Hi, we just spoke, and you hung up on me.”

“We’re full.” She hung up again.

When I finally got bitch back on the phone and made her promise not to hang up, I explained to her that I had a reservation, that, yes, technically I was in Munich, but half of my party (plus pooch) was going to be walking in the door any minute. I just wanted to make sure she got a room--because I'm that sort of guy.

The next morning when I met my friend at the hotel, I noticed that the people we’d been sitting next to on the train were sitting with her at breakfast. They’d gone with her to the hotel, and they didn’t look happy. In fact, they were giving me looks to kill—looks that said, “How could you leave her alone like that? And why this dump of a hotel? It’s nowhere near the city!”

“But she wasn’t alone,” I said with my puppy-dog eyes. “She was with you. And Bodie was there. She had the address of the hotel, albeit written in Czech.” It’s a miracle she ever spoke to me again.

Growl (This wasn’t the dog.)

After this initial drama was over, it started snowing and the temperature dropped like a heavy rock. By the time we made it to the Charles Bridge, the city was a scene out of The Day After Tomorrow, but with a castle and lots more statues. It was stunning. It was gelid. It was quite frankly too much for poor Bodie. On the Charles Bridge, Bodie lifted his puppy-dog eyes to me and held a paw off the frozen bridge. He was the biggest sissy. RIP.

I ended up carrying the poor pooch around the iced-over streets of Prague as we shuffled from one coffee shop to the next. We could stay outside for only a few minutes before the cold crept inside our clothes. The thermometers read minus 20 Centigrade.

On Christmas Eve we attended (around ten minutes of) a mass. Curiously, it was colder inside the church than it was outside; and, although I was already fairly familiar with the reason for the season, I didn’t understand anything the priest was saying. I listened carefully, but he never said dobrou chut or drž hubu!

On Christmas Day, we ate a traditional Czech meal in a quaint restaurant on the path up the hill to the castle. I remember it was kassler, cole slaw with oranges and Bohemian knödel, but I don’t remember which restaurant it was. I do remember this, however, as one of my most favorite Christmas moments.

On my third visit to Prague I still didn’t know how to enjoy the city. I had no earthly idea what to do; maybe I still don’t. Maybe I’m not a very good tourist. There’s some irony for you.

The greatest irony is that I was more a part of Prague fifteen years ago when I was pumping iron in a basement with an old man who had no idea who I was. In fact, I think Prague and I have grown apart. When I go back--and I often do--I try to connect, but I never get past playing the tourist.

I must be off,


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