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30 July 2005

eye contact during a dramatic pause

happy birthday mom!!

sarah and i would be leaving prague today to travel to cesky krumlov, a small medieval town in the czech republic, three hours south by bus. we checked out of our hostel, took the metro to the florenc stop, and walked to the bus station (the same station we'd visited two days before when traveling to terezin). two tickets secured, one way to cesky krumlov. breakfast at the restaurant in which we'd eaten previously, a quick internet stop to send a happy birthday greeting to my mom, and then back to the bus station. while we waited at the bus stand, it became obvious that cesky krumlov was a popular traveller destination. lots of giant backpacks. [ah, backpacks. short digression here:

99% of the prague sidewalks on which we walked are comprised of small white or gray stone cubes arranged in geometric patterns (if you look closely at this picture, you'll see that each of the large checkerboard squares on the left side of the picture is composed of 100 smaller stone squares; the small checkerboard squares on the right are each composed of 25 smaller stone squares. the checkerboard pattern is just one of the various white and gray patterns throughout the city. i've seen construction workers laying the cubes; it looks like time consuming work.

while we were in miami back in march, sarah purchased a rolling suitcase. when we talked on the phone before her arrival in prague, she asked me if i thought the rolling suitcase would be all right for her trip to europe; i said yes, it would be perfect. wrong. rolling suitcases and small stone cube sidewalks do not mix well, nor do rolling suitcases and large cobblestone streets. not only did the uneven surface make it more difficult to pull the suitcase, but the plastic wheels rolling over the stones created quite a racket. there would be no stealth mode for us until we arrived in cesky krumlov and had checked into our hostel. end digression. back to the florenc bus station... ]

we had learned from our terezin bus experience that the buses generally pull right up to the sign listing the bus departure and arrival times. passengers had the choice of purchasing a ticket beforehand at the ticket counters in the station or purchasing a ticket directly from the driver; those who had already purchased a ticket were permitted to board before those who need to purchase a ticket from the driver. [why everyone wouldn't just buy a ticket beforehand escaped us... short of time, perhaps?] on this trip, we had all of our baggage with us and would need to stow it in the bus cargo holds. as more and more passengers arrived at the bus stand, we began to get nervous. it appeared that the demand for seats far exceeded the supply. we stood directly in front of the sign, ready for action. sarah would be the first onboard and would secure the seats; i'd store our baggage and then join her.

bus arrives, early. i looked at the number on the bus and consulted our tickets. this wasn't our bus. over the next 10 minutes approximately 30 people asked the driver if he was going to cesky krumlov... by person #10 he'd worked up an evil glare. a woman walked up to us and asked if we knew where the bus was going. i replied 'not to cesky krumlov.' she smiled and said thanks. wow, we were about to travel to one of the czech republic's premiere hotspots.

more waiting. the bus in front of us didn't look like it would be departing any time soon and our bus was scheduled to depart in a few minutes. 'hmm, this doesn't look good...' exactly. our bus pulled in _behind_ the standing bus, right next to the mob of passengers who had arrived at the stand only a few minutes before. we now found ourselves at the _back_ of the line. chaos ensued as everyone rushed to stash their bags in the cargo hold, taking no time to pack the bags in properly so that there would be enough room for everyone's. as expected, by the time the dust had settled and i got close to the cargo hold, there was no room left.

i could see through the spaces between the bags that the hold stretched the width of the bus and that there was room on the far side... and that the cargo door on that side was closed. walked around and tried it: locked. sarah had already made it onboard and was watching my desperation through the window. it looked like all of the passengers who had already purchased tickets were already onboard and that the driver was beginning to sell tickets to the others. i needed to get the baggage stowed and get onboard before my seat was sold. i walked up to the front of the bus and squeezed through the line to ask the driver to open the cargo hold door on the other side of the bus. [for some reason this interaction sticks in my mind. it just struck me as very amusing: ] after he listened patiently and intently to my request, the driver looked directly at me, unflinching, and responded: 'you speak english...' [he maintained eye contact during a dramatic pause before he continued, shaking his head from side to side]... 'i don't.' ha! okay then. it appeared i'd need to be creative. as luck would have it, another passenger had somehow managed to get the far cargo door open; i rushed over and threw our bags in. squeezed through the ticketless line and made it to my seat, sweat dripping down my face. gripped sarah's hand. made it.

three hours later we arrived in the little medieval town. rolling wheels and cobblestones, we clunked into the town square. to prevent unnecessary clunking throughout the town, sarah waited in the square while i located our hostel. i carried her bag the rest of the way.

'i'm sorry, you were scheduled to arrive at 2pm and when you didn't arrive on time, we gave your room away.'

[l class missiles: armed. lock ons: armed. stand by for orders.] 'do you have another room available?'

'yes, but it's a dorm room.'

sarah and i discussed and decided to make an attempt to find another hostel, but after failing to navigate a cesky krumlov payphone with a broken '7' button, we decided to take the dorm room. the next night we'd have a private. met english chris and american adam and will in the snail hostel dorm; bags stored. OUT.

the little town was postcard picture perfect, the winding vtava river looping through the center, the tall tower of the castle set against the forboding sky, truly beautiful. we understood exactly why it was such a popular destination. we walked around, exploring the narrow stone streets, and had some dinner at a restaurant by the river. while we were eating, a massive thunderstorm closed in with fierce lightning and heavy soaking rain. we ran back to the hostel. loud guitars were erupting from a basement bar beneath the hostel [the snail bar, as it were]; we descended to watch the last few songs of a czech hardcore band's set. between song banter in czech; vocals in english. the lyrics weren't amazing, but the music was damned good and the singer had a powerful voice; good mix. upstairs to sleep.

posted by paul on Sat 30 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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