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07 August 2005

my internal incinerator

sarah was leaving today. we checked out of our hotel at noon and took a taxi to the nearest metro stop, malostranska, at the bottom of the hill. the ride cost just over 100kc (4 usd); had we realized the ride was so inexpensive we would most likely have taken a taxi _up_ the hill the day before. well, sarah would have tried to convince me it was the right decision, which it would have been, and i would have stubbornly wanted to walk. taxi -> metro -> bus. we arrived at the airport at 1245. sarah checked in and dropped her bag off. we spent the next couple hours hanging out in the airport and talking. then she was gone and i was by myself. myself.

my internal incinerator was no longer burning inside. once an inferno intense devouring every new experience into its emptiness was now just a faintly flickering flame. i needed some extended nothing time to rebuild the burning inside. alone time which couldn't be found in a hostel; i'd need to find an apartment. i would need to return to a nothing new resting repetion; every day like the one before just for a little while.

posted by paul at Sun 07 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

06 August 2005

silent morning shattered

the overnight train ride was fairly uneventful... no gassings, no muggings, no questionable behavior. too bad. i was on high alert most of the night with occasionally bouts of lost conciousness low alert. sarah was in low alert for most of the night. lying lengthwise on the seat, she deterred new passengers from taking our compartment space. through hungary, slovakia, back into the czech republic; in and out of conciousness, passports and stamps. we pulled into the prague central station a little after 0600... right on time. i'd stopped paying attention to the stops and time; somehow the engineers had been able to get the train back on schedule after our late departure the night before.

the train station in prague was less shady. a vending machine ate my coins. cough them up. a 22kc coke out of reach right behind the plexiglass. i asked for a coke at a small store in the station; he brought it over to the counter and said the price in czech. me: 'i'm sorry?'; him: '45'. wrong. i swear that it was less in czech. 'no thanks.'

sarah had reserved a room in a very nice hotel for our last night together. metro to malostronska and then a long[er than expected] walk up the hill towards the castle and our hotel. a silent morning shattered by the sound of plastic wheels on the stone sidewalks. we were able to check in at 0700; slept for three hours. beautiful view.

out for our last full day together. a lazy afternoon and a lovely dinner together.

posted by paul at Sat 06 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

05 August 2005

i will unleash a fury

one last day in budapest; night train departure. sarah wrote some postcards in the morning while i studied the map. out of the hostel by noon. it wasn't raining fortunately, but as we walked down the street, the sky leaned down and whispered to us, telling us about a sadness today, tears were imminent. we brought our umbrellas.

back to the post office [fond memories of this place] to mail sarah's cards. to mav to buy the train tickets.

i've come a long way but i have a long way to go. but maybe never. the infamous budapestian turkish baths. an attraction for so many, a must do, but not for me. a less than zero appeal. thank you, no. sarah on the other hand was very interested in going; i'd accompany her to the border of the sz├ęchenyi bathhouse and then run screaming away. ha! first, we needed to locate an atm; we were low on hungarian funds. wandered for an hour, past anonymous and the agricultural museum within a fortress, past the bathhouse and a person living elsewhere in his head for the time being, to an amusement park, the atm. funds secured, we walked back. the person was still away; dead? sarah and i made plans to meet back in one hour and a half. as planned, i screamed and ran.

i returned to the nearby agricultural museum. the first floor; tractors. more notable; the second floor. high ceiling; walls _covered_ with antlers. imagine the weight they carry. bear skins. taxidermy. timing was perfect; i returned to greet sarah at the entrance of the baths. so was i missing out on the experience of a lifetime? from her report, no. splashing children; vicious tourists; grumpy old people. maybe she just told me those things so i didn't feel like i missed something; what a sweet girl.

we searched for a restaurant on the way home, but didn't have much luck finding one that looked inviting. we stopped at a supermarket and picked up some groceries and then returned to the hostel to eat. our train was leaving around 2000. we hung with chubba and the other hostelites before packing and walking to the train station.

i guessed that the train was delayed based on the sign, but i confirmed with a couple standing nearby. sarah and i stood by the wall waiting for the train.

there seemed to be a lot of shady people in budapest; i doubted sun ever entered the train station, the headquarters. an inappropriate prejudice; they may have all been beautiful people, but the feeling inside me was keeping all senses on high alert this evening. so, how to combat shady people? ha! well... become one, at least on the outside. recently i've picked up a bad habit: in high alert situations, whenever someone looks at me, i immediately respond with a glaring stare that i don't break until the other person looks away.

==> i see you. i am not an unsuspecting tourist; i am fully aware of your presence and i am on high alert. if you try something, i will unleash a fury the intensity of which you've never before experienced. there are easier targets; move along. <==

but there must be another way. in additional to the animal instinct invitation for conflict, the very thing i'm trying to avoid, the prolonged eye contact has been perceived in the past, depending on the setting and the predisposition of the other person, as a signal for transactions involving drugs or sex. not exactly what i'm going for. in the train station, i encountered someone who apparently shared my bad habit. while performing a visual sweep of the area, i caught a guy looking at me and immediately initiated the glare. we maintained eye contact for a full five seconds [count it out; it's a staring lifetime] before he nodded and i looked away. i kept track of his 20 for the rest of the wait; when he walked away i realized that he too was a traveller. ==> i see you. <==

a train arrived; the sign didn't turn but passengers mobbed. we waited before deciding the mob rules. we boarded the train and confirmed it was going to prague, scheduled to arrive around 0600. there were six of us in the uncomfortable compartment; i feared a long night of high alert was ahead of us. fortunately, several compartment people got off after a few stops; by midnight sarah and i were the only ones left.

posted by paul at Fri 05 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

04 August 2005

whisper screaming and angry faces

raining. lots of rain. a raining city in never as inviting and despite my best attempts to keep an open mind, poor weather always affects my impression of the city in a negative way. sarah and i marched along underneath my very small umbrella until we bought another for her in the underground. we were having a problem figuring out the budapestian metro system. signs pointing to the metro led to areas beneath large intersections; once we were down there we couldn't find the entrance to the train. did these areas exist just for the shopping and shadiness? so strange. no maps or other directional signs, just a large open square area filled with dodgy individuals and 'undercover' policemen who might as well have been standing under a flashing red neon sign that read 'POLICE' with a large arrow pointing down. i'm not sure if the rain had dampened our intellects, but sarah and i couldn't navigate the system and weren't really in a mood to spend time decoding.

we walked down the street with our two umbrellas. while my high tech rain gear detected changes in wind velocity and reconfigured the fabric to provide maximum coverage and protection, sarah's low tech solution that she'd purchased only moments earlier from the shady underworld blew inside out with each gust. it wasn't really funny [yes it was] but i couldn't help laughing each time it happened. we swapped and i dispatched the gro 'solutions department' to mod her umbrella with some terretronic [tm] enhancers and pneumatic detach [tm] calibrators. i didn't know it at the time, but i should have had the department working on something else... say, waterproofing materials?

sarah needed to pick up some postcards and stamps at the post office; as she ran inside, i waited in the doorway, unaware of impending doom. a car roared by through a gigantic muddy puddle situated directly in front of me and [time slowed down. slow motion, i believe they call it in the moving picture theatres. silence. i watched the wet black tires of the car roll slowly through the brown water. a steady stream of droplets began flying from the puddle, proceding in a straight line, defying gravity, directly at me. so slow i could count them, and i did: one. two. three. four. glistening through the air. i stood mesmerized as more droplets jumped from the puddle and began a course through the air towards me. hundreds. no... thousands. so many i could no longer count them. in the air they began collapsing together into giant amorphous globs of gravitationally unchallenged flying muddy water. straight at me! i shook my head to get rid of the trance... and my mind grasped the doom. the _globs_ of doom were about to completely soak me; not clean pristine refreshing spring water globs but dirty muddy 'just got out of a bar at 0500 hang on man... i'll catch up with you in a second... i need to take a leak [right here]' disgustingly wretched water globs. in my mind, i screamed a visciously loud andre the giant [tm] scream 'NOOOOOOOOOoooooooo!' before time resumed its normal course...] sprayed water _all over my legs_. i wish i had a video of that moment; after it happened, i just stood there with that stupid 'what just happened?' expression on my face as the car drove away.

sarah returned right after the water hit me and didn't even laugh at me. wow, what a sweet girl. i was laughing a 'that wasn't so funny' laugh. we walked down to a nearby cafe to grab some food, allow me to dry off, and hang out to see if the rain would go away. there we witnessed an american family imploding. [our take: mother and father allow teenage daughter nellie to take a friend to europe for their annual vacation. nellie refused to come otherwise; she wanted to stay at home during her parents' vacation. 'i'm old enough to take care of myself. i'll be fine while you're gone.' mom and dad knew better... nellie had been seeing mark and they considered him a bad influence. there was no telling what might happen if they left her at home unattended. parties? drugs? [gasp] SEX? they'd seen 'sixteen candles' and knew what could happen. 'fine nellie, you can bring laura.' cut to budapest. it's a week into the trip and mom and dad are really getting on nellie's nerves; she wants a little bit of freedom... hey, she's _earned_ it, right? mom and dad are keeping the reins a little too tight for her liking. moments before entering the cafe, nellie had exploded when her parents refused to let her and laura walk around budapest by themselves. it was the final straw. nellie couldn't take it any longer. she just couldn't. 'i can't take this any longer!' she screamed. dad had to go buy film for the camera; he'd deal with this when he returned. cut to the cafe. mom sat down at one table and nellie and laura at another. mom was trying to remain calm but her patience was waning. talking became whisper screaming and angry faces. 'you get over here young lady. laura, could you also please come over here?' then dad arrived. more whisper screaming with occasionally non-whisper real screaming. [waitress came: dad said he wanted 'coffee. american coffee.' [i cringed.]] dad was done with this and laid down the law. 'that's the way it's going to be. too bad.' IMPLOSION. nellie went postal and threw her ice cream at dad, causing him to dump his coffee all over his lap and fall over backwards, taking the entire table with him as he fell. wow. nellie screamed that she was sorry as mom escorted her quickly from the restaurant, laura sulking behind them.] that's not _exactly_ how it happened... it was our take on the situation. in reality, the implosion was much less dramatic, but still highly entertaining.

after breakfast, we went outside to brave the weather. the rain was lighter now. we decided to go across the bridge to the castle. wind wind rain rain. we walked the path imagining soldiers dropping hot oil and shooting arrows at us through slits in the stone walls. and the stone hurlers... forgot about them. we followed the path up and around to a looping courtyard. a sleeping person, how uncomfortable. finally up to the castle, a museum. we entered and dropped our umbrellas and bags off. paintings and stone carvings and wood carvings. pieces of old buildings and wooden tomb coverings. we left and descended the mountain via the funicular. back across the bridge against the wind and rain. i was freezing. grabbed a slice of pizza. we considered trying to navigate public transportation, but decoding isn't fun when it's raining. we arrived back at the hostel around 1700 happy to be out of the weather.

sarah had investigated the opera in budapest that morning and had sent an email to the opera house asking if tickets were available for tonight's show. we checked her email account when we returned to the hostel; the opera house had replied that she couldn't buy tickets online but that we'd most likely be able to get them if we just showed up tonight. we had plans. the hungarian opera! hmm... what to wear to the opera? i didn't have the tuxedo i usually wear to the opera with me, unfortunately. after a shower, i took a look through the reconnaissance wardrobe and settled on a nice pair of olive green cargo pants (convertible to shorts if i found it too warm in the opera house); one black dickies industrial work shirt (tucked in, of course); and oh!, some brilliantly brown hiking boots (score!). i didn't look opera level, that was for sure. far below in fact. sarah of course had brought a beautifully cute dress and high heels (not sure how she fit those in her bag) and looked like 194,760,000 hungarian forints. i wish i had a picture. i surely wasn't worthy. one of the girls who worked at the hostel called us a cab and we were off.

the cab showed up horribly late and we arrived at the opera house just as the first 'everyone to your seats please' bell was ringing. we proceded quickly to the ticket office. 'no credit card, only cash.' we didn't have enough hungarian currency, so i broke out american cash from my reserve funds. 'ah yes, that will do nicely.' we bought inexpensive tickets for seats on the third balcony and were ready to walk away when the ticket agent told us to wait... she'd lead us to our seats. tonight was our lucky night. the ticket agent told us that some [very good] tickets hadn't been purchased and that we could have those seats... box seats... stage level on the right side. she scrambled around trying to find the box... opened the door for us... _WOW_. we had _amazing_ seats and the opera house was beautiful and i had a super hot date. we gave the woman a gigantic thanks and sat down just as the lights dimmed. 'that's not just gold spraypaint... that's gilding...'

i unfortunately cannot name the opera we saw and i wasn't able to follow much of the plot (sung in italian with hungarian subtitles on an led screen above the stage). i can however comment on the singing: amazing, particularly the female vocals. all of the women had beautiful voices; the audience applauded loudly at the end of each of their songs. the stage set was grey and killer... looked as if it had been designed by hr giger... a writhing climbing mass of sculpted people. the highlight for me was a song (one that i've heard before, but can't name) sung by about fifty people on stage... clanging hammers on swords on anvils with an almost industrial feel. the voices all in unison, creating an ultra.powerful sound. the best part, for me. the show concluded with an inferno, a red sheet waving and simulating fire. i wouldn't have predicted this, but i had a great time at the opera and i was really happy sarah had taken the time to investigate. as i said before, i didn't follow much of the plot and wasn't really prepared when the ending came; sarah on the other hand was able to give me an entire rundown of the cast... relations... plot... subplots.

we returned home and walked down to the same restaurant we'd visited the day before. back to the hostel. i felt like we really hadn't seen much of budapest... the rain brought a mist over the city that had been difficult to penetrate. we'd barely seen the castle. we hoped the weather would be nicer tomorrow so we could see a few of the sites before our train departed in the evening.

posted by paul at Thu 04 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (6)

03 August 2005

i reassigned the memory

breakfast at 0900; the same delicious ham and cheese and bread. i haven't yet acquired the taste for coffee, but it's coming. i managed to convey to the pension woman that we'd be leaving luhacovice on a train at 1356 [this involved a pretty intense drawing by yours truly of some train tracks and train (have i mentioned i'm a mean pictionary player? unbound by the game rules, i felt it acceptable to write out '13:56' next to the drawing of the train to convey our departure time.); the woman replied that she understood by nodding and making an amusing face and 'chugga chugga' train sound.]. i asked if we could leave our bags until 1300 at which point we'd return to claim them. she smiled 'of course'. we moved our bags back into the room and were out for our last few hours in luhacovice.

we had a few things to take care of before we departed. first: the pictures of the buildings in the postcard. it was obvious early on that the original photographer had stood farther down the hill where a new building was now standing. i contemplated contacting global recon central command for an air strike to take out the building but decided against it at sarah's request. i wasn't going to be able to get the original shot. i tried different positions for about five minutes before i got the best photo possible. typically the best photo possible doesn't include trash bins and powerlines, but i was going for the original shot. behold, the then and there and the here and now. amazing.

we descended back to the center of town where we intended to do some souvenir shopping. with the exception of a few t-shirt purchases, i've done very little shopping. if i'd seen something that i thought a friend or relative would _really_ like, i'd have bought it in a second, but i really haven't encountered any of those things. maybe i'm just a bad shopper. in addition, we didn't have enough time to go back to the post office; we'd have to carry anything we bought. sorry, everyone. sarah went down to buy some sugar wafers (very popular in town) and we decided to pick up a couple extra boxes and bring those home for my mother and grandmother.

back to pension ruza, we grabbed our bags, said our goodbyes to the manager, and walked and rolled down to the train station. over the next seven and a half hours we'd be riding on five different trains. the four transfers would be crucial; a miss early on would result in a complete disintegration of the plan. [hmm, i'm writing about transportation again.] to make matters worse, the transfer times left little room for error; in some cases we had only three minutes to catch the next train; in other cases we had the luxury of eight minutes. in addition, we weren't positive we didn't need to get a separate boarding pass for each train or if our two tickets would see us through to our final destination. tension was high as we waited for the first train to arrive.

about ten minutes before the arrival, a little man assigned to memory detail inside my mind began flipping a switch back and forth madly to get my attention. yes? on earlier trips in the czech republic (the bus ride from brno to luhacovice, for example), i recalled that a service charge was assessed for transporting large bags on some public transportation. i'd read an allusion to the service charge in a guide book as well, so i was confident that it wasn't just a tourist tax. as i reassigned the memory man to a new mission, i wondered if we would have to pay an extra fee to bring our large bags onboard the train.

i ran into the train station to the same counter where i'd bought the tickets the day before, hoping the same highly competent woman would be working. negative. the new attendant didn't speak english either but she did have a czech/english dictionary nearby and seemed eager to assist. i attempted to convey my question, pointing to words in the dictionary ['weigh', 'scale', 'money'] and then to our bags, accompanying the gestures with appropriate questioning facial expressions. minutes passed without success. sarah, sensing the desperation of the moment, broke out her notebook and quickly drew a picture of a scale and a $ symbol; the woman gave an 'ah!' expression, nodded, and gestured for us to meet her at the side of the building [wow! nice going, baby. have i mentioned that sarah's a mean pictionary player? i decided to let her use of the $ symbol slide seeing as how she allowed my use of '13:56' earlier in the day, but i did remind her that when playing with a czech teammate, the use of 'kc' to signify money may have resulted in a quicker response.]. we walked around and entered the side door.

a gigantic old scale was sitting on the floor... not the sort that required the addition of separate counterweights (kept in a small kit nearby) for balance, but of that era i imagined. sarah put her bag on the scale: 13 kilos. then me: 18 kilos. the woman flashed me a concerned look and pointed at a nearby sign written in czech. words words words 15 kg words words words. apparently i couldn't take a bag weighing over 15 kg on the train. _big_ problem made worse by the fact that the train was about to arrive any minute. i quickly began assembling a mental inventory of the bag to determine what could be jettisoned... the d-day book i'd finished, perhaps a few t-shirts, papers i'd picked up along the way, the sugar wafers... all the while cursing the memory man for not flipping the switch _yesterday_. it was going to be tough to get rid of 5 kg of baggage considering i'd already been through the 'take this/leave that' process back in _april_. strange; i recalled the scale in the airport weighing the pack in at 15 kg... how did i pick up an extra 5 kg of gear? i contemplated shifting items to my day pack or to sarah's pack. the woman, sensing our distress and noting the time, went out to get her supervisor to see if an exception could be made. the supervisor arrived and by the look on her face i could tell that the answer was no. in very broken english she conveyed that the extra weight might not present a problem in the czech republic, but because the bags were going to budapest, the slovakian officals might not allow it. at that point i sensed there might be a misunderstanding.

i surveyed the room and noticed other bags sitting on shelves. this was some type of storage room. sarah and i looked at each other. 'they think we want to ship these bags.' i made the motion of putting the bag on my back and then pointing out to the train. the women nodded. 'problem?' i asked. 'no problem,' they responded. WOW. everyone smiled at the same time, realizing the misunderstanding. i made the 'wiping sweat from the brow' motion and then thanked both of the women for their help. we dragged our bags out of the room just as the train pulled in.

the first train was more of a tram than a train. there were plenty of seats; i lifted both of our bags up to the luggage rack above the seats. we still had the outstanding boarding pass question. the ticket man announced himself about a minute into the journey. i gave him both tickets; he looked at them for just long enough to make me nervous before stamping them. success. train one down. sarah pulled out her notebook and made a checklist of the five trains, crossing off train one. i'll spare you the details of trains two through five. in summary:

. we met a nice czech guy named tom on train two. he was into climbing and outdoor types of things. he said he was interested in visiting the states. sarah told him about the sierra club and we swapped email addresses.

. there were a couple of close calls with the connections, including an 'oh no, we're not going to make train four [our three minute connection train]' moment after train three was delayed a few minutes.

. we communicated with a station controller who spoke only czech and german at the brecar station.

. train five was delayed almost an hour (fortunately for us this was the last train on our journey).

. we met a nice couple on train five [spaniard and austrian] who told us a bit about budapest and bratislava. the austrian had purchased a small flat in budapest several years ago and had been renting it out. he asked us where we were staying; i pulled out our itinerary and gave him the address. he was familiar with the street and pointed it out on the map. the aboriginal hostel; sarah joked that there were probably paintings of boomerangs and kangeroos on the walls.

. a girl who worked for the hungarian tourist department came through the train [five] before our arrival in budapest to see if we had any questions about the city. she gave us a map.

arrival in budapest. first impression: looks like any other city. we'd printed out directions to the hostel at the internet cafe in luhacovice. they had seemed quite clear when we'd initially read them but as we began the trek to the hostel, we realized we were going to have a problem. not quite as clear as we had thought. it began raining lightly and we were tired from the long train ride. at this point i would have typically broken out the gps, typed in the address of the hostel, and it would have led us straight there. problem: garmin, the manufacturer of my gps unit, doesn't produce detailed maps of hungary. this was the first time during the trip that i wouldn't be able to use gps to find our hostel. we'd have to do this the old fashioned way [blech]. i broke out the map that the tourist department girl had given us on the train.

it took far longer than usual for me to get my bearings and find our location... we hiked a few blocks in the wrong direction in a shady area of the city before we saw a street sign and i realized my error. along the way a very nice couple saw us with our map out and pulled over to help us. [01: despite what i believe were good intentions, the couple gave us wrong directions. i had been 99% sure that we were on track and i went against my better judgement because they seemed to know what they were talking about. 02: i've said this before: if ever you see someone loaded down with a backpack wandering aimlessly with a map out through the streets of _your_ home town, stop to offer your help. of course, it helps if you actually give the person correct directions, but just the act of stopping and trying to help goes a long way to making that traveller feel good and more confortable in a strange setting.] we got back on track quickly and made it to the hostel in about twenty minutes.

sarah and i got the impression that a few friends had purchased an apartment and had decided to convert it into a hostel. i believe they only had 12 beds; we had one of the few private rooms. sure enough; boomerangs painted on the walls. no kangeroos. a very college apartment sort of feel. chubba, one of the people who worked there, was very friendly and pointed us to a restaurant. while we were eating a heavy storm closed in and drenched the hungarian world. we'd stay in budapest two nights and then take an overnight train back to prague the third night.

posted by paul at Wed 03 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

02 August 2005

to sample the everlasting life

sarah still couldn't prounouce the name of this town. loo.hatch.oh.vits.uh. [i think; well, the czechs understood me anyway.]

the woman who ran the hotel had breakfast on the table when we emerged from our room at 0930. ham and cheese and bread. delicious. i got the impression that her other guests typically wake up much earlier. but we weren't like her other guests. after breakfast she asked me for the payment, 2000kc, and i handed over two crisp 1000kc notes.

we needed to locate an internet cafe to take care of the funds transfers and to investigate transport options to budapest the next day. we walked to the tourist office and found a sign indicating there was a cafe on druzstevni. map: located. the terminal outside the tourist office was still not operational; i suspected it hadn't been working for months. but before the cafe; the cemetaries beneath a cloudless morning sky.

in the early 1900's, my great grandmother had corresponded with her family in the czech republic; i wanted to see if i could locate any family gravestones. we had but one name for which to search, yet after thirty minutes of walking through the rows of stones, we found not one stone bearing the name 'prachar' or 'pracharova' (the female form of the name). the mineral content of the luhacovicean water had apparently blessed my relatives with everlasting life. or perhaps not; the cemetary was very large and it would have taken sarah and i hours to search all of the stones. we decided to move on to the second, smaller, cemetary, descending the hill through the woods on an extensive mountain biking course and emerging at the back of a driveway where we caught a man by surprise. hello sir, just us americans; nothing to get excited about. dobry den.

the second cemetary was designated on the map [upper left] with only one small cross marking and looked like it was surrounded by houses from all sides. upon arrival, we found that to be the case. we walked around the entire block and could not locate an entrance to the cemetary or see any gravestones. i guessed that this cemetary would be much older than the first, but we would have needed to walk through someone's property to fully explore the area. it was early afternoon by that point and we decided to call off the search for the family blood.

down to the internet cafe, teeming with young children engulfed in explosive lan games. the one adult in the room was a smiling guy who exuded kindness [sarah and i guessed that he was letting all the children play for free because he looked so nice]. he told us that a terminal would be available in 15 minutes [first he'd need to displace one of the droning children]. i waited outside while sarah walked to a local supermarket to buy some refreshing tasty beverages. it took a bit longer than 15 minutes to pry the young boy away from his destruction; sarah got back shortly after i sat down at the computer. we investigated train options for getting down to budapest (we'd decided to call off the bratislava visit in order to spend more time in budapest), transferred funds from our savings accounts, and wrote some email. out. next item of business... unfortunately, more admin: train tickets and post office. sarah had picked up a few gifts in cesky krumlov and had decided to post them home so she wouldn't have to transport them for the rest of the trip. we returned to our room, wrote a few postcards [the first luhacovice, cr -> united states postcards in a long while] and then split up again; she to the post office and me to the train station to purchase our tickets to budapest for tomorrow.

train station. i waited until the queue was gone; i knew it was going to take a while to process our tickets. in the internet cafe, we had researched the trip on the czech train system website and it wooked like we'd need to take five separate trains from luhacovice to budapest. the queue moved quickly and i stepped up to the counter.

'mluviste anglicky?'


ah, you speak gesturese. me as well, and a little czech. i showed her the itinerary that we'd printed out at the net cafe, pointing to the date and the destination. 'dva jizdenky. [?]' two tickets. the woman seemed to understand and went to work on the tickets. she seemed highly competent; back and forth between different computer screens, consulting timetables in various books, even calling to the central office to confirm a time [well, that was my guess. she could have been calling her husband to complain about american tourists for all i knew]. she definitely knew train tickets... but still, it was taking her a long time to get everything straight. she paused several times to wait on other customers who were buying more 'simple' tickets. after fifteen minutes, she printed out two tickets and handed them to me. i paid and gave her a gigantic 'dekuji mockrat' and stepped to the side to make sure the tickets were correct. wow. the appropriate 'from' and 'to' cities were listed [luhacovice -> budapest], but it wasn't clear whether the woman had used my itinerary when arranging all of the transfers. none of the train numbers and only a few of the intermediate cities were listed. i stepped back over to the window to clarify.

i pointed to the itinerary and then to the ticket with a questioning look on my face... then pointed to the area on the ticket listing the intermediate cities with another confused look. she took the tickets and looked at them closely and then went back to the computer. okay. it appeared the ticket information was still in the computer memory... she pulled the screen up and went back to work. i wasn't exactly sure what she was doing, but she was doing something, so there must have been a mistake on the first pair of tickets. five minutes later she printed out two more tickets that were each about a dollar more expensive... and then she printed out an informational sheet listing each of the trains, their numbers, all of the stops, and all of the departure and arrival times. _this_ was what i needed. perfect. i paid and gave her another huge thanks.

[i'm afraid many of my recent entries have focused on the less than fun aspects of travel: transportation (tickets, trains, buses); accomodation (hostels, hotels, pensions); and cost. does it seem that way? i feel like perhaps i should be concentrating my writing on the more important: people i've met, sites i've seen, feelings i've felt. make no mistake, long term travel is no vacation; it takes time to research destinations and costs and to coordinate and arrange transportation and accomodation. there are days when i feel like i haven't been able to step outside because i've spent the entire day inside leafing through guide books, researching on the internet, or standing in line waiting to purchase tickets. it's a very real part of the trip. three months ago i almost allowed myself to drown in the administration of the trip. that no longer happens; i just no longer allow administration to consume my thoughts; it is a necessary part of long term travel. having said that, i wonder if i shouldn't allow it to consume the entries either. instead, focus more on feelings.]

so how was i feeling? i was smiling widely and excited to tell sarah that i'd booked the tickets. one of the best feelings arrives immediately after the unfun leaves, when tickets are in hand or when the hostel has been booked... or after arrival at the hostel and after bags have been stowed. sarah and i had the rest of the day to explore the town without the unfun parts hanging over our heads. we wouldn't be leaving until 1300 the next day, so we knew we had some time the following morning as well.

the one museum in town was closing at 1600 and i wanted to czech it out [just this once, i promise; it won't happen again. wait... you didn't catch it, did you?]. we walked over and saw a man sitting on a bench outside and a sign hanging on the door. the man said something to us in czech and upon seeing our confused expressions, tried again with broken but comprehensible english. the museum attendant was on a short break and would return shortly. we continued talking to the man about nothings until she arrived. smiling, a nice gentleman. inside.

the first thing i noticed was the wall of old postcards. [the feeling inside started at baseline and grew exponentially to one thousand times above in less than one second]. i had _seen_ some of these postcards. i wished so badly that i had brought them, but again... i hadn't wanted them to get damaged. i wanted to break them out and show the older museum attendant that i belonged here on a level higher than an ordinary spa town visitor. the museum was small, showing traditional dress, some crafts, some information about folk songs. i asked the attendant if i could take photos; she nodded. my mother has the chest my great grandmother used to transport all of her belongings to the states; i thought of it when i saw this chest in the museum. on the way out i couldn't help but break out the photocopies of the postcards and show them to the woman at the front desk. it seemed like she was very familiar with them; i was excited, explosively so. i managed to ask her if the buildings in the one postcard were still standing. YES. she walked over to an information board and pointed to them (specifically to the two spires on one of the buildings) and then gestured in the direction, listing off the buildings we'd need to walk by to get there. i thanked her and as we left, i gripped sarah's hand tightly, very tightly, and rushed ahead of her, pulling, as if after all of this time the buildings could collapse at any moment.

we passed building after building, holding out the paper looking for a match, two spires. finally, after walking up a hill, we found them. we _FOUND_ them. this was one of the things i wanted most of all; to stand where the original photographer had stood and take the same picture. i did my best, but it was evening at this point and the light was definitely different than in the postcard. it looked like a morning sun. sarah and i decided to come back the next morning to try again. but regardless, we had found them and i was so happy and sarah was so happy because i was so happy. this evening, there was much happiness. i only wished one thing... that my mother and grandmother had been able to be there with us.

we continued in the same direction, so far that we were no longer in luhacovice, stopped at a small store and i got an orange italian ice sort of thing. we turned around and returned to the town center, stopping to take some pictures and to sample the everlasting life mineral water. well, to be clear, _sarah_ sampled the water and said it tasted like blood. despite my generally dark wardrobe and nocturnal hours of operation (my new 'morning guy' persona nonwithstanding; [for some reason i'm reminded of guy smilie of muppets fame]), i'm not fond of the taste and decided to pass. we moved on to dinner outside; the system. a good tip and a big smile. another walk in the night, back to the rose.

posted by paul at Tue 02 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

01 August 2005

i'd brought the blood back


it was [right at THIS moment] that i remembered something i should have remembered long before: i'm a professional.

that's right, ladies and gentlemen, at this point in my life i'm a professional traveler. resilient and determined, prepared for the extraordinary, unlike the ordinary, i'm unstoppable. UN. STOP. PA. BLE. i have an army behind me ready to overrun the system and [right at THIS moment] there was a system which needed to be overrun. i'd encountered a problem which would require me to call upon the full and complete capabilities of the global reconnaissance organization; to mobilize the massive resources of our minds, to unleash the technological terrors of our security network, to reveal one of the secret weapons of our vast arsenal. where was i? ah, yes. i looked left and then right and then calmly reached down into my pants.

more on that later.

today i'd be the first in my family to make it back to the motherland, the czech republic, to the mother city, luhacovice, where my great grandmother grew up before she moved to the united states. we would be travelling by bus with three transfers: cesky krumlov -> ceske budejovice -> brno -> luhacovice. the first bus departed cesky krumlov at 0750. we got up early and were out of the hostel by 0715; we wanted to leave the requisite 'forgotten location of the bus stop', 'rolling suitcase cobblestone combo', and 'any additional potential problem' time. as we walked and rolled, we remembered the path and arrived at the bus stop with enough time to catch the earlier 0735 bus to ceske budejovice. 'dva for ceske bude...' and before i could finish saying the name of our first destination, the driver had handed me the tickets. thank you, sir. we were on our way.

after a short layover in ceske budejovice, we boarded the bus to brno, tickets in hand (we had been able to buy the bus tickets for this leg of our journey in cesky krumlov). this would be the longest of the three bus rides, a 4.5 hour journey eastward across the country, through the countryside on winding, twisting and turning roads. lakes and trees. the country was very beautiful but less than an hour after departing ceske budejovice, sarah and i were both ready for a nice smooth straight highway. i usually don't get sick in moving vehicles but during this ride i was feeling very nauseated. sarah wasn't feeling great herself; i remember looking over at her and seeing her sitting up in her seat and focusing on the horizon in front of the bus (apparently one of the ways to calm motion sickness). we had several conversations during which she talked facing forward. we were both happy when the bus pulled into brno at around 1330.

struggling with the language barrier, it took us about a half hour to locate the ticket office at the brno station. with two tickets in hand for the bus departing one and a half hours later to take us to our final destination, we walked across the street to a small mall where we discovered we had a problem. interesting situation really, and a little embarrassing. sarah and i had both let our checking accounts fall to zero, failing to remember to transfer funds from our savings accounts (inaccessible by atms) to the checking accounts [this was a repeat of the situation i'd had in galway, ireland, three months before]. together, with very little cash, there was no way to perform the transfer without a computer connected to the internet. had we really had an emergency, we had our credit cards and i was carrying enough funds in other currency to see us through any situation, but what we really needed now were some czech crowns. while sarah stood guard over our bags, i sent out global recon scouts to determine if there was an internet cafe in the mall. '[static] negative, sir.' we walked back to the bus station and boarded our bus for luhacovice. contingency plans: if we couldn't locate an open internet cafe in luhacovice, i'd contacat a global recon associate in the states and ask them to perform the internet transfer for me. we're well connected.

nearing the end of the two hour bus ride; we weren't exactly sure where to get off the bus. we didn't have a list of stops with us and we didn't know what luhacovice looked like. we knew we were scheduled to arrive at 1748, but the bus could easily be running fast or slow. at each stop, i tried to capture a clear picture of the list of stops, but was unsuccessful. we watched for signs and finally saw one; we were close. on our left, some 70's era apartment buildings. i felt a little disappointed. the bus stopped and i ran up to the driver with my ticket. using the international language known as gesturese, i asked him if this was our stop. no, one more. the bus drove on, passing the apartment buildings, into a smaller and much more delightful little area of town... a left turn... and we had arrived. we stepped off.

one hundred years later, i'd brought the blood back.

we looked around and got right down to business. i dispatched scouts to locate an internet cafe and our pension. they returned from the opposite direction twenty minutes later.


'pension ruza located; seven minute walk. an outdoor internet terminal was located, but it's out of service and most likely won't be operational until tomorrow morning when staff return at 0900. we tried two atms to determine if funds could be withdrawn from a savings account; negative.'

'nice work, gentlemen.'

sarah and i proceeded to the pension along a path near a small stream and arrived shortly after. we walked through the door and a smiling woman began speaking to us in czech. from her tone and gestures, she knew exactly who we were and had been expecting us. she led us straight to our room on the bottom floor (a very clean and nice room) and explained the door locks and told us what time breakfast was in the morning. some additional gestures told us to get settled in the room and then come out later to pay and give her our personal information. hmm. yes... payment. that might be a problem. the guidebook had listed the price of the rooms in this pension as 1000kc a night, roughly 40 usd, but i've discovered that the guidebook is usually off by about 10% (in the bad way). we didn't have the czech currency to cover the price.

we emerged from the room about twenty minutes later, ready to tell the woman that we needed to withdraw funds from the atm, but she was gone. good. that gave us some time. we went out to find a phone to call back to the states to have someone transfer the money for us. ha. yes... a phone. and you're going to call... how? right. we didn't have a calling card and i hadn't yet purchased a sim card for my treo. calling cards were sold at the tobacco stores and the two tobacco stores that we located were closed. we assumed any other tobacco stores we'd be able to find would be closed as well. reverse the charges? we went back over to the phone to see if we could navigate the system. it was [right at THIS moment] that i remembered something i should have remembered long before: i'm a professional.

that's right, ladies and gentlemen, at this point in my life i'm a professional traveler. resilient and determined, prepared for the extraordinary, unlike the ordinary, i'm unstoppable. UN. STOP. PA. BLE. i have an army behind me ready to overrun the system and [right at THIS moment] there was a system which needed to be overrun. i'd encountered a problem which would require me to call upon the full and complete capabilities of the global reconnaissance organization; to mobilize the massive resources of our minds, to unleash the technological terrors of our security network, to reveal one of the secret weapons of our vast arsenal. where was i? ah, yes. i looked left and then right and then calmly reached down into my pants... and pulled out my money belt and withdrew two crisp 1000kc notes. our money problems were gone. as always, i had reserve funds in my money belt. i couldn't believe i'd forgotten about them. the way out is through.

and not one cloud in the sky as our problems melted from our minds and we walked the luhacovice streets for the next several hours until darkness with smiles wider than wide. i was _so_ excited and the moment was unforgettable. similar to when i visited cahans church in monaghan, ireland, and wished my grandmother and family were able to be there with me, it was now that i wished my other grandmother and famliy were able to be here with sarah and me. the little town was beautiful and i imagined my great grandmother running through the streets. i so wished i had brought all of the postcards with me, but i hadn't wanted them to get damaged. i did have with me several photocopies of the postcards, but only one had a picture of buildings in luhacovice. tomorrow sarah and i would first search through the main cemetary to see if we could locate any family gravestones and then we would seek out the buildings in the postcard. ice cream and sugar wafers. sarah and i walked back to the pension holding hands beneath the street lights. this was a gigantic day.

underneath it all
we feel so small
the heavens fall
but still we crawl
: the way out is through, nine inch nails

posted by paul at Mon 01 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)