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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?'

'ne.'

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 on Tue 02 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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