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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 on Wed 03 Aug 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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