OK Travelers, Prague – Part 4
We got a later start to the day and the lady was feeling worse. Not so good. I headed downstairs for a small breakfast and brought up a little food for the Mrs. We had a little talk about what to do.
The next day we had a train scheduled to leave around 1, our hotel checkout time was noon, and then we’d be on the train for six hours to go back to Munich. The day after that was our long flight to Toronto, and from there back home.
Thinking of all this, and how miserable she felt, my wife thought it was to see a doctor and get some real drugs rather than continue her random collection of medicines she’d picked up at pharmacies.
I asked at the front desk about the idea of a doctor doing a house call and coming to the hotel to see my wife, but the guy strongly suggested a hospital visit instead. My wife was worried about a long wait, and I think she wanted to be able to continue to lie still and avoid movement as much as possible, but she consented to a hospital visit. I think she knew that this miserable feeling wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.
A taxi was called for us and we drove to the recommended hospital. This included driving past a US embassy where we had to stop and the driver answered a question or two. Again, heightened tensions over worry about terror attacks had driven an extra level of precaution and police presence in every place we visited.
At the hospital a few nuns were hanging around outside, so I knew we were in for trouble. Just kidding. It amused me to see them. I had been telling the Mrs. all trip I wanted a picture of me playing rock-paper-scissors with a nun, and now was finally my golden opportunity but at the moment we had bigger fish to fry (though I still regret not getting this picture).
Inside the hospital there were two other patients sitting in the waiting area, a nurse behind a little glass cage of sorts to get you checked in, and a framed picture of the pope. Other than that, it was pretty bare.
We had asked the guy at the front desk at our hotel, “will the doctor speak English?” and he said, “yes, of course!” Apparently we should have asked a more specific question because while the doctor spoke English, no one else did.
Walking up to check in my wife said something and the woman stared at us, then we said, “do you speak English?” and we got a slow shake of the head indicating no. Ah. Well.
Thankfully, hospital procedure is enough alike that we were able to guess our way through the next few steps. My wife filled out paperwork and got checked in. In a fairly short amount of time a nurse came out and retrieved us. This nurse, possibly a sister, spoke enough English that my wife could communicate the life of her cold. Day one, do charades to communicate sore throat (or whatever it was), day two, cough and sore throat, day three, picked up this drug and cough was worse, day four … etc.
The nurse asked height and weight and the three of us exchanged glances back and forth, I was thinking how little chance I had of correctly converting feet and inches to meters, and thankfully the nurse just gave up and indicated (with charades) that we’ll skip that.
Then, in a dose of adorableness, the nurse indicated drawing blood and asked my wife if this was scary to her or might make her faint (again, all through acting it out). My wife gave her a thumbs up, but I took this opportunity to leave the room (I am less able to handle needle stuff).
Now we waited a longer time. I went down to a lower level and a sweet old man pointed in the direction of the bathroom for me. I love simple moments of nonverbal communication that cross cultures. That awkward, unsure step when you’re walking around someplace new, something that communicates ‘where is the bathroom?’ and a little smile and a point is all it takes to offer a helping hand to a stranger.
The doctor called for us and, phew, he spoke English. He felt like he didn’t speak it well, and he certainly wasn’t 100% with it (some of his medical descriptions were a little confusing) but he was able to tell us what we needed to know and we left the hospital with a prescription and a hope that my wife would be on the track to finally getting better.
One amazing exchange we had was when he asked where we were from. We said the United States, Colorado. And he shook his head and continued to type notes on his computer about my wife, and then, “like … Denver?” again we shook our heads yes and smiled, more notes, more notes, “like … the Denver Nuggets?” this really surprised me but again we said yes in an amused and happy way. The Denver Nuggets? Of all the sports teams? Who would’ve thought. More typing, more typing, “like … South Park?”
Fantastic. It turns out the good doctor is a big fan of South Park. How great is that? To be in a Catholic hospital in the Czech Republic and talking about South Park. Life is funny.
That day, the 1st of 2017, was also a Sunday, and this turned out to be a problem. The doctor told us that a law was recently enacted that did not allow as many places to be open on Sundays. This included pharmacies. We asked where we might go to get the prescription filled and he looked at us, seeing our dilemma. He conferred with a nurse, looked things up on Google maps, and handed us an address. The hospital had wifi so we got an Uber (I’m not sure where we would have had to walk to in order to find a cab, but I felt confident my wife was too weak and sick to handle that).
We left our doctor pal and the sisters and got to the address given to us, a bigger hospital. The Uber driver agreed to wait outside for us and we went in to find the location of the pharmacy within the hospital. We went to the receptionists desk, again behind a glass screen, and asked about the pharmacy. The woman, who did not speak English, understood enough of what we were asking and shook her head no. This was not the news we were hoping to hear, so we tried asking for directions about where an open pharmacy might be. The woman understood enough of this and began to write down instructions for us … they were confusing. At this moment, our guardian angel arrived in the form of a woman who appeared to have stepped out of the year 1930.
She was an older woman, wearing a full length fur coat, big glamorous sunglasses, and she spoke to us with a somewhat posh English accent. My wife and I later surmised that she was Czech, but had been educated in England. This woman stepped in without hesitation and said, “how may I help?” to my wife and I, the receptionist piped up and began saying things as my wife and I were explaining and the BOSS shushed her, heard our explanation, and then get the address for us written out clearly.
I am sure we didn’t express enough thanks, and instead rushed out too soon to get back in the Uber and head to the next pharmacy. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of this woman.
The next pharmacy was, phew, open. My wife got her prescription filled, and back we went in the same Uber to our hotel. Our hospital ordeal over, she was able to crawl back into bed.
At this time it was maybe 1 or 2 pm, so I got my wife some food and then went wandering for myself.
My wife practically forced me to leave and go enjoy the opera, but first I needed food.
I decided on a brewery/bar/restaurant that was nearby and sticking with Prague standards it was cheap and incredibly delicious. I don’t know what magic bar food chefs have there, but we need it here. The food was I don’t know what with potato dumplings and it was mighty tasty, friends.
The opera began at 5 or 5:30, so after a bit more checking on the wife and chit chatting I headed out. I was all dolled up like a real person and I was feeling a bit silly about attending an opera by myself. I’m no opera buff, what am I doing there? The entry and lobby type area were not nearly as beautiful as the Vienna opera house, but inside the theatre area it was impressive. My seat was high up and, unfortunately, not as fancy as we had in Vienna. This proved especially unfortunate because the seats at this theatre seemed to have been built for people that are 5’6,” which I am decidedly not. Three or so hours of my knees jammed into the back of the chair in front of me was not the most pleasant, and yet … I still managed to catch a nap.
Let me explain! Walking to the opera it is chilly and cold, and then you get settled inside and oh it’s so, so toasty and ah what lovely singing and I was reading text (because the opera, The Bartered Bride, was in Czech so I had to read the English subtitles) … so it’s basically a collection of things designed to make you drift off to sleep. Reading, soothing music, warmth? Come on.
I resisted it like I was in school but it didn’t work out – I eventually caved and caught one, two, ten minutes of napping? Only the people beside me know. What I found funny was picturing how they tried to categorize me. Here’s this guy, a young guy, at the opera by himself – ok, clearly he’s an opera nut. But wait, he falls asleep halfway through the first act and was clearly fighting sleep the whole time? So … not an opera fan? Just a lover of an expensive and posh nap?
The opera was nice, but I enjoyed the one in Vienna more. It could be the performers, though I’m more inclined to put it on the music within The Bartered Bride, and I think I was not as enthused being there by myself.
When the show finished I hustled back to the hotel, hoping to find that beyond logic the drugs would’ve already worked magic and my wife would be noticeably better. This was not the case, but we embraced sleep and hoped for that the next day.
This morning I found two or three little shops that I wish I had found earlier. I crossed my fingers and bought my wife a few gifts (which I have since given her for her birthday and Valentine’s day). I crossed my fingers because one of the gifts was jewelry, and I don’t normally like to risk money on something I don’t feel very sure of.
I also bought myself an awesome tie which I will likely wear for the first time in a year or two (I hardly ever have a reason to look that nice, and I’d feel weird wearing a tie for no reason).
After all my running around doing last minute shopping my wife and I finalized the packing of our bags and hopped in a taxi to head to the train station to catch our train to Munich.
We arrived and carted our massive bags into a thin hallway with compartments on one side. We found ours and there were four people already sitting inside. With a bit of struggling and some luggage rearrangement we got our bags up as well and we took seats. Our compartment companions were Germans, perhaps in their 40s and 50s, who had come to Prague for New Year’s and to enjoy the very cheap beer and cost of living there.
Our train departed and the Germans took out a bottle of cheap champagne and even poured a glass for me. I was delighted and we all toasted each other. The trip was looking good.
About an hour into the trip, that whole looking good notion subsided.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is a problem on the track ahead, we will get to the next station and everyone will need to get off the train and catch a bus to the next station. It will all be very organized. Do not be afraid.”
This announcement was made in English, and only in English (the prior announcements were made in Czech, German, and English). Hmm.
I told the Germans to go ahead and depart before us because our big bags would slow us down, they thanked us and quickly hurried off. After getting our bags down we walked outside. Our train was stopped and the train station was two floors – the upstairs area was where you boarded and left a train, downstairs was where you drove up or buses gathered. A large crowd of people, most of the people from our train, had already gathered downstairs, waiting outside for buses.
There happened to be one bus outside, and a mass had formed around that. I have no idea if the bus driver was there for us or just a random bus, but boy that driver must have been surprised by the mass of people.
We hustled out to the waiting area as fast as we could (an unnecessary hustle it turns out). Everyone was standing around, waiting, hearing no guidance or instruction … the ‘very organized’ line from our conductor turns out to have been a bit of an exaggeration. A German girl nearby me said something to her friend about ten or fifteen minutes so I asked in English if she had heard it would be ten or fifteen minutes til the buses arrived. She told me (thankfully she spoke English), that one person had asked a train employee how long and he said ten or fifteen minutes, then another person asked the same train employee how long and he said, “I have no idea.”
Around ten or fifteen minutes go by and the bus that had been sitting there the whole time opened up its doors and people swarmed inside.
Another ten to twenty minutes go by (and we’re standing outside, breathing that crisp, cool air … except for all the dang smokers). One bus, and then shortly after that another bus pull up. We feel like we’ve got a chance of hopping in one of those but no dice – they fill up quickly.
Off the three buses go, and a big group of us (50 or so) remain standing. Twenty to thirty minutes pass by.
It was not terribly pleasant. The only instruction we had received was the train conductor’s message, so the buses that came around we just assumed and hoped were the right ones. There was an absolute lack of control and a sort of crowd mentality of follow the person in front of you.
Another bus arrives and we throw our bags inside the lower compartment area then get on. My wife and I were two of the three last people to find seats on this bus so we were not able to sit by each other. She sat in a seat, and I sat in the very back of the bus, wedged in amongst two groups of German 20-somethings. One a group of mostly guys (one guy had a girlfriend), the other a group of girls. The guys postured, made comments, cracked jokes, and one or two of the girls made eyes at them but mostly rolled their eyes at them. It was a nice side show for me.
One thing that was very sad to me was the woman wedged next to me. She and her husband had shoved their bags in the bus, and the husband had been kicked off the bus for lack of seats. She wanted to go with her husband but he said, “no, stay on the bus, this bus has our bags.” He walked slowly off the bus, I imagine crossing every finger and toe on his body hoping another bus would show up.
The bus took off and I felt ok. We were on our way to another train station, possibly fifteen to twenty kilometers away so we’ll be back on track in no time. Sure, we wasted an hour or so standing outside in the cold, but that’s ok.
Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. Our bus drove for about an hour. This was particularly unsettling to my wife who had decided we would have no idea if this was the right bus, if the bus driver was a nut and just driving us wherever, and what we would do when we arrived seeing as how we had received zero instructions thus far.
I had my German soap opera to distract me so I wasn’t too worried, but I did notice that it was turning dark outside and gee, could this bus possibly be driving us all the way to Munich? Is that an option?
The bus finally did get to the station it was destined for and everyone scrambled off, GO GO GO, we grabbed our bags and headed into this station. This was a smaller station than the last one and inside it was crammed with people.
On the platform there were no trains, but a sign showed that a train would be arriving in two hours that would go to Munich HBF, our destination. Ah, great, a two hour wait here.
We went inside to see if there might be more information about what happens next and here we had our biggest stroke of luck for the day. A guy and girl were talking to each other in English.
“I don’t speak any German,” he said.
“I don’t speak any Czech, but I speak German. Do you speak Czech?” she replied.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Ok, if you can speak to the person here, then I’ll take over when we cross the German border.”
I spoke up, “I have nothing of value to add, but can you share what you learn with me?”
The day before we were saved by a glamorous Czech woman, today our saviors were a 20-something Czech guy and a perhaps 30s German girl.
The Czech guy came back and explained. Apparently, there had been a train at this station that had just left. The three buses arrived and said that only three buses of people needed this train to Munich … so our train was gone. We could wait for the one coming in two hours, OR we could catch a train to Schwandorf and from Schwandorf catch a train that was scheduled to depart for Munich 10 minutes after our train arrived. It’d be a tight fit, but we could do it.
We went outside to wait for our train to Schwandorf and … we waited. And waited. This train, it turns out, was delayed by about 25-30 minutes. That appeared to put a hole in the Schwandorf -> Munich plan, but it would still get us closer so our pals decided this was still the best option.
Eventually a train is seen in the distance and everyone rushes along the platform. The train stopped not by the station but about 50 feet away (I don’t know why – perhaps the conductor was confused and frightened by such an unusually large crowd for his route). We get on and thankfully the Mrs. manages to find us two seats. I really don’t know how she did because the train was JAM PACKED with all of us Prague -> Munich lost causes.
Our buddies happened to be seated right beside us so when our train arrived (the journey was perhaps an hour?) we followed them. Having missed the one train the German girl told us that a train leaving from Schwandorf to Regensburg was our best choice because there would be more frequent trains that would depart Regensburg for Munich.
At 7:30 (a time when, had things gone to plan, we would’ve already been in our hotel in Munich) we boarded the train to Regensburg. My wife and I grabbed seats and sat silently, wondering and hoping for a quick end to this unexpected journey. The German girl came and found us and told us what the next step would be. We were touched by the fact that she was not only kind, but she had gone out of her way to come and find us and offer more kindness.
At Regensburg, we had a 40 minute delay before the train to Munich so we stood around and talked with each other. My wife and I got some food, as did the Czech fella, and then we headed to our platform. And wouldn’t you know it? Our train was delayed. We waited an extra thirty minutes on our platform for that train, but it did indeed arrive.
On the journey to, phew, finally, Munich, we all sat together in a four seater section with a table between us.
The Czech fella was studying architecture and currently working a sort of internship at a German firm in Munich. He had previously worked in Italy and so was fluent in Italian, and was studying German. Oh, and he spoke Czech and English. The German girl lived in England (I think) and worked for a non-government help agency (to send aid in crisis situations when a government cannot sufficiently take care of things). They were both incredibly kind, sweet people, and I couldn’t have enjoyed that last bit of the train ride more since I got to talk with them and learn more about them.
If it hadn’t been for the uncertainty and fear, and the Mrs. being a bit dead, you know, that wicked cold and dragging heavy baggage and standing out in the cold and this and that, it really would have been an incredible day and enjoying in a way. It’s not often you get on a train to go from Prague to Munich, end up waiting outside for an hour at some city in the Czech Republic, ride an hour in silence on a bus bound for God knows where, hop on a train, hop on another train, and then your fourth and final train of the day. That maybe sounds sarcastic, but really, since it worked out ok, it was its own unique kind of enjoyable. And I think that is in large part to our German and Czech pals, who did us the incredible kindness of making us feel less scared and unsure of what comes next.
While on our final train trip, riding from Regensburg to Munich, a ticket taker came by. The German girl spoke for all of us and explained why we had the wrong tickets, and the woman nodded and walked on by. Later, she came back. She spoke to the German girl and, while doing so, put a comforting hand on my wife’s shoulder, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. The German girl and ticket taker talked back and forth and then the ticket taker left.
Apparently, our original train did not have a potential problem on the tracks, but a bomb threat. Our train needed to evacuate as soon as possible, and so the scheme to drop us at the next station was devised.
My wife and I took the expensive route home and took a taxi to the hotel by the airport rather than a train. We were ok spending the extra money to avoid any future possible adventures. But wouldn’t you know it … nah, just kidding, the taxi was fine.
There you have it, friends. The last of the travelogues.
Europe, next time I see you, hopefully it’ll be spring, or summer, or fall. And hopefully I’ll get to have conversations with as many pleasant and intelligent people. And hopefully I won’t experience any bomb threats, unless they’re hollow ones, and I’ve got good people to ride it out with.