We crossed the bridge into Prague’s city center on Wednesday evening, just in time for rush hour traffic. The gilded balconies and colorful buildings vividly stood out against the grey sky. We were starving for a hot meal, and Rob had programmed his GPS to take us to a WiFi spot that was also a restaurant. Once we found it, we realized there was no place to park. After circling the block a couple times, which took about half an hour, we decided we would attempt fitting underneath the bar that dangled from a shopping mall’s parking garage, across the street from the restaurant. Fortunately, we made it! We stumbled out of the RV, hungry for dinner and excited to walk around, when we had our first challenge trying to communicate with the Czech. A parking attendant was attacking my ears with what sounded like a slurry jumble of consonants. I told him I don’t speak Czech, and he shook his head when I asked if he spoke English, then he proceeded to write out rows of numbers on a sheet of paper, asking me something and making gestures to his writing. I didn’t understand what he was doing until I realized that the way he was writing–03.06 10–was how the Europeans write their dates, with the day coming before the month instead of the other way around like we do in America. He thought Rob and I were trying to stay the night, right there in the mall’s parking garage! We assured him that we weren’t, and he seemed satisfied and let us on our way.
Dinner was satisfying, although nothing worth photographing. It had taste, but not much in the way of appearance. Since we’re trying to stretch our budget so we can splurge later on down the line (Italy’s coming up!), Rob and I have been splitting entrees, sometimes also sharing an appetizer or dessert. For our first night Prague, we had spaghetti with chicken sausage, and it wasn’t too bad. The appetizer of garlic soup was delicious though! Clumps of melted white cheese, stringy like the kind found in French onion soup, mingled with vegetables that were sunk beneath savory chicken broth. Garlic abounded, but hey, I’m not making out with anybody. It was delicious.
I was very happy to video chat with my family and a few friends who were online. I even got to see Butters, my beloved bugaboo of a kitty whom I’ve been missing very dearly! Surely Rob is sick of hearing about Butters and how much I miss him. Oh to nuzzle my face into his cashmere fur right this moment, to plop his belly with my hand while he gazes up at me from my lap… Butters, I sure do miss you! Checking Facebook is always fun. I realize how many days have gone by, how vast the time difference is from here to Los Angeles (nine hours) as I read status updates like “Way too early to be awake!”, and “About to eat breakfast with Mom!” It was dark and stormy outside where I was, and it felt comforting to connect with loved ones again, and read about their normal goings-on back home.
Rob and I didn’t dare try to find a campground in Prague. Instead, we drove outside the city and pulled over by the construction site of a new housing development. It felt secluded, but not too far away from the main road. We knew no one would bother us because no one lived there yet, and since it was raining, the construction workers didn’t even come to work the next morning, allowing us to sleep in a bit. (Side note: the construction workers here are all white. This stands out to me, judge me if you will. I have not seen a single Mexican since I landed in Europe, and it’s rather startling to walk past a construction site and see blue eyes and a pale face look up at you from beneath a hard hat. This is one of the many things that has surprised me unexpectedly, showing me how I perceive normal and abnormal in ways that sometimes tickle me and sometimes shame me.)
Friday morning we awoke in desperate need of a shower. It had been three days since we’d had a proper bathing session, and our dip into the Rhein River shouldn’t count, even though we tried to tell ourselves it did. Our hair disagreed. I’m not a gym-goer, but Rob is and informed me that most gyms have showers we could pay a day rate to use. His plan, which sounded good to me, was to find a really swanky gym that would have fresh towels, blow driers, Q-tips, and mouthwash, and if we it we were lucky, a sauna. After our showers, we’d eat a filling breakfast and see some museums, walk around, visit the famous Prague Castle, and do some shopping.
Mazi, our GPS we named since it means ‘help’ in Japanese (according to a baby naming website), was not on her best behavior. She seemed to direct us the long way around everywhere in the entire city. She couldn’t find the gym, and when she finally could and it was 8 kilometers away. She didn’t understand that it was rush hour, nor that we couldn’t fit underneath overpasses or bridges. She tried to lead us to a train station, where we figured we could leave the RV and just ride a train into the city, but poor Mazi didn’t know that the train station had been converted to an office park. By this point Rob and I were very hungry, and had decided to postpone our gym showers until evening so we could see more of the city during the day. We programmed ‘parking garage’ into the GPS, replacing the train station. Mazi, though it’s not her fault, didn’t know the dimensions of our vehicle that made it impossible for us to turn down certain streets, thereby making her route more complicated when we strayed off of it and found ourselves going the opposite direction from where we wanted, with no turn around space in sight.
You won’t believe how long it took us before we finally parked. Four. Hours. As I told Rob, we could have driven to Las Vegas from LA in the time it took us to find a parking space in Prague. Poor Rob. What a sport, a trooper, a hero. He’d been riding the clutch in traffic for so long that his knee was near spasms. And I haven’t even told you the most awful and hilarious part yet!
On one of Mazi’s detours for us through the city, we abruptly found ourselves turned onto a cobblestone street that was narrowing almost impossibly as we drove further down it. It became sickeningly clear that we would have to somehow back up this one-way road from whence we came. Cue car behind us. Cue pedestrians. Annnnd… Action!
Here is the scene… Imagine you are in an RV, about twenty feet long, ten feet wide, and ten feet tall. You’ve been driving in circles for three hours in traffic trying to park, you haven’t eaten breakfast yet, and you have to pee so badly it aches. You can’t read the road signs since they’re in Czech, but everywhere you see the universally recognized image of a tow truck lifting a car. You make a right turn, and with horror you soon realize you’re driving through The Grove in LA–or Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, or whatever your favorite outdoor pedestrian shopping path is that is obviously not for cars. Picked one? Okay. Let’s just say it’s The Grove, and it’s very, very crowded. Now imagine the storefronts zooming in on either side of you so close that you could reach out and touch them. You do, just to make sure this is really happening and isn’t some bad dream. Panic sets in as people start to gape at you in surprise, then yell at you in a foreign language that sounds like a slurrier version of Russian. They’re all slapping their heads, appearing to incredulously ask you what the hell are you doing. You begin to sweat in hot flashes. Then, as if you’ll figure out how to get around them, the pedestrians choose to ignore you, swarming around you like wildebeests parting their stampede around a fallen log.
That was us. Rob nervously told me to hop out of the RV and help guide him backwards. I pulled my rain boots on (oh yeah, it’s raining) and began to wave my arms letting Rob know how much room he had. People were staring, yelling, flat out laughing at us, but what on earth were we to do? Obviously we had made a gross mistake. Out of the crowd coming toward me appeared an old man. He could’ve been homeless, his long hair matted and his cigarette carelessly dropping ashes down the front of his shirt that he didn’t bother to brush away. He was speaking to me in a mix of Czech, German, and English, the only words I understood being ‘left’ and ‘right’. (I supposed he was speaking German to me because our that’s where our license plate says we are from.) Perhaps it was my glazed over expression, or just my obvious incompetence, but the old man abruptly gestured for me to get the fuck out of the way and let him take over. First he guided Rob to back up. Then, shaking his head, he started waving Rob forwards, further into the crowd and down the narrow street! I tucked myself under an awning from the rain, hand covering my mouth as I ignored the points and giggles of the girls to my right who were getting a big kick out of watching this.
The old man did know what he was doing. He led Rob to a break in between buildings where there was *just* enough space to attempt a three-point turn, so at least when Rob drove back out of the pedestrian path, he didn’t have to do so in reverse. It was like watching the scene in that Austin Powers movie where–inch by stick shifted inch–the vehicle somehow manages to turn around. I felt like crying, I was so nervous. I silently begged the RV rental gods to not let Rob crash into the brick wall behind him, or the glass storefront ahead of him. I moved in between him and the storefront, as if I could somehow stop him from shattering the crystal and garnet vases behind me if the clutch accidentally propelled the RV closer.
Finally turned around, I nauseously climbed back into the RV. Suddenly, I couldn’t do anything but laugh deliriously. Rob started laughing, too, as he navigated us back to the real road. If we weren’t laughing, we would have been crying, and I was grateful that Rob wasn’t the type of guy who would have been sputtering and yelling angrily throughout the whole episode. He’d kept a tense, silent calm. He told me he was grateful that I wasn’t the kind of girl who would have given him a scolding lecture about how we just shouldn’t have gone down that street in the first place. He pointed out that now we knew each others’ true character, because that’s what comes out in times like this.
For those of you who know Prague, you’ll know Old Town Square. We later learned that that’s where we’d made the wrong turn.
We got to see the Prague Castle, which I was over by the time we finally got there. Still, it was beautiful to look at, and our lunch was tasty. Ah, food. What a comfort. After the castle we meandered down more cobblestones to a little shopping district when an absinthe store caught our eye. Painted on the window read ‘Cannabis Ice Cream’, and I just had to go inside! Although I didn’t order any, I did buy a cannabis iced tea to drink later. Marijuana is apparently legal in the Czech Republic, and in Poland and Austria as well. I’m wondering if there’s a country in Europe where it isn’t legal.
Exhausted from the day, Rob and I did finally visit a gym. It wasn’t very nice, and the shower was the grossest I’ve been in since I was in India, but at least I was shampooed, shaved, and refreshed. We drove out of the city that night and headed for Poland, where we intended to visit the Auschwitz Museum the next day.