On the move again

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On the Sunday had to organise the next leg, buying maps and thinking about routes, after which I went to see Faust at a black light theatre. There are many of these 'traditional' Czech theatres in Prague, performing shows such as 'Aspects of Alice' (derived from rather than based on Alice in Wonderland), 'Cats' and 'Faust'. They use UV lights and flourescent props, costumes and scenery to create surreal and magical scenes. The show is a combination of dance, mime, and music, so it's accessible to all nationalities of tourist. Faust was actually a lot of fun, and did the story justice. (It wasn't a direct rendering of Goethe or Marlowe, so no need to complain of philistinism). On my way back to the hostel I spotted a Blues venue not far from the town centre. The show was already half-way through, so I paid half the cover charge to get in, leaving me enough cash for two beers. Perfect. When the act had finished, around midnight, a guy who had also been sat alone scribbling in a notebook came over and started chatting. He had clocked that I was also writing (journal) and was interested in the book I was reading (Heinrich Bőll, The lost honour of Katharina Blum {Thanks JE}). We'd just got chatting when the bar started to close, so we decided to find another. In the end we ended up back in the non-stop bar I went to on my first night in Prague, talking mainly about books, til 5am. On a Sunday. Prague is a dangerous place.

On the 25th, despite my hangover, I managed to get my Hepititas B inoculation, so I'm now completely invincible until February. Its actually been quite interesting having to deal with the health services of different countries, without actually having to get sick to do it. In socialist France you get your prescription, go to the pharmacy, go back to the Doctor, who runs his own practice from a terraced house like lawyers often do in the UK. It feels like all the people involved are autonomous agents, interacting. In post-communist Czech republic, on the other hand, you have to go to the main hospital, to the special foreigners section, where they will tell you where to go and what to do. No autonomy, but organised, efficient equanimity. In the UK, with capitalist ideology running a nationalised service, there´s no autonomy and no organisation, but at least its expensive.

In the afternoon I went to see the castle and cathedral, which I had been putting off becaue they´re up a hill. On the way I passed the Earth From Above exhibition, which is touring the world and was in London not long ago, so you may have seen it. Its a series of stunning pictures of, surprisingly, earth from above. Attached to each one is a small comment on the state of humanity from a similarly vaunted moral perspective. "The US burns x% of the world's oil" etc. etc. The blurb at the entrance insisted that the text and photos are inseparable, so I dutifully read each extract. I was, however, the only person I met who obeyed this particular injunction, so it's possible the exhibition won't have quite the effect the artist was hoping for.

The cathedral and castle are impressive to look at and from, with a view of all of Prague. I loitered for a couple of hours, before heading back into town for the evening´s entertainment- Mozart´s Don Giovanni performed by puppets. Inspired. I didn't know the plot beforehand, and I still don't, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The music was a recording of the London Philharmonic, so not bad, then. The puppeteers were skilled, using marionettes, which google informs me are possibly the hardest types of puppet to manipulate (let alone sword-fight and seduce convincingly), as well as various kinds of glove and rod puppets. Apparantly it's not normally a comedy, but this was very funny (contrasting content/medium, style/substance, that kind of thing).

The lure of free internet access kept me at the hostel until after midday on the 26th. It was a fine day, but you could tell the good weather was coming to an end. I had a vague idea of following the route that one of the guided cycle tours uses between Vienna and Prague, but they don´t advertise their precise route, (you have to pay $3,000 for that kind of information) so I wasn't sure where I was going or how to get there. Having been resting for a week and missed the first half of the day, this resulted in a 25km ride taking 2hours of actual movement but 5hours of the day. I stopped at 5pm at a campsite,(I decided this is the latest I ought to stop, as shops close in the countryside and the nights are drawing in). I had 250 Czech crowns. After some time spent wandering the site, and the neighbouring garage (where a mechanic pointed out for me the house of the campsite owner). I knocked on the door, waited, knocked again, waited again, rang the bell, waited and finally banged on the door. I heard a voice above me, and looked up, to see a man leaning out of a first floor window.
-Erm, hello! I´d like to camp
-OK
-How much is it?
-100crowns
-Where should I go?
-Anywhere

This exchange was later modified, when he had recovered his senses, to 200crowns and you´ve pitched your tent in the wrong place.

I had enough for the pitch, but I was hungry, and I didn´t have enough left to buy dinner.

-Ten minutes, I drive you to Bankomat.
-OK.

Ten minutes later, we drove to the supermarket in the next town, where he said
-OK. You get money. I pick you up, here, twenty minutes.

So I drew my cash, sat at the little cafe outside the supermarket, read my book, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After half an hour I was just irritated at being kept from my dinner, but after 45minutes I started to contemplate... scenarios. After an hour I went into the cafe and collared one of the waiters;
-I need a taxi...
-(with the surly insolence of almost all Czech waiters) We don´t have
-(a little agressively, perhaps) What don´t you have?
- a number for taxi
- so, do you know where they wait? can you look one up? can you please help me just a little bit?
He consulted his colleague and returned a moment later with a scrap of paper with a phone number on it.
-(pushing my luck) do you know the country code for Czech Republic?
He gave me a look that could cut diamond and stalked off. I dug out my Czech phrasebook in the hope that it would have a ´useful things you should know section´ that could answer my question. It didn´t, but it did print a helpline in full, countycode included. I rang the taxi company, who fortunately spoke decent English, and booked a cab.
- The car is a white VW. It will be there in thirteen minutes. (really, thirteen).

Aproximately thirteen minutes later, an hour and a half after I was dropped off, the VW pulls up. The campsite owner had still not reappeared. I asked the driver if she knew where she was going.
-No.

This was not an understatement.
She had a road map, on which I pointed out the campsite. We drove for about five minutes down roads that didn't seem to resemble the ones I took to get here, with me telling myself that she's not deliberately running up the meter, and she's not lost, the campsite owner was just local, knew the short-cuts. She, I reminded myself, has a map.
Then the road ahead became a gravel track. We turned around and she asked a passer-by for directions. After about 100m, she asked another. Eventually, with the meter reading the equivalent of around 3pounds, we reached the point where we started. I made a mental note, and prepared to engage in battle at the end of the trip.

Eventually we made it to the village, where she asked another pedestrian for directions to the campsite. He gave what seemed to be comprehensive instructions, and she drove confidently away. 30 seconds later, we were at the end of a narrow driveway, attempting to achieve a fifteen-point turn without falling in a stream or further damaging both car and property. Once we'd escaped, she asked a passing child, who pointed at the correct road. A 100m later, we sped past the campsite entrance.
-That was it.
-Oh.
She backed up. The meter read 450Kc, and I had determined that 300kc was a fair price. I was ready for war.
- (with a kind smile) Thats 300kc please
- Oh. Ok.

Throughout the otherwise fraught cab ride, I had been running through possible scenarios for when I arrive at the campsite.
What if the man's there, laughing with his friends at his brilliant practical joke?
What if he's there, loading all my stuff into a van?
What if he's there, polishing his gun?
What if he's not there, but is waiting at the supermarket?
What if I'd misunderstood the arrangement, and he was there all along, just around the corner?
What if he comes back, furious?
What if he never comes back?

He wasn't there, and my stuff was, so it wasn't a joke or a robbery. I went into the restaurant and ordered a beer.

In the event, he reappeared after I'd finished my dinner, and was moderately apologetic. I asked what had gone wrong,
-A private problem.
There's not much you can say to that.

Dinner, by the way, which was after all the initial cause of all this hassle, was an interesting combination of bland and slightly nauseating ingredients, brought together in an unimaginative and almost certainly unhygenic fashion.

It has to be admitted that, as a rule, Czech cuisine is little altered in appearance by the digestive process, but it's normally palatable, wholesome and nutricious. This is also probably true of prison food. As Autumn approaches, however, meaty stodge that sticks to your ribs and repels the wintry chill seems increasingly appealing.
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