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Lost in Prague

For many, many years I had a terrible sense of direction. I would get lost walking from my house to the bus stop. It didn't help that the house was situated at an odd angle on the corner of a 5 way intersection. I wouldn't know my North from the West if my life had depended on it. I knew how to get home and how to get to school, but for all else, I depended on others around me. In the middle of the night, in a foreign country where English was barely spoken, I had a rude wake-up-call at 23 years old and to this day I have a hard time realizing how lucky I am to be alive.


Bill and I had gone to Germany for Stefan and Barbara's wedding. It was the first time I had been back to Germany since we moved away in 1982. I hadn't remembered anything about the beautiful Country in which I was born except for the briefest of flashes during that moment I found myself reminiscing over my life with my grandfather while stuck in that layer between death and life. Even then it was too limited to really know anything about where I had been born. All I could tell anyone was that I was born in Kaiserslautern.


I had dreamed of going back to Germany for many years. For my 16th birthday my parents bought a VHS tape about tourism in Germany and took me to the only German restaurant in Ogden. It was a birthday worth remembering. So when I found out that there was a chance to go see where I was born, I jumped at it, eager to see the world.


We flew into New York City with the aspirations of seeing a Broadway show with some other people who were also headed to the wedding over seas. I couldn't believe it - this trip was going to give me two of my greatest dreams! Next to Germany, my other top item on my 'bucket list' was to go to a Broadway show!


Unfortunately things happen and my dreams of seeing the show were dashed upon the rocks like a ship lost in a storm. With Richard and Gloria, things often "came up" at the last minute, so that trip we never made it to Broadway. We had a quiet dinner in a restaurant with a 2 hour wait for a table. All I kept thinking was that we could have spent that 2 hours at Broadway, Damn the meal. The next day we were boarding a flight to Germany though, so I didn't let it dampen my spirits.


We flew into Frankfurt on a 14 hour flight with me stuck in a broken seat that wouldn't recline. Gloria's snide condescension drove me up the proverbial wall. I'd never truly liked her very much anyway, but I had always been good at being 'pleasant' to her in social situations. I grabbed out my ear buds and popped them in when the movie started with the intention of drowning her out. My in-flight head set didn't work right for the movie though, and by the time we got there I was so bored with word search puzzles that I never wanted to see another for as long as I lived and it was all I could do to restrain myself from knocking Gloria unconscious - but we were THERE. We had made it to Germany!


My nerves were a bit frayed at this point from lack of sleep and the occasional condescending blast from Gloria. Society cant pin that many people into a cramped space with screaming kids and falling hat boxes without expecting those who know one another to be cranky with one another. We're constricted by social graces to be kind to strangers, but with people we know, we can be our cranky selves. By the time we loaded up in the rented diesel station wagon, the four of us were snapping like bears in the salmon run. We were each out for blood and we knew it.


Even the ever-patient Richard grew testy. I was ready to claw Gloria's eyes out with just one more snide comment about how I was too young to know about this or that, or that I didn't know about a particular social grace because I didn't "grow up with money" as she put it. I couldn't help but think to myself that she most likely didn't either. Due to the way she spoke to those around her, I guessed that I had more class, dignity and grace in my little finger nail than she possessed in her entire body. There were certain things I'd never understand according to her because she was a nurse and I wasn't. There was something about Gloria that I truly despised. Later on I discovered what the underlying reason was for her condescension and knew that I was justified in my dislike of the woman. I'll save that story for another day.


Gloria had been rude each time she thought even for a second that it couldn't be overheard by the men. I wasn't the type of person to complain, so when some of her remarks were overheard inside the car, Bill started to realize there was something going on. He knew me well and could tell when I didn't like someone, but he didn't say anything to me about it. He thought it was all in my mind, most likely. She proved that it wasn't all in my mind, Gloria really did NOT like me. She made that trip almost unbearable for me, but vindicated me at the same time.


We drove from Frankfurt through East Germany and straight in to Prague, only getting lost once or twice on the way. We got there late at night and settled in to a Bed and Breakfast where we would be staying for the next few days. Before even 10 minutes passed, we were settled into bed for the night, exhausted from the long journey. Each of us felt as though we either had a plane or a car growing out of our buts.


The next day we found ourselves wandering Prague. We visited the famous sights, took tours of castles far removed from the city and purchased typical "tourist" items like watercolor paintings of the famous clock tower. We watched the fire eaters and sword jugglers on the Charles bridge, we peered in awe at the blue glass in the shop windows along every street. The church was stunning. Prague was one of the most beautiful cities I'd ever seen in my life. By the time we stopped into the bar for a quick meal though, we were starving and tensions were high once more.


We drank fresh Pilsner beer, marveling at the massive difference between that and what we get in the States. With the beer, lips became loose and we all began to have words. Gloria had pushed me to the limit, and when Bill said something to me, I took in a negative way. Honestly I don't even remember what he said, but tempers were flared and I was more frustrated than I let on.


Without warning, I snapped. I walked out of the bar leaving the three of them sitting there. Gloria huffed behind me, complained about my being so immature because of my age, and sighed in complete impatience and ignorance.


Bill thought I would be right back. My own stubborn pride refused to allow me. I stayed outside for a few minutes, but Bill came out and I couldn't handle a discussion right then. He strode out with purpose and told me that he wanted to talk to me. He didn't sound happy and I really didn't want to start screaming at him in the middle of the crowded street. I walked away into the crowd and didn't look back.


If I were to guess, I would estimate the time was around 5 in the evening. I was hungry and angry, a dangerous combination for a redhead. Had anyone messed with me right then, they would have had the fight of a lifetime on their hands. I didn't stop walking. I walked past familiar shop windows, my face steaming. I practically sped across the Charles Bridge, striding with purpose past the stunt performers and street dancers. I blazed past the musicians with open guitar cases. When I passed the station, I dug into my pockets. I had no money so I couldn't take the train anywhere - I just kept walking. By the time the sun went down, I strongly wished I hadn't left my jacket at the table. It had been hours since I walked away from the table and my hunger was getting the better of me. I told myself to remember the Saltine crackers, and I just kept walking.


Dark, shady cars filled with dark, shady faces slowed down to look at me. Taxi's offered me a ride, but with no currency there wasn't much I could do. I ignored the young men making eyes at me. When the three men carrying hand guns down the middle of the road with the large, scary guy carrying an assault rifle walked past me, I refused to make eye contact. Prague turned out to be a little frightening at night.


I tried to tell myself that I was going the right direction, but I wasn't really sure. Some of the streets I wandered down started to look familiar, like I had seen them once or twice before. I walked past the Prague clock tower at least three times. I walked back across the Charles bridge no less than three times, too.


The smiling faces of the flame throwers became the grimacing mugs of tattooed fire eaters as the sun set. The sword jugglers became the night's assassins, out for my blood. The shops with the lovely blue glasses were suddenly dark and empty recesses filled with sinister shadows. Around every turn I found something waiting to swallow me into this strange world.


When finally I found the main street leading out of Prague, it was nearing 11 at night. I was all alone on the streets of a foreign country where I didn't even speak the polite words like please and thank you in the native tongue. Even if someone were to attack me, I couldn't beg for my life properly. Not that I would do something like that. I couldn't cry out for help. I didn't know the streets, so I couldn't even run away. I had no allies. I was stranded and alone in the dark night of a dangerous land.


In the year 2003 the Czech Republic had some of the highest crime rates for several of the surrounding nations. When the sun goes down in Prague, girls get kidnapped and sold as sex slaves. I couldn't believe as I wandered the frightening streets of Prague at midnight that I had once again put myself into that position.


I was certain that by now Bill had gotten Gloria and Richard to agree to look for me. I was lost, cold, alone and frightened. I was hungry and tired. But I knew that since I was finally on the main road, it was only another 2 hour walk back to the Bed and Breakfast just outside of town. I could see a possible shortcut in front of me to cut about an hour off of my travel. The scariest part would be having to walk parallel to the railroad tracks, trying to avoid eye contact with the street bums. I was no stranger to that tactic, so I decided to go for it.


The industrial section of Prague spewed black smoke into the air, making the dark night even darker, enveloping the stars in a thick soot that settled on everthing around me. Flames spat into the air from the chimneys, allowing brief glimpses of my surroundings. I stumbled once and fell on my hands and knees. When I stood up to dust myself off, I looked to see what it was I had stumbled over. There behind me was a leg poking out from under a blanket. It was cold to the touch, like ice. The blanket wasn't wrapped around the body at all, but rather just tossed on top. I wondered if the body was even alive. The chimney vomited more flames and black soot, and under one corner of the blanket I saw the face.


His eyes were dark, hollow shells. He stared off into nothing, vacantly resting on a pile of broken wood and shattered bricks. Even staring straight into his face I couldn't tell if he was alive or not, but I strongly assumed he wasn't.


I bolted. I ran for all I was worth, tearing up the ground beneath me with each foot fall. I clinched my teeth together to avoid screaming. Bones were littered here and there; I couldn't help but wonder if they were human or not. The chimney kept belching out black, ominous clouds over bright flashes of evil flames. The world had never seemed so dark.


I shivered, partially from cold but mostly from fear. I stumbled my way down the tracks. Dogs howled and barked in the distance and I suddenly had flashes in my mind of running from a pack of German Shepherds as they tracked me down and ate me for trespassing. I splashed through an open sewer and up the side of the embankment, scrambling and clawing at the hill side for something to pull myself up. The dogs sounded closer with every second. I grappled my way over the chain link fence and fell in a heap on the other side.


An hour later, I realized I was damn lucky I made it all the way back.


Bill was rightfully angry at me when he found me at 3:30 in the morning snuggled up in bed after a hot shower, sound asleep, I don't remember what was said or for how long he said it, but looking back on that frightening night, I'm sure I deserved every moment of it. What I had done was incredibly impulsive and ridiculously dangerous. I don't know exactly what I was thinking that day, if I was thinking at all.

I had been so scared and cold that night wandering around in a strange city thousands of miles from home that I didn't care how long he yelled at me, I was just happy to be back.


Until now I never told a soul about the train yard of Prague. Not even Bill.



 


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3 comments:

  1. I'm pretty glad you survived the night too. There was a lot of human trafficing happening back then between Prague and the darker parts of the old Eastern Bloc like Romania and Russia. That side of Prague was no place for a pretty girl to be alone at night, let alone one with no money or ability to speak the language. The UN named Prague the hub of the the sex slave trade that year. http://www.rense.com/general47/sexs.htm

    Which is why I went a little crazy prowling the streets on foot and in taxis looking for you looking for you. I don't recall any yelling that night, though you probably deserved it. Turned out to be a small (but scary) blemish in an otherwise great trip I think. Then there was the lotion...

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  2. Amanda:

    I too, have no sense of direction.
    Actually, I often get lost a couple
    of blocks from my home here in L.A.
    Really stupid, as I have lived here
    for thirty years! I often have to turn
    the car around and retreat to get to my
    goal. Especially on Fountain Avenue.
    So ironic when my whole image is traveling
    to interesting places and showing viewers
    how good they are. I have learned, however,
    how to get to Palm Springs but only after
    driving, flying, hitchhiking and by train.
    Maybe about a thousand times. Takes practice.
    Glad I didn't get lost when I visited Corsica.
    The local police though I was a spy as I was
    the only American in Ajaccio, Corsica.

    Rog

    ReplyDelete
  3. We all let our tempers get the best of us sometimes (esp us redheads) I'm just glad you lived to tell the tale.....I know how scary it can be when you get all turned around...

    ReplyDelete

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