The first two hours of our visit to Prague were the worst hours of our 28 day trip. We landed, moved onto the bus, transferred onto a metro train like travel pros, and then emerged from the underground with the problem all travelers face in new to a town, “Which direction do I go now?” Good thing I have been in this situation before, I know that underground travel has a way of getting you turned around so I looked at my path to the hotel using Google Earth the night before and knew that we needed to head uphill on the street outside of the metro station. It is a valuable lesson I have learned by making mistakes in the past. I told my wife that we would be faced with an uphill walk of about three or four blocks on cobblestones. (I travel with a backpack/suitcase thing and my wife does the rolly carry-on suitcase thing, so uphill on cobblestones is harder for her.) Here’s the part I didn’t anticipate, the metro station where we were and the trolley station where I thought we were are not the same place.
So we walked uphill and it was a long uphill slog, much longer than three or four blocks and steeper than expected, and it was hot and humid…really hot and humid. We tried to escape the sun but it was close to noon and the sun bore down on our poor pale Pacific Northwest skin. I was sweating like Patrick Ewing in the fourth quarter of a summer league game. About halfway up the hill, I began to realize that we were off trail and heading in the wrong direction, in fact I knew right where we were–in the castle garden about two blocks too far east and 100 feet too high in elevation. We could look over the castle wall and see the road we were supposed to be on, but here’s the thing, a castle wall is intended to keep people from breaching them easily so there were no stairs down to where we should be walking. I suppose they could add some stairs now that the chances of a siege is not very likely, but hey, I’m the moron who didn’t know the difference between Malostranska and Malostanske namesti. (This is when I also started feeling pretty bad for my wife, so I started dragging her suitcase too, not because she isn’t a strong and capable lady, but because I felt guilty for adding five miles to our three or four block walk.)
There were two options, cut our losses and turn around and head back downhill and then head back up on the correct road, or continue uphill until we reached a point where we could find some stairs downhill. When presented with a lose lose situation I usually pick the option that has the most downside. The one that only a stubborn person would pick. The option that indicates that it was somebody else’s fault. So, we continued on the path that I knew was the wrong path because when you think about it, all roads are connected…eventually.
Then it happened, I knew just how to get to our hotel. I knew the path we were on and the path to the castle had a connecting road just up ahead. (I know these things because I spend too much time planning my trips instead of doing things like mowing the yard and planning for my retirement…and I remembered that Tom Cruise ran down the connecting street in one of the Mission Impossible movies.–Yes, I have seen all of the MI movies even though each time a new one comes out I say, “I’m not going to see that garbage. I hate Tom Cruise.” And, then, two weeks later I’m in the theater watching a Tom Cruise movie and feeling a sense of self-loathing like when I say, “I’m going to work out and eat well today” and then by five I’m still sitting on the couch eating another bag of chips.) I had a burst of energy and we climbed the rest of the way with renewed hope…and that is when we ran into a closed gate that had a note that said, “Closed for Security reasons.” Was the security reason, “Tom Cruise ran down this road and we can’t have that?” I don’t know what the security reason was, but I do know that I will never hate a gate as much as I hate that gate. If I knew I had three months to live, I’d travel back to Prague, rent a car, and then drive it down the road and through that gate. Then they might have a real security reason to protect the gate. (I would do this at night when the gate is completely unguarded so I wouldn’t hurt anyone else, or get shot in the head.) I walked up to the heavily armed guard and asked him a question that I knew the answer to, “Can you open this gate and let us through?”: Nope. I asked him how I could get to the road five feet beyond the gate, “Walk back down to that stairway, climb it, walk through the castle and then take ten turns to get back to the location ten feet away.” (His English wasn’t really great, but I translated for you so you wouldn’t have to tolerate a Czech guard not knowing English as well as I do.) So, I admitted defeat, I tucked my tail and added another moronic two kilometers to my three or four block stroll.
When we arrived at the hotel life became magical: Our room was upgraded, champagne was served, and ten minutes later we were sitting in the hotel restaurant overlooking Prague, I was drinking what the lady in a nearby table described to her husband as “a really big beer,” and my wife was drinking a Lemonchello for the price of a stick of gum in Oslo.
Our terribly stupid walk was the only negative thing that happened during four wonderful days in Prague, my wife didn’t want to leave, and neither did I.