Saturday, May 3, 2008

How I almost went for another ride with random Germans...

Life in a foreign country really is a rather fascinating thing. There are so many things we take for granted in the US. For instance, being able to speak and be understood, and conversely to understand most of what the people around you are saying. Then there's the ability to get in your car and just go. Any time, and place. If you want to be there, and can afford the crazy high gas prices, you can make it happen.

Generally speaking I'm a fan of public transport. It's usually fast and effective. The price is lower because you're not completely supporting the price of getting from point A to point B. It is relatively comfortable to take the train, although it would be awfully nice if they learned a thing or two about WD40 and didn't deafen me every time they stop! There is less pollution created, and fewer traffic jams. Well, at least in theory. However, there are days when I get internationally screwed. Yesterday was one of those.

I had a nice afternoon with Crystal in the little town of Loket, which has a lovely castle we were too cheap to actually go in this time. The weather was less than perfect, but we still managed to do some wandering and take photos of some glorious old Communist era cars. We also enjoyed fabulous thick hot chocolate at our favorite cafe where they generally speak English and have a really nice and clean bathroom.

We also checked out an old church we'd never been in before. While I'm not usually overly thrilled by the gaudy decorations in the old European churches, they usually possess some beauty, and a certain feeling that the people who put so much time into decorating them really did so with good intentions. This church, however, felt like something out of a horror film somehow. At every moment I was waiting for something to come crashing out from behind the curtains around the altar. The walls were cracked and the paint was mostly gone. The statues around the room looked gaunt and hollow. There was an obnoxious wind that kept blowing the doors open and causing them to squeak eerily which served to knock it up from mildly creepy to verging on haunted. Crystal did take a moment to light a candle, and I tried out the feeling of the confessional booth, but we both were pretty happy to get out of there, except that the rain was falling again.

The rain drove us out before very late and we headed back to Sokolov for the rest of the afternoon. I had a round trip ticket, and generally if you get off and have already had it stamped for a portion of the trip they won't let you back on, but fortunately the conductor seemed to recognize us from when we were traveling to Loket, and didn't stamp our tickets so I felt pretty confident that I'd be able to just get on in Sokolov and make it back home without having to buy another ticket.

We decided I should go back on the 6:15 train, giving me plenty of time to run through the grocery store before going home. In the end we rushed a bit to get there, but we managed to be on time. Thing was, the train wasn't there. A notice was given over the loudspeaker indicating a delay of some kind, but not being able to actually speak Czech, we just had to satisfy ourselves with the fact that 6:15 was only a rough estimate for my departure time. If only we'd realized then just how rough.

After about half an hour Crystal decided to run to the store in her town before it closed, and said she'd come back and see if I was still there after her shopping was done. I waited restlessly and watched as other travelers were growing impatient. An older lady started chewing out the conductors for the horrible treatment, and was clearly demanding a bus to take her to her destination. I didn't blame her, but had no way of throwing in my two cents worth.

At about 7 one of the conductors started explaining things to a teenage boy who was standing in expectant annoyance nearby. The boy headed off, and the conductor began to address all of us. Thing was, I had no clue what he was saying. Apparently the people standing next to me had no idea either. They were German, and could make even less sense of Czech than I can.

The conductor, who clearly spoke neither German nor English, came closer and continued to explain. With some patience I figured out that he was telling us of a bus we could take. I had trouble hearing if he was saying at 19 or 20, but eventually he wrote it down and pointed at a couple other teen boys, indicating that we were to follow them. The Germans and I shook our heads resignedly and followed the two boys toward the bus terminal nearby.

On our way there we ran into Crystal. She couldn't believe this was happening either. We stood at the station (it's all outdoors here) and waited as buses came and went, but none of them were for us. Somehow the 7:20 bus to Cheb never made an appearance. Crystal texted her roommate Che for more bus and train times, but it was far from hopeful. The next bus wasn't until after 9, and supposedly the next train would be there at 8:30, but that wasn't sounding very optimistic either.

We could only spend so long watching some of her students milling about the bus station bar, which is apparently a hip place to spend a Friday evening. Clearly carding isn't even thought of around here! The drinking age is 18, but these kids weren't even that old. Eventually we were too cold and frustrated to stand there any longer. Crystal suggested walking back to the train station to wait for the next train where it would at least be a bit warmer. It was at this point that the Germans decided to take action.

The man was really nice. He said they'd decided to call his brother who lived nearby in Germany to come and pick them up and they would be willing to drop me off in Cheb. The only problem was that they didn't have a phone. I was more than happy to lend them mine with the prospect of getting the whooha out of Sokolov. So he made the call, and Crystal agreed that it was no doubt as safe to travel with them as it had been when she and I randomly got a ride from my German student Fred who I had only met once before. My German skills are decent enough to understand what he was saying on the phone, and it was clearly all on the up and up, so we decided this was probably my best option to not end up staying there all night.

The brother agreed to come, and the Germans and I headed back to the train station while Crystal hurried home to drop off her perishables. The couple was very friendly. They'd been enjoying the day biking in Loket and Karlovy Vary. Sadly the weather hadn't been quite to their liking either. They asked me about my job and why I was in Cheb, and it was all very pleasant.

After several minutes in the train station the boys who had led us to the bus stop - and who had consequently gotten so bored of waiting they'd pulled out a lap top to entertain themselves, the joys of modern technology! - arrived back in the train station. They went to the counter and proceeded to express their unfortunate plight, in which we were also suffering. A few minutes later another conductor looking person came in, looking very hurried. He ended up coming over to the boys, and it appeared that he had a bus for us. I asked if it was going to Cheb and he nodded, so I thanked the Germans for their kind offer of a ride and bid them goodbye as I hurried out to get on the bus.

No one ever checked my ticket.

The bus did, indeed, take me back to Cheb. I arrived at my flat a full 3 hours after we went to the Sokolov station. Usually it would only take an hour total for the ride and the walk home. What insanity.

So like I said, public transport may have it's benefits, but there are definitely drawbacks as well. I'm just thankful I was finally able to make it home.


Rebekah said...

does this mean I get to cut & paste my comment too? :)

I'll give you this: it's more interesting in blue

Crystal said...

Superb account of the happenings.