October 29th, 2007

The Bone Church

I took the train out to the Bone Church, an ostuary in Kutna Hora, a tiny old town an hour outside of Prague yesterday, meeting some fellow tourists on the way: a couple from the States (Audley and Richard) and a girl, Melissa, from South Korea. We stuck together and had a great time talking and taking in the sights as we wandered around. The Bone Church was great in its creepiness; big piles of bones stacked on top of eachother in neat piles, and the walls decorated with bones. Even a giant chandelier of bones hung from the ceiling. 

Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the vast majority of shops and businesses were closed. We took a bus from the church to the old city center, which was filled with winding streets and beautiful old buildings. I had a riot with my carmera, everything was so picturesque. We stopped in at a restaurant for lunch (had breaded trout with toffee and almonds - SO GOOD), and then we all trekked up to an enormous cathedral that was near by. The view was breathtaking. 

Melissa and I, hoping to catch the 3pm train back to Prague, waved goodbye to Audley and Richard and headed back to the bus stop. Except we couldn't find it. We searched desperately trying to find it, but seemed to just go in circles on the old medieval streets. Melissa began to accost each and every local demanding in English that they tell us where the bus stop was - it was a bad approach, and most people just sneered and shooed her away. I wished she would just let me do the talking. I had at least picked up "please" and "thank you" in Czech and knew to approach people in a humble rather than aggressive way.

Suddenly Melissa turned to me and declared that she had left her book back at the restaurant and had to go back for it. I waved, letting her go. I would have left the book behind - we were lost in the middle of nowhere with no way back to the train station, and with the last train leaving at 6pm, we were rapidly running out of time. She left me and I was on my own, which was both frightening and a relief. I found the bus stop pretty easily using my map and backtracking our steps, but after I waited for a half hour with no bus showing up I began to sweat a little. No bus? There were no taxis that I could see, either. And no one out on the street... It was 4pm and I was fucked. The sky was growing dark and it was getting cold. I began to hike in the direction of the train station, hoping to find someone who could help me along the way. But although I did run into several people, none of them would give me the time of day. I got the feeling that there is a great deal of animosity towards tourists in that town. I was laughed at by some and others rolled their eyes and just kept walking. My time was running out. 

I finally came to a cafe where a girl took pity on me and pointed up a street. "Go up there and you will find the old city square. There are taxis there." I thanked her with all my heart and found the taxis waiting on the square, just as she had said. I jumped in a cab and high-tailed it to the train station where Audley and Richard sat waiting for the 5pm train. They too had waited for the bus that did not come, and they too had had an awful ordeal making their way back to the train station. We laughed in relief about the whole situation. But I feared for Melissa, because even as we got on the 5pm train she had still not made it back. I wonder if she ever found her book.

I got back into Prague around 6:30pm and went into the old town area for dinner. I treated myself to roast duck with bread dumplings and two big beers, and all of the stress from dealing with Czech public transportation melted off of me. 

Although, I must say that after such a difficult experience I was hardly looking forward to dealing with any more trains, which was unfortunate as I had to ride the night train to Wroclaw in just a few hours. I made my way to the train station to wait for it.  
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From Prague to Wroclaw

I got to the train station two hours early so I would be sure to make my train. Wandering into the station washroom I placed the appropriate coin in the dish, and taking a serving of toilet paper from the roll I went and stood in line. Two women were ahead of me in line and they seemed upset and soon stormed out. I waited for a stall to open up for a good five minutes before I noticed that no one was opening up. In fact, they were trading. One would come out of one stall and go into another; there was more than one chick in every stall. And then it hit me. These women live here. This is where they stay at night.

I took my coin back out of the dish, threw my toilet paper out and left the bathroom. The ladies room on the second floor was happily legit, so I wasn't completely out of luck.

I sat for hours watching people go to and fro, and watched the schedule update on the board. Finally my train was due to depart. It had come all the way from Moscow, according to the board. I asked the man at the information window which gate I should go to (just to double check) and he told me "two", just as the board has indicated. 

My train was already there when I get to the platform, and a large blond woman with pink lipstick in a blue uniform was taking tickets. I gave her my ticket and she looked at it perplexed as though there was something wrong. I began to ask if everything is alright, and she loudly and quickly said a lot of things that I didn't understand and waved me up into the train. 

Once on board I had no idea where to go. The car was filled with sleeper compartments, but I had no idea which one I should be in, so I went back down to the blond woman and tried to find out. She ignored me for the most part, and with another string of words I didn't understand she pointed me back into the train. So I went back in and made myself comfortable in one of the compartments. 

Twenty minutes later my peace was disturbed by one of the other conductors, and she was Not Happy. I got the feeling I had taken her spot (I had thought maybe the compartment was a little too nice). I shrugged and indicated that the large blond woman has allowed me to sleep there. There followed a scuffle of words between the two conductors, after which the blond woman came over to me and smiled, nodding that I should stay in the compartment.

I set my alarm for 4am so I would be awake for my transfer at Katowice and tried to get some sleep. I lay for hours in the dark, but was too stressed to sleep. I didn't trust the conductors to take care of me or make sure I got to where I needed to be, so I sat up, gathered my things, and readied myself to leave at a moments notice. The conductor had taken my ticket, so I had no idea when we would be arriving at Katowice. Every time the train made a stop I noted the station name. Hours ticked by slowly as the scenery floated by. We eventually hit a boarder and police came onboard for the passport check. I got my stamp and we were soon on our way.

Around 3am the blond conductor saw me sitting up with my backpack, and she yelled at me at length. "Katowice," I told her but she just shook her head. "No Katowice?" I asked, and she shook her head, waving her hands in irritation to dismiss me, and left to go to her cabin. I began to fear that I was on the wrong train. What if we were going TO Moscow, rather than riding on a train FROM Moscow? The dark scenery continued to stream by and I considered what I would do if I was in fact lost somewhere in the middle of the Ukraine or Russia. The words "American Embassy" crossed my mind.

At 4:30am we finally pulled up at the Katowice station and I thanked my lucky stars. Running down the train passage I found the blond conductor asleep in her cabin. "Katowice!" I announced to her loudly. She woke with a start and flailed around, looking for my ticket in the dim light. Thrusting it to me we made our way down to the exit, where she opened the door with her special key and let me out. I smiled weakly and waved, and she blearily smiled and waved back.

I found my way to the correct platform in time for the transfer, and I was safely on my way to Wroclaw. I sat in a crowded compartment, and leaned my head against the window to sleep. The woman across from me touched my knee and I opened my eyes to see that she had rolled up her coat into a pillow for me to put under my head, and I took it thankfully, comforted by the faux fur and smell of her perfume. I got two hours of sleep before we got to Wroclaw, and I handed the coat back with deep thanks before I got off.

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