I will get back to updating you on the 50 or so days between York and our return to Europe, but here is our arrival in Prague…
And a belated best wishes to Heather and Gavin on their 33rd wedding anniversary on 1st August.
Day 89 – Friday 1st August
It is 9.10pm and I am sitting here at Eva’s kitchen table in Suchdol (pronounced Sookdol) just outside of Prague. I am supposed to be writing, which, obviously I am, but Eva has the most amazing array of books, and I haven’t read anything other than travel books or the Internet for three months.
I have an excellent book before me, but I have made a deal with myself, chronicle today’s events and I can sit down and read instead of writing… so, here goes… This might be quick, but knowing my attention to detail, it probably won’t be.
We arrived in Prague just after 6.30pm last night. Eva lives in a village called Suchdol, about 11 kilometres north of the train station, just on the outskirts of Prague.
I had met Eva in India in 2009. We had studied Hindi together, my second language and Eva’s fifth. The moment I met her I liked her a lot, Eva is just one of those people, and, of course, I was in awe of her fluency in four languages. I had forgotten until last night that when we arrived in Nalunna I was the intermediate student and Eva was a beginner. It wasn’t long before she was ‘promoted’ to my class.
I had absolutely no confidence speaking Hindi to Hindi speakers, whereas Eva would just wing it, and successfully too, I might add! I recall our first Saturday morning at Nalunna, we had no classes so Eva and I decided to go into Uttarkashi to do some admin, including using an Internet café, and an ATM. There, where the bazaar met the shopping precinct, stood the town’s only operational ATM, and we were at the end of a queue of about eight men.
“From which country do you inhabitate?”
I saw it as an opportunity to practice some language skills, and definitely to win back the place in the queue that I was sure the speaker had just positioned himself to take. My memories of queuing at the enquiries counter at the crowded New Delhi Railway Station were still vivid. Eva, on the other hand, shrewdly saw an opportunity. She was confident, engaging, ready to converse, especially in the prevailing language, and had a wicked wit.
Two fair haired western women were always going to stand out in a town of mostly Indians, Tibetans and Nepalese. But two fair-haired western women who spoke the local language, now that was something to behold. So as we engaged in a conversation of fractured Hindi and English, the entire queue of Indian men at the ATM gathered around to witness this rare and wondrous spectacle.
While I was trying to remember the verb “to write” Eva launched her coup de ta.
“India bahut sundar hai, lekin ham intazar pasande nahin hain”
“India is very beautiful, but we don’t like to wait”.
The response was immediate. Our new friend immediately ordered all those ahead in the queue to stand aside and for the two young men at the machine to cancel their transaction. Without hesitation or complaint the six men ahead in the queue stepped aside and we were ushered into the small room that housed the ATM. There was a momentary awkwardness as everyone in the queue also joined us in the tiny cubicle or looked through the open door or glass walls.
Ordinarily someone looking over your shoulder while you used an ATM was cause for concern, but here in Uttarkashi, it seemed only natural. Eva inserted her card while the crowd instructed her on the use of the machine.
Eva needed to pay her accommodation account so, to the amazement of the onlookers she withdrew the maximum allowable per transaction, not once, but twice. 20,000 rupees for many people in this region would be three months wages.
When Eva finished it was my turn. I hadn’t decided how much I needed to withdraw but that turned out to be something of a moot point as I followed the instructions of the men peering over my shoulder in the crowded booth.
“Enter PIN”, they instructed, so I did, “Account”.
Again I dutifully obeyed.
“One, zero, zero, zero, zero.”
Once again, I followed their instructions, to the number…
“Ten thousand!” They rejoiced, laughing and cheering as the machine struggled through its third consecutive maximum transaction.
It seemed pointless to worry about the lack of privacy at the ATM so we stashed our cash and made our way out, farewelling and thanking our helpers and leaving behind a machine with greatly diminished cash reserves and a group of men who may, or may not, be able to transact their business.
As we walked away we reflected on the fact that a group of complete strangers, in a small remote town in the Himalayas now knew our PINs, and that we were unaccompanied. Strangely, thousands of kilometres from home, this just didn’t really seem like much of a problem.
I also remember driving back up into the mountains after Eva and I had done an impromptu trip down to Dehradun. I was sitting in the back seat of Maniji’s hard top Mahindra. Eva was in the front. She was chatting to me in English, then she made a birthday call to a friend in Czech, then she turned to Maniji and answered a question and held a conversation with him in Hindi.
I can’t say I felt inadequate, because I’m not (unless you need and Czech or Hindi interpreter), but it is true that I wished I had that sort of grasp on multiple languages.
Last night we also met Rysiek, Eva’s boyfriend. Rysiek flew in from London last evening.
As you would expect, we had a wonderful evening, chatting and reminiscing, and trying to convince Paul and Rysiek of India’s virtues as a tourist destination. Sadly, for Paul our words were wasted, but perhaps Eva will have more luck with Rysiek.
So, after sleeping until after 8.30am (can you believe it??), we breakfasted, saw Eva and Rysiek off on their holiday, and made our way into Prague.
On our last day in Budapest we randomly travelled on trams, making our way to the outskirts of the city, or to the limits of that tram’s route, and then catching another tram back again. We decided that we should have done this on our first day and not the last. It’s a great way to see the city and find interesting places that aren’t necessarily in the travel guides.
So today, we boarded the number 14 tram. We travelled roughly east, then north across the river. We got off and jumped on a number 1 tram which took us west, past the Generali Arena. We got off at Hradčanská and changed to a 26, which took us back across the river by the Štefánikův Most (bridge), past the Municipal House and east through the city. After we’d reached the extremities of our map we disembarked and caught the return tram into town.
Did we scratch the surface?
But did we conclude that Prague is a most beautiful city?
We coffeed at ‘Paul’ on Na Příkopě (this translates roughly to ‘on the moat’) on the way back to Můstek metro station, and stopped to buy some groceries in the supermarket at the station. Shopping is relatively straightforward, trying to interpret words in a completely foreign language. Are we buying sweet or savoury biscuits? Usually I check the line below what I think is the carbohydrate content to see what the sugar content is. Is that a strong or a mild blue cheese? That is just pot luck, and I have been pretty lucky. There are some great blue cheeses over here.
Groceries in hand we arrived home feeling very relaxed about this part of the world. Prague really is beautiful! But the best part is coming home to a wonderful retreat on the outskirts of the city, and sitting amongst the lavender and herbs, enjoying a salad and a white wine while the neighbour’s cats come and rub themselves against your legs and demand a pat. Some things just transcend language barriers!