Friday, February 27, 2009

2008 River Cruise: (Sort of) Lost in Prague

Powder Tower in Prague. We should have made a left here, but we went straight instead.

After our Prague city tour and shopping around Old Town Square, me and my new friends G and N made our way back to the hotel. I had spent a couple of minutes with the tour guide getting directions. As it was I was the only person who knew which way to go. We started out going down the right street and reached the Powder Tower and kept walking. We made it to a major freeway intersection, crossed under the underpass, and realized quickly we were in the wrong place.

G and N became a little nervous and in a couple of minutes were starting to panic. I didn't know it at the time, but we were butting up against their biggest fear: getting lost in a foreign city. We started asking people passing by if they knew where the hotel was.

The first two people we stopped were two very nice young women. One spoke very good English. They didn't know where the hotel was but said it was nearby and offered to call it on their cell phones. We had no luck as they got connected to a woman in England (damn corporate hotel central reservations!), then we were disconnected. I managed to flag down a cab and we said goodbye to the two young women. The cab started shouting at us when we tried to get inside, "No passengers!" I closed the door and he drove off.

We crossed the street and met a delivery truck guy who couldn't speak English but was able to understand mostly what we were saying. G asked him if he could drive us there, but he refused as there was no room in the truck. She became angry, but we calmed her down. She kept saying all we had to do was have the hotel send a car to pick us up.

My two new friends were really starting to panic. I suggested we go back the way we came and start over again. I felt a little sheepish as I would have never allowed a situation like this to happen if I was on my own. I would have gotten a map and made someone mark off where we were starting and where the hotel was. Still, I wasn't afraid even if it was the late afternoon.

We finally met George, our knight in shining armor. George turned out to be from Oklahoma and he was an English teacher. He'd been living in Prague for over 10 years. He gently explained to G and N the best thing to do was get bus tickets and take right bus to the next stop. At this G and N became very agitated then I realized they were afraid of taking public transportation. I thought that was a little odd because we were only going to the next bus stop. George got us bus tickets, took us to the bus stop, made sure we got on the right bus, told us how to stamp our tickets, and sent us on our way. We tried to pay him, but he wouldn't accept our money, said we were insulting him by offering it.

He also told us not to take a cab under any circumstance because they're legendary for charging astronomical prices if you're a tourist. George was very kind and took so much time to help us with the bus tickets and helped me calm G and N down. Such a sweet man!

We met a lovely young woman on the bus who talked to G and N for a bit. I could see this was making them feel less afraid. Eagerly I looked around on the bus and paid close attention to our route. I love public transportation. Sure enough we drove right past our hotel and got off at the next stop about half a block away. It was getting dark when we walked back to our hotel, but I was feeling really good. I had enjoyed our little mishap.

When we got back to the hotel I found out that we should have made a left turn at the Powder Tower instead of going straight.

Later, I found out that G and N were well traveled but had never done anything outside of taking a tour. They'd never ventured forth on their own at all even when there was free time. On tours they take excursions but they're so afraid of being lost in a foreign city that they won't attempt to take public transportation even though it's much cheaper and a better way to see the inhabitants.

They also have a bad sense of direction. I know plenty of people don't have a good sense of direction, but it didn't take me long to figure out the reason why they never know where they are or where they're going is because they don't pay attention to their immediate surroundings. I'm always paying attention to where I am and looking around for landmarks when I travel. Sometimes I get turned around, but I can always find my way back to my destination.

G asked me later what I would have done had I been alone and gotten lost. My reply was it would have never happened. I would have been prepared with a map before starting out.

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