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on to Prague

Went for a last walk Saturday morning in Berlin, around the museum district that has a cluster, one after another, of the most magnificent Teutonic buildings. I watched armies of Roma women with baby carriages fan out all at once and begin their day, as if they punch a time clock and set off, begging. There are so many of them, I wonder if anyone gives them a thing, but there they all are, with their silent babies. Saw a great official neon sign: HIER NO TRAFFIC IS!!! On the way back, passed the huge, ornate New Synagogue and decided to visit. The armed guards told me the building was closed. I forgot it’s Saturday. Some half-Jew I am.

So then to the train by taxi, which was incidentally a Mercedes. The station is a spectacular modern building, and the train was 100% on time, as you would imagine. It was a beautiful trip, sailing through the countryside beside a river, looking at small villages pressed into the mountains, like multicoloured Monopoly houses with pointed roofs in the woods. Ate my many snacks, read, looked out the window, and descended, heart pounding, in the bitter cold in Prague. Got 1000 Czech koruna at the station, without knowing what that was worth. (Now I know – about $50.) The cab – most emphatically NOT a Mercedes – dropped me off at the front door of my friend Helen’s place in the heart of Prague, and I advanced, with her keys in hand.

Aha. No keyhole. How am I to insert a key when there’s no keyhole? There’s a number pad beside the door but it looks very old. Now I remember that Helen told me something about getting in the front door, but it was months ago and I cannot remember what it was. I organized everything about this trip, lists for days, but forgot there was special information about getting in the front door. And of course, no cell phone. Should I kick myself now or later? Some young men go by – I show them the door and the keys and ask, in a mix of English and German, if they know how to get in. They have no idea. I knock and knock but no one answers.

I am standing in the cold with my bags, looking at a very tall, very closed door, when it starts to pour with rain. This is not the high point of my trip.

Two more young people go by and I beg them, in a mixture of German and English, to make a call on their cell phone. They kindly stand in the rain (under their umbrella) with this panicked woman. I manage to find the number of Helen’s nearby friend and call her. She’s there but has no idea how to get in either – she always just buzzes Helen. More rain.

And then my saviour – a young woman comes along and goes in this very door! Thank you, lord. Now I remember – you hold the discreet keychain up to the discreet white panel near the wall, and the door magically opens. Adrenalin pumping, weak at the knees, I drag my bag up three flights and encounter the next panic – I can’t get Helen’s door open. Twist the top key and the bottom key left and right, get confused, get my finger trapped in the door. Finally it opens. Inside, I just lean against the wall with my eyes closed, collapsed in gratefulness. And then I wrap a cold cloth around my finger, which is turning purple.

I decided at that point that I shouldn’t do these trips alone any more. I’m just too stupid technologically, and I panic too easily. It’s not as if I’m going to have to camp in the local park in the rain if I can’t get in the door; I know that. But still, my heart pounds as wildly if I’m confronting a terrible enemy. Which I guess I am – my own irrationality and terror.

I sit down and take the place in – my, how lucky I am, now that I’m inside. It’s beautiful – spacious, bright, warm. Nothing on earth would persuade me to leave this place, go out into cold, rainy Prague, and risk not getting back in again in the dark. So I rummage and find half a bottle of white wine in the fridge – it may be months old but it tastes delicious to me – and some pasta and a little bottle of pesto. Supper. And the internet works, poached from some neighbour’s wifi. I am at home. The bed is ready and warm and heaven.

Today I met the children of a friend of a neighbour for brunch – they grew up in Cabbagetown to Czech parents and are living in their parent’s apartment here while studying Czech at university. In the summer, they return to go to the cottage up north; I told them that sounds like just about the perfect life – winters in Prague, summers on an Ontario lake, in between, Cabbagetown. And then they took me to the old town here. The city is as mind-bogglingly beautiful as they say, stunning buildings painted in bright colours, cobbled streets, towers, churches, palaces, theatres … I can see how location managers love this place for nineteenth century movies – there are whole stretches where there is nothing modern and you expect to see Mozart striding along.

But when my young friends left me, after much walking in the cold and rain, I did some grocery shopping, consulted my map fourteen times, and made my way back. I had another struggle to confront – to find a way to get from here to Paris next weekend. It turns out I made a logistical mistake – I should have flown from London to Prague and come back to Paris via Berlin, rather than the reverse. I’d thought there’d be a direct train from Prague to Paris; no such luck. To get the train to Paris, I’d have to go back to Berlin and then on, a trip of some 16 hours with two or three changes. There’s an overnight student bus but of course, not on the day I need it. There are cheap EasyJet type flights, but with those, you’ve got to get to and from airports and never know, in any case, if they are actually going to depart or not. All that has taken nearly three hours and the help of my young Czech friend via email to ascertain, and I still don’t know what to do. So again, I’m not going back out there this evening. Once I’ve made my final plans, I can relax.

I’m not as good at this jet-setting business as I’d like to be. Sometimes it feels like I’m not good at it at all.

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2 Responses to “on to Prague”

  1. Carolyn says:

    Hi Beth,
    I'm completely in awe of your solo travelling prowess. I just watched Anthony Hopkins in The World's Fastest Indian the other night and, being a complete wimp myself, have been inspired to drive myself thirteen hours to Trail, BC for a wedding no one else can go to. Maybe I should do it on a motorcycle…Nope, not me!
    I think it's important to keep those rusty wheels of independence turning. The ability to fulfill a dream depends on it. Keep on travelling!

  2. beth says:

    Carolyn, thank you for your encouraging words. Love the "rusty wheels of independence"! I think one of the problems is that when a solo traveller hits a slump, as everyone does when travelling – particularly right in the middle – there's no one nearby to say, "Buck up, princess, you'll be fine."

    Mind you, if someone nearby said that to me, I might have to hit that person, so perhaps it's just as well I'm on my own. It's those moments of sheer terror that get me, not helped by my melodramatic nature.

    Thirteen hours to Trail is a great adventure. A motorcycle would hurt for that long. We don't want actual pain, just adventure. As Wayson always says, "Onward!"

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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