Trying to Get to Israel Through Prague
It’s Monday I think. Or Tuesday. Honestly I have no idea. Last time I was able to post here, we were stuck inside of the JFK airport in New York. Since then, Delta Airlines has flown our small group all over the planet in it’s quest to get about 18 of us to Israel. Evidently one flight got cancelled. The one we were on. And ever since then, they just haven’t been able to get us all there. I’ve been on Twitter DM’ing with various different Delta Courtesy staff who are there for just these kinds of situations, but they can’t believe what we’ve gone through. They just keep responding “Can’t customer service at the gate help you all?” How in the world do screw-ups like this happen? An entire group of 20 people just abandoned in strange cities all over Europe? Crazy indeed.
So guess where we are? Nope, I can’t tell you what day it is, for I have no idea. All I’ve seen is airports and more airports for days and days now. But I do know where we are. Prague! As in the Czech Republic! Indeed. I know. Some of us that is. Others are in Dusledorph. Or Berlin. Or Amsterdam. We arrived a few hours ago. Good thing is that Delta had the foresight to fly us First Class due to the fact that we paid top dollar for non-stop tickets to Israel and non-stop is definitely NOT what we’ve experienced. I’ll tell you one thing: flying First Class makes all the difference in the world. Words don’t do it justice. They treat you so well you’d never want to fly any other way. The problem is that they just don’t have enough First Class seats on most airlines. I try to upgrade every flight I’m on, but there’s just never any availability. And no wonder. Between the all you can eat and drink gourmet selections and the hot washcloths every hour and the more than roomy cozy seats and the top notch service, it makes flying more than bearable, it’s almost downright enjoyable.
Long flight. But we made it. How the hell we ended up in Prague I’ll never know. This is one city that was never on my radar. I’ll tell you that. I’ve never even thought about the Czech Republic truth be told. This is a first for me. I usually don’t travel anywhere without having a valid reason to go and studying the hell out of it’s language and culture. But not on this trip. We’ve just been picked up and dropped here. Absolutely NO plan as to how they are going to get us to Israel. And there are already three or four from our group who have been there for days.
Was able to sleep a little bit on the plane. Due to the weird unexpected circumstances of the whole situation it was hard to relax and get some sleep. Due to the time changes, I have no idea what time it really is or how long I’ve been awake or even what day it is. Probably Monday. Or Tuesday. Not sure. Most of us have never been here before. So we are headed into the city proper to just check it out. Delta has no idea when we’ll be leaving. Before we headed out, I went up to the customer service counter and politely asked if we could be supplied with a club to relax in. She said that one could only use the club if one had a first class ticket booked and informed me that we had no tickets booked at all. “Well who’s fault is that?” I exclaimed. So instead I said, “You know what, forget a club. We’re exhausted. Give us a few hotel rooms while we were there.” The lady, who was Czech — they’re all pale-white and blue eyed by the way, very beautiful in the classic European style — was shocked by my request. But I simply stated the truth: there are 18 of us in total. We’ve been split up and we’re all over the map right now. Those of us here in your lovely city left our respective homes three or four days ago for a non-stop flight to Israel and here we are in Prague of all places! And still in the same clothes we were wearing four days ago. No showers. No bed… I mean, come on… Do the right thing here and give us a few hotel rooms. Lo and behold, she did. Thank God. I am nearing total exhaustion.
But first it’s off to see Prague. Two of our fellow travelers had just been here on vacation a year ago. So they actually know the city pretty well. In order to get into the city from the airport you have to take a tram for about a half hour, then get off and onto a subway, then get off and onto a bus and then get off and onto a trolley. Yes a trolley. God only knows what time our bodies think it is, but in local time it’s Monday morning. Or Tuesday… Not sure. The city is grey. It’s winter. We’ve driven through some very industrial areas. You definitely feel the old world here. The looks on the faces of some of our fellow travelers on the subway and bus were very weary. There is a sense of being left behind here. I have not studied Prague or the Czech Republic much, so I don’t know anything about it. I can’t speak about it. I was just floating basically. All I really wanted was to sleep. But I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. How often do we get a free day in Prague with nothing to do but sight-see? SO off we strode.
Getting to know the group better. Good little group. Young and old. The youngest person is about 27 years old and the oldest person is 93 or something crazy like that. Everyone else is sort of in between, mostly older people. In their fifties and sixties from what I can tell. All of them dedicated peace makers and vitally tapped into making the world a better place. This little jaunt into Prague is a much needed and welcomed distraction from what so far has been a hellish experience.
No complaint about the people here. They’re all certainly nice enough. As in many European towns, there are many tourists here. From all over the world. Prague evidently has plenty of history. We saw a gazillion castles and cathedrals, as you do in all major European cities. But there’s a certain smallness to everything here. Small streets. Small little villages. And everything is very very old. Why? Because it is old. As Americans it is something we are just totally NOT used to. two thousand year old castles and houses… It’s exhilarating, fresh, thought provoking. I saw the word Kafka somewhere, and then again. And was then reminded that THIS is where Kafka, the Kafka of my youth, was from. Went to see the little house and print shop where he lived for a while. That was awesome. Totally unexpected. You have to love these kinds of fortuitous chance encounters that life throws your way now and then. It could have been much worse. This was very special.
The Sprite in The Czech Republic is the strongest most sparkling I’ve ever tasted. Just as Sprite in Brasil is much sweeter than in The States, after some years of traveling one begins to realize that all is not always as we assume it is from the narrow confines of where we call home. Even universal absolutes — such as the flavor and character of your favorite soft drink or food shifts and differs depending on where one is in the world. I will never admit that it’s all in my imagination. I am a Sprite connoisseur, and I’m telling you that it’s just the strongest and most sparkling here in Prague that I’ve ever tasted. You can’t ask anyone because they’ve never tasted anything different.
Another thing you notice is that there are little beer shops everywhere, bars is what I guess you’d call them. Beer seems to be quite popular here. And there are also a ton of little coffee bars everywhere. You can stop on a walk to grab an espresso just about every few blocks. That’s nice. Price? About .75 cents converted to American dollars. Starbucks would never make it here.
The Czech people are staggering in their reserved politeness; at least in the presence of Americans. This is not France, Italy or Germany where they’d just as well prefer to have you never visit, let alone inconvenience themselves by conversing with you in English. In Prague at least nearly everyone we encountered spoke English. Or tried. This is no longer a rare occurrence. Most people of civilized nations speak English as a second language from the moment they enter elementary school. It is usually the Americans who are the least multi-lingual amongst their human brethren. All the Czech people we met at least attempted English. And they were all very nice.
The architecture was insanely ornate. Elaborate. Fancy. Big. This was once obviously a very wealthy city in Europe. As I said, not planning to come here, I just don’t know anything about it or it’s history. Would like to return with a little more planning. It’s quaint as all hell. Plenty of history. Nice enough people. Still can’t get over this dark eerie “land that time forgot” feeling that seems cast upon the place… But perhaps that has to do with the whole Cold War and the old USSR… That’s what it seems like.
We ended up at a very old restaurant, about twelve of us, everyone just wiped out tired. Many tried goulash for the first time. I had wiener-snitzel and sour kraut. And an ice cold beer. It was better than delicious. Perfect. On the way back we were walking along this promenade, a very long bridge that most will probably know the name of, for it’s evidently very famous. It was just like New York. There were tons of artists and vendors along the way both to your right and left, just sitting there ready to sell you some trinket or paint your portrait for a few bucks. Next to them every few yards was a musician of some kind. A clarinet player here. A guitarist there. An opera singer a few yards down from him. I was in the middle of a semi-deep conversation with The Javelin and I hear this familiar music. Sounded like Dixie Land jazz. But with a European feel to it. My eyes go wide and The Javelin asks “What is it? What do you hear?” “It can’t be” I say, rushing toward the music.
We fast-walk a few hundred feet and there on the bridge with the river behind them is this band featuring a very old and weathered looking washboard player that the guys and I were just watching on YouTube a few days before in the studio in Seattle. Couldn’t believe it. How on earth??? Well, let me explain. I wanted to add washboard to one of our songs on the new album. But we had no idea how to play the washboard. So we googled “best washboard player”. We ended up on YouTube watching all these videos that people had posted from all over the world of this one band. Evidently this one guy, a very old man with a long white scraggly beard, is world renowned for being one of the world’s coolest washboard players. Now truth be told, while we were watching the videos we didn’t even pay attention to where this band was. We were just analyzing his playing style and trying to learn how it’s done. But he was fantastic. He plays with all these thimbles on his fingers and thumbs. IN almost every song he takes a solo for a few seconds. It’s a very catchy rhythmic sounding instrument. If you would have asked me ten minutes later “where is that band with the washboard player from?” I wouldn’t have been able to answer you. We knew it was in some strange not very common European town. And here I am a week later taking an unexpected leisurely stroll on a bridge in Prague and bump into the exact same band. Tried speaking with the guys when their song was over but they didn’t speak a word of English. So we managed to snap a few pictures with them just to show the guys. Wouldn’t believe it unless there were a picture attached to that story.
It’s about midnight now. Another four of us from the group managed to jump onto some flights into Germany to one day hopefully arrive in Tel Aviv. The rest of us are still at the airport. Some are asleep on their suitcases on the floor. We were told to go clean up at the hotel the airline provided and come right back here. Which we did. In case they could fly us out. Most of us will not be flying out anywhere tonight. So it’s back to the hotel. God only knows when we’ll ever get to Israel. This has been one hell of a ride. But hey, today wasn’t half bad. What a trip indeed.