Prague, round 2

Trip Start Oct 22, 2008
Trip End ??? ??, 2009

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

To leave Prague, we took the subway to the end of the line most in the direction of Vienna. On the way we found a frozen footpath by the side of the road, lined with rose bushes covered in ripe rosehips. Nature's winter bounty! We ate mouthfuls, and stuffed our pockets with the rest (this was unwise, rosehips are smooshy and they smeared into paste in our pockets). The bushes lined the whole path, making for a very pleasant walk.

The only thing better than those berries, was what that path led to: A groomed sledding hill of adult-thrilling proportions!

With no sleds, but plenty of handy cardboard hitchhiking signs, Tim and I ran up and slid down this hill over and over, way beyond the point of getting out of breath.

Ah, how lovely. Proceeding on to the Czech Highway M1 OMV gas station!

We got our first ride with a mother & daughter who offered to take us 20km after Tim helped them put in new windshield wiper fluid. Unfortunately the daughter blew past the last gas station before her exit and decided to leave us right there at the turn off for "pykfwtfbxbpy". Most Czech town names look as though they're spelled backwards, at the very least. But it's hard to argue spelling with a culture that has towns called "Brno-chrlices", for example.

What would you do? We opted to walk along the highway to the next gas station.

After several miles of walking and not even a sign for a gas station, the unfriendly neighborhood highway patrol showed up to communicate unfriendly things in broken German. "No hitchhiking on the highway!!" Of course not.

"We're just walking."

"No walking! Big fine! 2,000 czechi-czechis!"

"Where should we go?"

They pointed into the thicket of trees lining the highway. "There's a street that way."

The woods were truly thick and obviously there was no road where they were pointing, not for miles. One benefit of dealing with non English-speaing authorities is that you can scheme in front of them. We considered sitting down in the snow and waiting for them to go away. We considered trying to get a ride in their car. The cops pointed at the woods again. We made a show of marching straight for the trees, and they watched sternly to make sure we were doing it for REAL, before driving away.

So Tim and I found ourselves in calf-deep snow, chasing rabbit tracks, hoping we were heading towards towards a less-thick thicket. The hill arched high above the highway, the further we walked the harder it would be to climb back down to the road.

We discovered a deer-feed trough, and an ATV pathway that seemed, by the distant wooshing sound of treads on snow, to follow the now-far away highway. That meant we were near somewhere that other people visited, maybe a town, someone friendly, a ride? We kept walking.

Eventually our hill connected to the other side of the road by an arch-overpass that crossed high over the highway, so we strolled across and then another quarter mile to the first intersection and a clutch of houses. An old guy in an SUV pulled up, and we combed him for advice.

"How do we get to Vienna?"

He laughed and took us in his car to a different road than the one we'd been on. Not a highway, and probably legal to hitchhike. "You can get to Vienna from here!" he sang and drove off.

It seemed like the wrong side of the road to be on. We must have gotten turned around somehow. After half an hour, we opted to hitchhike both sides of the road, just in case. "I'll hitch rides to Vienna, you hitch rides back to Prague, and whichever way we end up will be fine." suggested Tim. It was getting dark and colder.

Suddenly, The Arborist appeared!

Driving slowly on the shoulder, warning lights flashing, he swooped over the crest of the hill in his rusty 1986 green subaru wagon-chariot of hope and delight, with a chainsaw and safety equipment in the back, member of a tribe of happy tree surgeons.

"Wahoo!! Tim, we got a ride!!" I shouted.

I turned and asked Dave, "Are you going to Vienna?"

Tim trotted over the highway at the next break in traffic.

Dave the Arborist: "Vienna is the other side of the road!"

Star and Tim: "That's okay, we can go to Prague or Vienna, we just wanna get somewhere!"

Dave laughed and told us to get in. His car smelled of pine pitch, and chainsaw gasoline. His trunk was scattered with various climbing gear and ropes.

Dave explained that he normally picked up hitchhikers anyway, so he'd take us, but he actually had been waiting to meet some friends so he could get his laptop and take it home. We volunteered our cellphones to help him arrange the meetup, and drove with Dave to the nearest town, where we met the entire merry band of arborists.

The jolly bunch cheered us on for hitchhiking, and many suggested the names and numbers of friends who might be able to give us a place to stay, since it was already pretty dark for making a camp (though most were in favor of winter camping, in general).

Dave helped us make the calls, but everyone was either out of town or busy, so Dave volunteered his own house for the night. "I live on a three hundred year old farm, but it's about 120km north of Prague. You can come with me in the morning, I have to drive back this way for work. But we wake up early, we will leave by 6:30 AM."

Awesome! A second chance to discover the Czech Republic!

We asked him about being an arborist. He said it was a really dangerous job, but he loved being outdoors and climbing, that it was the best job to combine all his favorite hobbies. The joviality of his colleagues was good enough proof.

I asked, "Why is it dangerous? Because you have to keep track of your rope?

Dave: "Yes," he chuckled, "and that your chainsaw isn't touching the rope."

His house was marvelous. Gigantic and old, just off a long 4WD-only ice-covered road, the giant stone barn and farmhouse stood together in the cold. Inside was warm though, really warm, from the traditional Czech wood stove on the inside. All you had to do was feed this stove a few logs every now and then, and the whole house heated up from the extensive heat-capturing air-tubes that snaked around the inside of the stove. The top of the stove was big enough to sleep on, and was already lined for the purpose with furs from a modern synthetic sleeping bag-beast.

He and his wife treated us to a traditional Czech dinner; big helpings of a special kind of mashed potatoes, made with soaked barley and garlic, and covered with dripping liquid spoonfuls of pig fat. Occasionally, a gelatinous cube of solid fat as an extra caloric treat. The food was outstandingly tasty.

Dave said if we didn't eat all their food, they'd feed it to the dog, so we packed all of what we couldn't finish, to munch on the road the next day.

Next, he brought out a bottle of delicate home-made plum liquor, 120 proof and made by his neighbor. We slowly savored shots of the strong, warming country liquor.

Suddenly, Dave leapt up. "You want to learn how to ski? We'd better do it now."

I'd mentioned that I had never skied before in my life, after seeing a slope with downhill skiers, somewhere on the way to his house. Now my opportunity had arrived!

We put on skis and went out into the endless moonlit snow-covered meadows surrounding the farm. It seemed like we could have gone on forever, skidding over the top of loose snow, Dave's dog following us and chasing scents over the fields.

I loved my first time skiing, and would definitely happily do it again.

We kept going until we were both sweaty and my cheeks were frozen, then turned around and slid mostly downhill back to his house.

Nothing else awaited in the dark night, so I climbed up onto the giant wood oven and fell asleep, to wake up early the next day and begin the hitch to Vienna!
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