Trip Start Nov 01, 2004
8Trip End Dec 07, 2004
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Fiona and Ashley are from Australia. They bought a house just after getting married and when the market skyrocketed they sold it and made a bunch of money. They put some of the cash in a travel fund, about 30,000 Euro worth, the rest in the bank, and took off for Europe. They've been spending a hundred Euros a day(about 175 Australian dollars) for six months. They don't like being called Aussies. My pronunciation of the word has been corrected. "Its 'Ozzie'", Ashley tells me. I do not argue and adopt the new pronunciation for future use.
They are a cool couple-- a bit older than the majority of hostellers. Ashley is a man, don't be fooled by the name. He makes fun of people who went to college, changes the subject whenever conversation turns to something he doesn't know about, and likes to brag about his karate and butchering skills. Most of all, Ashley loves to brag about Australia. In fact, that's about all he talks about. This doesn't really sound like a guy who would be great to hang out with, right? But I've been chilling with him for most of the last week here in Cesky Krumlov. Partly because no one else is around, but also because when his nationalism takes a break, his kindness comes through. He makes people laugh and will help you cut up any kind of food you bring back to the kitchen. (He is afterall a butcher.)
Kelly and I first met the couple in Prague and when we arrived in Cesky Krumlov we found we were once again sharing a hostel. Ashley went for a walk with us that first day for a tour the tiny village. We went with to the pharmacy to get medicine for the chest colds we were all nursing and to the grocery store where we bought food for dinner.
We came back to the hostel, a quaint stone buldings that over the centuries has served, among other things, as a convent and a home for the mentally disabled. Fiona greets us as we enter. She is curled up under a blanket on the couch. Hostels become home quickly when one has been traveling long enough. She is suffering from the same cold as the rest of us. Ashley takes to calling Cesky Krumlov, Chesty Cough.
Fiona is soft spoken, polite, and until we have known her for a week, pretty distant. She and Ashley seem like an odd match at first, but as we get to know Ashley outside of the din of the crowded hostel in Prague, he shows his more docile personality and the match makes more sense. He treats her with concern and nurturing attention when she is sick,protects her (allegedly beating the crap out of an attempted pick pocket in Paris), and always making sure she's happy. Still, Fiona seems unfulfilled. She cringes when Ashley gets on his rants about things he knows about, like Australia, karate, drinking, and food regulations.
Ashley, Kelly, and I prepared dinner in the kitchen while Fiona sipped tea at the table in the corner. We heated soup while Ashley cut a pineapple. We attempted to decipher the directions on a package of instant noodles. Sam, an Australian who runs the hostel and spe aks a bit of Czech gave us a few clues to solve the noodle mystery, and before long we were enjoying a steaming dinner. It was a good meal for ailing bodies.
We spent that night in the warmth of the hostel. It was a dark building with small rooms and old stone walls. Kelly and I rented one of the two private rooms. For a double bed and a window that opened over the Vltava river with a view of a 900 year old cobble stone bridge, once used by the King's horses, we paid 1200 Czech Crowns, or about eight dollars.
Apart from Fiona and Ashley the hostel had only a few other guests. One was teaching English in nearby Cesky Bodjovice and had been staying in the hostel for six months. There were a few other American expats who had been hanging around in Cesky Krumlov, at the center of the Bohemian province from six months to six years. A few of them had made a film a few years ago called 'Lost in Bohemia'. They claimed the height of the expat culture in Cesky Krumlov had past. Such scenes always seem to be just past their peaks.
It has been a long hard trip for me and Kelly. We are tired and the tight budget is taking its toll. Counting every cent, every day can bring unwelcome stress to a trip. We abandoned the daily budget and switched to a weekly spending limit. It isn't much, usually leaving just about enough to eat for the day and pay for the beds. Tourist attractions are a luxury that we begin not to miss. The exhange rate of dollars to crowns eases the budget some, and the even lower costs of Cesky Krumlov have made things even better. Pints of beer cost about 25 cents in the tavern next store, though I haven't brough myself to drink one.
We talked to Fiona and Ashley in the living room that night, as well as a few other guests. We watched a movie. It was much like being home, but the people and the 1300 hundred year old town around us, gave the experience passion and elation.
For the next week we've spent our days wandering around the quiet village. I explored the castle while Kelly slept. My illness waned before hers. We cooked meals in the kitchen or had them served at the tavern. On warm days we drank beer from the tavern on the hostel's porch, overlooking the Vltava below. We chatted with the expats. We began to feel like old friends, and even roomates of Ashley and Fiona. We would ask them if they need anything when we went out. We ate most meals together and spent most of our time in their prescence.
At the end of the week we walked out of the hostel and left behind yet another place that had become home and had burned an indelible mark in our hearts. Sam gave us tee-shirts from the hostel when we squared our bill. He gave us his email address. We had one last meal in the tavern with Fiona and Ashley and then sat on the porch for while in the winter sun, listening to the river rushing over its ancient course. Ashley and Fiona are headed to Budapest next, probably later in the day. They are nearing the end of their trip. Fiona seems ready to go home, but Ashley still burns with anticipation for the new places that lay before them. He seems like he could live this life forever, like one long, loud conversation in a hostel common room.
Eventually there was nothing left to say and the time came to catch the bus back to Prague. We took our bags and said our good-byes. We left Fiona and Ashley with email addresses and promises to stay in touch. A year later, I have still not emailed them, nor have they contacted us. So many travel friendships end this way, as if they are unique moments that dissolve when exposed to the air of sedentary life. I like to think that if I do email them someday, nothing will have changed. Perhaps we will even meet again someday. Most likely, though, we will not.
We left that hostel and crossed the old bridge over the river, and out of Cesky Krumlov. Already the place felt like a distant memory, almost fictional. As I closed the door of the hostel Sam had said, 'Come back someday.'
God, I hope that I do.