Eastern Europe Tour

Day 18 Wednesday June 6, 2007
Kutna Horá - Prague

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At just a little after midnight I got up with an upset stomach. I tried to find my way to the WC, but the room was pitch dark. By instinct or mistake I opened the door to the balcony. Almost immediately I started to upchuck time after time until my stomach was completely empty. Sue got up to try to help me, but there was nothing that she could do.

I stumbled back to bed and passed out again. A few hours later I awoke again. This time I made it down to the WC, but just barely. An hour or so later the process was repeated. This time as I was going back upstairs, I was overcome again and had to return to the WC in agony.

I awoke at 8:30. I knew that I had to clean up my mess. As soon as I stood up, however, I had to dash down to the WC for another session of the dry heaves. In fact, I was unable to stand up the entire morning without needing to hurry to the WC. I tried to drink a little water, but it would not stay down.

Jana brought some Coca Cola to help calm my stomach. I could not keep it down.

Sue was good enough to clean up my mess on the balcony. This was so embarrassing.

Needless to say, I missed both breakfast and lunch. Sue and Jana went out to look at tombstones, a process that I would probably not have greatly enjoyed. I fell soundly asleep every time that I got back upstairs. I had vivid colorful dreams full of sound and action. I usually slept for almost exactly an hour. I remember looking at my watch and seeing 8:30, 9:30, 10:30, and 11:30. When I was awake, I was hyper-sensitive to both light and sound. When Sue was in the room, every rustling sound that she made was a great annoyance. However, I did not have a headache or feel any other kind of discomfort.

After lunch Sue brought me some tea that Alena had made for me. It was in a Sprite bottle. I tried a few sips. She also told me that Jarda was going to drive us to the hotel. We would not have to walk from the train station to the hotel after all. Just before he arrived, I upchucked the tea.

We waited for Jarda in the garden.

I was a despicable mess, but I thought that it would be pointless and painful to try to clean myself up. I felt as ashamed as I ever had in my life. We brought our luggage down and sat outside in the garden that was beneath the balcony. I began to feel a little better. I had two barf bags in my pocket, and I knew that there was nothing left in my stomach. As long as I did not stand up, I did not feel the compulsion to puke.

Jana and Jarda arrived with one of their daughters. I certainly must had made a really good impression on her. She certainly must have gained a better understanding as to why it was necessary for the rest of the world to leave important decisions to us Americans.

I had to stand up to get to Jarda's car, the Škoda, and I managed it without any further humiliation.

Jarda at the wheel.

Almost as soon as we left Kutna Horá it started to rain. Jarda put on the windshield wipers. They squeaked a little, and I think that Jarda and Jana were embarrassed about them. I concentrated on watching the scenery. I was even able to contribute to the conversation a little bit, at least to divert the talk away from eating, drinking, and American fast food establishments such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is known as KFC in Prague.

The squeaky wiper.

I handed my camera to Sue. She took a few photos along the way.

Jana and Sue had discovered that one town through which we had to drive was closed. You could go out, but you could not go in. It was like an episode of the twilight zone.

Jana knew the way to circumvent the town, but Jarda thought that we were going the wrong direction. However, Jana was vindicated when we reached thee other side of town. Shortly thereafter we reached the four-lane highway. Jana told us that there were only five highways in the Czech Republic. There certainly is no dearth of trucks. Quite often one encounters them on rather narrow two-lane roads. One particularly noxious one pulled in front of us. Its fumes were awful, and it was a real blessing when Jarda was able to pass it.

Approaching Prague again.

When we reached the outskirts of Prague, the traffic grew quite heavy. The previous day I had had a hard time believing Jana when she told us that it took much longer to drive than to take the train. Obviously she knew what she was talking about.

Who knew that the University of New York had a branch in Prague?

Jana told us about a hotel in Prague that was owned by Muammar el-Qaddafi. I mistakenly though that she was referring to the Hotel Central. Sue straightened me out later.

Jana was the navigator, but when we got close to Old Town, Jarda started following his nose. He maneuvered through the one-way streets perfectly. When we saw Rybna street, we knew that the hotel was only a couple of blocks away. Jarda double-parked in front of the hotel. He got out to retrieve the bags from the trunk area. I made sure to get a photo of him. We planned to force them to take at least 1,000 crowns to pay for gasoline, but Jana absolutely refused. I don't know why she was so stubborn about this.

Jana told us that Bush stayed at the Hilton.

I could hardly believe that I had made the entire journey from Kutná Hora to Prague without even once getting sick. I had been confident that since my stomach was empty, I would not make an unholy mess, but I was quite sure that I would feel sick en route. Now that we had reached the hotel, the idea of going to the opera in three hours was actually beginning to seem feasible.

Thank you, Jarda!

It rained almost incessantly from the time that we left Kutná Hora to the time that we approached the hotel. Then it stopped. We just seemed to be blessed when it came to avoiding the rain.

We checked in to the Hotel Central. This time we were assigned room 407. We had to surrender our passports again. We retrieved the clothes and shoes that we had left with them when we checked out of the hotel at the beginning of our tour.

We had to use the elevator this time. There was just enough room for the two of us and our bags. When it got to the fourth floor, I was startled by a female voice announcing that fact in Czech and then in English. Evidently I had not used the elevator a single time during our previous stay.

We tried to borrow an iron from the hotel. They said that they did not lend out irons, but they would get my shirt ironed. I did not feel safe letting go of my only decent shirt just a couple of hours before the opera, so I decided to use the tried and true method method of hanging it in the bathroom while I took a shower.

We unpacked. I felt confident enough to drink a little of Alena's tea. Then I rested my eyes for a few minutes. Sue went out to get some stamps for postcards. After I woke up, I shaved and showered. The shirt was not too wrinkled after this. Besides, I would be wearing a sports coat, and we only knew one person in this town. What were the chances that we would see her at the opera?

Sue came back shortly after I finished. The room was hot and steamy from the shower. She hated it. We had forgotten that there had been no air conditioning here.

Sue asked me how long it would take to get to the Theater of the Estates, the opera house hosting Le Nozze di Figaro, if we walked at a leisurely pace. I said that it would take ten minutes. Sue said that we should leave fifteen minutes early. I agreed, but unfortunately she was not ready until 6:51 and the opera was at 7:00. She decided to wear one set of shoes and to bring a second pair in one of the small bags that came with my suitcase. She used a scarf to disguise it as a purse.

We picked up our passports, walked to the theater, and arrived just in time to be seated before the curtain went up. Operas generally will not seat people once the performance starts. We did not get programs. I was just anxious to get to our seats. Sue asked the usher for a program. She said, "You pay." Of course, we would willingly pay for one, but it seemed more important to sit down quickly. Sue never even got a chance to put on her uncomfortable dress shoes.

The chandelier at the Theater of the Estates.

Our seats were ideal - row 12 right in the middle. The seats directly in front of us were vacant, so our view was unobstructed. Moreover, the seats to the right of us were empty until after intermission. So, for the first half of the opera we were quite comfortable.

The boxes.

We were quite surprised to find that the supertitles were in both Czech and English. The English version, written by Milena Jandová, contained a few mistakes, but it made the opera fairly easy to follow, at least for me. Sue, who was much less familiar with the opera than I, had trouble keeping all of the female characters straight. She apparently thought for a while that Marcellina was the countess.

The ceiling.

Wait a minute. What was this? Figaro suddenly turned into a bully at the end of the first act. There was no irony whatever in his rendition of "Non piů andrai." He and the other people on stage were berating Cherubino mercilessly. To my way of thinking this was totally out of character for him. Figaro is definitely cocky, but I never pictured him as a bully. The first act, which should end with good humor and irony, left a bad taste in the mouth.

Then I was shocked that the countess did not begin the second act by singing "Porgi, amor." She substituted a different cavatina that contained some nonsense about Venus and Mars. This choice dramatically changed the introduction to the countess, the most important character in the opera, who was not in the first act. I was astonished and somewhat disappointed at this.

Proof that we attended the opera.

However, it got better. The action came quite fast. I loved the long finale to the second act. I had listened to my CD of this opera dozens of times, but I had never seen it. It had been impossible for me to imagine how the finale could pull together. I was enthralled. It was so brilliantly written that it mesmerized me for its entire twenty-plus minutes.

The intermission came at the end of the finale to the second act. Sue thought that the opera might already be over. I had to explain to her that there was still a great deal to come. I was feeling pretty good by that time even though my only nourishment for the entire day was a few sips of tea. I set out on a mission to find a program and to buy some mints for Sue, who had a tickle in her throat. Coughing at the opera will get you time in purgatory.

I immediately spotted an usher selling programs. Only one woman was in front of me. She asked how much the programs were. The answer was 95Kč. She got out her money. Then one of the young men with her said, "Get me one, too." His girlfriend said, "Make it three." Another young man said "Four." The usher only had three programs. They bought her out. I walked all over the galleries and lobbies looking for programs. Nothing. As Šarka had warned us, the Czechs are not good capitalists. They could certainly have sold dozens of programs at intermission if they had made them available.

I did find a list of the performers. They all seemed to be Czechs and Slovaks. I guess that I should not be surprised at this. I was not used to a large opera company putting on operas. The operas in Hartford have only a couple of local people in small roles. The stars are generally imported for specific performances.

I also found some Tic Tacs for Sue. They may not have been exactly what she wanted, but they were better than nothing. I took a couple myself — my first solid food all day.

The curtain call.

I enjoyed the opera immensely. The performances were probably a little inferior to the international casts with which we have become accustomed at the Connecticut Opera, but Mozart's music was so excellent, and the writing was so clever that I was absolutely thrilled with the overall result. I was one of the few people who gave the cast a standing ovation at the end.

However, I had the nagging impression that something seemed wrong. The performance lasted for almost three and a half hours, but some of the plot elements did not seem to be resolved. I noticed that they had added a silly little schtick about golf, and I was pretty certain that the ballet was longer than in the original score, but without checking the libretto I could not put my finger on what seemed to be missing. There would probably be plenty of time to do that at the hotel or on the plane. I had brought a copy of the libretto with me.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a little place so that Sue could buy a magnet for Patti. It was probably one of the Russian mafia places that Šarka had warned us about, but hardly any stores were open at 10:30 at night. Sue ended up buying a couple of magnets.

When we got back to the hotel I was very thirsty. I drank the rest of Alena's tea and Jana's coke. I then drank an entire bottle of water. I ate a banana that Alena had given us and a sandwich from our hotel breakfast bag. My jaw and throat were somewhat sore. One bite of my sandwich was quite painful to my jaw. Otherwise, I felt fine.

I plugged in my computer to make sure that it still worked. I looked up the time of our flight to make sure that we would not miss it. I also found in the guidebook the name of the company that runs the minibus shuttle to and from the airport. It was Čedaz. Sue tried to call them, but she could not get an outside line.

I put on my mask, inserted my earplugs, and fell asleep within seconds.

A few notes about the traffic in the cities that we had visited: The cars seemed to be getting bigger and bigger in Europe from the time of our trip to Italy in 2003. I saw very few Smart cars or the equivalent. Their SUV's are not as gigantic as the ones in the States, but many people are now driving cars that look more like station wagons than coupes or sedans.

I just could not get over the lack of traffic signals or even signs at fairly major intersections. It seemed incredible that they could avoid an overwhelming number of traffic accidents. Maybe they did have more accidents, or maybe they were just better drivers than Americans. A small town in the U.S. would probably have as many stoplights as Prague, Kraków, Budapest, and Ljubljana.

On the other hand, the drivers definitely respected the pedestrian crosswalks. The pedestrians seemed to know this, and they boldly stepped into the crosswalks with little concern about the cars speeding nearby. If they travel to the U.S, I hope that they don't try this.