The 11:10 to Prague
To a range of responses generally ranging from the bewildered to the bemused and on to the mildly annoyed, I manfully try to address the host countrymen in their native tongue. I greet them with a bonjour, guten tag or buon giorno. When it's time for the check, I ask for the l'addition s'il vous plait, die rechnung bitte or ill conto grazie. But all my attempts to address my Czech hosts in their native tongue were met with complete incomprehension. I think it's the Czech alphabet that's my problem.
During the two-hour somewhat lumbering run from Dresden to Prague, Carol and I practiced some Czech phrases from a cheat sheet she'd found online. Even with the phonetic spelling, we couldn't seem to get the hang of any understandable pronunciation or even a minimum amount of retention.
Now the Czech alphabet is the same as English, but it seems they only employ one or two vowels, and then go on to form words with a cacophony of consonants strung together that makes the written language look more like a CIA codebook. It made it almost impossible for us to memorize even the simplest of phrases. Plus, the Czechs employ diacritical marks like they were candy jimmies. Take Těší mě, for example. Which looks like it could simply be "tessy me" for "nice to meet you." But those little hieroglyphics on top stretch the pronunciation until it sounds like you have a speech impediment. I didn't give up, but the local Prague restaurant staff must have thought they were serving a cross between a braying donkey and a porpoise by the time we left the city.
We arrived in Prague at what was the height of the heat wave sweeping across Europe, as well as the peak in tourism for the city. The congestion at the pedestrian-only Charles Bridge was a combination over-crowded subway station, political protest rally, Jesus-and-the-moneychangers confrontation and shoppers lining up for the latest iPhone. In other words, exactly what you want to encounter on a 90-degree afternoon. At one point, Carol became wobbly enough, we knew we needed an emergency water break. We were lucky enough to rehydrate ourselves in time for Happy Hour.
I was on my A-game for hotel selection, though. We were less than a ten-minute walk from the train station and just down and around the block from the city's main Wenceslas Square, an upscale wine bar, a sweet Italian restaurant, a brick oven pizzeria and a steakhouse high within a 15th century Gothic bell tower. Even the tiny strip of park just across the street from the hotel turning into a - how shall I say - rafish conclave of upcyclers in the evening was not off putting to Carol, as long as we walked around it and not through it after dark.
Getting around and away from the tourists was easy-peasy with a multiple-day bus, tram and metro ticket, which took us all the way atop the city for a panoramic view and a sweep by the Prague Castle, which was well furnished, so a sweep by is as close as I wanted to get to it.
Because it was such a beautiful city and so accessible, Prague was another bold underscore for the two of us anyway, to book future trips in the off season. A dark, gloomy day in January would be so Kafkaesque.