Sunday 2nd January, Olomouc, Czech Republic
*scroll down for the latest journal entry. It's at the bottom, mate*
"What's that?" Maria asked, pointing out the bus window.
"Dunno, maybe it's Brno."
What we were staring at was an unsightly jumble of high rise apartment buildings, like something you'd see in a resort town on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. But there was no beach on the other side. This was a dormitory suburb for the workers of Brno. We hoped this wasn't indictaive of the rest of the city.
That was yesterday.
I didn't realize how lucky we'd been simply to make it to Brno. We'd arrived at the Prague bus station fifteen minutes early for the 11:30 bus. The bus was there waiting, but the driver didn't bother coming to work, my guess is that he enjoyed the New Years' celebrations a little much. A little annoyed that we could have enjoyed an extra hour's sleep-in, we boarded the 12:30 bus.
Our host Mischa had given us clear directions
on how to get to her place from the city centre, and when we got there she said she was expecting another friend to arrive from Prague that evening as well. He had phoned her from Prague to say that all the buses for the rest of the day were fully booked, but that he would wait at the bus station and hope that an empty seat came up. Seems like we only just made it!
Mischa had her friend Vicky staying the night.
Vicky is from Bratislava in Slovakia, but as we came to learn the Czechs and the Slovaks don't feel like they come from different countries. They took Maria and I on a walking tour of the compact city centre, and whisked us home for dinner. The news that their friend Jan (pronounced Yarn, but nicknamed Honza
) had finally secured a seat on a bus and was on his way was greeted with great rejoicing from the girls. It turns out that Mischa, Vicky and Honza all met while travelling Australia about nine years ago, so the photos came out, and the talk was all about Australia!
Honza entertained us with his guitar,
playing a wide range of traditional Czech songs as well as (his interpretation of!) well known English favourites. Mischa plied us with lashings of home made wine, and tried to poison us with some 70% distilled apricot moonshine!
It was an early alarm in the morning
so we could join Mischa and the others on a drive into the mountains, to Mischa's family's cottage. She goes there every week or so to leave some food for their cat, but she hadn't been for a few weeks and this morning there was no cat to be seen.
The bus to Olomouc was a mere 78 crowns
(less than three Euros, or about four US bucks) but the bus driver somehow saw three of us and charged us 234 crowns. It took a lot of handwaving and finger pointing before he'd give me my money back too!
"Just take the no. 4 tram one stop to the train station"
said Vlado, before the public phone cut us off. So there we were once again, milling around in front of a train station, waiting for someone who we've never met, someone who we have no way of recognizing until they emerge from the crowd, smiling, with the ubiquitous "You must be Steve!", nowadays extended to "You must be Steve and Maria!"
Vlado and his girlfriend Andrea are both 22 years old,
both studying in Olomouc and teaching language to pay the bills. Olomouc is a big student town, they tell me. "Without the students, there'd be no town!"
Both Vlado and Andrea are studying Spanish philology, and have spent quite some time in Spain. So where last night's discussions were largely about sharks, didgeridoos and all things Australian, tonight's topics ranged from Spanish movies to Spanish food and Spanish beer. Also we talked about Spanish traditions and lifestyle, siestas, fiestas and what have you.
It was cold and drizzly,
so they bustled us home to Vlado's dormitory. He lives in student accommmodation, but as most of the students are away at this time of term, he had his dormitory to himself. Happy with an excuse to go and sleep in Andrea's dorm with her, Vlado gave up his bed so Maria and I would have the three bed room to ourselves. We hurried off to check our emails at an internet cafe in the town centre, and then popped into one of Vlado and Andrea's favourite pubs for a quiet beer.
A few hours later...
Our hosts prepared a delicious dinner for us,
compiled from bits and pieces that each one's parents had given them. "They think we're starving to death here, so every time we see them they just load us up with food!"
After dinner, Vlado took Maria and I downstairs to the university pub,
"the place where everyone's study plans are broken!" The barman was being kept busy, in spite opf most of the students being away at the moment. It seemed that almost everyone was drinking draught beer, so rather than wander around taking people's drink orders, the barman would simply pour two or three tall, foamy beers and walk around till he saw someone who had almost finished- or in some cases about half finshed- their beer, and plonk it down in front of them. He'd quickly add a pen stroke to your tally card, and disappear before you could object.
I had to laugh when Vlado walked us back to his dorm.
The night receptionist buzzed us through the security door, and as we said our goodnights to Vlado, she interrupted in Czech. Vlado relayed the conversation to us later:
She: "Who are those people?"
Vlado: "Friends of mine."
She: "What are they doing here?"
Vlado: "They're sleeping in my room."
She: "Who authorized that?"
Vlado: "I guess you did, when you buzzed us through the security door *wink*
but don't worry, I won't tell anyone.