Keeping with the Prague theme this week, here is a short recounting of my first day as an expat in the City of 1,000 Spires.
It began with the obligatory jet lag, as 95% of USA to Europe flights land in the middle of the night (according to your body time). You arrive in a strange new place, completely disoriented by lack of sleep, unable to communicate in your own language, much less another, and with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach brought on by either nerves or the airplane breakfast you ate at 3am.
I was feeling rather less nervous than usual because we had arranged a transfer from the airport to the hotel. The idea of being shepherded from one scary, cold place to a nice, warm hotel was comforting. Our driver was a little late, which caused a little flurry of nerves but he showed up after about ten minutes. He spoke not a single word of English, not even a hello. But no worries, it’s a simple task to drive from one place to another and I was calming down as we entered the van.
The hotel wasn’t far. I spotted it on the side of the road as the driver blazed by it, realized he had passed it, then made a U-turn to the other side of the street. It was a sweet sight. I couldn’t wait to unload my two suitcases and backpack and then be able to stretch out on a cozy bed. The driver let us out of the car and hopped back into the driver’s seat. I motioned to him and pointed at the back of the van, where our luggage remained. I gestured, gesticulated, tried several words for luggage hoping one of them might be a cognate in Czech (Bag? Baggage? Luggage? Suitcase?) He just said tam tam tam (or something like that) and smiled. I remembered tam in Russian means “there” but was he trying to tell me that the hotel was there or that he would be taking our stuff there?
Again, I pointed, made a steering wheel gesture with my hands and pointed at the hotel. He smiled and nodded. Then he drove away. I was stunned. Had this man just driven off with all of our belongings? Hoping for the best, we crossed the street and watched him drive off out of sight. The streets in Prague are quite narrow, and this one had a tram line running through the middle, so it wasn’t really possible for him to turn on the spot in front of the hotel. And he had smiled at me. Would a man who was about to rob you do that? We waited out in the cold for a good five minutes. (Maybe less. Time seems to stand still in situations like these.) As the icy feeling in the pit of my stomach grew, I knew it was more than the nasty airline breakfast.
The logical part of my brain kept trying to convince me that there was no way the driver would have run off with our things. We were standing right there and let him go. Were we really that stupid? What would we tell the hotel reception, or the police if he didn’t return? “Well, you see, he smiled at us and we let him drive away with all our things without a fight…” My husband (boyfriend at that time) Jon told me to go inside, check in and ask the hotel staff if anything like this had happened before, while he waited outside for the driver. In my panicked state, I tried to describe the situation and asked if it was normal, but obviously couldn’t do a good job of explaining what had happened. The guy just nodded and smiled and said, “Yes, it is normal” even though I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a clue of what I was talking about.
Almost shaking at this point, I went back out into the cold, and now Jon was missing too! I turned to the left and saw him standing there, unloading our suitcases with the driver. Well, of course! What would the driver do with our underwear, socks, Steven Colbert book and deodorant anyways? But for ten terrifying minutes, in a strange new place, anything seems possible.
“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.” ~Regina Nadelson