Mr. Steves took a beating on this trip. I had been reading the guidebook on the plane ride and perhaps embraced his advice a bit too enthusiastically for my companions. His reputation faltered on the very first day as Jennifer and I circled an area quite near the Charles Bridge repeatedly, looking for the Family Museum of the Postcard, which has apparently been subsumed into the Red Chair cafe and reduced to a pair of racks offering replicas of vintage cards. These things happen, but both the J's--my hostess friend and my daughter share this initial--jumped on the glitch like terriers. Shrilly yapping terriers.
Things did not get better for Rick when we decided to take the day trip to Křivoklát to see the castle. My friend had to work that day, but both she and my published expert had convinced us that traveling outside the city with no more vocabulary than "good day, yes, no," and "cheers" would be well within our capabilities. We got on the subway together (Prague public transportation is the shit. Truly wonderful.) and she went her way and we went to Hradčanská station to look for platform 2. It took us a while, but we had looked up the schedule the night before so I was armed with an expected arrival time (9:13) and route number (310610_6) but was still a little anxious. You pay the bus driver upon entry, so J and I looked up the word for two (dva) and I attempted to replicate my friend's suggested intonation and smile as I delivered the question, "Lány?" but the bus driver was not charmed. In fact, he appeared disgusted; however, he did sell us a couple of tickets.
We sat up front and watched the signs carefully, because we had been forewarned that the stops are not announced and are bypassed if no one is waiting at them. So I was still a little anxious, but not too worried to enjoy the ride through some pleasant towns and countryside. Rick claimed that the first Lány stop would be at the town square, but it was actually at the cemetery. We got off there anyway, since at the moment we were clueless, and if I had known how the day would turn out I would have dropped by the Rodina Masaryk grave site, but instead we strolled across town to the square, where J barged into an unopened establishment to use their toilet (she can do that, being cute and all) and then we went to a store marked "Coop" to buy lunch stuff. J argued successfully with the woman behind the deli counter, who desperately wanted to sell us something other than the "salami", but we left with six slices of the stuff along with bread, cheese, chips, cookies, and water.
It wasn't hard to find the trail, which led us out of Lány. We figured out that this sign means you're exiting a town:
The trail was marked with a red horizontal bar between two white ones. Somewhere early on it changed to a diagonal red stripe within a white square, like an inside-out diving symbol. We trudged on, enjoying the woods and the beautiful weather, until the trail was blocked by a car with a group of women, all dressed in tan trench coats, sitting in a circle behind the car. They barely looked our way as we approached and they made no move to give us room. We had to step into a marshy bit to get around them, and as we did so we noted that they were each armed with very long, shiny shears. We were impressed. Frightened. Whatever. We walked on.
Eventually we arrived at an exhibition area that seemed to be the end of the trail. It was fenced in and looked a bit like a place at a fair where people would watch livestock being shown. I think it might be connected to the game preserve that we've since learned is situated between Křivoklát and Lány--in fact, it seems as though a hike through the preserve would be about 30% shorter than the marked trail, but the park was locked and the trail skirted it for quite a while. Anyway, we determined that the diagonal stripe was NOT our marker and we debated finding an alternate route back to the horizontal blazes. Neither of us wanted to meet the scary coven again, but we were more afraid of becoming hopelessly lost so we retraced our steps.
The car was gone and the women had moved about thirty feet to the north of the trail, inside a fenced area, still seated in their circle and silent. We did see another couple with a dog, but they didn't smile or nod back when I tried my big howdy-there move, so I didn't bother following up with a vocal greeting. We found the trail again and lost it a few more times. Rick Steves had mentioned that it was a well-marked trail, but he also advised bringing a trail map. We didn't bring a map, so we shouldn't complain--but some of the turns on the trail were not particularly well marked. J noted each of these with a vociferous attack on Rick. I promised to write him a stern letter when I got back, but this didn't shut her up one bit.
We did walk by some alarming wallows with nasty-looking hoof prints in them. If Rick had warned me about boars, I might have thought twice about hiking! So I'm glad he didn't, since we saw nothing more than that, but I was actually happy after that when the trail ran along the preserve boundary, since it was fenced with a ladder-like construction that I figured would be a nice thing to climb should I need to escape a charging critter. And the walk really did go through some beautiful woods, right up until we hit a road, a bucolic looking country road down which cars roared like rockets:
We were sure the trail wouldn't place us ON that road, so we crossed it and tried to continue straight, but that didn't seem right either, so we backtracked again. A man emerged from the compound across the road and tried, by dint of increasing volume, to advise us. We appreciated the effort, but he finally shrugged and either wished us well or told us to get lost. We followed the road and after a short while crossed back over and regained the trail after traipsing through a pretty confusing meadow full of grasshoppers. We were back in the woods again and finding lots of cool mushrooms and beautiful views:
We we starting downhill when we met an old couple who not only returned my greeting but stopped to chat. I asked, "Křivoklát?" and the man answered by saying something while pointing down and then saying something while holding his hand in an upward slope and sounding weary. We said thank you a few times (It looks like děkuji, but if you say "geeky" everyone gets the idea. I hope.) and then the man said something else unintelligible but clearly meant to be kind. The woman said something briefly to the man, he said something else, and then we geekied again and parted. They were very sweet.
The trail turned downhill in earnest after that. We were descending for quite a while when it occurred to me to ask J what time it was. It was shortly after 14:00 and I remembered the old man pantomiming the climb out of this valley we were entering and I suddenly realized what those final remarks the couple had made were.
To be continued...