Confusius never said it. Marcus Aurelius never said it. And while the Dalai Lama may possess this pearl of knowledge, it isn't something he shares during his speeches about loving compassion, but we know it, and we'll give you a little advice:
Choose your bus driver carefully.
Especially if you're chartering a bus to Prague, which we decided to do for our latest company road trip.
I was reminiscing about the adventure with a few of my colleagues, remembering the good parts, the cold parts, the funnier moments, and all of the things that will stay with us for years to come. I will speak of my colleagues using aliases so that their actions and words remain their own, and part of our private legend.
It must be taken into consideration that the company has benefited from growth over the past years, and the preparations of an international adventure for just under thirty required greater travel accommodation than for roughly a dozen, so we chartered a behemoth cruiser bus, for luxury, and a smooth ride. Through a bad roll of the dice, however, we were assigned two drivers whose professional abilities and hospitable manners were so lacking that they should have a reality show called "Just turn off the TV."
But enough about them.
Because the exciting part is that we were powering down Vega's star for a few days to take a well-deserved sojourn to one of Europe's most beautiful destinations. Bohemia. The Preserved City. Host to the Velvet Revolution. Prague.
Sally, one of our designers, doesn't want me to jump right into the beauty of the Town Square or the view from the Charles Bridge just yet. She recommends that I tell the story in order, and that I not forget to mention our shocking arrival.
It was 20 degrees when we rolled out of Novi Sad, and it was -3 when we stepped off the bus in Prague at about 9 AM, six hours ahead of our scheduled check-in at the hotel. It was cold, and raining a sort of frozen slushy rain. We were all dressed lightly; anything warmer was packed away under the bus. I think perhaps that this is the part of the trip that Sally remembers most, because she just couldn't stop talking about how they had to find umbrellas and that she froze nearly to death due to the fact that it was -20 with the wind chill. To death, to death,she said.
Finding umbrellas was, of course, important, but, as one of our developers Esmeralda pointed out, first we had to meet an Arab that had studied in Novi Sad who would exchange our Euro for Czech Crowns, because the exchange rate is notoriously terrible in Prague, so really, meeting the Arab was the first thing we did.
That being accomplished, the umbrellas were procured, gloves, so on…and so what? When you're in a city as majestic and historical as Prague, it is easy to forget your surreal scramble for a hat with ear-flaps when you're being graced by the gothic beauty of centuries of architecture unique only to the places that remain unchanged. If you've never seen the 600 year old Astronomical clock,the Orloj,in the Old Town Square, or learned the mysteries that veil it, and all of Prague, with the dark destiny that should it ever stop running, the city would cease to exist, you should pencil in "Go To Prague" somewhere toward the top of your list.
And make sure you look up the Arab.
So, some sight seeing, and then we rode the Metro to the hotel to make ourselves at home. A fancy few took advantage of the hotel spa facilities, and we prepared for our first evening in the city.
* * *
It isn't possible to tell the story of twenty-eight people going to Prague and everything they did, so I'll just relay a little of Sam's first night. He and his crowd decided to visit a pub. Being somewhat of an authority on things like pubs, he wanted to compare them to the ones we have at home. Well, beer is beer after the 5th or 6th, and everyone had a great time. When they collectively decided to head back to the hotel, Sam and a few others decided they would keep the party going with a little of the famous Absinthe. They stepped away from the group, with a Metro rendezvous planned. It was the last train of the night, so it was important the connection be made.
For reasons that cannot be recounted or explained, the securing of the Absinthe was not as easy as all that, and when they realized what time it was they took off running for the train station, as fast they could go. It took them almost 20 minutes to cover the ground, and they arrived at the Metro station right on time.
What they discovered when they reconnected with the group was that they could have just taken a five minute slow stroll down a side street very close to the pub, which was right by the Metro station. They had, in fact, just gone the wrong way, which adds to Sam's further authority on pubs: If you drink a bucket of beer then go looking for Absinthe, the odds of going the wrong way are greater than not.
Sam also forgot the bag of touristy gifts he'd picked up sight seeing, which may seem to some like a story of careless misfortune, but really, Sam is SO finely tuned to the whole Universe of the Pub, that when he returned the next day, his bag of gifts was right where he'd left it.
* * *
Day two of the trip has our whole crew crossing the Charles Bridge and the great river Vltava to the other side of the city, where there was a palace and museums to be visited.
Some were deterred by the cold and settled down with a cup of hot wine, while others ventured forward. Esmeralda recalled a trip to the Franz Kafka Museum and a The Prague Toy Museum, which is the second largest of its kind in the world, and located on the Prague Castle premises. She was also pleased to walk past the Serbian Embassy at the foot of the Prague Castle, a little piece of Serbia. The flag made her think of home.
Dinner that night was in a Serbian restaurant, because when in doubt, go with what you know. The place was called Luka Lu, and the proprietors had a fine old bohemian sense of humor, pasting a photograph of Novak Djokovic on the women's bathroom, and an antique photo of a few naked young lovelies on the men's. This caused a little confusion, but everything worked out in the end.
After dinner, it was on to another pub, where a wacked out Slovakian who had been drinking for days was trying to pick a fight with anyone within listening distance, which included us. The pub had ignored him, letting him rant and throw bottles at people, but our crew decided that this kind of behavior didn't work for them, so they tried to reason him into quietness. His friends were apologetic, but he was plainly nuts.
When he found out we were Serbian, his whole story changed, for reasons that were never actually clarified, but his arms were in the air while he proclaimed his love for us, and all things Serbian. In short time, our boys gathered him and his friends and ushered them through the door, claiming their tables, assuring that the adventure wouldn't be ruined by a drunk that we didn't even know!
* * *
Home never looks as good as it does from far away, and on the morning of the third day, preparing ourselves for the long ride, we wondered when we had gone from "How can it be -3 degrees?" to "Maybe we should stop in Bratislava on the way back" in two short snaps.
Because that's how time flies. Snap, like that. And snap.
And why not stop in Slovakia? The one thing for certain about ALL of our adventures is that the ends need to be extended, and a day trip to Bratislava was the perfect way to do that. A few more pictures, a few more bewildering moments trying to get back on the bus, and we were heading for Novi Sad, to Vega, to make the lights shine bright again.