Monday, March 12, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: Entr'Acte, Vienna to Prague

Our Viennese time. We did the tourist things, like the Hofburg and Schoenbrunn—and some traveler things, like taking the underground out to St. Mark’s Cemetery to where they think Mozart’s body was actually interred after being thrown into a bag of lime.

I learned much about the Austro-Hungarian empire, particularly the cult of SiSi. She was Franz Josef’s consort, the Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, and basically the princess Diana of her day. She was beautiful and stylish, trapped in a loveless marriage to the Emperor, suffered the murder/suicide of her only son Rudolf and his lover Mary Vetsera, (known as the Mayerling tragedy, hence the films), and was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in Geneva, who had set out that day to kill a French prince. No wonder history is so vivid in Europe.

Then it was time for us to move on. We were driving to Prague, with a few stops along the way. The first was the monastery of Goettwig, near Krems in lower Austria, dedicated in 1083. We had a private tour from a friend of Cad’s, stumbled upon a soprano rehearsing Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, and enjoyed a private organ recital—all slightly surreal. Then we drove along the Danube to the great monastery at Melk. It has a very sleak, modern museum, where I ran into huge, gorgeously lit Lucite panels floating between galleries with this text:

When I am in motion I see only one side, one aspect. Some things are unclear; I see only parts, not the whole. Being on the move causes unrest, but this unrest enables me to move, lets my heart grow wide.

How odd. It was like getting advice and comfort from on high, a la the freeway sign in Steve Martin’s L.A. Story. Well, things turned out all right there.

We needed to press on. There was more beautiful driving along the Danube, passing through one small town upon another, talking of cabbages and kings. Finally it was time to cross over into the Czech Republic and head north to Prague.

It was later than we had planned, which meant we were going to enter Prague in the dark. Not ideal, since it’s a tough city to navigate, and I only had vague directions to the hotel.

In our division of labor, I navigate and Cad does all the driving. He can be quite adamant with the “tell me which way to go—I’m just driving” line.

I’ve got maps and mapquest pages, but I can’t get our bearings. One distinction of travels with the monk is that situations like this are always very funny, not tense. We’re laughing and laughing—-driving aimlessly in the dark, Lost in Prague (should have turned that one into a movie script).

We pass a taxi queue. PING. I have an idea. I’ll get out, and get a taxi to take me to the hotel, and Cad will follow.

Then we realize we have no Czech money. OHHHHHH—such a rookie mistake. Now we need to find a cash machine. Didn’t we pass one during the twentieth circle sweep two hours ago?

We get back to a Czech ATM. I lose the coin toss and go in. I am confronted by 3 slightly different machines—not clear why they look different or what they do. Damn. I pick a machine, feed it my card, and pray I can get to the screen with the glorious Union Jack that will offer me my native language.

Now, machines and I are not always in sync. And Cad knows this, having spent quite a bit of time with me . . . . .

Aha. Success.

We get back to the taxi queue. I show the driver the hotel address, and explain fervently that Cad will be following, and he musn’t lose him.

It’s going well—we’re driving for quite a while, to the Zizkov district. Finally I see Arcotel (that great German boutique chain) Teatrino. I’ve been afraid to turn around to see if Cad’s there. Ah, yes, he’s just turning the corner. We’re in Prague.