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Published: September 28th 2007
We're now back in Prague for one last night before I leave for Poland tomorrow morning, and Russia the day after. Once again we have landed in a huge old apartment way up in the sky without a lift, but this time it's in a very hip area, and there is a very cool bookshop/internet cafe right beneath it, and it even has a decent keyboard which doesn't need decoding!
It's strange how quickly the body and mind adapt to travel and 'homelessness'. Rooms become homes, safe havens, retreats, even if only transient ones. Every day I notice how much of what we think we need just isn't necessary. I am thinking of downsizing my luggage even more, mainly because my already challenged back is playing up from lifting my rucksack up and down stairs and into trains. It's almost like I can't imagine living in any other way now. Change, movement are all around me, but somehow, on the inside, things are the same, no matter where I am.
The weather has changed considerably in the last few days. It's been raining nonstop pretty much every day, torrentially. On Tuesday, we went to Pec pod Snezkou, Snow Peak
in English, Bohemia's highest mountain at 1602m, and the Polish-Czech border runs right across it. It was one of those comical days where nothing works the way it is supposed to. The weather below the Snow Peak, in Pec, was overcast but decent, so we walked to the chair lift, ready to ascend to the top. The chair lifts are incredible - a real blast from the past, basically they are tiny little iron chairs that lift you high up into the air and leave you dangling in the air. I have a mild fear of heights but decided to brave it anyway (better than walking all the way up!), and after the first few minutes of hanging on an iron rope above the pine trees, I got used to it and enjoyed the view, while my mother kept her eyes closed and started to pray loudly to Jesus Christ in the seat next to me. I soon realised however that the pine forest is in a pretty bad way. There are lots of dead trees on the mountain, and many ill ones. They look fossilised - white/grey pitiful spikey skeletons, badly affected by acid rain. According to the Rough
Guide, 'thousands upon thousands of trees have become fatally weakened by the rain (Snow Peak has the highest rainfall in the country). Once they are badly affected, insects do the rest, transforming them into grey husks, devoid of foliage.' It's a sad, bleak sight, difficult to ignore - and there are many of them.
Soon, fog started to close in, the closer we came to Snow Peak. It became freezing cold on our little iron chairs, and wet, as we continued to move over the pine trees, having left our waterproof clothing at home, of course. The fog became so thick that we couldn't see at all anymore, not even an inch, and it was quite a feat getting out of the chair lift once we arrived at the top! So far for the magnificent, far-reaching views from Snezkou. We stumbled off the lift and erred through the fog towards the shape of a building, whilst spooky voices came seeminly from out of nowhere. We entered the building and suddenly found ourselves in Poland, in a Polish restaurant (of sorts), where we got stuck with a horde of teenage sweethearts on a day out. Things went from bad to
worse when it started to rain - torrentially. Mum oracled that we might have to remain on the mountain for all eternity - but in the end we managed to buy two ridiculously large rain ponchos and braved the descent on the little chair lifts in the pouring rain. I will never forget the sight of my poor mother, looking like a sturdy but endearing gardening gnome with her green hood, sitting on the chair lift with a resignated face as the rain poured down on us. We were laughing the whole way down (24 long minutes) at the absurdity of the situation - in particular as we had to walk for another 30 minutes through the rain to catch a bus back to Trutnov. But it all ended well, and arrived back safely and in one piece.
On our last night in Trutnov, we decided to visit a very bohemian-looking tea room on the market square which I had discovered the previous day. The place looks absolutely amazing: pink walls, afghan carpets, large chandeliers, armchairs, indian furniture, oriental artwork, a wrought-iron balcony, - kind of like an artist's flat, or a lush brothel. They sell all types of tea, from all over the world, and to order, you have to ring a little brass bell to call the mute waitress to your table. When we arrived, only a few young people sat spread out across the salons, and a young couple sat in the room we were in. Suddenly, the mute waitress arrived with a big brass tray and brought them the biggest water pipe I have ever seen. As the couple, who can't have been much older then 19 or 20 years old, started to smoke eagerly, I glanced at Mum, who drank her orange juice oblivious to it all. Soon after, two people with very glazed eyes stumbled past us onto the balcony. I calmly continued to converse with my mother, until she said, after about twenty minutes of the rhythmical bubbling sounds of the water pipe wafting across the room, 'What is that over there on the table - is it a water pipe?' And then, 'Are they smoking drugs? Is that allowed?' When I informed her that the couple had ordered the pipe from the mute waitress, she said nonchalantly, 'Oh. I didn't see any water pipes on the menu! We might have wanted to order one, too!'
Today, we spent the day in Melnik, about an hour from here. It's a quaint little town, with lovely buildings and a very beautiful castle, from which you have wonderful views across to converging rivers and the countryside. It was raining for most of the day, but our main reason for visiting was the Ossuary in the crypt beneath the Petra & Pavla Church next to the castle. There are tens of thousands of bones and skulls in the crypt, pestilence victims from the middle ages, which have been fashioned into striking artwork and symbols, such as a heart, a cross, and anchor, and the words 'Ecce Mors' (look, there's death). It's a moody, evocative crypt, in which they play monks chants as you wander through it.
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