The year I lived in Prague, I jotted down an experience that I had in village called Moravské Prusy with a good friend of mine. I saved the article to my computer and then forgot all about it until I reread the tale the other day and took a trip down memory lane. Read on to learn about small town Czech village life and what it truly means to feel alone while abroad.
When a good friend of mine called me up and told me that she had accepted a job in the Czech Republic, I was thrilled. She didn’t know much about the place she was heading, except that it was small, she’d be the only English teacher, it paid well, and she’d be within a train ride distance of me and some of our other teacher friends.
The first time I left Prague to visit her in her village was in late February.
I caught the two and a half hour bus from Prague to Brno, and from there I caught a train to Vyškov, the closest town to Moravské Prusy. I had to stamp my ticket on the platform and when I climbed aboard I found myself sharing a rickety old cart with a quiet Czech boy who kept his face buried in his book after the customary, “dobrý den.”
My friend met me on the platform in Vyškov and together we walked to the bus station that would take us to Prusy. As we walked she warned me that her village was small. It was nothing like Prague. She was bored a lot of the time, being the only fluent English speaker in the area. But she’d learned from some of her students that there was an old castle ruin in the woods near Prusy. She and I had grand plans for a hike and a picnic among the ruins, and the next day we were to take the bus back to Vyškov for a dip in the indoor swimming pool and water park at the rec center. But first we were heading to Prusy.
The bus carried us through the darkening country side, bounding over potholes and through turns, like it was a boat on the waves. Brown lines cut swathes through the hills and patches of snow dotted the edges of fields. I was grateful when we finally stumbled out of the wild bus into Moravsky Prusy.
My friend’s house was lovely.
The school had put her in a home that was to be sold, but as of yet hadn’t found any buyers. It was two stories, with a large kitchen and living room and an outdoor patio, although it was too cold to enjoy the outdoors on this particular evening.
I helped my friend make fish and rice for supper, which she explained to me had been purchased in Vyškov as Prusy’s only grocery store carried little more than bread and canned goods. The night was startlingly cold so I went to bed under a mountain of blankets, excited for our hike tomorrow.
We woke up early to plan our adventure.
My friend had recently had a miscommunication with her internet provider, which she couldn’t fix until someone agreed to act as interpreter for her, so we had to rely on her limited knowledge of the area and the directions she had received from her students, instead of our usual Google maps. There was supposedly a path that started where the main road in town turned to go to the next village (an even smaller village of only fifty inhabitants). From there the path could be followed into the woods, where the ruins were tucked away.
My friend and I packed a picnic of sorts. We filled her backpack with granola bars and made sandwiches. Then we dressed as warmly as we could. My friend lent me one of her long-sleeved undershirts and off we went.
Our walk down the road was lovely. We marched past farm buildings and equipment familiar to a girl from Indiana. Everyone in town recognized my friend, and we were greeted with an informal, “ahoj!” from the handful of neighbors we passed.
Indeed there was a path that started after the curve at the end of the road, and my friend and I followed this path through the desolate cornfields. We passed a few deer stands along the way, but once we left town we were utterly alone. We chatted companionably, even though the weather was a little too cold for a hike. Our enthusiasm kept us going, and it only increased when we stepped into the woods.
The trees looked like something out of a fantasy book, old and tall and rail thin. They were unreal, alien, and startling. The woods grew darker as we walked into its depths, discussing teaching and traded stories about ridiculous children as we walked. And, boy, did we walk.
My friend had been told to follow the yellow trail markers in the woods. The trail branched off now and then, it faded, it crossed with other trails, but we kept an eye on the markers. However, after about an hour of walking I saw something that made me swallow. A blue trail marker.
“I think we’ve gone off course.”
My friend disagreed. She was sure we’d taken the right way, so we continued to walk for another twenty minutes before she conceded. We doubled back, walking for another half hour, before finding the yellow markers again. After much deliberation we picked our way through a very muddy patch of woods that could have been a trail and continued walking, now talking less and becoming more diligent.
We eventually stopped and ate our sandwiches, sitting on a cold damp log. Around this time we felt the first rain droplets. We were going to get soaked.
We decided to press on, hoping that the rain would stop. We both had hoods, although my sneakers were not ideal for wet weather. With the rain, the temperature dropped substantially and I found myself flexing my fingers to keep them from aching. My friend and I continued to walk, keeping an eye out for the ruins and for trail markers. The rain didn’t stop and now we could hear its steady patter on the tree tops above us.
By now we were beginning to consider turning around. It would be at least an hour and a half back to the village, but we’d been walking for so long. Surely we should have seen the ruins by now, but for this very reason I also felt stubborn. What if we’d walked all this way in the rain, only to turn around just before reaching our goal?
We turned a corner in the trail and groaned.
Up ahead there was a fork in the road. Neither trail was marked; we didn’t know what to do.
“Okay,” my friend proposed, “We take one of these trails for half an hour, if we don’t see anything, we head back home.”
We turned off to the right, not certain, but feeling determined. We had to find the ruins in this next half hour or our mission had failed. My friend offered me a granola bar which I took, although my fingers stung from the cold when I removed them from my pockets.
We’d been walking for about another fifteen minutes when the trees began to thin.
“Oh God.” I laughed. “We’ve walked out the other side.” We’d walked through the entire woods, only to find ourselves on the other side, not having seen the ruins.
My friend groaned. “They said it would be on the yellow trail.”
“Well, we don’t know for sure we were on the yellow trail.”
When we stepped out from the edge of the woods, we looked out over the fields. There was a village in the distance. We stood, contemplating the best path back as we examined the village and the dark, dead rolling hills.
Suddenly my friend gasped. “Wait, is that?.. Look at the church tower.”
I did. It took me a moment, but then I realized I’d seen the white spire before, last night. We had driven past it right before the bus had dropped us off.
We were back in Prusy.
“We walked in a giant circle!”
At first it was a relief, knowing we wouldn’t have to walk all the way back through the woods to get home, but it was also a disappointment. We’d spent our entire day feeling lost and confused, only to wind up back exactly where we had started.
“Well,” my friend said, “Let’s go home. We can make a few more sandwiches for dinner.”
As we walked home it began to snow.
When we got back to my friend’s house, the snow was coming down in sheets. We hurried inside, stripped off our wet clothes, changed, and wrapped ourselves in blankets before using the last of my friend’s sandwich material to make ourselves a meal. She laughed that she would need to purchase more supplies when we went to Vyškov the next day.
Only when the next day came, we wouldn’t go to Vyškov.
The next day we got dressed and walked to the bus stop, having slept until noon after our long walk. There was a thin layer of snow on the ground and the air was bitterly cold. We waited in the freezing graffiti-marred alcove across from the elementary school. The bus was to arrive at one.
But one o’ clock came and went. When our phones showed that it was fifteen past one and there was still no bus my friend checked the schedule. It should have come. We continued to wait. The snow started again, lightly this time. At half past one we gave up. I could tell my friend was nervous. We had missed the last Sunday bus.
We were stranded.
We went home to my friend’s quiet, internet free house and searched her cupboards for lunch. She didn’t have much. Sheepishly she cooked up what was left from an omelet she had made a few days ago. For dinner we had cookies, tea, and some strange orange fruits that she had bought from the grocery store in Vyškov.
I was nervous. My phone service was unreliable out here, and I wondered how I would tell my employer that I would miss work on Monday if I didn’t catch an early bus out of Prusy. Without internet I couldn’t email her either. I finally began to feel how my friend must feel all the time, alone, stranded, in a town of 500 people where no one speaks your language.
The next morning at the bus stop my friend and I stood apprehensively next to my bags, which I’d set carefully in the alcove to avoid the patches of snow which had drifted in. An old man walked by and shouted a gruff, “ahoj” at my friend which she returned jovially despite her nerves. We waited in silence for the sound of a bus in the distance. A car turned the corner and we both let out a disappointed breath. It was a little before seven in the morning. We had only two minutes before the bus was to arrive.
At one after seven, I began biting my cheek. At two after seven, I checked my phone for service, but saw I had none. At three after seven, I contemplated knocking on someone’s door and asking in my very limited Czech if they had a landline I could use to call my office. At four after seven, I started praying.
Then we heard it.
A big blue and white bus pulled around the corner, its engine working hard to pull it up the hill in the snow. My friend and I both cheered.
My friend caught the bus back to Vyškov with me. At the train station, she promised that we’d go to the pool in Vyškov next time I visited. I agreed. We hugged each other, and I left her on the platform. When I had climbed on the train, I waved to her out the window.
I wondered how she felt to be walking back to her quiet town of 500 people all alone.
As the train sped through the rolling hills back to Vyškov, rocking gently in the wind, I realized my friend was very brave.