Monday, September 24, 2007

Gotta Love Little Old Ladies

Jindrichuv Hradec wasn't originally on my list of places to go while I traveled the Czech Republic back in July. Truth be told I couldn't even pronounce the name. I only found out about it about halfway through the trip. The town had the 3rd largest castle complex in the country though so when I realized this I just had to go, having already seen the two largest castles in Prague and Cesky Krumlov. As it turned out, I'm glad I made it there. I met random strangers who made my trip.

I was poking around the castle trying to get some pictures of a rather interesting-looking rotunda. As I fumbled with my camera I walked by a couple elderly ladies seated on a park bench. They beckoned me toward them in Czech and being a friendly guy I obliged. I had no clue what they were saying but it seemed as though they wanted me to follow them. So off I went. They led me across a bridge and up a small hill on the other side of the river across from the castle. I was a little apprehensive at first since I couldn't communicate with them and I was gradually walking away from the areas of the town I was familiar with from the maps I had studied. But hey, I thought, how intimidating can two kindly old ladies be. Besides, one of my aims of doing this trip solo was that I would be forced to interact with local people rather than be herded along as part of a tour group. Up hill we went, through an area of old houses, down an alley and between a few houses to an old narrow laneway. Pointing back across the river I saw some great views of the castle and was able to get some photos I otherwise would not have.

One of the photo challenges I faced during the trip was trying to find vantage points from where I could get entire buildings into a shot. This is not something easily done given how cramped, crowded and tree-filled Europe can be. I was happy with how these photos turned out. And I owe it all to the kindness of two kind old ladies.

A short time later, I was gazing into an old church, quietly enjoying my escape from the crowds of Prague. I stood at the churhc entrance which was barred with a large metal gate, admiring the baroque architecture inside the dark interior. After a few minutes I noticed an elderly lady came slowly climbing the steps behind me. She had to have been no more than 4 feet in height with the most wrinkled face I've ever seen, and moved slowly with a cane in each hand.

"Dobry den," I offered, greeting her in Czech and pointing at the maple leaf on my t-shirt. She smiled back before producing a large key from her cape that I swear was almost as big as she was. She unlocked the gate and invited me in for a look-see. I spent a few minutes, gazing at the altar, frescoes and the organ loft while she looked on smiling. It was a surreal experience and I only wish I knew more Czech so that I could thank her properly for letting me into an area few tourists get to see.

Just two random acts of kindness I experienced, bumping into the right people at the right time. Two memories from my trip I will not soon forget. I wish the world had more people like these lovely old souls.


Kara and Matt said...

I loved this post!

The little elders here in town have been so sweet to me while pregnant, and now out with my boy. Here in town, instead of saying "can I hold him", people will say "I pack him?". So I was walking through the Co-op and this elder who only speaks Innuinaqtun says "amaaq tunga" which is I pack! I am so glad that I understood her and we stood there giggling in the aisle.