There Again and Back

Prague Generic1It’s been a long summer. Nay, my friends, it has been one horridly long year. A lot of it has been amazing, a lot of it has been awful (honesty hour, folks – I don’t sugarcoat), all of it has been life-changing. And even though there was a bunch of stuff wrapped into this bundled mess of a zodiac cycle, the defining theme of my distress can be greatly summed up with one phrase, “I don’t have my visa yet.”

The multiple trips to the Czech Consulate in Los Angeles, the notarizing, the certifying, the express mail receipts that took a chunk out of my savings – all to get my paperwork in order – only to find out that there are more steps, more papers…I nearly lost my mind.

Ahh, and we all already know I spend most of my time lost.

No, not just mentally, though that’s partially true also. I live in constant fear of losing my way. So when my dear friend Lydia was in town and wanted to make the Vienna trip with me to apply for my visa two months ago I thought to myself, “She speaks German, she can read maps…It’s like God is sending me an angel to get me there and back again in one piece!”

Expertly, she navigated us through the U-Bahn system, asked for directions, and even fell asleep on top of our luggage as a safety measure when I was preoccupied filling out paperwork at the embassy.

But this week I had to go back. And I had to go by myself.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Before I go further, I promised my mom (or more accurately, my mom promised other people on my behalf) I would explain how to subscribe or follow this blog for those interested in doing so.

Now, I actually have little experience in doing this myself (and that is the absolute truth – a friend set up this site for me) but I’m assuming that you can click the “follow” button at the very top of the page in the black header on the right-hand side. You MAY need your own account to follow, but I really have no idea.

But if you are okay with the old fashioned way…just check once a week or so. That’s about how often I post.

Okay, back to business.

I took a midnight bus from Prague to Vienna. In Brno we picked up a group of passengers headed towards the Vienna airport and I found myself sitting next to a sleepy Canadian named Jesse whose eighteen years of life on earth have not bestowed him the wisdom of foresight to know that if you buy a long board in Europe you’re going to have a heck of a time trying to get it back to the Big Maple Leaf. My accordion and I are sympathetic.

In June, Lydia and I went to the Vienna airport but I recalculated the distance and decided it was a much shorter commute to get off in downtown. It is a shorter commute, but upon exiting the bus (at 4:30 a.m.) I began to realize what a stupid decision I had made. Nothing in downtown is open at 4:30 in the morning. At least the airport has bathrooms and a McDonalds. You can sit like a bum outside an airport and look like a tired world-traveler between adventures – in downtown you get approached by the cops.

The need for a bathroom is really what was doing me in at that point. I decided I should get to the embassy neighborhood and THEN look for food and shelter. I surveyed the U-Bahn map and was confronted with my second major problem.

Despite all my efforts to map my route, double check addresses and attempt to memorize helpful German phrases should I get lost (which did not work AT ALL, by the way), I had forgotten the most important piece of information. The name of the metro stop I needed to get to.

For those of you who are not used to public transportation, a route without a metro stop is like Captain Hook’s ship without Tinkerbelle – it just doesn’t fly.

My first thought was to panic, but I was too tired and still need ‘a room with a view’, so I decided to start walking down the street instead. In June, Vienna was lit up and shining by 5 a.m., but it’s September so now it looks like the belly of the grave until half past six. Although I never felt like I was in danger, I did notice that the only people on the streets looked like hooligans and drop-outs from the local Synagogue (I’m assuming Vienna has a local Synagogue).

After wandering for nearly a half hour, passing, entering and exiting several more metro stops (it was a long walk) it finally dawned on me that I had not remembered the name of the stop the bus had dropped me at. If I was going to get back on the bus home at 1:40 p.m. I was going to need that station name.

So I turned around and walked all the way back.

By this point I had killed an hour and was no more ‘found’ than I had been when I first arrived.

Magically, I caught sight of a Shell gas station. Because my Dad loves maps and forced me to learn how to use them as a child, I not only know that you can find them in gas stations but upon acquiring them I have full confidence in my ability to use them effectively. I love maps.

So I asked the nice Austrian boy if he spoke English and whether or not he had maps. I wanted to ask him if there was an ATM or a bathroom close by or whether the water in the cooler was carbonated or not, but it was early and most of my mental facilities were still on a bus humming John-Jacob-Jingleheimer-Schmidt.

I found the U-Bahn line and approximate stop I would need to exit on and I set off like a very slow horse from a broken starting gate.

With the right metro stop it was pretty smooth sailing – I’m like an expert at buying tickets and switching lines and you know, stuff like that. But when I re-emerged into the upper world I was once again smacked with the cold palm of misadventure (we’re friends, Misadventure and I, but sometimes I feel like we don’t always get along). As the city of Vienna reveled in the pink glow of sunrise and the earth celebrated the icy dawn, I looked around and realized I was definitely not at the right stop.

There was not much else to do but just go for it. So I did. I started walking again.

Before I cornered the elderly lady getting into her car around 7 but well after the guy in the Anker bakery said with a lot of snark that I should pay in exact change (which I did, one cent at a time), I almost got hit in a crosswalk, ticked off the man working at the SPAR, was rejected by two ATMs and still never managed to find a restroom. And can I just add, for the rest of the world’s population, if you don’t know where a place is DON’T GIVE DIRECTIONS TO IT.

I don’t blame myself entirely for being lost for like three hours. The sun had not yet lifted from its sacred birth, and here I was stuck on a curb in Austria – how was I supposed to find even my left foot??

But I did finally get to the embassy and I waited for two more hours. I met some Americans and we commiserated. Commiseration is a beautiful thing. So are embassy bathrooms.

And then I had it. In my hand I had my visa. All the work as done, everything was fixed. It was going to be okay.

So I got back on the metro and decided to do some sightseeing in the three hours I had left before my bus took off towards Prague.

Not sure how I managed, but I did get lost again. This time it was somewhere between the Cathedral I never got to and the tourist-metropolis I couldn’t seem to untangle myself from. Eventually I found myself sitting on a bench holding a half-eaten cupcake, dozing off as thousands of people passed me in blurs. Maybe one day I’ll see Vienna when I’m not exhausted or worried or lost.

Honestly, it felt so good to just sit that I probably would have stayed there indefinitely but I’m not comfortable sleeping in public, and I’m sure the public isn’t comfortable with it either. So I got back to my bus stop, sat on a patch of grass under a tree and finished my P.G. Wodehouse book.

I cannot describe the peace of knowing everything is taken care of. For the first time in more than a year I felt like I could stop looking at the maps in my life or the time left on my ticket and wonder if I would make it to my destination in one piece. I have been lost in every possible way this year, both literally and figuratively – not knowing where I am, where I’m going or how to get there. And if the walking doesn’t tire you out, the worrying will.

Because I know myself, I know I will probably always need a map and I will probably always still find a way to trek in the wrong direction for an hour before someone tells me I crossed the wrong bridge by the Anker bakery. But I also know the God I have will not only turn me in the right direction, but he will use my aimless wanderings for His purposes as well. Even if just to make me a better walker.

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