In July of 1990, my wife, Michelle, and I flew from Los Angeles to Berliin to start a six month backpacking trip around the world. We chose to begin our journey in Berlin because Roger Waters, the esteemed bass player, singer and songwriter for Pink Floyd, was going to perform "The Wall" at the site where the Berlin Wall had previously stood. The Wall had just come down at the end of 1989 and people came from all over Europe to attend the one time concert.
Two days after the show, we boarded a train for Prague. Arriving at night with no place to stay, we attempted to use a pay phone at the train station to contact a youth hostel or inexpensive hotel. We had some Czech change that someone had given us on the train, but the instructions for the telephone were written in Czech and we had no idea where in Prague we were or how to use the phone. Fortunately, a very nice man approached us and asked if he could be of any help. His English was quite good and he understood our dilemma. He explained to us that it might be difficult for us to get a room at that late hour and that we were welcome to stay in his apartment for the night. He would find us lodging the following day. Michelle and I were hesitant to accept this stranger's offer, but because of our situation, we quickly decided that we should take the chance and follow him home.
On the way to his apartment, we learned that the man's name was Jozef and that his girlfriend and son were in the country visiting her parents. They would be gone for a few days and we could have a room all to ourselves. The apartment was several blocks from the train station and we learned in the brief time that it took to walk that distance that Jozef was a stoker in one of the government buildings. His job was to keep the fires burning during the winter so the building would stay warm.
The next morning, Michelle and I arose to the smell of warm bread. Jozef had gone to the bakery and purchased fresh bread and a tin of meat. We asked him what type of meat it was and he had no idea of what part of the animal nor what type of animal it was from. Although we are very adventurous eaters, the idea of eating mystery meat did not appeal to us.
After breakfast, Jozef insisted on showing us Prague as only a local can. We treated him to lunch and it dawned on us that we had better find lodging for that night. I asked Jozef if he could help us find a room for the night and he insisted that we could stay with him. Being a stoker, he was unemployed during the summer months, and with his girlfriend and son out of town, I think that he was lonely and appreciated the company.
The government owned apartment building where Jozef lived was dark and grey and units did not have their own bathrooms. We used the bathroom at the end of the long concrete hall. The window in the bathroom was broken and we could only imagine how cold it was in the winter. Lightbulbs were burned out and it would take months to replace them. We showered in the kitchen sink, the same place where we brushed our teeth and washed dishes.
Two or three days into our stay, Jozef announced that he would have to take the train to the country to get his girlfriend and son. He insisted that we stay in his apartment while he was gone and we could leave the key in a hidden place when we left.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Michelle and I sent a large box to Jozef and his family. We included travel books about America, sewing books for his girlfriend, and toys for his son. We never found out if they ever received the box, but we suspect that it was intercepted by Czech officials. Michelle and I still talk about our stay with Jozef and how someone with so little can be so kind and generous to strangers. While we enjoy seeing the cultural and historic sights when we travel, interactions with people of other cultures are what truly make traveling such a rich and rewarding experience. Just don't make me eat any mystery meat.
Message Edited by thepiranha on 03-13-2008 06:31 PM