Andy and I often travel free, meaning we pick a destination to fly into, rent a car and go. We make no plans, have no hotel reservations and just go 'wherever the wind blows' as the saying goes. This has proven to be effective for us 90% of the time. We can stay places we like as long as we wish and we can leave if the location doesn't strike a cord with either of us.
We tend to travel off the beaten path, so we get more of a local culture and meet more non-service industry people. It also means that sometimes we don't stay at the best places or the first choice we may have had. We may stumble a bit but always find our way. We have never had to sleep in our car, to the contrary, we have stayed in converted convents, castles, and 5-star hotels. But we have also stayed in little motels, and when we were really young and riding motorcycles we slept on a picnic table at a rest stop, but that was kinda by choice since we didn't have much money. We have always had an adventure and as a result, have met interesting people who are always there to help. In total we have had 4 close calls...this is the story of the first one.
Prague - I convinced Andy to go to Prague and then travel to Hungary and the surrounding countries early on. I remember him saying 'who on earth goes to Prague on vacation'? (or something similar with possibly an expletive). This is a typical mid-American thought. It is hard to believe with travel being so effortless and affordable in comparison to years ago that many Americans, especially over a certain age, still have never traveled outside the USA. According to mic.com, 64% of Americans do not have passports, which suggests they have not left the country. According to http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp... '37% of Americans reside in their hometown and have never moved'. There is so much to learn out there in the world, so much to open our minds and help us understand rather than judge or be ignorant. I am always amazed by these types of figures but it explains social media a bit. But again, like always, I digress.
So we do go to Prague and have a lovely time. It is a city rich in culture, architecture, and history. Andy and I love all three. We ate well, stayed at a nice hotel and then after a few days picked up our rental car to start our adventure and we were off. (We often have a hotel booked for the first day or two, but not always...) Andy is the navigator, he can read the road maps and find interesting places better than I can. I have driven all over the world and if you can drive in India, Australia, and Korea, you can drive anywhere. But that is another story in itself.
We found travel quite easy in the Czech and explored such places as Kutna Hora which is a town most famous for a beautiful church and the Sedlec Ossuary. Sedlec Ossuary is also known as the 'bone church'. It dates back to 1278. In the mid 14th century the Black Death plague took thousands of people. The Ossuary expanded and to keep up with the 40,000 - 70,000 buried there they began using human remains to create a garland, chandeliers and even a coat of arms. The entire church is adorned with bones.
Another place we visited was the capital city of South Bohemia called České Budějovice. There is a
scenic town square with wonderful restaurants and hotels, but minimal parking. We tried our best to find the best place to park, but apparently, it wasn't good enough as we came out from the hotel only to find the infamous boot on our car! The parking space we took was for official government use only. It just looked like a good spot to me. It took us some doing, but like always, there are friendly people around to help. Unlike many places in America where people would leave the poor sap to figure it out on his own, we have always been fortunate enough to encounter helpful people around the world. The boot came off and once again we were on our way.
On one particular day, we had traveled all day. I am not sure exactly where we were but I know it was in the Czech Republic and that every street and city name was unpronounceable for us. They use so many consonants together in a word. So we started making up the names which didn't help when trying to remember exactly where you were. In any regard, it was getting late and we started looking for a village to stop in for the night. We were out in the deep country and starting to talk about sleeping in someone's barn like in the movies. We would enter what looked to be a promising village on the map only to discover it would pass us by as we blinked. Village after village, nothing, no hotel, restaurant, welcoming local. The streets were empty and darkness was upon us. Finally, we found an equivalent to a truck stop, I believe. They had a restaurant and a motel. We were in no matter what.
The restaurant was clean and since it was so late, we were the only ones in it as I recall. We sat down at a table with a plaid blue printed table cloth and asked for a menu. No one spoke English. As you can guess, if we can't even pronounce a city name, we don't speak Czech. This became a comedy of errors quickly and the waitress had an idea. She ran away and came back with a German menu. She thought we were German. Well, I guess how many Americans are out in the boonies of the Czech Republic in 2003? Well, I remembered that Käse was cheese and schnitzel was meat, that was about it. Andy wasn't much better. We ended up ordering one dinner, the first item on the menu. When it came we were very pleased and immediately ordered a second one. It was noodles with meatballs, a sauce, and fresh vegetables - beautiful and quite tasty. They brought out fresh rolls with butter and drinks. We were feeling on top of the world again.
After dinner was finished, we went to the room. It was a very modest room with two twin beds. It was clean but very small. We put our luggage on the floor in between the two beds and stepped in between it to get up and use the bathroom - which was on suite. I remember the sheets were really rough and scratchy, the bed was very firm, but we had a safe place to sleep. The most amazing part of this whole story is that the cost of the two meals and the room was about $27.00
I should point out, that we never made it to Hungary or any of the other 'planned' countries. This goes to the wind blowing us... Instead, Andy with the map in hand, took us to Graz, Austria wandering our way around and into Italy where we went to Mandello del Lario, home of the Moto Guzzi motorcycle museum and factory. He had a different plan in his head the whole time. It turned out to be a fantastic trip that I would like to make again someday - and maybe include Hungary...