Meating Some New Friends
TABOR, Czech Republic (Jan. 28, 2010) - Touchdown at Prague to find nobody there to even give a shit about stamping my passport. One just walks into this country!
The doors parted to reveal that reception line of drivers all holding name cards. I must confess to secretly hoping I would finally have a person there with my name on the card. It's kinda like being chosen on Let's Make a Deal."
Instead I found a delightful young czech lady, Teresa, holding a CX World's poster. I was one of several being chosen on that day.
She was pleasant enough but we had to wait 30 minutes for the car due to some snow. I marched around in search of the elusive adapter to no avail. Instead I hit a bank machine and pulled out 500 Czech Krona. Beats the shit out of me how much money I had in my hands. So I made it over to the Starbucks, where everybody seemed delighted to speak English and got a tall coffee for just under 100 CK. Hence I realized that I had pulled out about $10.
I returned to the rendezvous where we met up the UCI Press Officer, a Swiss gentleman named Ricco. We were escorted to a bright yellow Hyundai van where we were introduced to a gentleman whose name spilled out of his mouth like a pile of so much loose change, just consonants everywhere.
I hopped into the back with Ricco only to have Teresa shut the door and return to the airport. This left me and Ricco awkwardly in the back. And we were off for a drive through the snowy grit on the outskirts of Prague without ever seeing a single spire of the great Prague architecture. Within 10 minutes we found ourselves on white rolling plains that might as well have been Pennsylvania. Actually the similarities between the Czech Republic and Pa are noteworthy.
Always looking to make conversation, I asked our driver, a weathered man appearing to be in his late 50s, just what had changed since the fall of Communism more than 20 years earlier....He tilted his head and raised a nostril and held up the palm of his right hand......
In this vaccuum of time I studied all the billboards for car ads, storefronts, and a new glass buildings with Accenture's corporate logo in lights.
"No-thing really," he said.
And returned to driving.
About 30 minutes passed with some chatter between Ricco and I before I asked our driver for which food is the Czech Republic known. Although he had a good command of English the question confused him.
Ricco, who could speak about four languages well, helped me out by asking "Specialty....Food...Czech Republica."
You see, crossing into different languages can some times be like using Google. You just plug different words into the search engine without a whole lot of concern for prepositions, tense, form, etc. And then you see what you get.
"Ahhhh..." the driver said, again the nostril and the chin and the palm came up.
In that vaccuum I saw assorted pizza delivery trucks roll by and some KFC billboards.
Half expecting something such as Paella, I returned to the window. Nearly two hours after leaving Prague we rumbled off the Autopista and within a few turns were in Tabor. Having been told of this town's stark existence, I found the Hotel Dvorak to be a stunning venue. I would stay in a building that once housed a brewery, anchored by a tower that has to be at least 500 years old.
I dumped my bags into Room 103, spending a few minutes to familiarize myself with the light buttons and plumbing fixtures and closets. Foreign travel is great for just shaking up your senses.
Then I hit out on to the streets, hoping to find an adapter for my plugs.
"Everybody speaks English," I had been told. To that point, Teresa, the Starbucks crew, and the driver were practically fluent in English. With that confidence I stomped up the narrow cobbled streets, bathed in the fantastic, compact architecture of this town that once sparked the Hussite Revolution. The buildings, dating back to the 1200s were simply too fantastic to describe. I shall need to post photos.
I found my way to a "Billa" supermarket. After trying to find an adapter, I found a staffer...No English. The next one; no English.
Nobody spoke English....Not a bit.
I found a young lady who said, frightened, "a leetle bit." So I wound up the search engine.
"Ah....there left 200 meters"
I made it to the smallstore and went through the same pantomine with a clerk. "Ahhh!" She climbed a ladder and found one. The cost? About $6.
With that I sucked in the town, stopping at some store fronts, one of which was a tribute to Milos Fisera, a Tabor rider who won the worlds in 1982.
I returned to the Billa and grabbed four different varieties of beer and some fantastic smelly cheese, crackers and water. Total? About $8.
At this point the text went off. Melanie Leveau, my liaison, invited me to the World Cup award ceremony. She told me to be in the lobby at 7.
I returned, drained a Pilsner Urquell, used my Starbucks card as a knife on cheese, and then made the lobby. There I found a handful of people waiting for rides. I can pick out UCI people a mile away. But through the din of Czech, Flemish, Dutch, French and German, I heard an American voice. I chirped my way into a mini-van with about eight others and found myself next to the American. He was Mike Plante, the man who promoted the Tour DuPont and has guided much of the development of American professional cycling. This would be the first of many great contacts made.
We arrived to the race venue. True to reports, this venue is situated amidst stark Soviet Bloc apartments. In Arctic conditions, we crunched across the snow and down a metal staircase to a massive VIP tent. Finding this was like reaching a Mandan village along the Missouri in January, 1802. We entered the blank white tent to a blast of warmth and glowing light. The 10,000 square foot tent had hard wood floors, plants, linens, tables, a massive buffet a man greeting us with champagne in flutes. Fantastic.
As I processed through I found Simon Burney, the tall, smiling Brit who wrote the book that guided much of the development of cyclo-cross in English speaking nations.
"Let's get you a seat up front," he said.
I met Melanie finally and Peter van den Abeele, who hired me for this gig. "Are you ready to be the presenter tonight?" said Peter.
"Uhhh......What?" I replied.
Melanie nodded along with the joke.
Finally I drained my champagne and said, "Four more of these and I will be ready."
I sat in the second row, behind the riders who would be honored.
The curious thing about great cyclists is that unlike American pro athletes are typically massive specimens, cyclists in street clothes make a modest impression. Then the who's who started with Simon quizzing me. Adri Van Der Poele, Beat Wabel, Danny De Bie...all legends...milled about. Then the ceremony started. The junior world cup podium was great as it featured the winner, David Van Der Poel, who is the son of Adri. What shocked me was to learn he was the grandson of Raymond Poulidor!
with each podium I got to learn about the riders and study their mannerisms. One can see why Niels Albert can be seen as arrogant. And how Sven Nys is such a popular man. The three "Dutchie" women, Van Paasen, Vos and Van Den Brand were splendidly understated. But the electricity of the night and of that room crackled around one man, Zdenek Stybar, who won the World Cup. This young Czech star has to be one of the most handsome men I've ever seen.
After the presentation, I ate some rabbit, some ham, some thing else, and something else!
All wonderful. And finally, I got to bed and slept like the dead.
Thanks for reading. Later I hope to post the story from the first day at the venue.
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