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Posts Tagged ‘castle’

Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map

August 9th, 2009 Comments off

Our GPS, as we’ve mentioned, had moments of great mischief during our jaunt through Europe. At several points, driving through both the Czech Republic and Poland, the highway icons on her display disappeared and we were, according to her, in the middle of huge fields with no roads in sight.

“Recalculating,” she said. “Take first dirt road on left.”  Fact was, we were traveling down a four-lane  highway at 75 mph.

In downtown Geneva, looking for a gas station, she sent us down a narrow road that ended at a farmer’s market.

Her most upsetting techno-glitch came when we were in Slovakia and had typed in the address for our campground in Trencin, a small town north of the capital city of Bratislava. The camping books didn’t say much about the place, except that it was on a small island in the middle of a river.  And we didn’t flinch when GPS sent us down increasingly less-maintained streets in a sketchy industrial neighborhood. It wasn’t passing the smell test, but we thought we would come upon a bridge that would take us onto the island with the campground.

Instead, we found ourselves inside what appeared to be an abandoned or little-used industrial yard in the midst of train tracks.  We conjured images of gypsies ready to pounce.  “This isn’t right,” Jeanne said. “Uh, let’s back out of here.”

We did and, as we approached the road, a man came running out toward us. Great. He’s going to stall us, distract us, as his cohorts in crime gather for their ambush. He smiled. Nice try, buster.

I told him we were lost. (Duh.) We didn’t understand his response but it was clear he did not speak English. And we knew something was up. He kept smiling.

Jeanne reached across me and handed him the book with the name of the campground. His eyes lit up. “Ah!” works in any language.  He started talking to us. I looked at him and shrugged. “I don’t understand,” I said. I pretended to look pitiful to gain sympathy.  Actually, I didn’t need to pretend at all.

He held up a finger as if to say “Wait,” and walked quickly back to what looked like a guard shed. He returned with a yellowed piece of paper, the kind that would have come out of a Big Chief tablet when I was in second grade back in 1958.

He drew me a map, and walked me through it.  He drew the road with several curves, bends and hard turns. He drew railroad tracks. (I went “ding-ding-ding-ding-ding” to imitate the sound of a crossing-guard gate. He looked at me, lost his smile, then found it again, and said “ding ding ding!”) Then he drew signal lights and a traffic circle and the name of a store, and an island in the middle of a river, and the name of the campground. Bingo!

I thanked him. Jeanne really thanked him and took his picture. We smiled and he smiled and we made it to the campground without a problem, four miles away. We camped alongside a river, below an old castle that was illuminated with colored lights.

GPS never apologized but she had sent us to a very nice map maker with a great smile.

When a tour guide’s day goes bad

August 1st, 2009 Comments off

I enjoy driving friends down the Las Vegas Strip as their personal tour guide.  The Strip has such rich history, you know. Goes back years.

Ah, the Mirage, which brought Vegas into a new era of luxury hotels when it opened in 1989. Steve Wynn ordered models of the waterfalls to determine which was the best angle of the falls to generate the most white water. And if you smell pina colada, that means there’s a natural gas leak in the burners that feed the volcano.

Ah, the Luxor – which, when it opened in 1993, was the tallest hotel in Southern  Nevada. And it looks so small today compared to all the new high-rises! When designers built the model of the pyramid to determine how best to support it, the structure collapsed onto itself, so the architects decided to throw in huge support cables, anchored at the four corner bases. Must have done the trick. On opening day, we saw the talking camels and took a ride down the interior canal  that was pitched as a ride down the Nile. Man, that was cool.

Ah, the Flamingo, the place that mobster Bugsy Siegel opened way, way back in 1946. See that floral-themed entrance? In a reconstruction of the hotel, an architect – who also designed floats for Pasadena’s Rose Parade — thought it would be sharp to bring a sense of sweeping flowers to the Strip.

What great insights a good tour guide can offer, and what a command of history he must have. I can even talk to you about Las Vegas’ early history, going back nearly to the turn of the century.

Imagine, then, how smart our tour guide was in Prague, which was founded around the year 880 with the construction of a castle that, today, is the largest castle complex in the world. The castle’s centerpiece is the spectacular, Gothic-designed St. Vitus Cathedral, which dates to 1344.

So let’s see. Vegas is 100 years old, Prague is more than 1,200 years old. Man, I bet that city’s got some stories!

Our tour guide, Vlastmil, was soft spoken, reminding us of actor David Morse, with a sweet, quiet sense of humor. And he certainly looked young, considering he must have been in his 50s. He told us he’s been a Prague tour guide for 35 years.

I asked Vlastmil, who speaks Czech, English and French, what constitutes a bad day at the office?

“It’s when the tour operator says he has set you up with a bus of English speakers and, when you get on the bus, it turns out they speak Turkish, Chinese and Portuguese.”