We took the train from Budapest to Prague, and for the first few hours we were alone in a six-seat private carriage. Finally, somewhere in Slovakia a spunky white-haired woman poked her head in the room and politely asked if the empty seats were free. At least I assume that is what she asked, as it was in a language I didn’t begin to understand. Whatever it was, we smiled at her and she came in and sat down. She had a few sacks of belongings which she slowly but thoughtfully packed into the empty seat between us.
Once settled, she turned and started talking to us. We smiled, and she chattered away at us, taking a surprisingly long amount of time before pausing and glancing at us for a response. We took the pause as our chance to say we only spoke English, assuming that would be the end of that. But, assuming she understood what we meant, this only seemed to intrigue her more, and she delivered a most passionate monologue about who knows what. We continued to smile and nod and giggle when it seemed appropriate, and eventually she finished saying whatever it was that she had to say, settled back into her seat, and was silent, smiling softly to herself as she rested.
A few hours later she opened her eyes and once again she began speaking furiously and, seemingly, playfully, at us. This time she was clearly asking us a question, and after an embarrassing length of time I finally guessed (correctly) that she was asking us where we were going. I finally said “Prague”, and her eyes lit up. “Praha!” she exclaimed excitedly (which is how the locals pronounce it). Again we were treated to a speedy barrage of strange vocabulary as she recanted something apparently wonderful about Praha. My brain was working furiously trying to tell if she was telling us a tale from her past, or trying to make a recommendation of something to do, or something else altogether. I began to think she may have been telling us that she had lived in or near Prague back when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were united as Czechoslovakia, but when they separated she left and now lived in Slovakia. That, however, is totally a guess as we struggled to keep up with her. Then as the train came to a stop she ended her tale, waved goodbye, and left us, mouths hanging open.
I don’t know what she said to us. But what a wonderful woman.
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Photo credit: David McMullin