abroad, African-American, Arab Spring, BDBT, Black, Boogie Down, Bronx, Charles Bridge, Europe, Hilton, international, international travel, Lesser Town, New York, Prague, Rick Steves, tale, tour, traveling while black, twins, Vienna, woman
I was doing my best to stay awake. It was only six in the evening in Prague, and noon on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. However, I hadn’t slept well on the flight over from New York to London, or from London to Prague. So far, my first overseas trip was a bust, and it was only the first day!
Why was it a bust? Let’s see. I had already been stranded at the Prague airport hours earlier because I missed the first bus transfer to the hotel by ten minutes. When the time for the second and final transfer from the airport to the hotel passed, two and one-half hours later, with no sign of the tour company arriving to pick me up, I fought to stay awake and plot my next move.
I had finally decided to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel on my own. The cab driver deposited me at the Hilton and Tour Director Wolfgang’s personal greeting and profuse apology mollified me somewhat.
Seems that traffic had been a nightmare and he knew that they would not have been back to pick me up on time. He had my name paged over the intercom at the airport to tell me exactly that. Hadn’t I heard my name? Well, I had heard what I thought was my name announced faintly as I waited at a small, overpriced café in the arrivals area. Honestly, though, as sleepy as I was I thought I hallucinated it. Who expects to hear their name in heavily accented English at another country’s airport?
That taken care of, he insisted that I tell him how much my taxi ride cost, including tip, so he could immediately issue a refund. Of course I had made the taxi driver give me a written receipt so I could demand a refund. Had the tour director not reimbursed me on the spot, I would have caused a MAJOR international incident.
After Wolfgang checked me in, I followed Rick Steves‘ perennial advice to stay awake to acclimate to the time zone. I took a shower and forced myself to stay awake for a “meet and greet” dinner at six p.m. with the other tour companions and the director, followed by a night tour of Prague by bus.
Was this “meet and greet” dinner really necessary? I grumbled as I sleep-walked my way to the lobby. And whose bright idea was it to do a bus night tour of Prague after dinner? So we can sleep instead of sight-see, right?
I was in no mood to try to make nice with the other tour companions, so I arrived a little early at the Hilton’s restaurant for the private meet and greet and sat at a table by myself. If I sat by myself, I wouldn’t need to spend precious brain power talking that I could use to stay awake.
My perfect plan was foiled when into the restaurant walked two women who looked eerily similar, and sat right next to me. Then, three other people sat at our six-person table, and we had a full table. Really, people?
However, my mood immediately lightened when I started talking to my table group. I found out that the women who looked eerily similar were, in fact, twins from the Bronx, New York. They had traveled all over the world and had originally planned to take a tour of Egypt, except the Arab Spring had happened right before they booked their trip. They decided that Eastern Europe was a much safer destination.
These sisters were hilarious! They argued. They finished each other’s sentences. And they took an interest in me because I was traveling alone. They were perfect! They were the Batman to my Robin. They scooped me up like a lost little girl and gave me my first instructions on how to travel the world well.
When I had to get out money at an ATM mere steps from the Charles Bridge in Prague’s Lesser Town, they had my back. When the evil puppeteer had a hissy fit and meltdown because I didn’t buy any of his marionettes (but took plenty of pictures), they were the first ones to yell back at him. When it was time to roll out from Prague to Vienna, they saved me a bus seat across from them and had argued with a couple on the tour who wanted the seats; thus protecting my right to sit across from them. SN ~ I was casually finishing breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, intending to get to the bus a mere fifteen minutes before it left. I had no idea the twins were flipping tables on my behalf.
They were perfect! They were the Batman to my Robin.
Before we left Prague, I had dubbed them the Boogie Down Bronx Twins (BDBT). Even though they were White and in their 50s, they took to the nickname like a bee to honey. And by the time we ended our trip in Budapest, Hungary, they had knighted me an honorary New Yorker and honorary twin.
The BDBT taught me invaluable lessons about traveling. Among them:
- Take an aspirin to thin your blood and help prevent blood clots before getting on a plane. SN ~ this is not medical advice. I am not a doctor. I don’t even play one on t.v. Call your own doctor to confirm.
- Taking a taxi is for wimps in a walkable city. You see and notice more of the city when you’re walking, even if your legs feel like twigs that will break and crumble at any moment.
- Never, ever eat in the hotel restaurant unless it’s the complimentary breakfast because it’s too expensive.
- Save two to three times the cost of a hotel restaurant meal by finding safe places were the locals eat.
- Make time to experience the arts (ballet, concerts) while in other countries.
- Don’t be afraid to get to know people on tour. It is their friendship and camaraderie that enliven the trip.
- Always adopt a single traveler so he or she is not fending for themselves all the time.
- When people of the world act rude, give them a healthy dose of that indomitable New York attitude to check them and get them back on track.
- When staying at any Hilton worldwide, should you receive unsatisfactory service, hold up your index finger, wave it a circle, and declare with your New York accent that “Rick Hilton will be hearing about this!”
Sadly, I’ve lost touch with the BDBT. However, their memory and lessons will live on in my heart. It’s because of them that my second overseas trip was so much fun, and I traveled around London with my daughter with self-confidence and without a tour guide.
The next time you’re sleep-deprived and jet-lagged and fighting to sway awake, don’t despair. You just might be on the verge of meeting dynamic travel companions who will help you weave a Boogie Down Bronx Tale of your own.