This post is the fifth in MIPTC's travel series (part three), which started on April 5, if you're interested in reading from the beginning. Otherwise, jump in and travel along in this continuing day from part two, above.
Before we get to the masquerade ball, however, we travel to the Secret Society building, which is nothing more than a pale green, non descript building in the middle of the block in the middle of Prague. It is not open, nor is it labeled or otherwise described. Without a guidebook, we are dumbstruck, unable to figure out its significance beyond a recommendation from a Czech friend in the US as something we should see. Thank God for the Internet.
Next, we're off to Powder Gate, which appears to be a large tower with more ornate and now black-with-soot statutes who hold various bright gold swords, crosses, papal crooks and sport radiant halos with stars above their heads, and the gold stands in stark contrast to the black backdrop of the Gate. Cars and trucks drive two-wide coming and going underneath the Gate, which is more like a freestanding tower, somewhat reminiscent of the short tunnel under the redwood tree in northern California, but certainly not as rural and much more imposing. Even so, the tree and the Gate are about as tall as one another, to add another perspective.
The underground is a long descent down a dizzyingly steep escalator, steep enough to stop us from walking down it, as we're prone to do in the US. We notice no one else walks down, either. Once in the bowels of the system, the signs are all in Czech quite unlike the signs topside. Immediately it becomes apparent: Prague is a walking city, and there's no real need for tourists to use the underground. It's really for the commuters. Undaunted and wanting to act like a native, we nevertheless plunge ahead. We're the only one holding a map of the city, betraying us as the non-natives we are.
The stops are all obviously foreign names and unintelligible to us who do not speak Czech or for that matter know how to get where we want to go. But after staring at the map and the names of the stops, it slowly dawns on us how to get back to Mala Strana, where we're staying just next to the U.S. Embassy (thankfully, that's the one with the recognizable flag on the map we're holding). It's the small things that help.
The yellow line boxy red and cream-colored trains speed into the station from the dark of the tube with two shining headlights signaling their arrival. We hop on the crowded train in the right direction, get out and walk up two flights of stairs to transfer at the Můstek station where the yellow line crosses to a green line silver train toward our destination. We dutifully listen to the formless woman speak the names of the stops in names we can't pronounce ourselves, but can thankfully understand given our map. Once we've passed under the ubiquitous Vltava river, it's then off at the correct stop and we're back up a less steep escalator to the sunny world above.
Once out of the netherworld, we realize too late that we've forgotten our errand to exchange some more money to pay our driver this evening. We walk back across a bridge over the river Vltava to the recommended money changer with the best rates in town, only to walk right past an underground stop next to our destination. So much for our self-congratulations for "figuring out" the underground.