I’m outside a metro station in Prague and I can’t figure out how to get back into Europe

Traveller confusion reigns amid shifting advice and variants

This weekend my friends and I spent the Fourth of July holiday in Bulgaria and Czech Republic, living in both tourist and destination mode as we paid our respects at the Black Sea beach memorial and watched the fireworks display of Bucharest’s soccer club, Dinamo, on a boat trip to Bardok.

In Germany and Austria we entered two hotels for visits, and both places told us we would get upgrades based on how many of us they had. Only one place said this in Prague, but my penmanship does not work on hotel stationery.

On the way to the final destination — Budapest, Hungary — I realized I’d walk across Hungary across the border, at least part way, and a diplomat told me that would be illegal. I got lost without my map, which I now own but cannot figure out how to start reading out loud.

I returned home last night to trip to Amsterdam to retell the experience with my children and their friends. (They are 20 months and 5 years old.)

At the barricades I turned to the drivers at a cross walk (“What do you want?” “I’ll give you the one I wanted.”), and on the way back I turned to the drivers at a cross walk (“Where is the pedestrian or cyclist?” “Can you take a detour?” “Stop!” “Get lost!”)

A longstanding “problem” of my childhood — that people talk too much — has long since morphed into a traveling “problem.” In past years when I could find friends fast enough, or had directions too (often the easiest way out of the traffic), I always figured I could solve this one. Now I stare at these numbers as an email.

As usual, I’m afraid to face this confusion. I’ve been warned about drinking alcohol for fear of trips through Europe. I’m also plagued by a feeling of embarrassment, discomfort, disagreement and despair. It’s not just that this stuff is complex, so much of it is happening on unfamiliar ground. My own mistake is this: I conflate several complicated issues and head home to face them. I’m so worried to make a mistake I quickly convince myself there’s no other place to go.

I wander into a busy cafe and remember there’s an event at the airport I’d been talking about. It’s gone, but I miss the sound of a man asking for directions. I pretend I’m on vacation and see if anyone will help him. A friend leaves me in a rush. I walk over an overpass and hit a pedestrian who is walking over me. I feel bad about walking across the border and it’s hard to imagine I was unable to figure it out.

I didn’t even know these men had different sets of rules, or different jobs, and these seemingly timeless issues of origin and nature and experience would confound my nearly fluent travel vocabulary. They confound me because I believe that what happened could happen to a wide variety of people in any country, or at any time.

I can’t help but believe that I’m wrong. And that people should simply show more respect to others at places they don’t understand. As many have often said: Leave the fighting to the people with a gun and a driving license.

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