I was lost in the city centre of Brno.
It's a scary experience to be lost alone in a city where you don't speak the language and has name that looks like a type-o. I hadn't even heard of the city until I booked a flight to it. For the uninitiated, Brno is a city in the Czech Republic quite near to the Slovakian border.
The plan was simple. I would fly from Eindhoven to Brno airport, take a bus from there to the city which would drop me off near the Central Station from which I would get another bus to Holíč, a tiny town in Slovakia where I was meeting a friend I was visiting.
I began to suspect this plan was going off the rails when after a good 30 minutes of walking from where the airport bus had dropped me off I realised I had no idea where I was. Unfamiliar places have a strange tendency to feel hostile and uninviting when you are lost in them. My mind was racing with all kinds of scenarios of terrible things that would happen to me as I doubled back to where I was dropped off. The tall grey buildings that had initially look drab and uninviting now seem to be looming over me with hostile intent. I was unnerved by the billboards and advertisements selling familiar products and brands in an unfamiliar language. I began to feel like I had landed in some uncanny parallel universe where I had lost the ability to read.
But the panic didn't set in until I tried calling my friend and saw my phone was out of battery. I stopped in my tracks and stared at the blank screen. I had charged it to full the night before and after less than 12 hours, this shitty 3-year-old Blackberry was dying on me at the worst possible moment.
Now I began to feel the fear as the prospect of being stuck here without the means to contact anyone set it. I began legging it back to where the bus had dropped me off as I remembered there was a shopping mall nearby and I hoped that one of the shops in there would let me charge my phone.
Already my brain was formulating Plan Bs and Plan Cs and the Nuclear Option (return to the airport, go back to Holland and never travel again).
I walked through the revolving doors into the mall and was relieved to see a Vodafone stand in the middle of the promenade. My provider at the time was Vodafone so I figured the guys behind the counter would have my back, I anticipated the impending language barrier I knew I was about to come up against and took out my charger and held my phone in the other hand, hoping one of the employees would be able to put two and two together and figure out what I was asking.
I went up to the stand and got one the attention of this young bearded guy and started gesturing with my phone and charger.
“Can I charge my phone here?” I said, doing my best to put on a look of panic and wide-eyed innocence in the hopes he would pity me and accept my request.
He gave me a puzzled look for a moment but my masterplan to wildly gesticulate with my phone and charger worked and he understood what I was asking. Unfortunately the answer was no. I almo
st got whiplash from how quickly my plan went from working to completely failing. I tried reasoning with him for little longer (well, I said “Please” over and over) but he was adamant it wasn't happening. I felt betrayed, let down by my provider. Years of loyal service and this was how they repayed me. It was tough lesson on the uncaring nature of faceless corporations. What a day of life lessons this was turning into.
I moved on and found a Carphone Warehouse a little further down the way. I walked up to it with suspicion. I had approached a phone-based shop expecting help before and gotten burned and I wasn't going to let myself look like a fool again.
I went up to the counter inside the store and employed the same tactic as before, gesturing with my phone and charger at the employee:
“Can I charge my phone here?” This employee was taking longer to understand. She looked at what I was holding then at me then back to what I was holding, slowly connecting the dots in her hand. She was an awkward and spotty looking teenager. I imagined this was her first job and she probably wasn't prepared to handle a sweaty foreigner coming and making strange requests. Eventually though, something clicked in her brain and she said:
“Put energies in phone?” She asked. I was elated. “Yes, yes, put energies in phone! Please, put energies in my phone!” I exclaimed back. We smiled at each other, both proud that we had managed communicate with each other despite everything.
She took my phone to a room in the back and I left to go get myself some water in the supermarket next door. I anxiously waited outside the store for 20 minutes before going back inside to retrieve my phone.
I called up my friend and I explained to him what had happened. He managed to figure out where I was on Google maps and he used Street View to guide me to the bus stop. Walking down the street as he used satellite imagery to track where I was made me feel like I was in a really shitty Jason Bourne movie.
In any case, the plan worked and after more gesticulating I managed to buy a ticket to where I needed to go. I was only 70% I got on the correct bus though and I was tense the entire ride there. I started to relax when I saw the sign for Holíč and the tension only truly left my shoulders once I saw my friend waiting for me at the bus stop.
Bewilderingly, even though I had only charged it for 20 minutes at that Carphone Warehouse, my phone lasted another 3 days before I needed to charge it again. Can't beat Czech energies.