Surviving Prague

First, let me apologise for the lag time between posts… not that I’ve ever been very good at posting routinely but this time, my legitimate reason was a lack of a working laptop.  We’re now back in business so here’s hoping to catch everyone up!  Bear with me as it will take a couple posts to cover the last month.

After we left our lake spot in Germany towards the end of September, we made our way to the eastern part of the country where we spent two lovely days in the countryside at Toril’s Rocky Mountain Horse breeding farm.  This was a much needed break for both us and the dogs, who were finally able to run around off lead together in the safety of the fields there without us having to worry about bothering anyone.  I got a brief horse fix, as we were allowed to say hello to the herd (45 horses strong, with lots of babies).  One of our awesome followers reached out and got us in touch with her friend, who owns the farm.  We were, and continue to be, incredibly grateful when our followers reach out and help us find safe spots to stay, offer advice on visiting their home towns or cities, or send us information about local resources (like vets).  It always warms our hearts that so many people follow our journey and stay involved as we wander our way through Europe!

We initially intended to spend a bit of time with Toril, enjoying the horses and helping around the farm, before making our way to Prague.  Unfortunately, Travis received a phone call on our second night that his grandfather had reentered the hospital.  Of course, he needed to return to the States as soon as possible, and was lucky to find a flight out of Prague less the 48 hours later.  He wanted me to stay on the farm with the dogs, as it would be easier for me to handle them all alone there.  However, the drive to and from Prague was daunting for me, along with the knowledge that we would be wasting a great deal of fuel going back and forth.  I opted to find a real campsite in the city where I could stay safely while he was away.  It would be our first time staying at a campsite, ever, and my first time dealing with nine dogs on my own in a city environment.  To say I was intimidated is an understatement, but despite Travis’s worries for me, I stuck to that plan.

The campsite couldn’t have proven to be more perfectly located.  It was on a little peninsula on the river right dead in the middle of the city.  There were free showers with my stay, and they accepted (and charged me for) all nine dogs.  Despite that, the cost was reasonable; I paid around $197 for five nights with our caravan, myself and the nine dogs.  

We parked towards the back of the site, as far away from the other campers as the little space allowed.  That did put us next to the dumping area for waste, which proved to be a bit of a nuisance.  Not because of the smell, surprisingly, there wasn’t any; but because every day three or four campers would pull up next to us to do their thing and that sent the dogs into a frenzy of barking, howling, and other loud and annoying behaviours.  No one seemed to mind though, and in fact, I had to come flying out of the caravan multiple times to save some oddly brave campers from attempting to pet the mastiffs who were tied outside.  As a dog person, I understand that my big fluffy dogs resemble teddy bears, but I’m continually fascinated by how many people seem to think that their snarling, leaping, obviously aggressive behaviour isnearly  actually them pleading for pets.  In case anyone is wondering, its not.  They truly do want to eat you and those massive snapping jaws are as mean and sharp as they look.  One couple stood just out of their reach for nearly 15 minutes, cooing and making what I suppose they thought were sweet faces while I clung desperately to their leads trying to avoid their teeth myself and tried to make this very lovely but completely non-english speaking couple understand that the dogs were NOT friendly.

It rained a lot while I was in Prague, and by that I mean every single day, all day, except one.  By the second evening, I had developed a routine that ensured all the dogs were happy and I was continuously exhausted.  Wake up was 0700, with puppies going for their walk first.  We walked a minimum of an hour, rain or shine, back and forth along the peninsula.  When we got back, I fed all the dogs, then took the Shepherds and Wasi for their own hour long walk.  Finally, I would get those seven settled down for the morning, sweep out the caravan, empty the litter box, wipe the counters down, tie up the trash bag and take the mastiffs off for their much shorter walk to the trash bins.  More then once I was stopped by other campers who waved their hands at Nibble’s soaking wet coat and asked why I didn’t let her inside with the others.  I had to explain that Nibble tolerates about five minutes at a time in the caravan before she starts tearing things apart in her attempts to get out.  If its raining, make that two minutes.  I spent half my time there trying to coax her inside out of the rain because I could feel the judgement of the other campers as she sat out in the rain, to no avail.  She’s never happier then when she’s dug herself a muddy hole to lounge in while the rain pours down.  I’ve long ago learned to just accept her quirks and let go of the guilt and eventually I shrugged off the questions and let her get on with it.

Friday of that week dawned bright and clear for a change, and I had worked up the nerve to enter the city and play tourist for a few hours.  It took me 30 minutes to finally sneak away from the caravan satisfied that the dogs were sleeping soundly.  For those looking for advice on how to travel with (many) dogs and be able to leave them safely and quietly for tourist stops, I highly recommend mandatory nap times.  Every day, from ten to three, our dogs sleep.  Even if we are somewhere they could be out playing, during those hours, its nap time.  The reason is because those are the hours during which we do our driving or sightseeing.  By creating a routine that requires sleeping during those hours, regardless of what we are doing that day, we have conditioned the dogs.  Thus, when we are on the road, they aren’t restless while we drive.  Or when we want to leave them for a couple hours to see the sights, we know they will sleep quietly and not disturb people with barking.  A set, unbreakable routine is the key to happy dogs even when you’re living a “normal” life, but its a critical part of how we keep them content, safe, and satisfied with life even when their surroundings are changing day to day.  Routine creates easily adjustable dogs!

Not seeing Prague was one of my biggest regrets last year, so this year I was determined to do it right.  The Astrological Clock was my main goal.  I managed to navigate the metro into the city without any issues, and Wasi and I took our time meandering through the cobblestone streets, taking photos and following brown signs for local sights.  I had entered the city around eleven, and it wasn’t overly busy when we started out.  But as I mentioned, this was the first sunny day that week, and it was obvious the tourists were planning to take full advantage.  Within an hour, the streets were packed and I was fighting off a panic attack.  I debated just abandoning my plans, but my pride kicked in and I convinced myself that at the very least, I would see that damn clock.  I made my way to the square and tried not to faint when I saw the crowds.  Purely by chance, I had stumbled onto the clock right as it was preparing to strike one, and people were everywhere with their phones raised, taking pictures and videos.  I managed to find some standing room and did the same, while Wasi made continuous circles around me, attempting to keep people from invading my space.  At 1301 precisely, I fled.  I had managed just over two hours, but I was at the end of my rope; it was time to get back to the caravan.  

It took me another hour and a half to navigate my way back to the campsite.  I got lost three times on the metro and spent an hour wandering blindly looking for the ferry I knew would take me back.  My phone died and I lost even the ability to search for routes, and at one point, I sat down on a wall and sobbed while Wasi tried everything in his power to comfort me.  Eventually I managed to stumbled onto a dock and ask a police officer about the ferry.  A few minutes later I was on board heading towards “home.”  I must have looked as stressed and drained as I felt, because when I tried to pay the captain, he waved his hand, patted my shoulder and told me to have a better night.  There’s nothing more calming then someone’s kindess, and by the time I walked back to the caravan, I was breathing again.  The overly happy greeting from the dogs helped push the worst of the panic back, and by the time I had them all walked, fed, pottied, and resettled, I could look back on the day glad I’d pushed through.

Saturday I spent mostly reading and recovering, but when Sunday dawned with blue skies, I considered the possibility of visiting the castle, which was very close and wouldn’t require entering the greater city or using the metro.  I was still debating when I ducked my head through my little door to climb on the bed, when Zima, who’d been sniffing around in front of me, raised her head at the exact moment I was ducking mine.  Her head slammed into my chin, and my front teeth sliced straight through my lip.  Blood started pouring out and I scrambled towards the window, holding my lip and cursing.  As I searched frantically in the cabinets overhead for baby wipes to stem the bleeding, Wasi and Dobbie jumped on the bed for a romp.  They were coming towards me full blast and I flung my right arm out to ward them off.  My timing, once again, was perfect.  I flung my wrist directly into Wasi’s mouth, seconds before he chomped down on Dobbie’s tail.  The pain was agonizing.  Wasi released me immediately and scrambled to the other side of the bed, clearly shocked and confused as to when and why Dobbie had turned into me.  

I was rolling in agony, my bleeding lip forgotten.  Wasi had closed his mouth with full force on my wrist and three major punctures were the result.  I’m not naturally queasy, but one look at the deep cuts and my stomach turned and my eyes glazed over.  I managed to find baby wipes and laid there gasping with the wounds covered.  After 15 minutes or so, I was able to sit up, clean the wounds out with wipes from the first aid kit, and wrap my wrist.  I was afraid to do anything else, and my hand was completely useless.  The next 56 hours were a nightmare.  Walking the dogs was no longer possible with the use of only one arm.  Advil wasn’t close to enough to numb the pain, and even lifting empty feed bowls had me whimpering and kneeling until the lightheadness passed.  The dogs were miserable and bored, I was in agony, and Travis wasn’t due back until the next morning.  Normally, I would never consider going to a doctor for a dog bite, but this time, I wondered if it was going to be necessary.

I managed to make it through that day and night through sheer determination.  I took the dogs to potty one by one right there at the campsite, fed one handed, filled waters using my knees to support the water jug, and popped Advil like candies.  I kept reminding myself that Travis would be back soon and then I could see a doctor and he could help with the dogs.  Monday took forever to come; I couldn’t sleep through the pain, the dogs were running around the caravan playing and I was stuck eating pretzels because I couldn’t make anything else.  Then I got a text from Travis that his flight from New Jersey had been delayed and made him miss his connection in Switzerland.  He wouldn’t be back until Tuesday.  I cried and cried and cursed the world, the dogs, myself and wondered how we’d all survive another day.  It was one of the hardest moments I’ve ever had travelling.  Sensing my distress, Zima climbed into my lap and snuggled close.  She was followed by Dobbie, then Wasi, Slade, then Nefsi, Syn, then Balkan, Lager, then Moscato.  They laid there with me, paws on my legs, heads on my shoulders, noses pressed to my face while I sobbed.  And despite my upset, I started to smile.  Its impossible to continue to feel hopeless when there’s all that fur around you preventing you from drawing a full breath, wanting to comfort you with sloppy kisses, and smacking you in the face with wagging tails.

We survived that day, the sleepless night that followed, and Tuesday morning until Travis finally made it back.  His travel experience over the last two days had been as rough as mine with missed flights, continual delays, and lost baggage.  He greeted me with mini crumb cakes and goldfish and took the dogs out for a proper walk.  We spent a final night there, letting Travis recover before setting out for Slovakia. 

Prague was beautiful, and seeing the clock was worth it, but I sincerely hope thats the last time I feel like I have actually survived a city!