Telling Time the Hard Way (Prague, Czech Republic)
The next morning Aldar asked the hotel clerk if he could make train reservations to Budapest for him.
“I can’t do that for you, but she can,” the desk clerk said pointing to a woman at desk with a sign saying, “Concierge.”
Aldar thought “Concierge” was the woman’s name and that it sounded French. Aldar greeted her by saying, “Bonjour Mademoiselle Concierge.”
“My name is Marie Novotna. How can I help you?” she said trying hard not to laugh. This was by far the cutest little person she had ever seen. He was dressed in a nice suit and tie with a pulled down hat that covered his ears. He had rosy checks, bright blue eyes, eye brows that came to little peaks in the center, and a cute innocent grin. She couldn’t help but smile just looking at him.
Aldar realized that the word “Concierge” meant someone who helps hotel guests make reservations and arrange tours. He blushed with embarrassment, which made him seem even more charming to Marie.
“I would be most pleased if you could make a train reservation for me to Budapest,” said Aldar who was trying to speak as politely as possible.
“Well, ordinarily I could do that, but the trains are all on strike and not operating. All the workers want higher pay, so they walked off their jobs. It is no telling how long the strike will last. I could get you a plane ticket.”
“I really would like to see the countryside, and beside I find all the security at airports makes it unpleasant. Would it be possible to take a bus?”
“Yes.” she said as she checked the schedule. “Looks like you just missed the bus to Budapest. The next bus for Budapest doesn’t leave until five hours from now. I would suggest you take the time for some sightseeing. If you haven’t seen the 600 year old astronomical clock at the Old Town Hall, I’m sure you will enjoy it. I like to call it the oldest ‘coo-coo clock’ in the world. It should be ringing pretty soon now. You can leave your suitcase here with me and pick it up before you catch the bus.”
“Thank you very much for your kind assistance,” Aldar said with a little bow. Maria tried not to giggle at his cute attempt to be polite.
When Aldar got to the Old Town Square, it was full of people waiting for the clock to strike the hour. The Astronomical Clock was confusing to look at. It was supposed to show many things including the position of the sun, the phases of the moon, and the time of the first day of spring. Aldar wished he would have had time to try to figure it all out.
All of a sudden a little figure of a skeleton pulled a cord that rang a bell. The figure next to it as well as two figures on the other side of the clock moved their heads. At that moment two little doors opened up above the clock and six craved figures appeared one at a time at each of the doors. Each figure turned to face the crowd as it reached in the doorway. Aldar overhead a tour guide saying they represented the Christian saints called “The Twelve Apostles.” The show ended when a model of a roaster at the top of the clock crowed. The people watching all applauded.
Aldar, who loved things mechanical, had to see how this all worked. He went around to the Tower entrance and asked the woman attendant if he could see the inside of the clock.
“I am really sorry, we are not running any tours today, but you can take the elevator or climb the stairs to the top of the tower and get a great view of the city.”
As Aldar went around up a ramp and toward the stairs, he noticed a small black door under the stairway. He correctly guessed that this door was at about the same level as the clock. The door had a lock on it.
“This lock should be a piece-of-cake to pick,” he said to himself. Aldar, it turns out, had somewhat of a criminal past. It all had to do with chocolate, something elves can’t seem to get enough of, and will even commit small crimes to obtain. When he was around ten years old, his mother caught him snitching chocolate from the kitchen. She thought she would solve the problem by putting a lock on the cabinet. Aldar was determined to get into the chocolate cabinet. He checked out a book about how locks work from the library and figured out how to pick the lock. His mother did not notice the missing chocolate, because he cleverly only took a few pieces at a time. After Aldar had collected a good amount, he would have a “chocolate pig-out day.” This worked great for a while until his 12 year old sister, Edda, caught him and threatened to tell their mother unless Aldar shared the chocolate with her. It took a few more weeks to collect enough chocolate for the both of them, but it worked out great. “Chocolate pig-out day” was much more fun when shared someone else. Their mother never was able to figure out why every few weeks or so, the children would run wildly around the house with more energy than two Icelandic horses.
So it was that Aldar was able to pick the lock on the door to the clock in a jiffy. He climbed the stairs to where the little statues were located, and spent quite a while looking at the mechanisms that drove the figures around. He got a little too close to one of the gears, which suddenly moved and snagged off his hat causing it to fall on the halo of one of the little saint figures. Just then the gong rang that signaled the new hour. Aldar with his quick elf reflexes thought he could grab his hat in time. He was a half-second too late. The whole wheel with the figures began to move. Before Aldar could reach his hat, he was in front of the crowd. He was the same size as the figures, and although he did his best to imitate their movement, the crowd was not fooled. When Aldar appeared, people reacted with gasps of alarm, applauds, and laughter. Aldar spotted a couple of policeman who he could tell were not amused. They were rapidly making their way toward the clock.
Aldar grabbed his hat off of the figure’s halo. As he raced down ramp, he spotted the policeman who were fast approaching the tower entrance doorway. Aldar leaped behind the ticket counter. He signaled the alarmed woman attendant to please not say anything. He did this by first putting his finger in front of this lips to ask her to be quiet and than begging her by putting his hands together. The attendant was so charmed by these actions, no way she would turn him over to the police. She gave Aldar a nice pat on the head to let he know that she would not squeal on him.
When the police continued past the counter and on up toward the clock, Aldar leaped on the counter top. He gave the attendant a big kiss of gratitude on her forehead. As the attendant was momentally paralyzed by the enchantment of an elfish kiss, Aldar dashed through the crowd as fast as he could.
He overheard various comments from the clock spectators:
“The guide book said there were twelve figures. I counted thirteen.” said a confused tourist.
“Did you see the hat on one of the saints halos? How odd,” said another tourist.
“What a cool thing to add an elf!” a college student exclaimed.
“I wonder if they dress up the elf at Christmas?” said another tourist.
“Mommy, can we stay another hour to see the elf again?” asked a little girl.
Aldar grabbed his suitcase from the hotel and walked as fast as he could to the bus station. The bus for Budapest wasn’t leaving for another two hours. Fearing the police would be looking for him, he asked the ticket agent if there was an earlier bus going in the direction of Budapest.
“There is a bus leaving for Bratislava in five minutes. Bratislava is about half way to Budapest. It is at gate 10. If you hurry, you can make it,” said the ticket agent.
Aldar breathed a sigh of relief when he boarded the bus to Bratislava. Had he been caught by the police, no telling what terrible things would have happened when they discovered they had arrested an elf.
Back home in Iceland such a thing would be no problem. Many people in Iceland believe in elves. If an elf were caught by human police while doing some act of mischief, the police would give the elf a short lecture and let elf go. They learned from experience never to put an elf in jail. Some years ago an elf was put into jail for a minor offense. (Elves are incapable of committing a major crime.) The elf community assembled not a team of lawyers, but rather a team of their best tricksters. The police suffered one trick after, each getting more annoying than the previous. They finally let the jailed elf go with apologies, as well as a good amount of cash to make up for the time he spent behind bars.
This wasn’t Iceland. So needless to say, Aldar was happy to safely get on the bus out of town. However, what he expected to be an overnight stop in Bratislava, Slovakia, turned out to be much more.