Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Great Escape

I recently played the Party Million poker tournament in Rozvadov. Both the tournament and the casino were great, but travelling to and from the venue without a car proved even more difficult than I expected.

Rozvadov is a small village in the Czech Republic on the German border. Unremarkable apart from the fact that it houses the largest poker room in Europe. King's Casino seems to be turning itself into a major player in the European Poker scene but this was my first time at the venue.

King's Casino - Photo by Tomas Stacha
Generally when playing live poker I like to turn my trip into a mini holiday and have an interesting place to visit and it is a bonus if it is straightforward to get to. Rozvadov had neither of these things in its favour. However, when Party Poker started running satellites to the tourament which had big overlays, I couldn't resist the value and soon managed to win my seat.

I played day one online and despite all my best efforts to build a stack or bust - I limped into day two with a short stack. “It's a long way to go with 24 big blinds” remarked my friend Paul and I had to agree.

Last minute travel plans

Nevertheless I was committed and I still had a shot, so I confirmed my b&b reservation that I'd made several weeks ago. I usually have good attention to detail with these things so I neglected to double check the specifics. I found a cheap flight to Nuremberg at short notice and amazingly there was a rideshare listed leaving Nuremberg two hours after my flight landed which went directly past Rozvadov on the highway. It was all too easy!

My driver was a friendly Czech man who spoke no English. He was driving from Strasbourg to Prague trying to pick people up on the way to help pay for his petrol. He ended up being a bit late so I had a some time to kill at Nuremberg Central Station. I found a cafe area with plugs and wifi and settled in for a while.

Soon I realised that a man was trying to attract my attention from about 10 feet away. At first I ignored him but eventually became tired of his attempts to beckon me over. Approaching him he informed me that he needed his phone charged urgently, I told him to come and sit down and he could borrow my USB cable. It soon became clear that he was legally not allowed to set foot inside this establishment, though he never told me why. He stood resolutely 1cm in front of the entrance. He also only had one eye.

Regrettably I have been somewhat conditioned to assume the worst and in these situations I am always expecting to be ripped off or robbed or to be angled in some way. Yet the curiosity always gets the better of me and I usually go along with it, at least for a while, to see what happens. Almost always of course it is totally fine and on this occasion there was no scam and the guy just wanted his phone charged. He was probably a shoplifter though...

My driver had two other passengers stand him up so was happy to see me. We made small talk in German and French. Sadly he didn't even like football so that was a whole section of my smalltalk with men repertoire out of the window straight away and we soon ran out of things to talk about.
Seems reputable

Arriving at the truck stop

I first realised that something was afoot when I got directions to the hotel from Googlemaps and saw it was 5 kilometers from Rozvadov – not actually in the village itself. The sat nav soon led us there and it became clear that I was staying by the side of the highway in what could only be described as a truck stop. The key was left for me in the flower bed next to the front door in a manila envelope with my name on it. 

Checking in I surveyed the view (quite easily as my room had no curtains). Going clockwise there was a brothel, loads of fields, another brothel and a large barn that had its roof caved in. I had a TV to watch the Champions League final and some snacks, so I passed up the chance to explore and settled in for the night.

The tournament itself was excellent. The poker room is massive. You pay an entrance fee each day and in return you get as much food and soft drinks as you would like to eat. Thankfully I managed to double up within the first 20 minutes. A little later I ran my AK of spades into AA in a standard pot for a big chunk of my stack. The flop was king high with two spades. Somewhat favourable. I was able to complete the suckout on the turn and from then on I was able to pilot my stack into the money. Thereafter a period of supreme card deadness meant that I couldn't really get my chips into gamble and I laddered up a few pay jumps before running my short stack into AA. I finished in 61st out of 820 people - which meant the trip had been worthwhile.

After busting I went back to my hotel in Brothelville. The wifi was down, so I vowed to organise my departure in the morning. I would probably wake up early anyway as there were no curtains.The next day the wifi was still down, so using spotty 3g coverage I managed to find a few German bus timetables on my phone. It is the countryside so the buses were infrequent but it seemed easy enough.

Moosbach from above
An unwise decision

I settled on Moosbach as town over the German border with the next bus departure which I would be sure not to miss. This way I thought I'd save some time and wouldn't have to wait around for as long. I used the shuttle service from the casino and got the driver to drop me off there. He had never heard of the place and seemed unsure of why I was going there but I assured him everything was good.

The bus stop in Moosbach was in the central square and easy to find, but it was unclear which side of the road I had to stand on. I positioned myself in a spot where I could intercept the bus going in either direction and mentally patted myself on the back for being such a boss at navigating European public transport.

The bus didn't arrive on time. Five and then ten minutes passed. I was mildly perturbed, this was Germany after all. Had I made a mistake? I checked the timetable again and everything seemed ok. But then I had a thought. It was a Monday in Spring – the day of the week and the season most likely to have a public holiday. I was in Bavaria, the area of Germany that is the most religious and has the most public holidays of all. I checked the calendar on my phone. Pfingsten/Wittsun. Shit!

I needed help. Next to the bus stop was an inviting guesthouse and bar. Using my very best bad German, I went in and asked the guy working there if there were any buses on holidays. “Nein” he replied and went back to his work. I followed up by asking if he had the phone number for a taxi. “Moment” he growled at me before retrieving his phone and disappearing into the back room. He returned shortly afterwards to bring me the news “He has no time”. Hmmmmmm. I enquired if there was another rival taxi company and was met by a shrug and a look of indifference.

I guess I wasn't surprised that the taxi driver had no time. If he was the only taxi driver in the area I'm sure he had loads of bookings and a packed work schedule.

The man stared at me as I pondered what to do. As I had no idea how to leave this town I hesitated and refused to admit the conversation was over. Several seconds went by as we looked at each other. The room was silent apart from the distant hum of a vacuum cleaner elsewhere in the building. “Goodbye” he eventually barked at me in English in a somewhat passive aggressive way and stepped into the room behind the counter, closing the door.
Which way should I go?

Hugh Grant Mode activated

Quickly I surveyed the layout of the establishment. It seemed that the door led to a some sort of cuprboard or store room and not into the rest of the building itself. If there was no other exit he'd have to come out of there eventually. I decided to test my theory. I took a few steps and banged the entrance door a bit. I then stood as still and as quietly as possible. In my brain I activated 'Hugh Grant Mode'. Shit was getting serious.

It took him less than a minute to come back through the door and the look conveying a mixture of surprise and contempt was priceless. I decided to give it one last shot and asked in my most polite voice with what I hoped was just a hint of desperation "K├Ânnen Sie mir helfen?" - even using the polite Sie form of address.

The man looked me up and down dismissively before delivering his final verdict on the matter “NEIN”. He then began to move towards me, waving his arm in front of him in the manner of attempting to swat a particularly irritable fly. I began to suspect that he hadn't tried to call a taxi for me after all and it seemed that this interaction was becoming something of a dead end.

I've had a lot of conversations with strangers over the years, but this ranked as one of the worst of all time. Personally I feel like I made a good effort and bore little of the blame for the negative outcome. My conversation partner on the other hand left a lot to be desired. As I walked off defeatedly, I mentally crafted a variety of terrible Tripadvisor reviews about the establishment.

Time to call my girlfriend

I was at a loss as to what to do. I vaguely knew where I was but I had no way to leave. In desperation I called my girlfriend. She is Bavarian but had not been back there for around 8 years and she totally hates the place. Her replies to my predicament were along the following lines:

Moosbach Church (under construction)
You woke me up!

Yes it is a holiday so it looks like you are totally fucked

This sounds like the kind of Bavarian town where I grew up, now I guess you understand why I wanted to leave

"Ha Ha. You'll never live this down...!"

During the course of the conversation Church Bells began ringing and suddenly the street was full of Moosbach residents. A bunch of people in robes wandered by. Pensioners ambled through the square. I sensed possibilities... surely this bunch of God-fearing religious people would help a foreigner in need?

I was in the process of selecting which person to go and talk to when a man in army fatigues carrying a giant crucifix walked towards me. Yes, perhaps not him....

I walked a little and found another guesthouse. This time the lady really wanted to help me. We got the phone book and between us called 7 or 8 different taxi companies from the surrounding area. The best result we got was someone saying he might come and pick me up in two hours. He couldn't be sure though.

Religious rejection

My last throw of the dice was to just go and randomly talk to people who had just come out of the church service. I hoped that after relaying my story, one of them might decide to offer me a lift to the next town or know someone who I could pay to drive me.

I told the first guy in a mixture of English, bad German and hand gestures. He was amused,and he laughed a lot at my situation. I was pleased, I was finally establishing a rapport with the locals. The man then turned around and relayed the story to a group of people who were closeby. They all laughed too. Heartily. Hugh Grant Mode was clearly kicking into overdrive.

“So what can I do?” I asked this group of people standing next to their cars, all of whom likely had the entire day off work. No idea, good luck was the cheery response and they all went back to talking amongst themselves. RE-JECTED.

Exhausted of ideas I looked at the map on my phone and found the next town my girlfriend told me about when I called her. I tried to convince myself that it looked slightly bigger than this one. Admittedly surface area wise it did look a similar size. However it was written in a slightly bigger font on Googlemaps, so that must count for something, right?

McQueen leaves Moosbach (maybe)
My mind drifted to one of my favourite movies The Great Escape. These guys had all managed to navigate themselves through German countryside without a car in a variety of innovative and smart ways. They were prisoners of war on the run in behind emeny lines and Donald Pleasence was even going blind. How hard can it be for me?

Of course *spoiler alert* most of them get recaptured or shot at the end of the movie, but I was trying to remain upbeat so I pushed that part out of my mind.

Seeking inspiration I looked up the village on Wikipedia. The entry told me "Moosbach is a municipality in the district of Neustadt (Waldnaab) in Bavaria in Germany" - I scrolled down thinking my phone was buffering, but the page was blank and Wikipedia provided no further information.

By this point I was feeling parched. I walked over to the drinking fountain in the square, leaned in and took a few well needed gulps. Two elderly ladies looked at me with a blend of confusion and disgust. I noticed a sign next to the fountain which said No Drinking Water.

Shanks's Pony was the only method of transport left available to me, so I hauled my luggage on to my back and began walking. So long Moosbach, I can't say I'll be coming back.

Hitchhiking debut

Now at this point I will admit that I've never really fancied myself as much of a hitchhiker. I am easily discouraged and would expect to get downhearted at the constant rejection. My girlfriend had already informed me “Nobody in rural Bavaria will ever pick someone up the way you look.” Despite that withering prediction, I started sticking my thumb up at cars who drove past me as I was walking. One drove past, then two, then three. I was already getting fed up of hitchhiking.

It doesn't look that far!
There was no path at the side of the road, so I was walking on the grass verge, but at least it wasn't raining. When the fourth and fifth drove past I concluding that hitchhiking was crap and stopped putting my thumb up.

After walking for around 1km, something unexpected happened, a car pulled up alongside me. Envisaging a volley of abuse from the driver for breaking some obscure Bavarian law, I ducked down and peered through the window. Behind the wheel was a man wearing a very large hat. He offered me a lift.

The hat pays dividends

Florian was a very nice man and he explained his kindness by saying “Us hat people need to stick together. This is a friendly gift from one man wearing a hat to another

He said he would happily drive me to the next town. I checked with him that I wasn't making him take a detour or that he was on the way to something important. He told me he was on his way to lunch with his friend, but his friend was a terrible cook so it didn't matter if he was late. “So you are lucky and I am lucky!

My driver and saviour seemed optimistic that there would be a bus from the next town, even on a holiday and despite having never caught it himself. Pulling up at the bus stop I was deflated to see that this was the same bus route that served Moosbach. I tried to make one last attempt at deciphering the many subsections of the timetable referring to public holidays. There was either a bus in 45 minutes, or in 6 hours or not at all.

Florian came over to assist. When he started reading the timetable backwards it quickly became apparent that he had no idea how to read a bus timetable. Using this knowledge I tried to encourage the viewpoint that there wasn't going to be a bus for six hours by putting my finger next to the time and saying “I think that's it” repeatedly. He seemed unsure but commented he hadn't read a bus timetable since he was 12 years old. We both glanced around the town and it seemed to be entirely closed. He then said those beautiful words “Just get in, I'll drive you, it is no problem

Thanks to Florian (have I mentioned he was a very kind man) I was able to get to a train station and plot how to get back to Berlin. When we pulled into the station he said to me. “If you have some time, perhaps you can go and take a look at the preserved medieval architecture of the town while you are waiting for your train.” Yes I thought... that would be nice... or I could just get the fuck out of Bavaria as soon as I possibly can!

My journey back to Berlin on the train was uneventful. I reflected that I cashed in the tournament and got a taste of rural Bavarian life that I won't forget or hopefully repeat. I was also happy that I didn't have to walk 25km with my luggage. I expect I will be going back to 'Rozvegas' at some point as it seems to be having more and more poker tournaments. Next time I think I need to plan a more wisely - or better still, find a friend with a car who also wants to go along.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great read Phil, Didn't know you blogged, bookmarked for a rainy day.