Halfway up the stairs isn't up and isn't down, particularly when there are 289 of the very narrow things twisting their way heavenward from transept to tower. I've never felt that emotion more clearly than last Saturday morning when we ascended St. Vitus' main tower along with all the other herds of tourists thundering through Prague. Oddly, this group seemed to include what felt like the entire population of Spain. Bro, soz-in-law and I somehow ended up behind a rather portly couple who appeared to be about to wheeze their (forty-unfiltered-a-day) last at that point (stair no. 144.5).
And in that moment the knowledge that we were neither in the tower, nor on the ground filled our hearts with dread. The sheer press of humanity on their way up meant that try though they might, descending was extremely low on the list of options, unless one of them had brought a pickaxe and rigging for just such an emergency.
And so they stopped. And we stopped. And the mass of humanity behind us stopped. And they panted. (stair no.144) And I began to mentally revise CPR. And the mass of humanity behind us surged forward another step. And they puffed. (stair no.145) And bro began to mutter darkly about Drake and the Armada. And we wondered if that was a death-rattle. (stair no.144 nononono) And the mass of humanity pressed upward.
And they creakily began to debate their options in husky Spanish. (stair no.145 yesyesyesyes) And I attempted to calculate the clearance between their heads and the ceiling and the weight-bearing capability of their shoulders propped at various angles. And then they began to shuffle around a bit.(stair no.146 ohyespleasegoonmysonsyoucandoit) And the MOH began to get restless.
Until, with a last desperate lunge, (stairs no. 147, 148,149,150151hoooorrraayyyy!!!!) they reached the window aperture half-a-turn up and there was enough extra room for us to squeeze past, with the mass of humanity, Spanish hordes included, in hot pursuit. I have never been so grateful to see a bell-loft in my life.
Despite this near-death experience, there were were no fatalities last weekend, which marks it as a resounding success in my book, particularly as all injuries incurred were fairly evenly distributed and should eventually heal with proper medical treatment and appropriate clothing. They included:
Two nose-bleeds (mine).
Two pairs of feet worn down to bleeding stumps (bro and sos-in-law).
Chafing in an unmentionable (and for me unthinkable) area (bro, as s-i-l wore both comfortable pants and shoes).
One random, distracted tourist bruised in an unmentionable (but for me thinkable) when he walked into a bollard at just the right height.
One German lady accidentally punched in the left boob. (Guilty party: me - I averted an international incident with a quick-thinking apology in my very best Czech and a rapid exit of the cramped washroom).
And the cake was very good.