Prague, Czech Republic
I only had an evening and a day in the capital city of the Czech Republic, but I tried to make the most of it, and started by immediately getting confused in the metro. The train ride from Budapest had been long (seven and a half hours) but without difficulty. I arrived in the multi-layered Prague Main Station and wound my way through the depths to find the metro entrance. I had written down directions and the name of the metro stop nearest to the hostel, but found myself confounded by the utter lack of any language I knew. Everything was in Czech and only Czech. I had heard the horror stories of corrupt Prague taxis and very much did NOT want to get in one, so I tried to show the man at the ticket booth the name of the stop I needed and get directions. He gave me vague help in confused English and pointed me towards a machine next to his booth. Dutifully did I try to use said machine to buy a ticket, but neither did I have Czech coins (only bills) nor did I see the name of the stop I needed on any of the buttons. I made a fretful noise, and a lady standing next to me turned towards me and asked, „Do you speak English?“
A tad wary, I answered „yes,“ and she asked where I needed to go. I showed her the name of the street the hostel was on and the stop I needed. „Oh, okay,“ she said, „my friend will help you!“ She called her male friend over, and they bickered shortly in Czech before telling me to press a certain button on the machine, go outside, and get on a certain number bus, which would take me to the stop. Still feeling lost and wanting to be away from the pair, I thanked them and relaxed a bit as they left. I scrutinized the machine again and tried to ask the man in the booth one more time. He gave me two tickets–apparently you can’t buy just one, or so I understood it–and was done with me.
Considering the acquirement of a ticket of some form to be a great success, I reveled in my small victory and decided to try to step outside and find the bus that would apparently deliver me to the hostel stop. I made it a grand total of twenty feet outside the nearest exit before realizing that I had no idea where I bus would park and that I couldn’t see any stop. In that moment, I became very grateful for my earlier out of intelligence when I put the hostel phone number into my contacts. I called, and a young man answered. „Hi, sorry,“ said I sheepishly, „I’m, uh, I’m trying to find you guys and I’m at the main station and I don’t…really know…what metro line to get on…“
„The main station, shit,“ said he, and paused to think. „Uhh, okay, get on the line to ______ and ride it one stop. Then call me back when you get there. “
I proceeded to follow this advice and found myself walking through the next metro stop with a phone pressed to my ear. He directed me up and out of the underground and to a McDonald’s. From there I managed to take a turn and get lost. Exasperated, I called the hostel again and got a different young voice, who told me to wait outside the McDonald’s, he’d be right there to pick me up.
I ordered a tea from the McDonald’s despite not being able to pronounce a damn thing on the menu board (the young dude working said „I don’t think anyone can…“). A few minutes later, a 20-something year old guy with long braided hair, different colored contacts, and colorful baggy clothes appeared. For security, I quizzed him on where we were going before thanking him profusely and following him around the corner and down a street to the hostel. Turns out the first guy who had answered had also gone looking for me to pick me up. Whoops. I didn’t have enough Czech money to pay for my room upfront, so they let me slide with the provision that I of course pay tomorrow. I promised the two they’d receive some kind of candy or baked good for their troubles.
After chatting for a few more hours with an American girl and some Brits in the lobby outside my room, I was happy to crash. The morning brought the realization that my student ID and credit card were missing: welcome to Prague, get pickpocketed immediately. I messaged my dad to lock the credit card, sighed, and moved on.
A long tour showed me most of the touristy parts of Prague: the ‚Adam and Eve‘ towers on the former Hussite church, apparently so named because one is bigger than the other (the right one); several art installations, including a statue depicting Kafka riding on the shoulders of one of his literary monsters; the Jewish district and mosques, and major town square where all the religious and political unrest went down. I liked the story of, as the people behind the communist wall wanted freedom, Prague’s main square was full of people one evening who took out their keys and started jingling them. Keys, you wonder? Yep. Keys to freedom. Badass, no? The history was great and the pub we went to gave me a satisfying bread bowl lunch. Our tour guide was a funny guy who obviously had his part down pat; he had sound effects ready for each landmark, amusing stories of the various points in history when the people of Prague had thrown government officials out of windows (I like those stories a lot) and ended every segment with, „Are you ready? LET’S GOOOOOO.“
I even found some stumble stones! These are all over Germany, too, outside of houses where victims of the Holocaust had lived. The tell you where the person was sent and if they lived or died. There were in Czech, so I can’t tell you what happened to the people who had lived in the house, but it was a cool find.
My own personal highlight was finding Franz Kafka’s house and seeing that it had been turned into „Cafe Kafka.“ I don’t know if he would have appreciated that, but it made me giggle.
Tired and a tad headache-y after the tour, I returned to my bed for a nap and awoke a few minutes before there was a knock at the door. Before I could say „come in,“ one of the hostel workers entered leading two young people, a brother and a sister. Although they were speaking English, my ears pricked up at the German accent immediately. As the hostel worker left, I smiled at them and said, „Welcome. Or wilkommen, if you prefer.“
Marcel and Sandra had been biking around Prague and were only staying one night before biking back to Deutschland the next morning. They took a nap while I went out to collect the obligatory souvenirs. When they were ready to go, we headed out together in search of sights to see and cheap food. We made a reservation at a schick looking restaurant in a cellar that had been recommended by one of the hostel workers. With some time to kill, we ought tickets to head up the tower and got a view of Prague by night. People milled about under us, every street and major building was lit, and someone somewhere was playing music. A hint of the fabled Prague magic crept its way into my mind and made me lighter of step as we wandered a few streets behind the main square, oohed and ahhhed at the open oven at a bakery, and headed back to the restaurant for our reservation.
The food was good, even my fish came to me colder than expected. We three decided against finding a club or similar nighttime activity: the siblings were tired would have to wake up early. I was fine with that decision, as I was in no way prepared to go clubbing.
Our beds welcomed us back, and a light but good breakfast helped us wake up in the morning. I bid Sandra and Marcel goodbye and finished packing. I left two pieces of cake for the guys who had helped me out the other night and set out with a more-or-less certain idea of which direction I was going. Sure enough, after getting assistance from one man (only one person, woo!), I reached the main station again in about fifteen minutes. I had allowed myself an hour of extra time, considering my adventure upon arrival. I apparently needed it, as I ended up asking several different officials where the bus would be and only on the third try getting a good answer. I chilled in one of the various food areas and wondered again why anyone would build a three-story train station with a non-functioning first floor. Soon enough, the bus appeared, and I got on it and very happily talked to the conductor in German (sweet, sweet German, especially after running around a train station all in Czech). Seven hours later, I was set free in Mannheim and hopped the next Regionalbahn to Heidelberg.
Thanks for the memories, eastern Europe. I’ll be back to experience you more thoroughly, but that was a pretty excellent start.