Friday, July 6, 2012

Prague Epilogue

As I mentioned in my last post, I went on a trip to Europe last year.  It was an experience of a lifetime to say the least.  As a guy with a full time job, the opportunities to hoof it around a foreign continent for 3 weeks at a time are getting fewer and further between.

After finally arriving in Paris, my girlfriend and I spent the next week bouncing around Italy before we made our way to Munich.  This city was incredible.  On this trip, which took us through 5 different countries, this stop was by far my favourite.  Maybe it had something to do with the North American feel.  Maybe it had something to do with the big time support for Bayern Munich.  But it probably had mostly to do with the fact that they only served beer a litre at a time.  There is something pretty sweet about seeing people popping out to a beer garden at lunch.  It takes a special place to let you sit down for lunch and be able order with a straight face by asking, “Could I please have 3 beers in a single glass with my wiener schnitzel?”

So after my great few days in Munich, which included a very heavy trip to Dachau along the way, it was time to move on.  Next on the agenda: Prague.  The beautiful city which awaited us was a quick stop on our way to Berlin.  If you read my last post, you may remember that we tried not to have too firm of an itinerary so that we could be flexible if we ended up wanting to spend more time in a city that we were visiting.  Since we had made up our minds to move on, I booked our next hostel in Prague for a two night stay, the day before we were going to leave Munich.  

So we strapped on our packs and made our way to the train station.  Since we were making use of a rail pass, you typically need to book a seat reservation in order to use the pass.  These reservations turn out to be pretty expensive by the way…  I actually couldn’t believe how much rail travel ended up costing us.  But I digress.  This particular train that we were taking from Munich to Prague didn’t require a reservation, as it was more of a commuter train.  It was much like the GO Train that we have here in Toronto.  So all we had to do was arrive at the station, and find ourselves a seat on the train.  We locate the track that the train was boarding from, and lucky for us the train was there waiting for us under a big sign that says ‘Praha’.

After finding the train, I noticed that each car seemed to have a different city listed on it.  Naturally, we march down the platform looking for the train car marked for Prague.  Well… we get to the end of the platform, and no car marked for Prague.  We figured at this point, that since Prague was the end of the line, any car would be fine.  So we find ourselves a seat on the final car, since we were sick of walking with our packs at this point.  It’s right about now that I begin to feel uneasy…
Why wouldn’t any of the cars be marked for Prague?  Why did every other car have a different city identified?  What am I missing here?  I tell my girlfriend to watch our stuff while I attempt to figure out if I’m euchring myself by just assuming that we are in the right spot.  I step back out onto the platform to see a group of people speaking with a staff member.  As I get closer, I can see that the woman who worked at the train station was pretty vexed at this point.  Once I got close enough to actually hear what she was saying, she was waving her arms in the air as though to call a runner safe and saying, “No Prague!”

…I’m sorry, what?  Yes Prague!

She repeated herself, “No Prague!  Not today!”

Are you kidding me?  Why the hell not?!

This staff member was up to her eyeballs with people, so I moved on to find someone else to talk to.  I managed to find someone who had a handle on the situation, and a better handle on English as well.  They broke the news to me.  In true Murph fashion, the Czech Republic decided to have a rail strike on the VERY MORNING I decided to enter their country.  

So rail company… even though you knew very well that the train couldn’t get in to the country, you still mark the sign as if the train will end up in Prague?!  Ridiculous!  If I hadn’t had the uneasy feeling my girlfriend and I would have ridden the train to the Czech-German border, where we would have basically been told, “You’re SOL.  Get off the train”.

I get on my horse back to my girlfriend, who is eagerly awaiting the train to leave to head to the city she wanted to visit the most.  I hate being the bearer of bad news.

Now it’s decision time…  What do we do?
Fly there?
Take a bus?
If we can get into Prague, can we get out?
We already have our money sunk on this rail pass, can we afford to get there another way?

Since we weren’t in a rush, we went to the station’s Starbucks to weigh our options.  (BTW, free Starbucks wi-fi is just about the best thing for a scrambling traveler)  Remember how I referred to Prague as a beautiful city?  Well, that’s just what I saw in my tour book.  We ultimately decided that Prague wasn’t much of an option at this point, and we should go straight to Berlin.

Chalk me up for another prepaid accommodation I never got to use…

There was a train leaving for Berlin shortly, and we would need to hurry to book our seat reservations before the train left.  As a result, we didn’t have time to book our next hostel before we left Munich.
The train ride to Berlin consisted of some of the least enjoyable hours of my life.  I don’t know if you guys have ever traveled with someone you were dating, but you know how when someone starts to sulk, you can leave them be and go about your business?  Nuh-uh.  Not for this guy.  Trapped with a sulker for multiple hours is easily much worse than it already crappily sounds.  As much as I knew she wasn’t blaming me for what happened, she sure as hell tried to make it sound like it was my fault.  She’s right; I probably should have spent that day we were at Dachau collectively bargaining for the rail union instead.  How selfish of me…
The one bright spot of that train ride was the German children sitting in front of me.  As we rode past an IKEA, they pho-net-ic-all-y screamed, “Ick-ee-ah!”. 

It’s the little things.

So we arrive in Berlin, to an airport of a train station that they had recently built for the 2006 World Cup.  We now need to find a place to stay.
We manage to find an internet café, and get down to business.  I figure after the letdown of the morning, a private room at our hostel was in order.

I find a place on hostelworld and away we go.  By the end of our time in Berlin, we realized that everything you wanted to get to was EASILY accessible by transit.  This hostel I booked?  The hardest place to get to in the entire city, I kid you not.  Anyone want to fashion a guess as to the establishment's level of quality?  Ridiculous.  

As soon as we walked in the place, I told the guy in charge that we would only be staying for one night.  What a hole.  Our room?  No sheets or duvet cover.  There was a clear aroma of urine in certain parts of the room.  Romantic.

When we went to shower after we checked in, I wouldn’t let my girlfriend go shower alone.  I literally sat and watched the door from the inside of the bathroom.  Sketchfest.

So needless to say, once we were glad to have survived the night, we went and checked into a dorm style chain.  Our roommates seemingly all had a cold.  I have never been so happy to share a room with 5 other people in my life.

Booking refundable hotels from now on,

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