Saved By a Dutchman
Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
23Trip End Oct 10, 2006
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SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD: "We Built This City" by Starship, which was playing in a mall in Breclav, Czech Replublic, oddly enough.
TIME: 10:54, 9/22/06
PLACE: Train to Vienna
FOOD: Some Czech fast food potato patties with Thai sweet sauce that I didn't have the time to write down the name of.
I'm coming to the end of a 12 hour journey that should have been six hours. The idea was to take a night train from Prague to Vienna to avoid having to find and pay for another hostel. I had heard all sorts of warnings about thieves on night trains.
Yesterday I uploaded a bunch of photos to TravelPod and finally left the Boathouse Hostel around 1:30. I made it to the main train station with no problem, bought my ticket to Vienna and stowed my bag in an electronic locker. I then went to a photo shop to transfer my photos to DVD disc, even though I have them stored on this slow-ass little laptop. Can't be too careful. I then wandered around, seeing parts of Old Town Prague that I had seen a little at night, but for the most part had saved for last. I wandered into a small locals cafe called Vinny Senk U Primatora where I had the Pork Steak "Bad Boy," which was beautifully fried up in a crispy batter with "spicy cheese paste" sort of glossed over the meat. I also ordered more fried stuff, their version of croquettes, which turned out to be cute little smooth potato balls.
Afterwards, I wandered along the Voltava River towards Charles Bridge, where I joined the tourist throng, enjoying the last vestiges of sunlight as the shadows played off the bridge statues. I also found the salesmen who made the yellow and orange kitty WC sign that a friend has in her bathroom.
From there I made it to the Old Town Square just in time for the 7pm clocktower to do its thing
It was at this point that I was at a loss for what to do. I had 3 and a half hours until my train, I was sick of walking, but didn't have anything else that I knew of to do in Prague. I considered going to a movie or a show, such as the Black Light Theater I kept seeing advertised, but instead, I decided to drink beer. After all, Czech beer was one of the main reasons I came to Prague.
So I sat down at a great table in the square and proceeded to get ripped off for 90 kroner on a .4 liter glass of Kozel. But I expected as much, and good views do cost. Afterwards I went back to the restaurant I had been to the night before, Vinarna, which is right between the Rudolfinnum music theater along the river and the square. They only serve Budweiser Budvar (the original Budweiser, not the American one) in either 8%, 10%, 12% or 16% "super strong." Considering in India they call 6% "super strong," that tells you a lot about the Czech constitution. I had one beer and a bowl of garlic soup. Everywhere in Prague I smelled garlic seeping from people's pores and I wanted to be part of the crowd, but I don't think I succeeded.
From there I got on the metro (buying a one hour pass after not bothering to pay for a transport ticket the previous day), went one stop to Mustek, found a sign I had seen earlier when my memory sticks were being transferred that just... it's hard to believe. It's of a guy's mouth stuffed with sausage. Best signage I've seen all week.
Across the street there was a lively restaurant and bar called Restaurace U Jindrisske Veze, which is right on the other side of the tower from the Jindrisska tram stop, same side of the street. (Kozel there was only 29 kroner for .5 L). I really liked it there, and proceeded to try and drink away the rest of my kroners, but they didn't charge me for the Plzensky Prazdroj I ordered, which was an oversight. But as it turned out that my escape from the Czech Republic wouldn't be as smooth as expected, it turned out that I'd need that money, and more.
I got my bag and proceeded to become mystified by the signs for the various tracks and trains. However, seeing a sign for a train leaving at the same time as mine, 23:29, I went up that ramp. At the top I held out my ticket to the conductor, and pointed at the train, and he nodded. I also pointed at the different cars, and he seemed to indicate that I could get on any of them. This was confusing as the woman at the ticket office told me that I'd reserved a sleeping berth, but I mainly just wanted to get on the train.
The car I got on had no berths, just separate compartments with lots of backpackers stuffed every which way. The train was old and not very nice, about the same as the third class cars I took in India, complete with toilets that empty straight onto the track. I managed to find a seat and even some shelf space for my pack and proceeded to try and sleep. But soon enough, the same conductor told me to go to "este wagoner," the next car, or so I thought. I was just kind of bemused by this, and repeated my effort in again finding a seat and a shelf, but not without my compartment mates pushing their bags aside for mine. But then, wouldn't you know it, the conductor AGAIN told me "este wagoner." I was a little irate at that point, and held up one finger and pointed in the direction he wanted me to go on the train.
"One wagoner? Two? Three?"
He indicated only one more. So again I moved, and again, no berth.
The next time I saw the conductor I was coming out of the WC, and he was about to ask for my ticket again but he recognized me, seemed to indicate all was well and I gave him two pats on the back. The people in my berth were a well-dressed man with an atache case, a girl curled up on the bench next to me and a young guy with glasses. At that point I was no longer worried about thieves, I just wanted to sleep. Unlike the compartment with the backpackers, these people weren't stinky and I managed some fitful sleep.
At 4 in the morning a new train agent asked for my ticket, and when I gave it to her she pointed down at the train and said, "No Vienna. Slovakia."
"Slovakia?" I laughed. She nodded yes and proceeded to gently kick me off of the train. I was bewildered, sleepy, shuffling and a little cold as I walked into the tiny train station lobby at Hranice na Morave. There were a surprising number of backpackers arrayed on the floor as I stood around, clueless of where I was or what I should do. I walked outside and was greeted by an austere industrial town that hardly seemed welcoming to foreigners. Back inside, there was a dim light on in the ticket office and I was surprised to see that there was a female agent in there as well. She beckoned me in, I asked if she spoke English, she said no, and I realized I was really fucked.
It seemed like I had gotten on he wrong train and I was going to have to buy a new ticket to whereever, and I was really pissed. But I kept my cool, played the poor lost American to a T, and was rewarded with not one but two different English speakers in the station coming to my rescue. Since I thought I had been going in a completely different direction from Vienna, I told the first one that I guess I wanted to go back to Prague if I could do it for free. But the second guy to come to my rescue, Jack, told me that I was actually going in the right direction, it's just that I hadn't been told (and hadn't asked about) the transfer point I was supposed to have gotten off at one stop earlier, Prerov. I had just missed a train that could have taken me back, but another would leave in a half hour at 4:45am, and then I'd have to wait at Prerov until 8:04. Unfortunately, the station didn't take credit cards and I was short about 8 Kroner on the 40 kroner ticket. Jack told me to save my money for when I would be waiting at Prerov and bought me my ticket. What a guy!
Jack turned out to be from Holland and was an English instructor at a trade school. The gaggle of backpackers laid out in the lobby were his students as he was leading them on a week long trip around the Czech Republic which included two days of canoeing down a river which unfortunately coincided with two days of rain. I thanked Jack profusely for all of his help and got his address so I could thank him properly.
At Prerov I made like Jack's students and found a nice bit of floor to sack out on for two hours or so. I realized that the rain cover that is attached to my pack makes an excellent floor mat, so I laid down with my head on my pack and got pretty good sleep, considering the morning commuters, loudspeaker announcements and slamming of doors.
The train to my next connection point, Breclav, arrived late, with the next train to Vienna in an hour, so I wandered around, trying to make a call to Simon, my connection in Munich, without any luck. But I did get an exceedingly helpful salesgirl in a mobile phone shop to turn off that damned text message function where it tries to guess the word you're putting in. I also bought the aforementioned potato patties with my last kroner, and now here I am on a very nice train, crossing over a bridge into what I believe is Vienna. Here at last. Holy shit.
My original plan was to arrive at 6am and spend the day before boarding another night train, but I've had quite enough of that experience and will now attempt to find a proper bed for the night. However, as that will be very difficult on a Friday, I might have to get back on the train.