Learning Life's Lessons in Prague

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

This is the time of the year when I tend to do irrational things.  The older I get, the more I find myself doing things I should have been doing when I was twenty.  Instead of just accepting the truth, I justify my decisions through creative reasoning.  Perhaps this is normal?  Or perhaps it's a first-third life crisis? 

This year I find myself in Prague, which itself isn't irrational, as I am here on assignment for a handful of travel magazines.  What is irrational is my decision to just now introduce myself to the world of hostelling.  Not the budget hotel type of hostel, but the type with bunked-beds stacked to paint-chipped ceilings and two-dozen random internationals tossed in like the set of a questionable reality TV show. 

My creative reasoning is this: The less I spend, the more I make.  And at twelve Euros a night, I'm definitely spending less.  Yet, in the back of my mind, I know the truth is I am only holding onto a Neverland hope that by surrounding myself with youth, I too will stay young. 
Fact: Nothing is farther from the truth.  Instead I feel like a ghost of travel future, sent to haunt the innocent youth of the Old Prague Hostel with visions of what lies ahead: a receding hairline, a blatant lack of energy to consume absinthe all night, and a budget that allows me to see more of Prague than the hostel's ash-strewn lounge. 

Instead of sleeping until noon, my newly developed internal alarm clock wakes me at six.  I enter the claustrophobic shower and dampen myself with a frigid mist, fumble around getting dressed in the filtered light of dawn, eat a bowl of stale (yet free) cornflakes that encase my teeth in mush and require another brushing, and finally head out to greet Prague.
I begin with an early morning stroll through Old Town Square.  Here I share the secret solitude of early morning with only the bell-tower city hall, baroque St. Nicholas church, a former home of Franz Kafka, and two elderly locals carefully propped up on ragged umbrellas and enjoying the subtle pleasures of a warming cup of coffee. 

After breakfast, I roam across the romantic Charles Bridge where my Catholic guilt is resurrected by the gothic stares of its divine statutes.  I spend the afternoon crawling through the haunted passageways of Prague Castle before making my way to New Town, where I trace the history of the birth and death of communism at the Museum of Communism.  My day ends with a dinner of gulas and several rounds of that refreshingly simple yet surprisingly gourmet Pilsner Urquell beer.  After just several drinks, I feel exhaustion creep in and I decide to call it a night.

Sometime during the night I awake for what must be the twenty-eighth time.  In the bunk above me a barrel-chested Brit breathes through an old rusted muffler.  Not being able to fall back asleep, I opt instead to get up.  As I pry myself off the spring-filled mattress, I think that although I may not get any sleep, at least I can check "Stay in a Hostel" off my life list before I morph into an age where I am simply known as "That Old Guy In Room Seven."  But as I gather my towel and quietly shuffle towards the door, I am met by two young girls noisily stumbling in drunk, exhausted, and finally ready to call it a night.  I look at them.  They look at me.  And in our collective minds we think, "Thank god." 

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