I feel touched and extremely privileged to have been in such wonderful company over the last week and shared with them the most special of memories, memories that will stay with me for as long as I'm sane enough to remember them. Hopefully my mind will stay intact right up until the very end of my lifetime. Goodness knows if id stayed any longer in what I've nicknamed 'hostel California' my sanity might not have lasted much longer. With the girls leaving too it became the perfect excuse for me to bring the Poland chapter to a close and to begin a new one in the Czech Republic. This new chapter was beginning with a 7am train journey to Prague. I had no accommodation booked and as the train left the station and it was something that was playing on my mind. It is always recommended to book in advance in Prague especially in the summer months when many backpackers, from the U.S in particular, seem to flock on mass to the city
. My track record at leaving Krakow hadn't been all that successful to date and as I had already lost money on a previous booking id made in advance, and not arrived for, I talked myself into taking a chance. That chance seemed far from a good idea now. Everything was going smoothly on the journey and I was even managing to catch up on some much needed sleep as the train bombed its way through small villages and passed lush green farmland, however as the train crossed over into the Czech Republic I awoke into a rather large problem. The cross over between the two countries brought with it a change in train conductor and another check of the tickets. I had already got my ticket checked on the Polish side with no fuss at all but when the Czech guy got a look at my ticket and started shouting and waving his hands wildly in the air, I was starting think that something might be amiss. My biggest difficulty was that the conductor didn't speak any English and of course I had no Czech so as he pointed to me and pointed at the ticket I was no clearer as to what the problem was. He kept pointing at this had written docket that was attached to my ticket and whatever it said angered him in no small way. I tried to explain that I didn't write that and I didn't even know what it said but it was all to no avail as the more I spoke the angrier he seemed to get. It was starting to develop into quite a scene and as I looked around the carriage at my fellow passengers I was met with only a shrug of the shoulders. My next move was to knock on the surrounding carriages until eventually I came across a Czech/ English speaker. Unfortunately he was as useless to me as a fork in a sugar bowl. The only thing I could get out of him was that I had the wrong ticket. By this stage the conductor had grabbed my luggage and we were all standing in the tight corridor. I explained to the translator, I use this term loosely, I could gather even without speaking the language that there was a problem with my ticket but what I wanted to know was "why have I got the wrong ticket and how can I resolve this?"
. As he spoke to the conductor at length I though that we must be finally getting somewhere but when he came back with the response that "I had the wrong ticket" I was starting to tear my hair out. Just when being kicked off the train in the middle of nowhere became a real possibility I said that I would just buy a new ticket, whatever needed to be done to resolve this I was ready to do. The conductor seemed much happier when this was translated back to him but when I pulled out my credit card he lost the plot again. It seems they don't accept credit cards on the train, the ticket office only. With that I pulled the only money I had from my wallet, Eur20, and we started to get somewhere at last. The next golden nugget of translation I got was that the conductor would head off and work out how much extra I had to pay and he would comeback to me. As I rejoined my fellow passengers I was hopeful more than confident that id avoided the humiliation of being kicked off the train. In the hour that passed the heat in the carriage seemed to increase 10 fold to the point that I was almost ready to collapse and also there had been no sightings of the conductor. When eventually he did pass by the carriage he didn't even look at me. A short time later he had to enter the carriage to check the ticket of a new arrival but he couldn't look me in the eye. I figure that whatever he had been planning to do to work out the extra cost to my ticket seemed like a good idea at the time but when he actually sat down and started to try and work it out it became too difficult, he was going to spend the rest of the journey ignoring my presence. If he didn't acknowledge me then he was able to pretend that I wasn't there, which lets face it suited me as I didn't want to go through that ordeal again. To melt invisibly into the background, in my opinion, was best solution for all concerned. As the train finally pulled into Prague it had barely stopped moving before I was off and heading down the platform to try and avoid another confrontation with my good friend the conductor
. I was half expecting to hear his shouts coming from behind me as I made my way down the concourse of Prague train station. Thankfully everything was quiet on the western front, however the eastern front was a different matter altogether. Most international trains to/ from Poland are notorious for theft particularly on the Prague-Warsaw and Prague-Krakow overnight trains. My eastern front was now a gauntlet of hawkers selling the cameras, watches, and I-pods that had been robbed from people on the previous nights train. I must admit with having got my own camera stolen in Krakow I was a little tempted to try and pick one up from these guys on the cheap but I stopped myself from doing so as it's the people that buy these things that fuel the need for these guys to rob them in the first place. I'm a big believer in karma and to profit from the misfortune of others was something I was not prepared to do, any camera I bought from them would have brought nothing but bad luck in the long run. With this in mind I quickly made my way past and out into the early evening sun, a bed for the night being my top priority.
I was standing outside the entrance smoking a cigarette when two American guys walked up looking for a light. In the course of chatting to them I mentioned that I wasn't sure of where I was going to be staying and they suggested I come with them. This was their second time to visit Prague in the space of two weeks so they knew the area quite well and they had booked into a hostel called 'the clown and bard'. It was not as close a walk as they had indicated but thankfully when we eventually got there I was able to get an bed for the night, cost Kc340, but for one night only though meaning that if I wanted to stay the intended 3nights in Prague I was going to have to sort some other accommodation out. Not an ideal scenario granted, but beggars can't be choosers. The clown and bard has a reputation of being the most full-on party hostel in Prague due to the bar located downstairs but I have to admit that I didn't experience much of it because no sooner had I dropped my bags but I was off trying to find accommodation for the next few nights
. To my relief I found one on the opposite side of the city meaning I could now relax for the rest of the evening and even allow myself a little shopping spree. I was in dire need of a camera, although I've never been one for taking photos on my other trips id come to enjoy having a camera along this time. Although I will never need reminders of all the places I've seen and the people I've met, it is nice to be able to show other people that perhaps will never get an appreciation of these destinations. The camera was a leaving gift from the guys in my last job and I was really touched when they presented it to me, as a result I was angry to have it robbed while in Krakow. I'm a very sentimental person when it comes to things like that so when I went shopping for a camera I could have got one relatively cheap but seeing the same model as the guys had got for me I paid and extra Eur150. Money is going to play a big factor in the success of getting to Australia and it's not in my best interests to throw it around wastefully but this indulgence was really important to me and thus I didn't mind in the slightest. I'm just going to have to take greater care of this one. With a new camera sorted my next task was to replace the European adaptor that id left plugged into the wall in the hostel in Krakow. Unbelievably this task proved impossible to fulfil, as I couldn't find an electrical shop anywhere and anybody I asked had no clue either. When I was just about to give up I checked this tourist office and they did have one but to my absolute dismay they were charging the Czech equivalent of Eur18 for it, no chance
. If it came down to it I was prepared to wait till I got to another country and get one cheaper. I had to laugh though, I spend Eur150 over the odds on sentiment but I wouldn't allow myself to spring Eur18 for something practical. With the events of the last week in Krakow taking its toll I was in bed early that night catching up on some much needed sleep.
The following morning began with an all-you-can-eat breakfast courtesy of the clown and bard hostel and shortly after I was on the long walk to my other hostel. By this time I was dying to get the bags dropped off and get out exploring. I was only going to be a short time in the city and I didn't want to waste too much of it. I had booked the 'arpacay hostel' in the Radlica area of the city for Kc250 per night. It's not in as central a location as the clown and bard but with it having a free breakfast and free internet it was very good value. There was a 'Tesco' close by and I was able to pick up an adaptor for Eur3, good job I waited. Prague stands on both sides of the river Vltana. To the west of the river is Prague's number one tourist attraction, Prague castle, which dominates the city from Hradcany hill. The castle constitutes a walled city dating back to the 9th century and within the walls are a number of churches and palaces. The most notable among the churches is the 14th century gothic cathedral of St.Vilus, which houses the tombs of many Czech kings and saints including the tomb of St.Wenceslaus, the countries patron saint. There is a charge to get into the castles various exhibits but there is no charge to wander around the castle courtyard and the changing of the guard is also free and happens at 12noon. Heading downhill from the castle is the Mala Strana (little quarter) full of beautiful little back streets and home to the greatest of Prague's churches, the church of St.Nicholas, elaborately ornamented in the baroque style of the 17th and 18th centuries
. Of the 14 or so bridges that cross the river the most famous would be the gothic Charles Bridge dating back to the 14th century with its baroque statues and towers at each ends. The bridge is one of Prague's most crowded places, full of jewellery stalls, portrait artists, and street performers. The best being a blues quartet that had huge crowds gathered around, making movement along the bridge very difficult indeed. Actually the bridge was under some repair while I was there and some scaffolds took away from the postcard pictures I was trying to emulate. I'm not 100% sure but I think the repairs may have been the result of the flooding of a few years ago, that threatened much of the cities historic buildings. On the east side of the river twists the narrow lanes of Stare Mesto (old town) and the dominating twin gothic steeples of Tyn church. Centring the area is the old town square which houses the town hall. The clock tower of the hall entertains the crowds on the hour where the astronomical clock parades apostles and a bell-ringing skeleton. The Nove Mesto, which literally means 'new town', is the main shopping area of the city. The centrepiece is the large avenue of Wenceslas Square, which is lined with shops and restaurants and is dominated at one end by the statue of St.Wenceslas on horseback. After a few bites of a dodgy tasting kebab I made for the hostel, I had some pressing matters to attend to. I had stayed much longer in Krakow than I had anticipated which now only left me 10days to get to Athens, I needed to sit down and find out the best way for me to get there. Now 10days might seem like plenty of time, and it is if you want to travel directly but the idea of this trip is to experience as much of Europe as possible. Granted you get to see more of these places when you travel over land but there were far too many countries still separating me and Greece that all I would get to experience would be from looking out the window of buses and trains. My original idea of travelling to Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania was dreamland at this stage
. My first step was to axe Slovakia and Hungary, it was like cutting off my right arm especially Slovakia as I had been keen to trek around the high Tetra mountains for a week. The tough decisions needed to me made. I consoled myself by saying that they were not gone completely, if time allowed I could always go back when id finished my time in Greece. With the itinerary narrowed down that still only left me 10days to travel 5 countries, 5 into 10 might go in mathematics but in my trip it didn't even come close. I was keen to hold onto Croatia for anyone I've ever spoken to about the place said it was beautiful, her islands probably being even nicer than the Greek counterparts. I started looking at the possibility of getting a ferry to Greece from anywhere in Croatia but that proved fruitless. I figured that Italy might have an extensive ferry network to other Mediterranean countries and on checking I discovered I could get a ferry to Greece no problem, but doing that would mean leaving out Croatia and everything in between her and Athens. I'm not joking I was staring at a map of Europe for about 30mins, really deflated, when out of know where some sort of divine inspiration hit me. I started with a train from Czech Republic to Ljubljana in Slovenia, there would be a connection in Vienna but that wasn't a problem as it would only be a few hours meaning the total journey would be one night. I could then spend a few nights in Ljubljana before getting a bus into Trieste in Italy, and from there I had access to the many ferry ports that could bring me eastwards
. Taking a look at Albania I discovered that I could get an over night ferry from Italy to Durres and then spend a few night in Tirana before an over night bus to Athens. The last piece of the jigsaw fell into place when I realised that a ferry would be leaving from Trieste. I was so excited and impressed with my skills that I totally forgot to be disappointed about leaving Croatia out. Calculating the days the whole trip would take I had a night to spare and with that I decided that I would make the trip to Cesky Krumlov, in the south of Czech Republic, and visit what to many people is a more attractive city than Prague. With my itinerary clear in my mind I was sitting back admiring my work only to feel the sensation of lots of eyes on me. I turned to discover the eyes of lots of people burning a hole in the back of my head, the sign saying '15min max' was not something I had noticed when I first sat down. 'Where does the time go' I said to them while looking at my naked wrist. As I got up from the terminal, over an hour after sitting down, all I could hear was the mumbling under breath of a multiple of foreign languages ;0).
I was beginning to tire of the crowds of tourists and the endless array of tacky souvenir shops so with my last full day in Prague I decided to get myself a nice picnic lunch and spend the day in the parks around Petrin Hill. The hill looks down onto the Mala Strana area of the city and is a favourite recreational area for the inhabitants of Prague
. The park is lined on one side by the 'Hunger Wall', a medieval defensive wall of the city. The purpose of the wall was to strengthen the fortifications of Prague castle and the Mala Strana against any attack from the west and south. According to legend it gets its name because the construction of the wall provided livelihood for the poor of the city. Also situated within the park is Petrin lookout tower, a steel tower that strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower but on a much smaller scale. The view is said to be the best in Prague but I'm afraid I wouldn't know. I wasn't able to summit the real Eiffel Tower and I couldn't scale its baby brother either, it's just too high for me. If you can't manage the walk up the hill to the tower there is a funicular railway you can ride up in. After a nice lunch sitting beside a waterfall I began strolling back through the quaint streets of Mala Strana, over the Charles Bridge and towards Wencelas Square. The Czech Republic was playing Portugal in the euro football championships and a big screen had been erected especially for the match. It was a nice night to watch the match but unfortunately, to the disappointment of the big crowd gathered Portugal won 3-1. I think I might be bringing bad luck around with me; I've been to Poland and the Czech Republic and both have lost out. The streets were fairly empty as I walked back to the hostel, tomorrow would see the trip to Cesky Krumlov and I must say I was looking forward to leaving Prague. It beautiful, id even go so far as to call it romantic but the mass of tourists is tiresome
Getting to Cesky Krumlov should have been the easiest of journeys. Anna, the receptionist in the hostel, had given me a hand drawn map of how to get to the bus station and not only that but also the number of the bus I needed to get. Lets be honest here, she couldn't have done much more for me even if she walked me to the bus herself. With what should have been the hard part over, I arrived at the station and joined a queue to get a ticket. When my turn came around I checked first if the woman behind the desk spoke English. With a nod of her head she gave a hand signal to imply she spoke a little English. Perfect, I thought and asked her for a ticket on the next bus to Cesky Krumlov. Her response of a straight 'no' confused me a little. When I asked where I get one she said the bus. Thanking her I went back outside to wait for the bus. When it pulled up a short time later I went to hand the driver the money only for him to say that the tickets must be purchased from the office in the station. Back inside I rejoined the queue and speaking to the same woman I again asked for a ticket to Cesky Krumlov. All of a sudden she went mental, she started roaring at me and I hadn't a clue what she was saying. If it wasn't for the protective glass I think she would have ripped my head off with her bare hands. I always thought that glass was to protect the staff not the public. Shocked I started to back slowly away, I could still hear her shouting when I turned the corner and out of sight
. Nobody has ever given out to me as forcefully in my whole life. Unsure of what to do next I was just wandering around the station when I came across another ticket desk and reluctantly joined the queue. I was afraid to ask when it came to my turn but I was able to get a ticket no problem, I even got a smile while doing so. Sitting on the bus I was replaying the event over in my mind to see if I offended the woman in anyway, for the life of me I couldn't see any reason for her explosion. As the bus began to pull out it suddenly came to a spluttering halt. The driver tried a few times to the get the bus going but although the engine was running it just didn't want to move. Ominously the driver announced that there was something wrong and we would all have to get off. The entire bus stood watching with bated breath as a mechanic crawled under and rattled around with a spanner and a wrench. Eventually the signal came that everyone was dreading, the bus was going no closer to Krumlov than a yard off the bus stop. When the news filtered back to me that the next bus wasn't until the evening it was a real blow. I had only one night in Krumlov and it was no good to me to be arriving at 10pm. Having booked my accommodation I would be in danger of losing my reservation arriving that late. I was still trying to calculate my next move when I heard someone say that there was a train leaving in two hours; it would be my best chance getting there in daylight hours. Unbelievably I had to go back to the crazy women to get a refund on my bus ticket
. She was saying something in Czech as she gave me the money but I was in too much of a rush to care as the train station was across the other end of the city. I'm sure there was a bus or a tram I could have got but I didn't know the system well and I felt it would take me too much time to figure out. Like any capital city the world over, the taxis in Prague are notorious for ripping off tourists so I didn't fancy getting one. I knew the way on foot so I elected to jog, it would be tight but I would get there. Wrecked and gasping for breath I made the station in enough time that I could even change my clothes in a discrete corner of the platform and save the other passengers the aroma of my dash across the city. The fare cost Kc204 and I would have to change trains in a place called Ceske Budejovice. Almost 3hrs later I arrived in Ceske Budejovice and to find no sign of a connecting train to Krumlov. I was beginning to think I should just cut my losses and accept that I wasn't going to get there when I heard that due to track renovations a bus was required to bring people to another station further down the line where we would be able to join the train. When we got to the train it was the oldest ramshackle of a thing I have ever seen and as the train crawled to a start it continued at the same pace for the entire journey. When I finally arrived in Cesky Krumlov it had taken almost 8hrs in total. What a nightmare, the fact that it was through no fault of my own was the only saving grace. The train station is 1.5km north of the town centre and there is a bus that you can get that will drop you into town but if I can offer any advise then forget the bus and walk, in this way you will get a true appreciation of the magnificence of Cesky Krumlov
. The first sights you get are few teasing glances through the trees of a forest trail, just enough for you to get excited. Then all of a sudden the trees clear, the view opens, and you find yourself looking down on Cesky Krumlov in all its medieval splendour. With the colour from terracotta roof tiles on the buildings, the tall steeples of the churches, and audacious looking castle, the scene is an incredible sight and you would be forgiven for thinking that you were looking down on a kingdom straight out of a child's fairytale. In recent years Cesky Krumlov has become a Mecca for backpackers that are attracted to the cheep beer, funky hostels, and relaxed atmosphere. It gets so busy with tourists during the summer months but thankfully while I was there the summer season was still in its infancy and the narrow lanes and cobbled streets were subdued and a pleasure to stroll along. I had booked the 'hostel postal' but when I got to the hostel they had somehow lost my booking and the only beds they had left were more expensive. You can encounter this situation a lot when you travel; it's just a way of ripping off the tourists a little. Knowing that this was the case but also with only being in the town for one night I wasn't going to let the matter of a few quid spoil my time there. At a cost of Kc270 per night it just wasn't worth it. In any case the young girl that ran the place always had a pleasant smile so if she was ripping me off, at least she was nice about it. The hostel itself was in an excellent location and had a sunny courtyard with big umbrellas to relax in while sinking a pilsner or two
. I was sharing with a girl from America, Jenny, and we had a nice evening chatting about all our travel exploits. She had just come from spending a few weeks in Greece and with me on my way there we had a lot in common. While she was in Greece she had fallen and down and done some damage to her ankle meaning she was now on crutches and what with me still having a swollen right sided face from the fall in Krakow, I'm sure to anybody else we looked like we had seen some serious combat. When she said she would be going to Southeast Asia later that year the travel consultant in me came out that by the end of the night she had over ten pages of written information and tips. You can take the man out of the travel agency but you can't take the travel agency out of the man. It's a wonder I didn't try and sell her something ;0).
I arose really early the next morning to try and fit in as much of the sights as I possibly could before having to leave for Slovenia. Situated in the southwest of the Czech Republic on the banks of the Vlatava river, Cesky Krumlov is often described as 'little Prague' but in my opinion it has an enchanting uniqueness all of its own. The town has managed to preserve its medieval centre making the whole area a monument in itself, and with the Castle being the crowning glory the town is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. The area is divided into two main districts; Latran, the area around the castle and a second district located between two bends in the river. The castle might be the focal point but as with all medieval towns of its type the centre is the town hall square, Namesti Svornosti. Along with the location of the town hall the square also has an eye-catching fountain as its centrepiece. Following along the cobbled streets from the square you come to Lazebnicky Bridge, a wooden bridge that links the inner town with the district around the foot of the castle
. From the bridge there are some nice views of the upper sections of the castle. The district below the castle is considered to be the most beautiful where the narrow winding streets are lined with medieval buildings, a lot converted into souvenir shops it has to be said; no escaping progress, and with the tall tower of St.Jodocus church stealing the skyline. With over 40 buildings, 5 courtyards, several parks and gardens, the castle itself is one of the biggest in Eastern Europe. Entrance into the first of the courtyards is through a huge red gate with the 'Mansion Tower' dominating. The entrance into the castle ground and gardens is free but there is a charge to view the inside of the castle building itself. Leading to the second and third courtyards is a pit of the sorriest looking bears I've ever seen, not that I've actually seen many bears before but they looked fairly depressed in my limited opinion. Apparently bears have been bred there since the 1700's, looking at their sorry state id say they would want to be anywhere else. The second and third courtyards were the most interesting sections of the castle; the outsides of all the buildings were painted with murals depicting scenes from Roman and Greek mythology. How scenes of Greek mythology ended up on the walls of a castle in the Czech Republic is a mystery to me still. Leaving the courtyard behind you enter into the higher castle complex that have excellent views of the city below. The river flows by the foot of the castle giving the impression it's more of a mote than a river. If you declined paying to experience the view from the Mansion Tower than then you will be rewarded with a view from here that is just as good. The castle gardens are the last pleasurable experience to see, lots of brightly coloured flowers in numerous different designs. The centrepiece is the dominant 'Cascade Fountain'. Leaving the castle grounds I stopped at a small cafe for a spot of lunch and was entertained by this girl playing the harp. She was incredible and her version of the Coldplay song 'clocks' would stop you in your tracks.
My mission to leave Cesky Krumlov for Ljubljana began with an evening bus to Ceske Budejovice. It was the first step in a mammoth journey that would involve numerous trains and involve 3 countries. If one link in this chain of transport was to break then the whole trip would crumble, it was for this reason that I was leaving for Ceske Budejovice with hours to spare before the train departed. The bus station is on Tavirna, on the eastern side of town and a short walk from the hostel. As the bus, cost of the ticket Kc29, departed on its 50minute drive I was relaxed and happy, safe in the knowledge that my journey had begun without a hitch. Ceske Budejovice is a small town with not a lot to write home about. The most interesting fact I have is that it's the home of Budweiser Budvar larger. The word Budweiser is synonymous with quality beer and it's for this reason that the U.S brewer Anheuser-Busch used it as their brand name thus beginning a legal wrangle with the Czech beer producer as to who actually owns the rights to the name. As I think the American Budweiser tastes like crap I know which one gets my vote. You can tour the factory and have beer-tasting sessions costing Kc122. When I arrived at the train station I was informed that the ongoing renovation of the tracks would mean that a bus would be required to take passengers to Dolni Dvonste where we would then meet our train to take us Vienna. Having already been familiar with the track renovations on my way to Cesky Krumlov the day previous I was knew exactly where the car park was that the bus would be departing from. When I arrived there were two buses with a number of train staff milling around. Showing them my ticket I boarded the bus I was directed to and awaited for the off. When the bus was full it dully made its way out of Ceske Budjovice and in the general direction of Dolni Dvonste. After an hour or so I found myself deep in the Czech countryside and what was a packed bus leaving the car park was now starting to become deserted as the driver slowly off loaded passengers as we motored along. I was beginning to get a sinking feeling that something was amiss but at the same time I was trying to calm myself by saying it was very unlikely that I was put on the wrong bus. When the last passenger alighted leaving only the driver, the train conductor, and me I was asking 'why me'. The conductor, either sensing my discomfort or just wondering why someone was still on the bus, stood up and asked me something in Czech. Not knowing what was said I was about to reply with "sorry, I don't speak Czech" but no sooner had the word sorry left my lips when the conductor threw his hands in the air and turned to the driver muttering something as if I wasn't even there. With my head in my hands I knew that with 10minutes to go before the train departed and with me still in the mist of the Czech countryside, in all likelihood I was going to miss the train. Dejected I shuffled to the front of the bus and sat beside the conductor who was by now routing through a small pile of papers. It was impossible to understand what he was saying, like the conductor I encountered on my entry into the Czech Republic; he didn't speak any English and was therefore unable to understand my despair as I had been told to get on this bus in the first place....this wasn't my fault. It's funny but even when I can't speak the language I've always been able to identify when I've landed myself in a problematic situation. When he realised that I wasn't going to understand what he was saying he just handed me the pages he was looking at, timetables was what they turned out to be, and I was able to deduce for myself that I was going to miss the last train leaving the country that night. I might have been able to identify the problem I was in but the language barrier was going to be a huge hurdle in me getting myself out of it. The conductor, pointing to his watch and tilting his hand in that fashion that implies 'maybe', ushered me to sit back down. As I sat I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. No matter where I was trying to get to or the mode of transport I was trying to use to get there even the simplest of tasks had turned into a nightmare scenario while in the Czech Republic. With things having gone so wrong so often I was asking myself 'was it me' and how was I going to make to Australia when I couldn't even manage to get myself around Europe hassle free, after all there was going to be plenty of tougher challenges ahead. The bus pulled into Dolni Dvonste and I ran as fast as my backpack would allow, I needn't have bothered as the train was already long gone. Standing forlornly on the station platform my despair was interrupted with the conductor urging me to follow him as he boarded an empty train. I was somewhat hesitant as I really didn't know what was going on and Id watched the 'hostel' movies where eastern European trains became the starting point unwitting backpackers took as they travelled to their eventual deaths. With this in mind it wasn't a total surprise when the train began to roll with the conductor being the only form of life I could see. He opened the doors to an office and I nervously followed. Taking a massive encyclopaedia of train timetables down from a shelf he began riffling through the pages stopping every now and then to point out something to me but then shake his head while throwing his hands into the air as if doing an impression of 'Manuel' in faulty towers. As the conductor repeated the same motion over and over again I began banging my head in what id imagine would be the outward expression of 'Basel Faulty's' frustration. When the train pulled into a depot we both climbed down and I was brought to a control room where a guy was sitting by a huge set of computer panels all with flashing lights. I was standing at the door of the office while the train driver, conductor, and signal controller were deep in conversation about what I presumed was my predicament. After a time they all nodded in agreement of something and one with a hand on my elbow the conductor led me outside. He was smiling and talking away to me and all I could do was stand there, try to figure out what he was saying, all the while trying to convince myself that his smile was a good sign. Just then the engine of a train pulled up beside us in a cacophony of noise and with brake steam venting from it's under carriage. When the door opened and the driver motioned for me to climb aboard I looked towards the conductor for reassurance. With a wink and a nod from him I climbed up and positioned myself beside the driver as he eased the train out of the station. So there I was, standing in the driver's compartment of a train, with a driver who didn't speak a word of English and as it hurtled into the darkness I didn't have the faintest idea of where I was going to end up. It was one of those moments when all you've got is a blind faith that things will work themselves out. I couldn't say exactly how long it took, 30-40mins at least, but the train eventually slowed as we approached a station. When it came to a halt the driver pointed for me to get off. Climbing down I was greeted by a number of official looking gentlemen. I was getting a little anxious walking into such a scene and started to try and explain what had happened to me but my voice was in such a high pitched erratic tone that they didn't have a clue what I was saying. Taking a deep breath I started again and thankfully in a tone that not only dogs could hear. With that the most official of the guys stepped forward to explain that I was no longer in the Czech Republic and I was now in Austria. They would manage to get me on a train that would take me to Linz where I would be able to get another connection to Vienna and all things going well I would make it in time for the train departing for Ljubljana. The only negative point was that the train departing for Linz was not for another 5hrs but they had opened the train station for me so that I could sleep in the waiting room in the meantime. Overcome with relief all I could think to do was to go down on my knees as if praying to Mecca and bow in front off the driver who had taken me this far. I don't think he quite knew how to react to my homage and rather nervously he boarded his train to begin his journey back over the boarder to the Czech Republic. With my faith in humanity restored I lay down in the waiting room and tried to sleep but with the adrenaline still flowing through my body I couldn't sleep a wink. As I lay I relived the whole crazy experience in my mind, determined not to forget a single moment.