Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Promiňte, kde je..."

*I sincerely apologize for not blogging for so long. Honestly, when you're traveling you don't want to be stuck behind a computer and as the type of writer that I am, I struggle with just making a short update...BUT here I am, back in the USA and finally readjusted enough to relive the glorious days I spent in Europe last month. So here we go

The Train
because it's all about transportation.
  • Very interesting. First of all, I used my Eurail pass for the trip and it was terribly nerve-racking because despite the assurance of the Internet before I bought the pass, few conductors seemed to recognize the pass at first glance. Thankfully, they mostly just took my word that it was legit and moved on. 
  • Finding the train in the city center was an adventure within itself. In probably one of the scariest (see Strasbourg for the other) moments of my trip, I got absolutely hopelessly lost in a Prague suburb while attempting to get to the city center to catch my train. In my state of terror I forgot that I had a certain amount of data on my phone I could have used to look up a map or something, so I was flying blind. Basically: Radek met me in the city center the day before and took me to his family's apartment in a suburb about an hour's train ride to the bus station, 15 minutes on a bus to his neighborhood, then a 5 minute walk to his apartment complex, and then 4 flights of stairs (this is important). While we journeyed he clearly pointed out the route I would need to take the following morning to get back to the city center...I was foolish enough to think that remembering "the bus stop is kind of within sight of the little Chinese fruit market" would be enough. The next day I left the apartment later than I wanted to, which basically meant I had one chance to catch the bus to the train station in the next 10 minutes or have to wait another hour. I descended the flights of many was it again, 2? Okay, all the doors look the same. I'll try this one...oh, hello someone's front hallway! Voices? Run. It must have been 3 flights. I go down one more, this door looks a little different, I'll try here...hello, sinister heavy machinery storage closet. The pipes are rattling louder than a jet? Run. Maybe it was 4...maybe I'll never escape this building...FINALLY I got outside. Ha. Then, I had to find the bus station. I won't recount every mistaken step I took, but basically by wandering in circles for about 20 minutes and pointing at words in my phrasebook to the few bundled up annoyed old ladies I passed on the street. I eventually found a bus, the wrong bus, but the driver seemed to understand my need to get to the city center so I just got on his bus and waited for instructions. While I clutched my phrasebook for dear life the old man in the seat across from me stared. I wasn't sure if he was appalled by my intrusion into his peaceful Friday morning, amused by my total failure in regards to direction and speech, contemplating dusting off his high school English and breaching the language barrier (I wish I had tried, but I was paralyzed by fear), or sizing me up to see how much of a fight I would put up...In any occasion, the bus driver managed to motion to me after 30 or so minutes that this was my stop. I was the only one to get off there, and I saw nothing in sight that resembled a train station. My first instinct was to crumple on the broken pavement and sob, but thankfully I mustered enough courage to pick a direction and start walking. As soon as I passed the little wall of trees on my right I saw the golden temple (read: broken windows and graffiti covered tunnel) of the train station!! I vaguely recognized the name of the station and I knew it wasn't the station I was looking for but I didn't care as long as it took me somewhere. But life had another trick up its sleeve...every sign at the station was in Czech, and most were abbreviations that my phrasebook did not include. I was able to understand that there were two trains- one going towards Prague and one heading out into the country. It did not mention, however, which train came to which of the two tracks. I waited nervously at the deserted station for almost half an hour before a tired looking woman approached and she became my savior in a mix of broken English and Czech. I eventually realized that the bus had brought me one station past the one I was supposed to go to, but I am eternally grateful to that bus driver and the lady at the train station because without them I would probably still be wandering those freezing streets. My backpack was heavy. It was cold. And windy. And raining. And every muscle in my body was tensed in terror for a fight or flight response...but in hindsight, I think it was one of the experiences I'm most grateful for from my trip. It wasn't planned, there was no easy solution, I was absolutely forced to use my Czech, and I succeeded. Now I am more confident, more knowledgeable, and more humble with my assertions that "Yes, of course I remember the way"...because I can almost guarantee that I don't))
  • I wandered around Prague some more and saw the beautiful Strahov Monastery for less than $5! This day contained an immense amount of walking, running, rain-dodging, freaking out, and finally the wonderful train ride that took me to Vienna!
  • The reason the ride was so wonderful is because after about 30 minutes I was sure I was in the right place, headed in the right direction, and the compartment was great. I shared a small room with 5 other passengers, a few who were replaced once or twice as the train stopped in towns in Cz and Austria. (I saw Brno through the window!) One other man took the train all the way to Vienna and he and I struck up a conversation. He lives in Vienna and was attending a work conference on public policy in Dresden, Germany (the origin of the train). We talked about my travels and he gave me some advice on Vienna. When he saw me trying to restore my appearance to normal human status, he deduced that I was going to meet my boyfriend and seemed genuinely interested in my well being and got more and more excited with me as we counted down the minutes to the final station. My first experience with the Viennese people was excellent! Something I've learned through traveling is the ability to and opportunities for making "friendships" with adults. When I'm traveling I am mature and confident and able to engage in meaningful and complex conversations with other people, regardless of age or status. I'm not a child, not a student, not an adult because these categories exist only in a vague, indefinite, introductory sense. On a long train ride in a small compartment the divides between people that define my life at home and school so clearly- age, occupation, clothes, money, accent, car- all disappear. I can be exactly who I want to be without falling into the traps of conformity or propriety because there is no "standard" to mold yourself into when you're not even sure what language to say "excuse me" in when brushing passed people in the narrow aisles. That is what makes train travel- and travel in general such a rewarding experience.


  1. An excellent post. It felt like I was there with you at that train station, feeling your terror and anxiety. It sounds like an exciting time.

  2. I love your writing. Please continue writing so that I can enjoy more.