Time again for another tale from my earlier travels. For Halloween, I’ve chosen one of my personal travel horror stories. It’s another one from my interrailing trip around Europe – this time from our very first train journey of the holiday.
Hello hello hello . . . or perhaps dzien dobry (which I can in no way pronounce) to you all.
Writing this in a rather bleary state in an internet café in Kraków (selected because Lonely Planet praised its stunning views, but it turns out to have darkened windows looking onto a grotty street.)
We’ve only been travelling since Monday, but as usual it feels like years already. We left Prague last night after two and a half beautiful days. It was the ideal start to our holiday; a stunning city, people chilled out to the point of complete indifference, the right balance of seeing stuff and just soaking up the atmosphere . . . perfect.
We quickly got into the swing of unidentifiable pastries from the bakery for breakfast, eaten in some sunny spot, wandering around for hours and passing the same place three times, outrageous guesses at pronunciation met with indulgent smiles and encountering some breathtaking view every time we rounded the corner. The incredible cheapness of everything puts you in a permanent good mood, as does the lack of harassment from people in general. On our first afternoon we did a lot of wandering, sandwiched between long patches of sitting, watching and chatting. Our dinner that first night was in a ridiculously cool restaurant in the cellar of the architecture museum – think vaulted ceilings and low hanging lights. The insane prices on the menu encouraged me to go for a similarly insane dinner choice – baked potatoes stuffed with ‘turkey-ham’ covered with plum sauce and garlic cream cheese and served with potato wedges. And surprisingly, it was completely delicious. Just the first indication of many we had that the Czechs are not afraid to mix their flavours. The Czech wine was also very good and dangerously inexpensive.
On Tuesday, already feeling like well-established Praguians (?!), we set off on a whirlwind tour of the top Prague sites on our list. A morning in Prague Castle (stunning, if v unusual cathedral; exhausting climb up the tower to breathtaking views; basking outside, and dreaming of waltzing inside the palace; a stroll down Golden Lane where Kafka once lived). A picnic lunch (grand total [cost] of £1) of bread, goats cheese and paprika salami) and then a trek up to the old Jewish Quarter. We found this v trendy and expensive, but having paid into the synagogues got much more of a feeling for the tragedy of the place. In particular, the Pinkas Synagogue, whose walls bear the names of the 80, 000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia killed in the Holocaust, was simple and yet devastating. After reading about the history of the Czech Jews we felt in serious need of some light relief and went in search of some local beer.
That evening was my favourite so far. In a previously unexplored part of town we had a very authentic-feeling Czech meal in a slightly grotty but character-filled restaurant. We then went to a brilliant jazz bar. The basement area was painted in blue, red and gold and a fantastic Czech band kept us entertained with their interpretation of Cuban music for over three hours.
Afterwards, despite being shattered, we went for another wander on the Charles Bridge, which looked particularly spooky and beautiful in the moonlight.
Yesterday we began our day in a more leisurely manner, with the funniest river boat trip I’ve ever been on. Rather than going either up or down the Vltava as we had expected, the boat just went back and forth in front of the same part of the city for the whole hour!
We spent most of the rest of the day acquainting ourselves with parts of the city we hadn’t yet visited. In the evening we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags, and then found our way to the main train station, feeling just a little nervous, partly due to the incomprehensible signs, but mainly due to the dire warnings in Lonely Planet about the gassings and robberies on trains into and out of Kraków, especially night ones and especially those arriving from Prague.
However, we found the platform and, after narrowly escaping sitting in the carriages that only went to the end of the Czech Republic, we were foolishly convinced that nothing more could go wrong. Nothing in the course of the night indicated otherwise. We both slept fitfully, but as far as we were concerned, our compartment was locked and we were v safe. We were disturbed a couple of time by people rattling at the doors, but after they went away we thought nothing more of it. That is until the morning (i.e. 5.30 a.m.) when we realised that Sarah’s phone had gone. It had been on the little table by her head but was now nowhere to be seen. I was convinced that no one could have come in without me noticing, as I hadn’t felt deeply asleep. But there was no explanation for where it had gone.
When we arrived at Kraków and went to change the rest of Sarah’s koruna, only to find they had disappeared, we knew something was a bit odd. All my sterling coppers (amounting to a grand total of 25p) had gone, as had my camera, Sarah’s sunglasses and my penknife. We quickly got onto the police with the help of a volunteer translator and realised we had been victims of the old sleeping-gas ’em then rob ’em trick. We spent all of our first morning looking first for our hostel, then for the police station – only to find that the only English speaker wasn’t in and we had to make another appointment to come back.
Needless to say, my opinion of Kraków has suffered somewhat as a result (especially when we got attacked by evil wasps while trying to eat our breakfast!)
However, we have since snoozed in the park, had a very little wander and sat outside a lovely sunny pub drinking beers. I’m v tired but feeling a little more positive.
OK, that’s more than enough waffle for one day. I hope this finds you all well wherever you are. I’ll write again, hopefully with no more disaster stories (chance’d be. . .).