Of Being Too Careful and Not Careful Enough
Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
23Trip End Oct 10, 2006
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Where I stayed
PLACE: Boathouse Hostel, Rm 8
DATE: Sept 21, 2006
SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD: Some awful American "modern rock" song that was playing on the radio of the taxi cab that I reluctantly took back to the hostel.
LAST FOOD CONSUMED: An "old Czech" traditional meal of potato and bread dumplings with kraut and smoked meat, but really, my most recent consumption was Fernet Citrus and a half liter of Gambrinus beer
I've learned my lesson: plan ahead for accommodations. No matter what day of the week, no matter what time of the year
Last night (the 17th) I arrived in Prague just after 7pm. I thought this would be plenty of time to consult with the travel office at the train station and pick up a map of the city. I was wrong. It turns out that the travel office closed at 7 and I was stuck in a really foreign place with no idea where I was going, no idea what the currency was worth and not a shred of an idea on how to communicate in Czech.
All of this could have been partially avoided with some planning on my part. But it was exacerbated by the warnings I had received. I was completely freaked out about thieves on the train, thieves in the station, people looking to harm me.
So it was with that mindset that I rejected the older woman who approached me in the station about a bed for the night. I really don't trust people in train stations who approach me. And even though the rest of my night was consumed with trying to find a place to stay, I still would have rejected her offers. She was really pushy and kept coming back to proposition me like a mosquito.
My other options included the many help desks for travelers seeking beds. But these too unnerved me. The one piece of planning that I did do was to bring along a brochure from the Berlin hostel that listed about eight Prague hostels, and at that point I felt very wise to have charged up my travel cell phone. So I began calling the numbers. The first two had zero beds, and I began to worry. The third had a bed, and they were 5 minutes walk from the train station I was at
Then I called the Boathouse Hostel, which the brochure described as "located far from the city center, but the hospitality is worth the distance." The woman who answered the phone, Vera, knew very good English and, even though she was curt, there was something warm about her voice that told me that I'd found a safe place, which was something that I really needed. So I told her I was coming.
Next I got some cash out of the ATM. But since I had no idea what the kroner was worth, I only took out 200, which turned out to be the equivalent of 8 bucks or so. After buying a liter of water which cost me 20 K, I realized I would need more. So I went back to the ATM, went outside and attempted to follow Vera's directions, but I didn't get too far. I figured out that I had told her the wrong train station, and rather than call her again, I consulted the city map at a kiosk inside. I would need to take the metro C train towards Haje four stops to Prazskeho Povstani, then the 148 bus towards Podolska Vodarna to the end, then the 17 tram down along the Vlatava River, off at Cerny Kun. Wow.
I bought a 24 hour ticket at one of the machines and got on the metro. It's hard to describe, but the communist vibe is still very present in Prague, and I felt it strongly on the subway. However, even while I was soaking in that atmosphere, there was the younger generation which had never lived under communist rule
While we're on the subject, allow me a moment of sexism. I wanted to come to Prague for three main reasons: cheap beer, classic architecture, beautiful women. The beer has indeed been cheap (about one dollar for half a liter), the architecture has been stunning (everywhere you look in the city center there's something to marvel at) and the women were everything I could have hoped for. I really didn't think it could get better than Berlin. But I find myself falling in love every few minutes here.
Okay, back to our story.
I got off the metro, waited for 10 minutes, got on the bus expecting it to let me off by a river, and instead it got to the end of the line rather quickly at a hilltop, next to the Czech Televize (television) building and a park. This wasn't good. I asked a couple of people for help, pointing to my paper that read Tram 17, but no dice. Then a nice man with limited English vocabulary said to go through the park and make a left after two "crossings" to get back to the metro. So I proceeded to enter the park, muttering to myself that this was bad
Instead, I came across a lovely surprise: a cafe! In the park! With music! And a young man named Peter behind the counter who spoke very good English. I ordered a wonderful dark beer on tap called Kelt and a fairly large four cheese pizza (there I go again, eating food from another culture on my first night in a new place). Peter worked hard to try and find me a room nearby, consulting colleagues and looking it up on a map. I thanked him profusely and tried following his directions, but I was lost again. Fortunately, an incredibly nice man named George who works at the television station walked me up, down and around, asking a parked taxi driver and some students how to get to the hostel until we arrived. What a guy! But they were full. Fuck.
At that point, I walked back to the metro and got on the 148 going the right way. But I still wasn't willing to settle for a room that was so far away. I got off and walked to the Hotel Olin, which I saw from the bus. But they were charging 60 Euros a night, and even though the girl behind the desk was extraordinarily friendly and gorgeous, I said forget it and asked if she could recommend another place
So, the moral of the story is, I had a good time walking around and meeting people, even though it was very tiring. I quickly got over my fears of Prague due to the incredible kindness of Peter and George. The Boathouse Hostel is clean and if you can find the 17 tram and don't mind walking 500 meters or so from the stop, I recommend it. But due to the very confusing nature of the Prague transportation system and the far distance from the city center (i.e. you can't just walk to it), next time I'll be staying much closer to town.