Beautiful Prague - Day 1
It's been a long time since I've been on a proper foreign holiday (seven years in fact). When I was in England I would travel to Poland to see my beloved Kasia. When I moved to Poland I would "holiday" in England to see my beloved family, collect my post, celebrate my birthday or for whatever flimsy excuse I could come up with. So, while at the pub drinking way too many ciders with some of my friends they were talking about their forthcoming trip to Prague I leapt at the chance to join in. As far as I could remember my diary was fairly free apart from the regular language meetings, drawing sessions and other similar things that I do every week.
I woke up the next day with a fairly modest hangover happy in the knowledge that I had a nice cheap city break planned. I could travel light, leaving the laptop at home as other people could take care of any work-related disasters that might crop up. A day later I remembered that I had a big system change happening on the first day of our trip. On the Friday the very important client was moving offices, changing logos and, worse than that, I was in charge of providing a datafeed to their new system. I told my friends that I probably wouldn't be able to come along on the trip after all.
As the week progressed I was more and more convinced that I would indeed be able to go on the trip. I could make the changes the evening before the trip. The datafeed would quite happily run all by itself and if it did go wrong, somebody else could sort it out. As the date approached it became clear that the people who were receiving the datafeed were slightly clueless about what was going on. Our mutual client was getting the jitters and there was a possibility that I might have to fly to England to sort it out. Travelling light was no longer an option. I had to take my laptop "just in case".
Day 1 - We're Getting There (Friday)
On Friday morning, just after 8am, I set off to the bus station, with a rather heavy backpack weighing me down (Journey time half an hour, cost zilch). My friends were keen to save a little money and we were travelling to Prague as cheaply as is reasonably possible. First leg of the journey was by bus to Cieszyn (a town which straddles the Polish/Czech border). Journey time just over three hours, cost 21 Zloty (just over 4 pounds). From there we were to take the train, journey time around five hours, cost 340 Czech Koruna (around ten English pounds or 51 Zloty). We would be going to Prague for a little over £14 pounds, certainly can't complain about that.
The bus trip was uneventful (as well you might expect). I quite happily stared out the window at the passing countryside. Fields and mountains, blemished only by shabby Polish houses and a seemingly endless stream of petrol stations and furniture shops. Approaching the border I turned off my phone's mobile data and started to get withdrawal symptoms due to not having constant internet access. We arrived in Cieszyn (Poland) and we had to walk over the bridge to Cieszyn (Czech Republic). Along the way we stopped only to change some money (so that we would be able to pay for our train tickets) and to take some photos at the border itself. Luckily these days crossing borders in Europe is a straightforward process involving simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Things started to go wrong at the train station. Our direct train to Prague wasn't available for some reason or other, so we would have to travel to another station and change there. Ok, we can handle that. Upon arrival we heard some more announcements that the train would be late. It seemed that we had to change platform. The train arrived. Inside it looked nice. Suspiciously nice, more like an aircraft than a plane (in fact the rubbish bin was emblazoned with warnings about take off and landing). It soon became apparent that we were on an express Pendolino train and we didn't have the right tickets. The "flight crew" were pleasant enough about it, but explained we'd have to get off at the next stop. Not a complete disaster, we had a nice seven minute ride on a very fancy train completely for free.
At the next stop we had to ask a cashier how to get to Prague. Fortunately the lady behind the counter spoke Polish and was very helpful. She was kind enough to give us a printout of the exact details. First we needed to travel to Hranice, then get another train from there. The only hitch was that the electronic displays weren't showing which platform the train would be departing from. It was then that I learnt that Poles have an expression for situations where nobody quite knows what is going on - "Czeski film" (Czech film). This expression was quite apt for the whole day; we didn't quite know what was going on, but somehow muddled through.
Eventually the electronic display updated itself, we went to the appointed platform (which in itself can be confusing as most continental platforms have two numbers, one for the "platform" and another for the "track". Once again we boarded the train, but not everyone in our party was sure that we were on the right train. In the confusion one person in our group got off the train and when he discovered that we weren't on the platform the train already started moving. While getting back on the train somehow his carrier bag got caught, sending our supply of sandwiches to their untimely death.
At the next station we were able to enjoy a nice waiting room, power sockets and WiFi. We knew we would be on the train to Prague for a few hours (passing through my namesake town of Kolin on the way). There was time to relax and do some reading.
Several hours and fifty or so pages later our fourth train of the day arrived in Prague's main train station. I couldn't see any McDonald's but was not unduly concerned. Finding the hostel was the next problem. Without the internet Google maps wasn't an option, so we had to resort to the good old-fashioned methods of conventional map-reading and asking people the way to go. We ended taking a rather circuitous route up and down various hills before eventually homing in on our hostel. Unfortunately there had been a bit of a mix-up with our room booking and it was a further fifteen minutes before we gained access to our room. The good news was that two of us were sharing a three-person room (at the original agreed price). The bad news was that they would have to move to a different room the next day.
After settling into our rooms we went off in search of a restaurant. We passed a series of restaurants that were either over-priced or full of customers. Then it was back to one of the first restaurants we passed when we were search for our hostel, a pizzeria. I opted for the Four Salami Pizza, served with a nice Czech beer. Back at the hostel we intended on having a party back in our room. The party was short-lived with all of us weary after our twelve hours of travelling.