"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life."
My first night in the Czech Republic I slept in a train station and on a park bench.
That's my own fault, really. I waited until the night before I left Berlin to book a hostel in Prague, forgetting that it was Easter weekend.
Hostelworld.com and Hostels.com confirmed the worst. There was absolutely no room availability in Prague on Saturday night. But I'd already made my train reservation and paid the supplementary fee, so I decided to go anyway.
I arrived in Prague mid-afternoon on April 23rd. My first discovery was that the Czech Republic does not use the Euro. Their currency is called the Czech Crown (abbreviated kč) and one dollar is approximately 17 kč.
My next discovery was that the architecture here is mind-boggling and the city smells like lilacs in April.
I also learned that the word "Bohemian" comes from the Czech Republic; Bohemia is a historical region that comprises the western two-thirds of the country.
I walked around Prague for an hour trying to find a hostel, and finally resigned myself to the train station.
The train station was warm, and I wrote in my journal in order to pass the time. At around 11 p.m. I curled up in a corner and attempted to sleep, only to be toed by a policeman who said, "There is no sleeping in the train station at night." I guess they want to deter theft and dissuade bums from making the train station their permanent residence. After that, I tried to sleep sitting up the best that I could.
At 12:30 a.m., the train station closes it's doors for three hours (there are no scheduled arrivals or departures during this time), so the police corralled a few hundred of us outside. I headed to a row of park benches along with a mass exodus of backpackers, bums, and criminals.
A look around confirmed that I was one of the only females in the swarm of dirty, dangerous-looking people. I sat down on a park bench, gripped my backpack to my chest and assumed a defensive position, waiting for the inevitable mugging and/or molestation to commence.
From within the teeming mass of testosterone I heard a female voice, "May I sit next to you? Please???"
And that's how I met Elzbieta, a violinist from Poland. For the next hour we huddled together on a park bench in Prague, gossiping over a delightful spread of pretzels and Polish chocolate.
At around 1:30 a.m. it started to get cold. I put on my hat and gloves, slid into my sleeping sheet and drifted off to sleep on the park bench. I awoke at around 3:00 a.m. A bum was standing over Elzbieta, eyeing her rolling suitcase. I gave the bum a menacing look and shook my gloved fist. He ambled away.
At 3:30 a.m. the train station reopened and Elzbieta and I went back inside. I stayed there until 8 a.m. and then walked wearily to my hostel, stopping enroute for black coffee and an Egg McMuffin.
Prague was a memorable experience. It's a city steeped in history.
Once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, the "Golden City" played an important role in the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years War, and World War I and II. Not only that, but it's drop dead gorgeous and boasts culinary delights like dumplings, goulash, and Pilsner Urquell.
Next stop: Vienna, Austria.