April 28th 2007
My first ‘proper’ backpacking trip saw myself and my best friend Ollie take in a quick tour of Central Europe by train starting from Pula in Croatia, then northwards into Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and finishing in the city of Brno, Czech Republic.
Stepping out of the aircraft at Pula airport, the heat hit my face straight away. Sunglasses were needed as the sun rays exposed my eyes in the first instant but after a few minutes of readjusting; my eyes were ready for the European adventure. Pula is located in the Istra region in the north west of the country by the Adriatic Sea and is full of history so I thought this would be a good starting point. Sometimes my journeys come across problems like delays on trains and luggage being lost at the airport but this time we had a problem as soon as we left the arrivals hall at the airport. The problem was getting from the airport to the nearby town as there were no taxis or buses (how the hell can the airport run without public transport running to and from the nearby town, makes me wonder). We managed to get a taxi-van, jumped in with a couple of girls from Australia and got dropped off near the train station where I managed to get the staff to look after our luggage as there were no storage facilities. Oliver kept thinking that the guys working at the station were going to sell our goods but thankfully when we returned later that everything was still in the bags.
The main attraction in Pula is the arena which was built back in the Roman times and the impressions and feelings I had from the place were fantastic. This is one of the best amphitheatres I have explored and in my heart, I felt this was a lot better than the main big daddy located in Rome. Most of the arena is still intact and I managed to walk around the place, going up and down the steps on all sides, taking in the views and if I bought a football, I could have organised a game in the centre as the floor was so flat (and wide which helps).
As well as the arena there were other Roman sights to see in the city, noticeably the Arch of the Sergii and the Temple of Roma. The Arch of the Sergii is a triumphal arch which was originally a city gate is one of the most beautiful gates from the Roman times, is dedicated to the Roman army who won a battle at Actium and the arch was paid for by the local Sergii family. Nearby is the temple of Rome and Augustus which was erected in 1AD and built on a previous forum when Augustus ruled the Roman Empire.
The first train journey of the trip was about to commence so Ollie & I boarded the train and where we sat in the carriage, there was a group of young men who decided to get drunk and sing songs until they all conked out. Five hours later the train pulled into an empty Ljubljana station late at night. We didn’t have a clue where the hostel we booked was located so we took a taxi journey to the middle of a housing estate in the middle of nowhere and soon as we arrived (and checked in), we just crashed out on the beds. It had been a very long day but I still had trouble sleeping as I was really excited to be exploring the capital of Slovenia the next morning.
April 29th 2007
I had a very bad start to the day when I woke up early. I was lying on the top bunk in the hostel where Ollie & I were staying in. The ceiling was pure white. I woke up looking up, everything was white. SHIT! I have gone blind! Oliver, Oliver! Dam, I hit my arm against the sharp wooden edge of the bed frame and cut my skin on my shoulder a little. I looked down; I wasn’t blind, sense of relief, just very good paint work which convinced myself that I had lost my eyesight. Oliver was still in bed so I had a quick wash before walking around the local area for a cash machine. I couldn’t find a cash machine as I needed some money for that stupid ONE EURO bloody tourism tax the hostel was charging me and couldn’t pay up on our arrival the previous evening! In the end, I left a 50 Croatian Krona note which I had from Pula and left that with my key when we checked out that morning. I hope the owners didn’t mind.
Whilst walking around the area there were three young Slovenian guys who drove up to us in their small Renault blurring out German techno music, started talking some weird but wonderful bizarre language, asking me for some drugs or something. I couldn’t understand them so they drove off. I then found an old man riding a 1950’s old fashioned motorcycle with two newspaper delivery bags on each side of the handlebars delivering the morning post. Life seems good it seems around these parts.
Back in the centre of the capital on this cloudy dull day, the aim was to meet my pen pal who I have been in contact with many moons ago. Her names is Tea (but not pronounced the English way) and I lost contact with her about three years ago during all those wonderful house moves I did with my ex partner and lost all the letters she wrote to me which included her contact numbers, emails and address. Anyway it was only last week I decided to type her name into the Google search engine, hoping to see if I could get in contact. I know her surname, hometown and country is Slovenia. I got some results and actually found a website with her email address advertised. Great, so I wrote to the email address (which was part of a university institute), finding out if it was her and I got an email back a few days later and it was her. We hope to meet up today for the first time ever but she was recovering some operation she had recently and wasn’t too sure if she could make it. Fingers crossed she would.
Ollie & I caught the bus which we got for free as we had huge Euro currency notes and the bus driver refused to take them as payment. Arriving at the train station we found the locker room and left our luggage in these really big lockers. Fantastic, I love European train stations, always having places to leave luggage. Not many stations in my home country have these facilities. A text came, it was from Tea. She was advised by her mother not to leave the house and take some more time recovering. It was a shame. I was saddened. We went into the ticket hall to book our tickets for the 2am train which departed later this evening for Budapest. Whilst Ollie was sorting out something in the ticket hall, I came across a poster showing some pictures of a deep cave system and a castle in another town in Slovenia and so I decided to ask about it with the staff at the ticket office. Within minutes after the discussion, Ollie and I were both on a train to Postojna, 53km south of Ljubljana.
This was a quick fifty minute train journey, non-stop from where we were to where we were going and we had the added bonus of a buffet car, shame the smoking carriage was next to it and the fumes from other passengers cigarettes made its way through the train. The train was going all the way to Italy, hence so many Italians people on board screaming, shouting and throwing their arms around without a care in the world. We disembarked at Postnoja and noticed the station overlooks the town in the valley. We had to walk about a mile to reach the caves. It was another really hot day. The caves were actually something we were looking forward to as it would cool us down when we were inside. We paid our tickets, once again, fooling the ticket clerks that we were students without our student cards and headed down to the entrance where we were shoved onto this miniature train to send us deep underground. At some points I remember ducking and lowering my head down inside the open roof train carriage as my head nearly got taken off by some rocks hanging down from the cave ceiling. This place is one of the largest underground caves in Europe to which I saw some amazing limescale hanging off the caves.
We left the caves (after an amazing two hour tour down there) and wanted to take a look at the local castle which was around 9km down the road. There were no buses and we asked a local coach steward in the car park if there was a taxi firm which could take us there. He said he could ring it up for us but the fare would be around 30 Euros. We said no thanks and skipped the castle. We walked back into the centre of Postnoja and sat at a local bar for an hour, eating ice cream and drinking some really bad tasting cola. Then it was time to head back to the train station where I decided to get some sun tan in the late afternoon sunshine on the platform. The train came, we boarded and we found some seats in the buffet cart, with the only window open and enjoyed the local beer.
Arriving back in Ljubljana around five o’clock in the afternoon, my phone vibrated and I had a text from Tea to say that she had changed her mind and that she will meet us later that evening. That was great so with time to kill, it was time to check out the Slovenian capital. We could see the castle overlooking the city on top of a hill as we walked towards the centre. The route to the castle from the station was alright with many dull grey apartment blocks littering both sides of the streets but as we got even closer to the centre, we came across a bridge. There were these dragons at the end of the bridge overlooking the river. As I walked past the dragons, it seems their eyes were following mine and kind of spooked me out.
There was a funicular railway in front of us which took people up the hill to the castle. We paid our STUDENT money (once again, not being students, didn’t have student cards and we still got away with it, keep the costs down you’ll see), and queued up next to the barriers to get in. There was this Italian group of people who kept barging us out of the way and in the end I nearly lost my rag with them. Can’t they see that there was a queuing system in place? I felt very angry! Grrrr! After getting on the funicular railway after all those Italians buggered off (I got nothing against Italian people but they need to learn to queue, they getting worse than the Russians and Latvians when it comes to queuing!) we went up the hillside, getting in some amazing views of the north side of the city. We left the funicular where the upper station was inside the castle, into a room which looked pretty neat with white stone walls. The room was clean, spotless in fact, as I never seen so many cleaners working in one room before. I am pretty sure we could have organised a disco just for the cleaners, so that they can wave their mops in the air and party.
Leaving the room and heading outside, the courtyard was the first thing we noticed and how spacious it was. On the left (if you are facing south after leaving the lift), we saw a set of cafes, in front of us, some old castle buildings which were not connected to the outside walls, to the right hand corner was the clock tower/watch out tower which just looked so clean and amazing and to the right and behind us was the castle walls. Most of the courtyard was covered in grass and was very well kept. The first thing we did had to be the watch out tower but arriving at the doorway we found out that there was an admission fee! Dam! Student fee stunt was called for once again and we got our wish, another cheap entry fee. There were steps to climb and I have to admit that we were a bit tired of steps today and could do without this but there was no point complaining. We climbed the steps and reached the top of the tower and what an amazing view of down below we had.
By now the weather was well overcast but that didn’t dampen our spirits. I could see the city square, the main river, the bridge with the dragons, the train station which was around 2km away and the amazing hills which surrounded this small beautiful city. There was this big green flag flapping around above us. I never have seen a castle flag this big before blowing around wildly in the breezy wind. After a while it got a bit cold and we needed to head down to get in the warm. A quick tour of the castle was needed. The walk around the castle walls was alright but to keep warm we headed into the gift shop which was selling a lot of tacky souvenirs, to which I am sure that not so many people would buy. Next door I was looking at the kind of warm drinks people were drinking in the cafe, the tea didn’t look all that great, very weak I thought. Suddenly I heard some weird Italian people screaming in the toilets and wondered if someone was having a go at somebody else while doing their business or were they throttling a cat? God only knows but I wasn’t going to stay and find out.
After leaving the castle, heading back down on the funicular railway, after a short while we arrived at the main city square. There were three bridges all close together crossing the river, a clock tower overlooking the square and a statue which teenagers tend to sit around, talking and looking at the sunset. That was our brief visit to the old town of the city.
It was 8.30 in the evening and after meeting Tea at the train station, Ollie & I were kind of hungry and we also knew that it was going to be a long night ahead of us. We found a restaurant in some back alley near to the city square which was run by local people, even though it was not serving local food, just normal food you would see in any other restaurant, like steaks, pasta, meats, vegetables etc. I had a mixed grill but despite the small helpings, it was very nice. Oliver had pasta, while Tea just had a drink and couldn’t really eat much due to her tooth (must have been a dental operation she had). We talked, we laughed, took a few photo shots then before we departed, Tea gave me this cake as a local welcoming. I had to ask what it was but I forgot. (Sorry Tea). I saved that for later as it would come useful during the sleeper journey in case I got hungry and fancied some cake.
We left the restaurant around 10 o’clock in the evening and we started walking towards the railway station. We said our goodbyes to Tea before she drove off into the darkness in her small little car. Ollie & I had around four hours to kill before our train to Budapest departed. Okay, it was Sunday evening, everything was nearly shut, what do you do? We walked back towards the town centre and decided to walk into a local cinema to see what was on, to see if there were any English films showing with Slovenian subtitles. The main lobby looked like something like a cafe in the red light district in Amsterdam which I saw in a movie once. People were smoking and drinking, the two girls who were staff looking at us, wondering what the hell we were doing there and told us to f@@@ off with their eyes basically.
We walked across the street and found a bar and had two pints of local beer there, just sitting outside on the patio relaxing, killing the time. The bar manager was very nice and told all of his staff to go home and have an early night, and then gave us and the other six remaining customer free crisps. What a nice man but was a complete bastard when he closed the bar at 12 o’clock. We still had two hours to kill so we decided to walk towards the train station and found an all night cafe (which closes at one o’clock) opposite the railways station. We decided to have another drink and for some reason, I decided to have a pizza for no reason whatsoever. After that the time was passing by so slowly we decided to head back to the railway station to get our bags out of the locker room and decided to kip on the floor of the locker room, using our bags as pillows until the sleeper train arrived.
April 30th 2007
The train journey from Ljubljana in Slovenia to the Hungarian capital of Budapest was a non-eventful affair for my first ever time on a sleeper train. I was so shattered when I boarded the train that within minutes of the train pulling out of the station I was asleep. Apart from getting woken up at two borders checkpoints when entering and exiting Croatia, I had a great sleep. I woke up at sunrise and watched the world roll past the window. Flat rolling countryside with plenty of trees went by before the views of Lake Balaton came into focus before the train went through areas which were littered with blocks of concrete apartments and then finally pulling into Budapest Keleti train station before midday. Ollie & I had a little bit of fun in the cabin during the train journey, (not of the naughty variety), as we filmed a scene from the film ‘Eurotrip’ which came out a year or two ago. Ollie was Mr M’excuse (one of the crazy characters in the film) and I was a passenger just sitting on the train. The Italian crazy man would sit down next to me, the train would go into a tunnel, everything inside the carriage would go dark until the train comes out the other end of the tunnel and there would be Mr M’excuse looking at me with his hand on knee whilst getting very cosy, rubbing his body along my left arm.
Budapest Keleti station is a nice station with its beautiful arched roof overlooking the very long platforms here but the decor is very plain and needs a splash of paint to brighten up the place. As soon as we stepped foot onto the concourse, my feelings on the first impressions went from good to bad as local people kept approaching us for business, wanting to take us to a hotel or to buy currency at the not-recommend rates. It didn’t help as we had luggage and dressed up like typical backpackers. Eventually we fought a war, zigzagged across the city and found our hostel whilst grabbing some needed lunch. On the way to our accommodation Ollie & I loved playing dodgems with the trams which rumbled up and down the streets (didn’t see them approaching us – honest). The accommodation when we arrived looked like a normal residence from the outside but inside we noticed that there were no members of staff for at least ten minutes so we just hung around, being bored. The hostel owner when he arrived spoke no English but we managed to check in finally and then discovered that we would be staying in one of the worst hostels ever, because of the uncomfortable beds, unhelpful staff and pubic hair in the showers.
We didn’t have much time in the city, so we headed off towards the River Danube which flows through the heart of the centre and we passed the Museum of Terror. Ollie really wanted to go inside and have a look around but it was closed on Mondays. On the outside there were plaques with human faces on them, to honour those who died inside the building during the Cold War. The secret police would gather local people or anyone who had information and interrogate them, which most of the time ended up dead.
The main area of the centre is around the River Danube. One side of the river is Buda and the other side is Pest. Hence the capital name is Budapest after combining the two names together. This is my favourite part of the city and despite not having much time, we walked around the palace where we had such fantastic views of the city whilst looking at the statues which were dotted all around the grounds and I was amazed with the architecture. There was also the parliament building further down the river which looked like more than a Gothic piece of artwork which has been ripped out of the heart of Paris and relocated here by the Danube. It is one of my favourite gothic buildings which I have come by on my travels and looks fantastic by the river. Hungarian and European Union flags blew freely in the air whilst walking across the Chain Bridge before heading back to the hostel as Ollie was feeling tired. Away from the centre, Budapest looks like an average city with grey concrete buildings and old cars parked everywhere along the kerbside but I need more time here and I hope I will get the chance again soon.
May 01st 2007
It was an early start today so that Ollie & I could get to the train station in central Budapest in time so we could catch the train to Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe. The journey was pretty boring at first as I saw most of the scenery from the previous day journey but when the railway line went alongside the northern shores of Lake Balaton, the scenery got hillier and nicer. The sun beating down on us, the reflections of the lake twinkling on the surface and watching the world go by out of the window was fantastic and today would be a day to relax and get out of the city. Disembarking from the train and a short taxi ride later, we arrived at our destination of Revfulop. Our hostel was called the Hullam hostel which in most countries the word ‘hullam’ means morgue and I didn’t like the sound of that but luckily in the Hungarian language it means ‘wave’. So I like the sound of this, a ‘wave hostel’.
A few hours later after checking in with the hostel, we took in the shoreline around the lake where a local football game was going on and a few food stalls dotted about with the smell of barbecue meat in the air. A talent contest was also taking place, one girl singing really well and then a young boy got up on the makeshift stage and sang like if a cat got hit by a bus and screamed. After a while we decided to go on a little hike through Revfulop village and up a nearby hill where there is an observation tower known as ‘Fulop-Hegyi Kilato’. There were vineyards everywhere and green fields with apple trees as we walked up the gravel path. At the top of the tower we had great views of the lake down below and noticed how peaceful and quiet the area was. We just chilled out in the area and let the light gentle breeze cool me down after the long walk we just had.
Later that evening when we were back at the hostel, we had a campfire going and had some Hungarian goulash which I tried out for the first time and I have to admit, it tasted really nice especially with a few local beers.
May 2nd 2007
The sun was beaming through the window when I woke up in the hostel. It was only 6 o’clock in the morning and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I had to get up and have a walk around the area, while Oliver was just laying there fast asleep. After a while I had to get him up as our train left Revfulop (the small town we were staying in) at 09.04. Doing so, it was time to say our goodbyes to the hostel owner (he said that he was very happy as we were good guests but the hint of last night’s trouble I made when I made a fire outside in the hostel ground was still in his eyes as he wasn’t very happy with that) and then we set off down the road for the long trip to Bratislava in Slovakia.
A one carriage train pulled into the station. We found out this service stops at every single little stop on the north side of Lake Balaton going eastwards to where it terminates at a place in the middle of nowhere called Szekesfehervar, where we had fourteen minutes to wait for our connection to Budapest. It was one of the most boring train journeys I have ever experienced. The journey dragged and I was happy when we got off at Szekesfehervar. It was a industrial town set in the middle of Hungary, looking around the expressions on the people faces here looked depressed. The station announcements sounded like the tannoy systems you would hear in a Second World War film. First impressions made this town were not to bother to ever come back here. A quick look around the station where it was very big and spacious, reminded me off an Soviet Union station back in the old days of communism with the sunshine beaming down.
We arrived back in the Hungarian capital but thirty minutes later after boarding another train, we were on our way to Bratislava which was only a two hour journey. On the approach to the city, the place looked very industrial with chimney pipes littering the city’s skyline, puffing out thick black and grey smoke. Heavy goods vehicles were everywhere and I thought, “Oh my god!”
The train pulled into the station and after disembarking from the train I could hear station announcements over the loudspeakers were made in Slovakian, German and English. We departed the station very quickly as it did look like a dump (one reason to make a quick exit I suppose) and boarded the nearby bus (free journey of course, how the hell did we know where to pay?) for two stops where we landed up outside the royal palace which is located in the middle of a set of crossroads, with many cars from thirty years previous driving left, right and centre chucking out dirty fumes from their exhausts. The hostel we were staying in was in a nearby back alley. The service we received there was excellent as the girl working behind the desk was American, very chubby but friendly. She gave a lot of information on where nightclubs were, where to pull the girls and where to buy food at student prices. I said we weren’t really here for that but I did want to know where there was a bar which was showing some live football on the television to which she did point out an Irish bar for us.
Our time to look around Bratislava was shortened because most of the day was consumed by travelling and it was already late afternoon so we both decided to check the main sights in the city before the football match in the bar. First stop was the castle which is perched on a high hill which overlooks the city and the views from here were amazing even though there is not much to see apart from an ugly looking road bridge which goes over the Danube. To walk inside the castle grounds was free but the last admission for the castle was already closed for the day. The old town could be seen and there were so many church spires littering the skyline giving the city a distinctive calm feeling.
Canada scored, the locals went home disappointed and the bar was empty within minutes. Oliver took advantage and grabbed the front row bar seats and we had a great view of the television which was now showing the Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg game for Manchester United against AC Milan at the San Siro. Oliver is a huge Manchester United supporter. The scene was set, beer in our hands, football, all the other locals supporting Milan, Oliver supporting Man Utd, I supporting England as a whole. Man Utd lost the game 3-0. Locals cheering, Oliver disappointed like the locals earlier with their Ice Hockey game. A long walk back to the hostel where we needed to rest some more as an early start for the short trip across the border to Vienna was in store. The short stay in Bratislava was nice and I am sure I will pass through here again someday.
May 3rd 2007
Waking up rather late we only had twenty minutes until our train departed for Vienna, Ollie & I quickly checked out and ran down the street to the Royal Palace, caught the bus and was on the train with a couple of minutes to spare. Another passport stamp at the border control and an hour later we were pulling into Vienna.
Lunch came and went and we walked down the main shopping street right to the heart of the city and what a welcome sight it was. I have never seen a city so clean, so beautiful, so colourful, so full of history. We walked around the parliament, palaces, the museum quarter, theatre’s, churches, well kept gardens and cathedrals. I couldn’t really put my camera down and my batteries kept running out. The centre of the city (which is the seventh largest inside the European Union) is littered with statues and classic-designed buildings.
The train Ollie & I were travelling on pulled into Linz train station in the early evening of this beautiful spring day. The sun was out; all the commuters and students from Vienna jumped off our packed train and raced out of the station. The platform was deserted after a couple of minutes which left us standing there, looking around like headless chickens. We made our way down to the tram system below, wondering where the hell we were meant to go. I had brief instructions on my hostel details which I booked in advance but they weren’t helpful.
A young Austrian lady approached us and helped us to find our way. She was actually travelling our direction so we got onto the tram and got off a couple of stops later at WiFi (not as in wireless internet but sounds like when a dog does a poo, you call it a…. you get it….it smells!)
We reached our hotel where we decided to pay extra for tonight so we can have at least one night’s worth of luxury and comfortable beds and no squeaky metal bed frames and wooden cold floors to step on to. Recently I found out travelling with others, sharing the same rooms, always in each other’s faces, sometimes I needed some time to myself and I know I needed it, same as Oliver needed it. We relaxed for a few hours and then decided to go downtown. It was late but the only thing we did was actually headed back down to the main train station as we did not know where the hell we were going and landed up at an internet cafe for twenty minutes then headed back to the hotel for some needed sleep.
May 4th 2007
Morning came and so did breakfast and what a proper breakfast it was, I had cereal, some rolls and juice and a much needed cup of tea, no McDonalds for breakfast today, I was so happy. We only had the morning in Linz but I wish I had allowed for some more time here as it is an amazing city with plenty of things to see, in the centre and especially around the outskirts. Linz, as I found out, is going to be the European City of Culture in 2008 and Hitler’s birthplace isn’t too far away from here either.
We caught the tram back into the centre and got off at one of the many bridges which span over the river which flows through here. I noticed on the tram map if we got off at a certain stop and caught another and took it all the way to the end of the line; we would land up at this small train station which takes us up into the hills which overlooks the city. It was a must, especially on this perfect day, the sun gleaming down, warming up etc. You get my drift.
It wasn’t a train, it was a funicular, so up the hill it went, taking Ollie & I and around ten other passengers but I noticed that sitting here, looking out of the window I couldn’t get a view from inside the funicular until it reached the top. The funicular pulled into the summit station which is located in a village called Postlingberg. It was a nice small village with a nice church where there was a service going on inside and located outside there was a viewing platform to see all down below. The views were amazing and with a nice cool breeze, I decided to sit on the wall and just relaxed for a while. It was quiet which was perfect as there was no one around, it was just a blessing. All that stopped when the chimes from the church sounded all that out.
Back to life in the centre of Linz and we had a quick walk around, dodging all the trams which rumbled along the cobbled streets and checking out some of the buildings with its amazing Germanic architecture and some churches. Before we knew it, it was time to board a train for our next destination on this trip, Prague which is located a few hours journey north of Linz.
May 5th 2007
We arrived in Prague after doing the long train journey which just dragged and was really boring so I was quite happy to step onto the platform at the main train station. Walking around I was listening to all the announcements done in various languages whilst trying to dodge people trying to get to the tourists and ‘promote’ their currency exchanges nearby and deals on hostels.
Ollie & I managed to get some money at an ‘official’ exchange booth then it was time to figure out where our hostel was in the city as Prague is a huge city and due to its excellent night life, hostels are springing up everywhere. Luckily the accommodation wasn’t far, just one stop on the metro from the main train station and after being cheeky by paying a student price for the metro ticket, we arrived at our destination, the ‘Levir’ hostel. The hostel has seen better days, located inside an old communist building which was falling apart. We entered through the main wooden door and I noticed straight away that the cold air from inside hit my face and I shivered whilst waiting for a member of staff to greet us in reception. Looking around I noticed a pile of duvet covers dumped on the floor at the bottom of the staircase. After a while the hostel owner approached and greeted us, he was not local but from somewhere else within Europe.
It took a while to check in but after all the paperwork he showed us to our room on the fourth floor. Usually this is not a problem but my backpack was heavy, the staircase took forever to climb as there must have been thirty steps between each floor. As soon as we entered our room, I flung my backpack onto the floor and wiped the sweat off my face. ‘Welcome to Prague’ I was thinking. Oliver needed a rest so I went back downstairs to use the internet which was located in a ten bed dorm room as there was only one computer in the whole building. Sitting at the computer trying to find out the latest football scores from back home, I noticed that there was a chubby Asian girl (possibly from Thailand) laying on her bed giving me a huge smile to which I was not impressed. The internet didn’t work either so I gave up.
After climbing the summit again to the top floor, Oliver was still asleep to I just chilled out for a while until later that evening when we headed out to the centre. We walked around and around the city, losing sense of direction. We couldn’t find an internet cafe to check the football scores, but after 45 minutes with Oliver not feeling too good, we landed at a McDonalds which had Internet. I paid and guess what, it didn’t work. So we went back outside to a main square and the area was littered with local police ready for a night’s action with the drunken tourists whom come here for a cheap weekend getaway and get drunk in the process. Ollie & I headed around the corner, downstairs into the Metro back to the hostel for some much needed sleep.
May 6th 2007
The next day after waking up early we somehow had to manage a trip to Kutna Hora, explore Prague and see the nightlife all in one day. After our brief appearance the previous night in the centre of Prague, our first impressions of the nightlife is great with the place looking very lively so we would have to come back another time to check out the nightlife as we really came here to explore what Prague had to offer.
I walked in front of Ollie down the stairs and there were three people in blue uniforms at the bottom to which they all stopped me at once, with their badges showing. They were ticket examiners so I produced my ticket and I walked on but there was no time to warn Ollie. He walked straight into their den, shows his ticket and then the fun begins with one of the examiners declaring that Ollie has the wrong ticket. Not only Oliver didn’t have any ID on him to prove that he was a student (to which they also started questioning him on why he wasn’t carrying his passport on him as he did have it on him), they asked him why he brought a ticket for 6-15 years old. Ollie was trying to prove that he was not guilty (but he knew he was guilty) by saying the English button wasn’t working on the machine and didn’t understand the system. All they kept saying is pay the 500kr fine. Ollie refused at first, getting slightly worried but still put his foot down and refused to pay the fine, to which the next response was the word ‘police’ being used a lot, to which Oliver came out that he had no money to pay the fine.
The examiners then started to threaten him with the police by taking out there cell phones out of their pockets. The sweat was now pouring down his face, worried like hell to which I had to step in. I eventually paid the fine for him and had an understanding with one of the ticket examiner, as I used to be one as I work in the railway industry back home. Ollie got his receipt and we walked on into the metro. Ollie said to me that I paid a £50 (€70) fine for him to which my response was ‘no, it works out to be around £10 (16€) fine’. My response cheered Ollie up a bit, paid me the money and we went on to explore Prague.
Starting off at the river which flows through the city (the Vitava), near the Legii Bridge, we went up a funicular nearby to the top of Peskin Hill, where there is an observation tower which resembles the Eiffel tower in Paris. A trip to the top where we took in the views of the Old Town of Prague where there are loads of towers and spires pointing upwards to the sky. These litter the landscapes to give Prague a brilliant skyline view. Afterwards we walked down the hill then alongside the river, across the Charles Bridge and mingled with the crowds and took in all the statues that littered all the post.
The Old Town was quickly visited (Ollie & I were running out of time) but took in the famous landmarks of the Astronomical Clock in the main square. With the cobbled streets and old buildings (which the bottom floor of these were mainly bars, clubs and coffee drinking places and all packed out with tourists as well as locals), we managed to find a small bar as it was evening just for a few drinks. Inside the bar we found the television was showing live ice hockey from Moscow which was holding the World Championships and the big game was on, Czech Republic against Slovakia where there is a great rivalry between the two countries (but a friendly one I may add). The evening didn’t end well for the locals in the bar as the mighty Slovakia won 3-2!
May 7th 2007
The third day was our last on the Czech trains and a five hour journey to Czech’s second city, Brno in the east. On arrival we didn’t have much time as we had to head to the local airport to get our flight home but there is a nice cathedral which overlooks the city (it really does look impressive). My memory of Brno would have to be the amount of people from Thailand, Vietnam etc working on market stalls in the subways underneath the roads around the centre of town selling fake goods and dodgy shoes. Why this memory stands out, I just don’t know. I enjoyed my first visit to Czech Republic and I am sure I will return one day. A great (but short) adventure came to an end, my first experience of a rail tour of Europe was completed and I was hooked, I wanted more and soon afterwards I was planning more backpacking trips to Europe (to which I know I will be staying longer at each destination instead of rushing about, something I have learnt on this trip).