Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Trip to Prague; Black Karma VooDoo Magic

It is official; I finally get to have my quarter life crisis. Twenty-five years old here we come…

During the week we had a lot of homework to do, the weather was dreary, Brandy was sick, and I was feeling relatively lethargic so we waited until a few days later to really celebrate the b-day…although I certainly have to mention that the night before my birthday resulted in a hand-shaking contest with an old man wearing a cutoff blue jean vest and a hangover until 2pm the next day…enough said.

So the birthday was Tuesday; I nursed my hangover, Matt made some spaghetti for the whole crew, I went to the climbing gym, and finished out the day watching “The Expendables” with Brandy while sucking down orange soda and eating junk food…perfect day as far as I’m concerned. We decided to hold off on the real fun until two days later when we had decided to go to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, for the weekend.

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from people who have done a moderate amount of traveling. Before this trip I managed to make it to the Caribbean a few times, Jamaica, Paris, Hungary, and Peru without any major problems…a few hang-ups here and there, but certainly not what we had in store for Thursday, September 9, 2010.

We went to class in the morning, got out at 1 p.m, and made a mad dash for the train station for our 2:30 departure. At 2:10 we were on the platform with full stomachs and everything we needed for a great weekend in Praha. The original plan involved Brandy, Matt, myself, and three trains (two connectors in Vienna proper, and one that went from the station in south Vienna to Prague.)

The original plan got blown to smithereens in a matter of 20 minutes.

At 14:28 we boarded our first connector train with high hopes and even higher spirits. We rolled through the city marveling at the enormity of architectural features and the wide array of trackside graffiti…truly complimentary works of art, apparently. After a short jaunt to the middle of the city we disembarked to the train platform, climbed the stairs, and scurried to find a monitor to find out what platform our next connector would be on… I should also mention that we had exactly 6 minutes in between trains. At the top of the stairs we find the appropriate monitor screens for train departures…except there is no train with the same number as ours.

The first thirty seconds of staring back and forth between the piece of paper with our travel information and the monitor weren’t that bad. Then I realized we had about 5 minutes left before our mystery train left…I could only envision the countdown clock followed by loud beeping noises that end episodes of 24, which I hate by the way; no one likes to feel like bomb is getting ready to go off.

With roughly 2 ½ minutes to go Matt spotted a railway worker who spoke broken English. We showed him our ticket hoping for good news. What we got was mediocre news.

Pointing down the block he said, “This train leaves from other station. Down that way.”



And run we did. Down two blocks with our bags slinging wildly about, across the street (where I dropped one of my bags), up a flight of stairs to the departure monitors that said our train, number 80 I think, was on platform 3…at least that’s what I thought I saw. Matt said he saw that it was platform 2. We go back to double-check.  Apparently train 80 was simultaneously on platform 2 AND 3. So we ran again. It was almost good enough…keep in mind this all happened in a frantic 2 ½ minutes. Let’s just say that I watched our train pull away when it was about 10 feet from me.

This was only the connector train to get us to the main station…we still had a chance. Matt quickly suggested that we run for a cab; the real train to Prague didn’t leave for 12 minutes or so. If we got an expedient cabby we might even be able to beat the train we were supposed to be on. Thankfully the cabs were right outside the station. We picked the closest one and jumped in. 

Somehow between the frantic spouting of directions and disgusted looks on our face he understood that we were in a hurry, but he sure as hell didn’t drive like he was in a hurry. He said Wien Simmering station was just a few minutes down the road and that we should be good to go. A few miles later down the road we were 3 minutes from missing another train. He let us pay early so we could jump out of the cab and make a mad dash for it. With one minute to go that’s exactly what we did….we ran out of the cab, across the street, and up some stairs to a train platform. Notice I said a platform…not the platform.

He brought us to the wrong damn train station. (This is where you insert about three paragraphs worth of expletives spouting from all three of our mouths...I’ll save you the details.)

At this point I suppose I should speed the story up a bit. I hung my head down and looked at my watch just to notice that it was exactly one minute past the time our train to Prague was supposed to leave, wherever it was, or rather, wherever I was. We sulked across the street and waited for a tram to take us to the underground, where we then took the subway to the right train station only another mile down the road. Eventually, we were standing on the right platform where our train had been only 15 minutes earlier.

The good news was that Brandy found a departure schedule that indicated another train to Prague would be leaving in roughly an hour and a half. Unfortunately there was no ticketing counter at this particular train station and we weren’t sure if we would be able to board. The nearest ticketing counter was approximately 19 stops north on the underground, back to the middle of the city.

So back to the underground we went, 19 stops north to the middle of the city, up 10 flights of stairs to a ticketing counter where we learned that we could either buy another one-way ticket or try and haggle with the conductor with the tickets we already had. After all that had happened shelling out another 60 euros was out of the question, so we had to chance it.

This time we took the elevator down.

Half an hour later we were back at the southern train station with 30 minutes to spare. We all got a beer and tried to forget what had just happened. At this point we had been running around for something like three to four hours and were probably only about six miles from home.

The train rolled in right on time and we bum rushed the conductor asking how we could get our tickets switched. Luckily a 15-euro up charge was all that was needed and we finally got to board the train hot, sweaty, tired, and unnerved.

Luckily our spirits were lifted and the train ride was enjoyable once we could finally laugh about the whole debacle. Matt bought us all a beer once the train got moving and we gorged ourselves on pretzels, Haribo gummy bears, and chocolate chip cookies.

The countryside between Vienna and Prague was gorgeous. In between the pastures and small towns gothic-styled cathedrals and remnants of Soviet-era statues are scattered randomly throughout the journey. By nightfall I had a stomachache from all the junk food and beer yet everything was coming in line. We were in Prague only two hours later than expected. What else could possibly go wrong anyway?

Apparently, a lot…

Upon disembarking at Praha hl.n. we attempted to get subway tickets to take us a toward our hostel. The fee was 18 Czech crowns in coins only…so our first problem arose when the ATM gave us bills in increments of 1000. Everything in the station was closed except for a newsstand who employed a ferocious little woman who was very reluctant to change out such a large bill. The lady at the counter scoffed at us all but Matt was able to finesse her into finally getting the finances all squared away. This was only a minor setback.

We took the train down a few stops and then followed the directions that our hostel had emailed us. We were delirious and the directions were pretty vague, I’m not sure which was the greater factor; nonetheless, even with directions we managed to take the tram in the wrong direction a few stops, so we switched and went back the other way.

Literally 20 seconds before our stop a rather frustrated looking man with a shaved head and a brown jacket walks up to me, murmurs something in Czech, and holds out a circular metal disk in his palm with some sort of red insignia on it.

I indicated, “no, I don’t want any.”

“Tickets please!”

Oh right….the undercover tram cops. Great.

I was a little irritated that we were being audited after only being in the country for 30 minutes, but what the hell, we bought our tickets fair and square—there shouldn’t be any problem at all. So we handed him our tickets.


This wasn’t looking so good. We had tickets, why did he need a passport? He had all three of them collected and started writing down some information.

 He then began to explain to us that we officially owed 700 crowns apiece because our tickets weren’t valid. The ones we bought were apparently non-transferable and became void when we switched from the train to the tram. So there we stood, screwed again, not to mention we got to watch him write us all tickets as we passed the stop where we were supposed to get off. It took him about 8 stops to finish the process…we were going the wrong direction again.


The next 30 minutes were essentially us meandering our way back to where we thought we were supposed to be, cussing out the Czech public transportation network and wondering what sort of black karma voodoo magic was haunting us all day. That is exactly what it was too, black karma voodoo magic. Eventually we finally made it to the Mosaic House where they tried to charge Brandy 100 euros more than we were originally quoted online. In matter of seconds the look on her face convinced the guy at the counter that he would fix everything for us in the morning, so we received our room keys.

The elevator took us to the second floor where we were unable to access our hallway because the keys weren’t validated.

Back down the stairs. Reactivate the keys. Back up the stairs.

The hallway door open this time. The room on the other hand, does not.

Back down the stairs. Reactivate the keys. He decided to come with us this time. The hallway opens, the door does not. He proceeded to scan our room key over and over again, each time getting the red light. Eventually for some reason after 6 or 7 tries it finally worked.

If this wasn’t enough of a hassle he then scanned the card, opened the door, and slammed it shut about 5 times just to make sure everything was working right…this was fine except for we ended up walking into our room at 11pm or so with 4 people staring at us light we were a couple of morons. But alas, we were there…finally.

The only option left was to go down stairs, have a beer, and then head to bed before some more black magic got a hold on us.

And that’s exactly what we did.

I promise…day 2 was much better…to be continued.



  1. An epic failure that turned out to be one of the most memorable weekends I've ever had...

  2. This is an incredible story! I don't know how you got through all that. I would've be cursing someone out and getting thrown out of the country or laid down in the train tracks to await my fate! Haha.