International Writers Magazine: Euro Travel
We stuck to a pretty
specific plan, remembering that our parents had only allowed their recent
high school graduates to go on this trip if they would be able to know
where we were at their convenience. So, we followed our itinerary, arrived
at our hostels on time, and tried to get enough sleep each night.
the Tracks in Prague
to have few, if no, problems while backpacking through Europe with
three friends is naïve, to be certain. However, the trip I
experienced for a month this past summer passed, for the most part,
without significant difficulty. In fact, the few times we did encounter
problems, my friends and I decided, created for us the most hilarious,
and memorable events of the trip. My
friends Rachel, Emily, and Kathleen, and I began our trip in London,
England, and traveled throughout Northern Ireland, Belgium, the
Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, and France.
We sometimes discovered, however, that foreign countries werent
necessarily privy to their tourists meticulously scheduled activities.
My friends and I arrived in Prague in mid-July eager to enjoy the newly
sunny weather. We spent two days touring local city attractions. On our
third day, we planned on taking a bus to nearby backpacker magnet Cesky
Krumlov, a medieval city a few hours from Prague. When we got to the bus
station, though, tickets to our planned destination were sold out. What
were we to do now that our plans werent going as, well, planned?
Upon overhearing our discussions of how to handle the situation, a fellow
American backpacker approached us in the station. She offered us a list
of other fun cities to visit near Prague, recommended several, and then
disappeared as quickly as she came. Looking at the list, we still were
no wiser as to what would be a fun place to go. Our decision-making occurred
like this: point blindly at the list and see where the finger lands. Our
destination: Konopiste, the castle and former home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
We ran to board the train leaving for the city of Benesov, a site close
to Konopiste. We made it on board, one of our few successes of the day.
The four of us sat in a compartment with several carousing teenagers and
the smell of their morning beer. Our journey was destined to go awry from
We approached her
and greeted her in English, abashed at our language deficiency. The girl
spoke no English, but congenially passed her kitten under the gate dividing
us so we could play with it. Then, she disappeared inside her house, only
to emerge with four more kittens! We stayed there a few minutes, playing
with the kittens and trying our best to communicate with the girl. Eventually
we left her, using the universally understood hand-wave to indicate our
halfway to Benesov, our train stopped. According to another English-speaking
passenger, there was a crash on a different train further ahead,
so our train was temporarily delayed. Passengers were getting off
our train, so Rachel, Emily, Kathleen, and I decided to get off
for a while and look around. We were stopped at a small station
in very rural Czech Republic. The hillside scenery beyond the station
was beautiful, so my friends and I wandered around the few roads
there to admire it. We stopped at a small house where a young girl
was playing with a kitten.
We then went back to check on the train, which sat exactly where it had
been before, people still milling about. We were thirsty in the hot weather,
and went into a local pub where we ordered some strange juice drinks.
Of course, we also felt compelled to try the local grub, so we ordered
a potato pancake-type dish.
Periodically, as we ate and drank in the pub, one of us would venture
outside to check on the trains status. After over an hour, it was
still there. So then, imagine our surprise when Emily returned from one
of her train checks, completely speechless and motioning that a large
locomotive had apparently gone racing away from the station as she watched,
flailing her arms helplessly.
We all rushed outside to confirm the news. Yep, the train was gone. So
much for no glitches in our perfect schedule.
We worried, and then we laughed. Since it was utterly fruitless to talk
to the station agents, who were running around, obviously busy dealing
with the railroad disaster, what were we to do but sit and wait for another
train to come along?
About twenty minutes later, a train came and stopped in the station. No
one got off. I motioned to get the conductors attention and asked
if the train was going to Benesov. He said it was, so I asked if we could
get on. He said we could, so the four of us piled into the train.
There was absolutely no room to move. We squeezed up against the windows
in the aisles of the compartments and stood. Still, the train didnt
start. Another ten minutes went by before we heard news that this train,
too, would be stopping to wait in the station, likewise delayed by the
Deciding we would rather not die of heat, we got off the train, again,
and sat in a shady spot not forty feet from the train so we would certainly
not miss people re-boarding before it left. After half an hour, people
began to move toward the train. We hurriedly got on, scouring for a better
place to sit. We hit the jackpot with the three-foot wide boarding area
between the doors. We sat down across from each other, bending our legs
to fit in the space. There we remained in a motionless train for another
hour, sweating liberally and telling each other stories to pass the time.
The passengers let out a communal and enthusiastic cheer when the train
finally began to move.
We stopped a few times on the way to Benesov. On one such occasion, a
woman attempted to board the train (aka our first-class seating) with
her six children, all aged six or younger. She had one baby in her arms
and another in those of her six-year old. The mother nearly fell on the
stairs before flinging the baby into Emilys hands. Emily knelt,
arms outstretched, holding the flailing baby in one of the funniest, yet
most awkward scenes I have ever beheld. All was well when the mother got
up the steps and regained control of her children. The event briefly provided
us with a welcome entertainment interlude.
© Alyssa Connolly
finally arrived in Benesov shortly thereafter. We walked the two
miles to Konopiste and then enjoyed an amazing afternoon touring
the castle. As my friends and I sat by the water, dangling our fatigued
feet in the lake on the Konopiste grounds, I realized that that
day, as hectic and miserable as it undoubtedly was at times, was
my favorite of our entire trip to Europe. As much as I enjoyed having
a plan to follow, I learned that true adventures occur when travelers
can go with the flow, even if the flow is on a jostling train in
the countryside of Central Europe.
all images © A. Connolly 2007
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