We had a nice weekend in Prague, particularly once we got there. Prague is a charming and historic city, with a unique energy that, despite having faded since its mid-90s peak, is still enchanting. Assuming of course that you get there.
Why do I keep pointing out that you have to get there first? Because we wondered for a while if we’d ever make it.
We left Friday evening by train, traveling three hours to Hanau (outside Frankfurt), where we caught a night train to Prague. We had hoped to be able to upgrade to a bed on the train, but it was full. So we stayed in our little compartment trying to sleep in uncomfortable seats. At 5 am, we were awoken by the border police so they could check our passports. That was unexpected, but we weren’t expecting a German conductor to run through the train yelling that we needed to get off to transfer to a bus. We further didn’t expect to be told to return to our seats once we got up and into the hallway.
So we waited and tried to sleep in the uncomfortable seats.
Around 7:30, I got up and wandered around a bit. We were still in the Czech border town of Cheb, and no one knew when we would leave. It turned out that there had been a fierce storm the night before, and the track was blocked in many places. We had a choice of taking an 8:20 bus to the next town and hoping to catch the train beyond the damage or waiting.
So, we waited.
Finally, around 9:00, the train started moving since we were going to be rerouted. Thy took us on a very slow route through northern Czech Republic, through some of the most environmentally damaged land I have ever seen. There were open-pit mines that stretched across the horizon, enormous unkempt power plants, and serious acid rain damage. It was amazing.
Finally, at 2:15, our train arrived in Prague, six hours late. The biggest problem for us in being so late was thirst. Night trains don’t come with restaurant cars or other supplies because the passengers are expected to be asleep the entire ride. However, we didn’t get in until we’d been awake for over six hours. Fortunately, we’d brought a lot of water, so we were ok. I can’t imagine how the kids felt that had gotten drunk while waiting in Cheb.
As I said, once we got to Prague, things were much better. We checked into our room, showered, and got food and water. We were no longer the tired, stinky, hungry, and thirsty beasts that had left the train.
It’s hard to explain what is so great about Prague. I could go through our 48 hours there with the detail I used for our delay, but it wouldn’t be meaningful. There’s just a special feeling that comes from the mix of Art Nouveau architecture, ancient synagogues, Hussite independence, post-Communist growth, Absinthe, Baroque and Gothic churches, fantastic beer, and good simple food that makes it a great place. There are more tour groups following umbrellas through the city than there were during my first visit in 1997, but not enough really to matter.