Europe | Prague, Czech Republic

march 2015//canon 5d//prague, czech republic


I approached the desk at the ticket office in the station cautiously. The two women chatting stopped to stare at me warily.

"Mein App-" I held out my phone for emphasis, in the hopes that the ticket sellers would understand my broken German "nicht arbeitet."

The woman raised her eyebrows, as I attempted to show her how the app was refusing to let me open the ticket, keeping one eye on the clock-after all, I had a bus to catch in 45 minutes. In German, she asked to see the confirmation email-and when I showed her, she shook her head.

"That is not from Deutschebahn," she said, before glancing at me somewhat suspiciously. "Where did you buy this ticket?" I looked at her, eyes wide. "On the website," I gulped, and the woman shook her head. "That is not from our company," she explained, to my utter confusion.

After 20 minutes,  I was sprinting towards the bus-stop. I skidded to a stop by the two friendly bus drivers who were loading suitcases into the luggage hold.

 I choked out my predicament, close to tears. The older bus driver looked at it, shrugged, and handed it to the younger one, who scrutinized it before-


I hopped up the stairs and slid into the seat next to my friend Emily. "You made it!" she exclaimed, and I nodded, still out of breath and a still a little close to tears.

"I did," I answered, laughing a little.

I was going to Prague.

Hostel Orange was located on the bustling and touristy Wencelas Square, and tucked behind a "TRADITIONAL CZECH RESTAURANT' that constantly played polka music. The building was old, and the hostel itself was several floors; one of those tall and skinny sort of buildings, with just one or two rooms on each floor. Our room had a window that looked out onto the street, and at night, the ornamental facades took on a dusky tint.

Emily and I started our weekend with crepes and coffee in a little hipster-y cafe. I tried out my czech, the words tasting strange in my mouth-I had a little guidebook, and knew how to say hello and please. The waitress taught me how to say thank you, but I couldn't manage it. She laughed nicely but I decided that maybe that was the end of my Czech speaking.

Erin and Wendy arrived later that day, and we wandered around the city in the dark. In the center, the streets were alive. Garish signs advertised cheesy souvenir shops, and several storefronts were dedicated to Thai massages. Tourists sat at the store windows, ankle deep in fish tanks; minnows covered their feet, making it look as if they were wearing a shimmering, wiggling, pair of socks.

We decided to go to what was advertised as "Central Europe's LARGEST club!," complete with an ice bar. It was bizarre, like stepping into another dimension. Each floor was a different style of music, and attracted a different crowd. One floor had a large sunken pit, where teenagers and tourists alike fought for space to dance. Another floor had a lounge where a drag queen Marilyn Monroe danced in the famous billowy white dress and middle-aged men with gold jewelry, slick hair and pot-bellies sat around and smoked cigarettes. We paid money to go into the ice-bar, where we drank beverages encased in hunks of ice that were slowly melting, the drink dripping out sporadically. We sat down to take a picture and a drunk British man sat on my lap and photo bombed--a minute later, he was thrown out for smashing all of the ice glasses and yelling like a caveman. It was a strange night.

The next morning, we embarked on a mad dash through Old Town via a free walking tour with a hilarious guide who looked like the sixth member of the Strokes. He led us from sight to sight and gave us a crash course in Czech history--wars, fires, bombs, assassination, religious intolerance, the Rolling Stones, castles, skulls, communism--Prague has a colorful past, to say the least. At Cafe Louvre, where Kafka and Einstein once lingered over coffees and teas, I sat hunched over a sketchbook, scribbling down my thoughts before they could escape---

Prague is immense, poetic, noble…..I am watching two women smoke cigarettes on the balcony outside. the ornate buildings, molding like icing, line windy cobblestone streets--everything is varying shades of cream, yellow, mint, pink… wedding cakes.

After a trip to the John Lennon wall and several encounters with bubble blowers, who stood in main squares and lazily blew orbs of massive proportions for small children (and my friends) to chase, we ate dinner at a restaurant where trains delivered the drinks. We walked far, to a neighborhood outside of the Old Town, with large blocks of elegant buildings, to a cozy white apartment. Erin's friends were there, and we pre-drank cautiously, unsure of what to say to each other.

Then it was down a long tunnel to a Soviet-bloc style metro station, and to a bar where we competed against other tables to see who could drink more. With beer going to our heads, we were chatty, tossing subjects across the table--baseball, art, Paris. Afterwards, we stumbled home giggling, as we crossed streets cautiously-Wendy led the way with her offline map, quietly reassuring us that she'd get us "home." Emily and I stumbled around the corner at the hostel, dodging prostitutes with fur coats and arms around old men and loud-mouthed club promoters with large hats shoving pamphlets in people's faces, for the best pizza in Prague-we stood at a hot window and devoured slices of cheese before heading back.

Sunday was a quieter day. We took a somber tour of the Jewish cemetery, shocked into silence by the thousands upon thousand of names of Czechoslovakian Jews who perished in the Holocaust--climbed up the hill with potatoes on a stick, checking out the front of the castle and peering over to look at the red rooftops and spires, the river snaking through the middle. My friend Ty met us for a picnic and introduced us to unfiltered czech beer. We stood on the Charles Bridge, late at night, running through the streets back to our hostel--at this point, we almost knew the Old City like the back of our hands.

I woke up the next morning, and silently packed up my bags, slipping out of the hostel. Outside, I was greeted by a magnificent sunrise, pinks and oranges set behind a giant dome. As we drove out of the city, I quietly mourned what I had just lost.

Three days is not enough, I thought. It's not fair, that some people have a lifetime in this city--and I only get a sliver, if that.

Yet as we passed building after building, headed for the highway, I couldn't feel sad--not really. Here I was, after all, on the top level of a double decker bus, in Europe! I had gotten to see the most beautiful city that I had, until this point, ever seen--so different from anything else I had ever encountered. I had spent a weekend with three great friends I had just met two months ago, had taken hundreds of photographs--and now I was hurdling back to good old Mannheim, with a coffee and sketchbook next to me in the early morning light.

The adventures were just beginning.

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