How an American Teenager travelled from Vienna to Prague : A Train Journey Solo

Author : mineshparikh21
Publish Date : 2021-06-02 13:52:12


How an American Teenager travelled from Vienna to Prague : A Train Journey Solo

They were close friends. I was their fellow student, age 18, who wanted very badly to go to Prague. I didn’t care about traveling alone, but my parents did.

To keep my folks from worrying, I’d asked these two if they would join me on a train ride to Prague after the course in Vienna ended. They’d given a yes — but now I was in a jam.

I couldn’t quit just because these two quit. But, there was one thing I knew: I could not tell anyone back home what I was doing until it was done.

They’d worry too much. Or, they’d tell me from 5,500 miles away that I was not allowed to go! I couldn’t have that. At that age, I still tried very hard (with some success, even) to obey my parents.

Best to not risk getting a directive I couldn’t follow.

So, I interrogated some Euro-wise adults. The first, most obvious person to ask was the professor. He told me it should be straightforward and safe to take the train.

Next, a local youth group leader, Gustav, confirmed it: with basic precautions, the route and destination was a fine trip to take on my own.

Not going to Prague was not an option. It was on my “bucket list” (I don’t think that term was popular yet, though).

So the trip had to be done in secret.

Leaving Vienna

When cool gray dawned on the Viennese block, I wheeled my luggage to the central train station. Vienna’s main station is everything you want one to be: underground, high arcing ceilings, train platforms galore.

I boarded and began the eight-hour journey alone.

The whole compartment was mine alone. It was peaceful, but I was on edge, too. I had to keep sharp for anybody walking down the aisle who might try to kidnap me.

I am a girl raised by a loving, cautious family, after all. I can’t tell you how many people tried to get me to watch “Taken” with Liam Neeson when I was a younger traveler!

I’ve always believed the world is a wonderful, good place. Still, worst-case-scenario thinking does tend to rub off on even the most stubbornly naive.

Nobody kidnapped, assaulted, or harassed me.

The train ride took place in the dead of winter. We stopped at small stations along the way, picking up one or two passengers at each. But often, nobody at all boarded.

We crossed the border of Austria. Soon we were in the thick of the Czech Republic’s forests. I will never forget it.

It was hours of solitude, rolling along the rail lines in the woods. Barren branches scraped the windows of my private compartment. I stared through the thickets. I felt like I was going through the very woods in which all Brothers Grimm fairytales take place.

I felt like I was going through the very woods in which all Brothers Grimm fairytales take place.

 

The Dark Alley and the Ladybug

Eight hours later, the sound and script of Czech were all around me. I exchanged some currency at an ATM and emerged above ground. Iconic red trams rolled around. I soaked it in, loving it, as I struggled to find the right red trolley for my hostel.

Pulling the floral bag gifted to me by my mother, I hopped out on the main street. In Eastern Europe, so much is concrete gray. In Prague, it is busy, too. I love it there. People dress well. The city is stately and austere, but everyone seems to possesses a peculiar individuality, too.

Where was the hostel? When you don’t speak the language or know the script… and still don’t own a smartphone… these things can be challenging.

I must have looked very lost. It was stressful, but I felt so alive, too.

I found a dark alley — the exact sort you’re not supposed to walk down. It had gates at the midway point, half-drawn shut to block the path through. The printed MapQuest instructions in hand implied this was the way, but it looked so risky.

I wandered back out and around the street again. Was there no other, less formidable route to my hostel? You know: the hostel I booked on the internet in secret.

But I had to concede it. I went down the alley. Past its security gate, there on the far side of the courtyard beyond, was the stoop. It looked exactly as pictured on trusty HostelWorld.com.

The young man at the desk was an odd one. He gazed at me as if he were wise and I was a curiosity. I can still hear his accent in my mind. Glossy dark hair, fine spectacles, and a wiry build all came together to form the barrier between me and my first room in a hostel alone.

I felt that any moment, he was going to catch me messing up this process. Any second he might say something to expose how I wasn’t actually allowed to be here. I was braced for him to call out how young I was while hoping beyond hope that I seemed grown-up, confident and normal. At 18, I was still completely unsure of whether I was “normal” or “good enough,” whatever those things are.

He did the quirkiest, most delightful thing any hotel desk clerk has ever done for me since.

“Put out your hands and close your eyes, and I will give you a surprise,” he said in his Czech accent.

“Put out your hands and close your eyes, and I will give you a surprise,” he said in his Czech accent.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. But I had. Faltering, I soon dared to follow his instructions. I put out my hands. I closed my eyes. The last thing I saw was him turning around behind the desk to face his shelves.

Then, he placed something very, very tiny in my palms. When I opened my eyes, I saw a hand-painted ladybug. She was carved of balsa wood, I think — she was so light.

My eyes shone. My spirit rose. How strange! I loved it. I wish I had that ladybug still, but she disappeared somewhere along the way of life.

Texans, Beer, and Alice in Wonderland Nude

I ascended the hostel’s steep, winding staircase behind the clerk. Once my bags were away (it was so nerve-wracking to leave them behind in an unlocked room!) I went walking in the historic city.

Charles Bridge is my favorite thing about Prague itself to recall. Statues perch all along it. Some wear metal hats with metal pin-wheels that blow in the wind.

Sunset gleamed in rose-gold colors on the river. They danced onto the face of the famous architecture. They made the sculptures shine.

On the far side, I stopped for pretzels at a stand playing Elvis. A group of Texan men in cowboy hats joined me. I love talking with strangers. So, I told them all about my trip while beating myself up in my mind for talking to strangers.

Now, when you are 18, American, and in Europe, there is one thing you want to do: drink. I parted ways with the friendly Texans. Then, I walked back across Charles Bridge to begin the search for the perfect pint.

I’d never had beer before. Thirty minutes later, I had one.

I didn’t care for it.

What was all the fuss with drinking? I mean, it was okay… then I looked across up and saw the Texans saunter in.

My eyes popped open. What were the odds? I was caught!

When they saw me, we just smiled and waved from across the bustling bar.

I’ve since decided that there must be something about both the pretzel stand and the brewery designed for Americans. As in, they are both specifically curated to appeal to Americans, and they do it well. Beats me how they do it, though.

After the beer, I went walking again. Marionettes hung on display on a shop door that swung out into the street. The puppets dangled around beautiful sketches of ballerinas. Because I had little money, I could only stare at these objects in longing (and at length). As a result, my memory of them is in exquisite detail. I enjoy looking even still.

Past the art shop, there was a small theater. Its billing read:

“Alice in Wonderland Dance Show in Blacklight — Warning, NUDITY”

had to attend.

Oh, the thrill of all that I was getting up to out here became intoxicating!

Now, I have to laugh. You wouldn’t think it was possible, but Alice in Wonderland Dance Show in Blacklight with Nudity was the most boring thing I have ever seen. When the curtain rose on Act I, the brocade-and-velvet theater was packed. When it rose on Act II, only a couple from Spain and I remained in the seats. I can’t explain that, either.

The Astronomical Clock

The following day, I performed my pilgrimage to Prague’s famous astronomical clock.

The clock turns out to be one of those curious world destinations where it is underwhelming once you are there. And yet, once you leave, you cannot help but think of it, recommend it to people, and speak of it. It has gravity.

Everyone has a story about something that happened at the astronomical clock — chance meetings, drug deals, something. There is something ineffable and special about it. It’s just smaller than you expect.

The Lord Protects Fools

My time in Prague was rushed. I had to get back to Vienna for my flight home within 36 hours. I took the train ride all the way back and caught the plane.

Once safely back in the States, I finally told everyone about my daring solo excursion into the famous city.

Reactions at age 18 were a sore disappointment.

People could not help but be retroactively worried about it. One adult in my life had only one thing to say: “The Lord protects fools.”

People couldn’t seem to enjoy anything I had to say about it yet — that came later, as I grew older. We all grow over time.

Family comes to trust that you will be okay. You learn how to talk about your travels.

I’ve learned something. It can take years before you are able to speak about a trip. It takes a long time for your experiences and their impact to become clear. It takes time to know what to share and how to express it.

Retrospect

Though the destination was Prague, the train ride became the part closest to my heart.

Being young and capable, but not knowing it yet.

Being a blank slate and eager to see the world.

Taking in the attendants, the border agents in their uniforms on the train. Watching new passengers look into your compartment, then walk by in search of their own. The pleasure of being on a real-life passenger train.

Thinking of all you hope for at your destination.

Having your luggage nearby with all you considered essential for a trip such as this. Some clothes, some books, a journal.

The solitary hours spent rolling in contemplation, looking into fairytale woods in winter…

This is the memory that graces my dreams in the night, and always will.



Category : travel

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