31.8.96 (Sat)

I am now on a train at the Central Station in Praha, which is about to depart for Kolin, where I shall take another train to Kutna Hora.

Now, the last two days.

On Thursday, I took the train from Berlin to Praha. A trio, from Australia I think, shared the compartment with me. First we did not converse. But then the lady (I think they were elderly parents and an adult son) asked me if I had a map of Praha because she wanted to look up where their hostel was. They studied my map for quite a while but could not find its exact location. I don’t think they were very smart. Then we were about to cross the border. Three groups in uniform boarded the train: German border police, Czech border police and Czech railway staff. My passport was, as usual, not without problem. The German border police found that I did not have a stamp on my visa showing my entry into Germany. It was really not my fault. The staff at Tegal Airport just had not stamped it. Maybe they had thought that mine was an EU passport. Anyway, the real problem now was the train tickets. The Australian trio, despite the additional DM70 something per person they had paid for the journey, was each charged yet an additional amount. They argued, the railway staff explained, but they couldn’t agree with each other. But of course they paid at last. I was also asked to pay an additional DM23 on top of the DM12 supplement I had already paid. I paid it without arguing. At the end I had paid much less than the Australians. They were so very annoyed for being charged so much. DM70x3 was more than HKD1,000, not a small sum. Then we chatted a little. When I said that the train from Praha to Budapest, where they planned to go, would go through Slovakia, they were shocked. It seemed that I had dropped a bomb because they didn’t have that visa. They thought the train would go through Wien. Poor people. But I think this is a common misunderstanding. I had only found out that just before my trip.

On arrival in Praha, I was so efficient that I exchanged money, bought a phone card and a tourist pass and got to the hotel within an hour. Super. That was the result of experience and planning.

Then I planned to just walk around the place, going nowhere in particular. It seemed to me that almost everywhere here was within walking distance. It was actually quite convenient. I strolled along V. Nam., walked through the old town, got across the Charles Bridge, and saw LEE Wing-tat in the old town. What a small world. The old town was really beautiful. Then I returned to the not-so-comfortable hotel.

I started early the next day. Following the guide of the Lonely Planet, I arrived at the Castle District around 8 am. The streets were quiet. The air was cool. And there was mist down the hill. It was truly beautiful. I took many pictures there.

It was stupid of me to be a little frightened when I went past the two guards into the Castle because it was not yet the opening time. But nothing happened. I had finished walking around the place once before 9 am. Then I bought a ticket and went inside each sight. The St Vitus’ Cathedral was OK. The St George Church was a disappointment. The Old Royal Palace was a scary experience. I was let in and then the door was closed "bang" behind me. In front of me was a big empty hall. No furniture, no paintings, no decoration and nobody in there. Just an ugly, worn-out hall with worn-out wooden floor. Thank God there was sunshine or I would be scared to death. The other parts of the palace were equally scary and unattractive. I kept praying that there would not be any skeletons or tombs or crypts inside. There was hardly anyone in there, just two very quiet Japanese girls other than me. The air was stale and smelly because there were no windows (or they were shut). And when I followed the sign to the exit, I just got in yet another and then another empty room. Scary. When I finally left the place I had cold sweat all over me.

Then I left the Castle and walked to the Lessor Town. The Castle was not as grand as I had expected. But the Lesser Town was truly even less attractive. But I was lucky enough to get into a garden with a beautiful Roman building.

For the rest of the day, I just walked around. I tried to check the bus schedule to Kutna Hora but failed. So instead I bought a train ticket for today. But the time is not good. I’ll only have about 2 1/2 hours for the place as I need to rush back to Praha for the 4 pm show of Jesus Christ Superstar. The show is in Czech language but since I have listened to the CDs I think I know the music and the story well enough. I hope I’ll like it. I hope I’ll be shocked.

Tonight I’m going to take a night train to Budapest. There is only one sort of sleeper compartment which had three beds inside. I have no choice. But as there is the word "Frau" on my ticket, which means female or lady in German, I hope the two other passengers sharing my compartment are ladies. I hope I"ll arrive in Budapest safe and whole. Ha!

* * *

I am now at the railway station at Kutna Hora. My trip here has been a total failure. A horror.

I got on a bus following the others on my arrival here. I asked the driver if the bus went to the old town, showing him my simple map, and he nodded. On the same bus were half a dozen other tourists, all including me going to the centre. But when the bus arrived at its terminus, we were still aboard, not knowing that it was already way past the centre. Some Americans protested and the driver was so kind, strangely, to start the bus again and dropped down all these troublesome tourists at a road leading to the centre.

Then we walked on. I didn’t want to follow the others or be followed so I fell out of the way. Without a detailed map, losing my way was only to be expected. Having spent some ten minutes in all those alleys and streets finding my way and reading incomprehensible street names, I decided to leave the town. But it was again difficult to find the way back to the railway station. Plus I had to walk back there. I was not totally sure if I was on the right road. Luckily I met a Czech girl who appeared, to me, to be heading for the station. I asked her the way but could not understand her reply. Since we could not communicate, I just followed her. And she led me back to the station, after about 30 minutes’ walk, that is.

Infrequent train connections, inconvenient location and it was a Saturday. These has made this trip a failure. This journey was similar to my previous trips to Leuven (Belgium, it rained so I left at once) and Colmar (France, no map, could not find my way). Having written so much, the train to Kolin, where I’ll take another train back to Praha, still will not be here in about 20 minutes. I have wasted a whole morning and part of the afternoon on this futile trip.

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