June 25 / 26
So the last day has been a bit trying, but overall things seemed to work out. We left our hostel in Salzburg around 9 in the morning to check things out at the train station – we were thinking we might catch an earlier train than the 3 PM train that we'd been planning on taking. It turned out there was one leaving for Linz (where we planned to catch our train to Prague) at 9:30! Thus, we hopped on the train and rode out to Linz with our railpasses. We'd have a long layover in Linz, but we'd seen just about everything we wanted to see in Salzburg, so there wasn't a lot of point in hanging around for most of the day. The ride to Linz was fairly uneventful, and we hung out at the seemingly brand new train station, reading books and listening to music... generally just relaxing (just what we needed after going pretty hard the last few days).
The train that would take us to Prague arrived a few minutes late and we climbed aboard... turns out this lateness was an omen. The first hour or so, heading towards the Austrian border everything seemed to be running alright and we were happy to watch the scenery passing by outside our comfortable compartment in the train. Once we passed into the Czech Republic, the scenery became more forested, and the quaint wooden houses of the Austrian countryside became smaller houses with a stucco-type finish and wooden shutters around the windows... somewhat rundown, but still full of life and character.
Perhaps it was just my mindset, but you definitely got the feeling that rural parts of the Czech Republic are still working to catch up with the living standards of Western Europe. Nonetheless, it was all beautiful!
Soon after entering the Czech republic, the train stopped and we were told that we'd need to switch to a bus because they were doing maintenance work on the tracks ahead – they had a bus waiting outside the station and we rode it for about 30 minutes to the next station where a train was waiting to continue...
It was at this station, after rushing to catch the train because it was scheduled to leave minutes after we'd arrived (this is around two hours into our (planned) five hour journey,)we took a 40 minute delay, apparently because we were waiting for a group of young teenagers to arrive at the station after a biking trip. First it seemed they weren't all there, second it took them forever to load the bikes into the baggage car of the train... finally, they got everything and everybody aboard and we continued on. The weather so far that day had been very hot and with just a few clouds in the sky. At this station, the weather seemed to be preparing to turn – the wind was picking up and some ominous clouds were out on the horizon. Rain was coming it seemed.
Continuing along we stopped at a number of stations along the line, some were quick stops, and yet others seemed to take a long time for no apparent reason. We were getting further and further behind, but Tim and I still estimated that we'd make it in plenty of time to get onto the metro in Prague to get to our hotel (it closes at midnight and we were scheduled to arrive at 9 i.e. 10 or 11 with all the delays).
Sometime about 9:30 or so the train stopped on what seemed to be a small siding (Heřmaničky), next to another train. I thought maybe we were picking up more cars, or some people were transferring from one train to the other – especially after a large number of people left our car and began walking up past the train – and in fact a number of the students we'd waited for earlier got their bikes and rode off. The conductors didn't ever tell us anything, as the one in our area spoke zero English, and we speak zero Czech... Tim stopped a girl passing by in the corridor and she told us that some passengers were getting off to catch a bus to another station for some reason, but those going to Praha (Prague) were staying on the train. Okie dokie... that's fine. 45 minutes passes... no word on what's holding us up – people in the train next to us seem to be bedding down for the night and our car is nearly empty. After we'd been sitting for more than an hour I was frustrated because we had no idea what was going on and we had no control over whatever was happening, so I decided to seek out a conductor to find some answers... I never found a conductor, but in the next car up I met some folks who spoke English – a middle-aged Canadian couple, a pair of girls from Korea, and another pair of girls from Austria and Bosnia – they had found eachother a little while before and were sticking together as a group because of the lack of help from the Czech train officials... I asked if they'd mind if Tim and I stuck with them and they were happy to have us. We came up and sat with the young ladies from Austria and Bosnia (Amara and Christina)... the four of us got along very well, and their English was nearly flawless. Amara's accent made me laugh a bit because sometimes she sounded as if she came from New York city... not what I was expecting from Bosnia!
Soon after Tim and I joined the group, we all moved up to the “first” class coach – not really first class, but it has better upholstery and was 100% less sketchy than the car we'd been sitting in.
My nerves subsided greatly at this point, having some others to commiserate with and make jokes out of the situation. We learned that somehow a tree had fallen across the tracks somewhere ahead of the train, so we were not going anywhere tonight it seemed – we figured that would mean probably around 7 we'd start moving again. We sat talking and joking for another hour or two... around 12:30 we decided it'd be good to at least try to get some sleep and quieted down. It was moments later that a conductor (the good one) stopped by and told us there was a bus waiting to take us to Prague! We all clambered out of the train and discovered that we were at not just a siding, but a tiny station in the middle of nowhere, and there were two buses waiting to take everyone away – one for Prague and one for another station nearer up the line. The girls from Austria and Bosnia, and the Canadian couple just managed to get onto the bus to Prague... Tim and I were too slow apparently because we went to put our bags in the cargo compartment of the bus. So.. the us was too full to take us, and we were left standing at the station. Supposedly another bus would be coming to get us. The time is now 1:00... an hour later, standing in the dark with the two dozen other people who didn't get on the bus, we finally got onto another bus that should have taken us to Prague. Well, it turns out they either didn't understand me when I asked - “Bus to Praha??” or they just lied... but they dropped us at another train station “to catch a train to Prague”... nearer to Prague, but still a solid hour and a half away by car. And here we wait from 2-3:30 AM when not a train arrives, but another bus! This time they take us to ANOTHER train station where there's an actual train waiting. At the last train station we met a fellow from California and the three of us stick together – he's met some locals on the train who speak enough English to help us get clues as to what's going on, although they seem to be in the dark as well. We get on a commuter train that stops for half an hour, and all of us who are from the first train are either half or all asleep waiting for it to take us to Prague's main train station. At this point, it's 4:45 AM and I've been awake somewhere around 23 hours...
So, another 45 minutes on this train, doing my best to stay conscious, we finally arrive at the main station in Prague, and sort things out to get onto the metro and to our hotel at about 6 AM. And then we slept! Until 1 PM myself. Details of our afternoon to come!
PS – I've been meaning to apologise for the formating of these blog posts, not to mention spelling. I'm typing on a miniature laptop and sometimes my fingers tend to mash things, especially at the end of the day!