When I have to “tick” the Countries I visited, I am never sure whether I can include Czech Republic or not.
If I just have a stopover in the airport of a new Country, I never consider it as “visited”. But what happened with Czech Republic is still something different.
When I went back to Egypt in the Revolution time, I found an amazingly low rate for a flight to Cairo via Prague, and even if that was actually making my trip longer, the price was almost half of what I usually paid so I bought it anyway.
The cool thing is that I had to spend one night in Prague as a stopover and I was so excited! I had never been to Czech Republic and I couldn’t wait to spend my night exploring the city that everyone always describes as ‘wonderful’.
So as soon as I landed in Prague, I was transfered to a hotel in the airport area, and I asked the front desk receptionist for direction to the city center. He handed me a map, and I was ready to go.
I admit, my biggest mistake was that I didn’t plan anything, and made zero research. I just thought that it was going to be super easy to reach the center, see the main landmarks, and go back to the hotel before the next flight (which was in fact in just about 6 hours).
It was a complete disaster!
I had a rough idea of what I wanted to see – I thought I just had to move towards the center and then, once there, I could ask for directions and see all the landmarks I was looking for. How wrong I was!
First of all, I was just too used to Egyptian prices by that time, and I decided to use transportation to avoid paying for a taxi.
I took a bus out of the airport, arrived at a metro station, took the metro and asked a girl where to get off to see this and that. She didn’t really understand what I was looking for, and didn’t even speak much of English, but she pointed at a metro station on the map and I followed her advice.
When I got off the metro, I found myself pretty much in the middle of nothing, at least that’s what it looked like for me: a little alley without too much life. Something told me to start asking taxi drivers for their rates to the airport, “just in case”.
I had just about 2 hours of time before the last metro train back to the hotel, I was already late and still had no idea of where I was and where I had to go.
I found a nice square and took some photos. But I have no idea what square it was.
Then again I asked for directions for the Charles Bridge (Karlův most in Czech) and this was the beginning of the end.
- I asked to a group of people, and they were Russian and spoke nothing but Russian. “I can manage”, I thought, since I studied Russian at university. But because I asked for the “Charles Bridge” in English, they must have understood the “Charles Square” (actually I am still trying to figure what they understood) and told me to ride the metro with them, and showed me where to get off.
Karlovo náměstí, NOT Karlův most. Dang.
Again, I was in the middle of nowhere, and this time it was an empty and dark huge road. Again I asked for directions to some guys but they told me the Charles Bridge was very far. I asked where the river was, and I followed that direction. I got to the river, and had no idea if I had to walk right or left to get to the bridge and the center. I chose to walk left. I was going in the wrong direction, and I was starting to freeze (it was february).
There was literally no-one around to ask, and the only 2 or 3 people I bumped into were drunk.
- Suddenly I remembered I was not in Egypt anymore, but in “dangerous Europe”, so I started feeling scared as I was alone, it was late at night, I found myself in a dark area with no-one around, carrying all the valuable stuff I own (I have to add that I was carrying a super heavy bag with my camera, lenses, tripod, and basically all of my life in it: passport, money, etc.)
It was time to say goodbye to Prague and go back to the airport. I managed to go back to the metro station but forgot that I had to change the line to reach the closest station to the airport, so I ended up in the wrong place. I finally took a taxi and invested the budget I planned to spend on my night in Prague for dinner and a drink, to pay for it: 550 Czech Koruna (about €20) – luckily, at least I agreed the price with the driver before getting on the car, because the meter counted more than 800 CZK by the time we got to the airport.
- The funny thing is that when I arrived in Cairo and met my Czech flatmate, I showed her the map I got from the hotel reception and she laughed: that map didn’t even show the city center!