A Tale of Five Cities - Part 3

Private Property South Africa

Having seen the sights in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Amsterdam, the time had come for me to move along and Prague was next on the list. Prior to arriving in Europe, I’d done my homework and discovered that it was far cheaper to book European trains and planes in advance.

Sounds easy but it’s no simple task when said transport typically has to be booked via the local regional operator websites which (a) don’t always translate into English, (b) cut out mid booking or (c) only show portions of translated text, leaving you hoping you didn’t just tick the box which will result in you sleeping in the cargo hold with a collection of tranquilised, caged animals/ the most expensive seat money can buy, complete with private suite and a bill which your grandchildren might one day be able to pay off.

After much angst, I managed to book a sleeper train from Amsterdam to Prague via a Czechoslovakian website for approximately R832 which was thousands of rands less than any other train/plane ticket I came across at the time.

Ticket in hand, I arrived at my train platform in Amsterdam on the allotted day with what I thought was plenty of time to spare only to discover that my train was set to depart a full half hour earlier than scheduled. Lesson learned.

I’d never travelled on a sleeper train before and so was quite keen to see what the train was like and what kind of facilities were available. Unfortunately I was a little underwhelmed. Each tiny cabin slept four people and nowhere on the train was there a restaurant, a bar, shower facilities or TV’s. Food could be ordered off menus but cost a small fortune. ![prague](/ftpupload/UserImages/images/Typical Prague street.JPG "")

A typical Prague street

A Dutch couple and a solo Dutch traveller shared my cabin and were obviously far more accustomed to travelling on trains than I was. Each had brought a pre-packed meal and the gentleman opposite me thought nothing of stripping to his skivvies and breaking wind at infrequent intervals. Ah the joys of economy class travel.

Cons aside, the train was quite clean and I found it far more comfortable than any plane I’ve ever travelled on. I could stretch out flat in my bunk bed and slept surprisingly well with the aid of ear plugs and an eye mask and a proper blanket supplied by the train. In total, it took about 14 hours to travel from Amsterdam to Praha hlavní nádraží-Prague’s main railway station which allowed ample opportunity to drink in the passing scenery and catch up on some reading.

Upon arrival, I made my way through the station easily enough and bought a ticket with euros for a connecting subway ride to my B&B. I thought I’d change my euros into Czech koruna (the local currency) at a later stage as my guidebook had stated that euros were readily accepted in Prague. Not really as I was to learn shortly thereafter.

I ran into the Dutch couple who had travelled with me on the sleeper train on the subway. As it turns out they were staying at the exact same B&B I was staying at. Our short subway ride at an end, we had to catch another connecting bus. Unfortunately, when I tried to buy a bus ticket I was told only Czech koruna were accepted.

Thankfully, the couple came to my rescue and promptly bought me a ticket. An old Czech lady on the bus then proceeded to check I’d received the correct change and even checked on me again when I’d found a seat. It was not the first or the last time I would encounter such kindness on my travels through Europe.

We finally arrived at our B&B which was located in a fairly modern suburb on the periphery of Prague’s main city centre. The B&B’s owner, an old lady with curlers in her hair greeted us and ushered us into the interior of her home which smelled of sausages and onions. She could only speak Czech, Russian and German. Suffice to say some interesting sign language ensued.

After we’d settled in, the Dutch couple accompanied me back to the bus stop where they once again very kindly gave me money for tickets back to town and a copy of their guidebook on Prague. I thanked them and promised to reimburse them the next day at breakfast. Not long after, I emerged from the subway and finally walked into a city I’ve dreamed of seeing for many years. I wasn’t disappointed…

Keep an eye out for next week’s chapter which explores Prague’s city centre in detail.

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