I had woken in a lush apartment in London. It had been a week since I had finished my Contiki tour and I had spent the better part of that week drinking and trying to take in all that London could offer. The bus driver from my tour, Flash, had taken me under his wing and we had some ridiculous times together.
However, this is not why I had come to Europe, I was doing what I always had… I was staying well and truly in my comfort zone.
I jumped up from bed and went and got the map of Europe out of my bag. I closed my eyes and circled my finger until I just let it drop… Prague… PRAGUE IT IS!
I went straight to a travel agent and booked a flight for that afternoon.
I went back to Flash’s place and told him what I had done. He thought it was great. A bacon and egg sandwich and a couple of coffees later and I was on my way.
“Look at me go” I thought. So proud of my spontaneity and all pepped up on caffeine. I was certain that this was what I was supposed to be doing. I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride that I had taken this leap.
I told the guy next to me on the plane about what I had done all proud and stuff. He looked at me like “good for you…?”
Landing at Prague was straight forward, grab your bags, off the plane, go to get your baggage. At this point I am still on a high…
“Why does the army looking dude have an machine gun?”
I felt something in my guts turn. I was shit scared. At this point in my life I don’t think machine guns had ever been a real thing for me.
“You need some accommodation?” A lady from a counter called to me.
“OK, I have great hostel for you, it’s called Junior hostel, right in city. It’s perfect for you”
“Is it nice?”
“Oh yes, lovely, lot’s of young people always there”
Well that seemed easy enough. I asked the lady again about transport to the city, she pointed to the shuttle buses outside. I went out and asked if I could get to Junior Hostel. No one spoke English. The lady from the counter came out and yelled in Czech. The shuttle van man yelled back and then demanded money from me. I was kind of scared so just gave him what he wanted. It wasn’t until half way in to Prague, talking to some other people on the shuttle bus that I realised I had been completely ripped off!
I was sad to leave the comfort of the new friends from the bus and felt alone. I walked up the stairs to the hostel to the reception and rang the bell and waited… and waited… and waited. It seemed very quiet in this “very popular” hostel. Finally a lady came to me and gave me a key and a sheet and walked me to my room. There were 16 beds. I was the only one staying in the room.
I went back down to reception. I asked where the closest bar was and was told there was one in the basement. Walking down the stairs I was thinking, “Finally, some people I can talk to!”
Sure enough, not one sound that was emanating from this basement bar was of an English sounding nature and in my mind they all hated me. I went to the bar and got a beer. I went to one of the tables and put my hands over my eyes and thought,
“What have I done?! I am not a world traveller at all. I am just some kid who wishes he was a traveller”.
I thought about home and how everyone there would think that this was pretty spot on for me. I sipped my beer and as I touched the glass to the wooden table I heard something magical… “ai, right good place is this Prague, good pick by you Junior”
I immediately picked up my beer, walked to the other end of the long table and sat down.
“Boys, you don’t know me, but my name is Chris and we are going to be best friends for the next 5 days”
They looked a bit stunned but after a couple of seconds my new friends both smiled and said “alright then matey”
So begun my Prague adventure with Dave and Junior, two great guys from Dublin – Ireland.
They were very much into the history of the place, something that the 22-year-old Aussie they had just met hadn’t given much thought at all. We got along fantastically, and after two days of drinking Czech beer and going out to all hours of the night and partying at 7 story nightclubs, I was out of money.
Now the arrangement I had with my parents was that they would keep my money and transfer it over, as I needed it. Seemed to make sense at the time. I made the obligatory call home, it was a Friday.
“Hi Mum! I’m in Prague and I’m about to run out of money, can you please transfer some over?”
Silence… Then mum responded.
“Honey, it’s just gone past 5 o’clock here… and it’s a long weekend!”
Oh no. After much exclaiming with her that there had to be something we could do, I realised that there really wasn’t. I would have to wait 4 full days to get some money. No money for accommodation, no money for food, no money for anything. I was such a shy kid I dare not just explain the situation to the hostel. I also wasn’t confident enough to ask Dave and Junior for a loan so I decided to just suck it up.
We put my backpack in the boys room and went out for the day. I still had enough for a little breakfast and that was the last of it. We walked to the Charles Bridge, took some photos and then went up to the castle. Gorgeous.
Lunchtime. The boys were partial to some McDonald’s and although I hated it, my god did it look good!
The boys ordered and I saw some people standing with their cokes on the side waiting for their burgers, LIGHT-BULB! I quickly grabbed an abandoned cup from a near by table and waited in the line. About 5 minutes went past and I didn’t think my great idea was going to work. Then a fresh faced Czech teenager pointed to me and said something in Czech,
“Oh, what you wait for?”
“Oh just my Big Mac meal…”
He looked around and couldn’t find the corresponding receipt. He shrugged his shoulders and grabbed me my Burger and Fries. Success!
I walked to Dave and Junior and sat. They looked at me gobsmacked while I buried my teeth into what was undoubtedly the best burger I had ever eaten!
I explained what I had done.
At night, in the clubs, I would be bought drinks by people who Dave and Junior had told the McDonald’s story to.
For a bed? There were some lovely gardens with very soft bushes just out side the hostel. My alarm clock? Those very same gardens being watered in the morning by a big truck. The look on the man in the trucks face when I stood up was priceless!
And so it was for the next 3 days. I would hit a few McDonald’s and even had the cheek to visit the same one a couple of times. It never failed.
Every night I would sleep in my little spot with a hoodie for a pillow.
Every morning the sprinkling of water would awake me.
Except on the last morning. The man who had seen me previously tapped me on my shoulder as I slept. He woke me up and with a smile on his face he motioned for me to move so I wouldn’t get wet.
I thought I was the luckiest man alive at that moment and realised that I COULD do this travel thing. I had been faced with adversity and I had figured a way to overcome it and prosper.
I had been everything I had ever wanted to be.
I went to the bank and typed my pin in… current balance :20,000 krona. Smile.Thanks mum.
I went and got Dave and Junior and took them out for breakfast, not at McDonalds.
The boys left that day but I will never forget them. They will forever be my first real travel buddies, the first of so many.
I went to the Prague Train Station and booked my train for that evening to Munich. A new confidence beaming from my very soul.
I was a traveller.