Prague Part One: beware of the clocks

During my month in Berlin, my flatmate and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to go elsewhere. There are great train links from the city so, one weekend, we hauled ourselves out of bed at 5am to embark on a trip to Prague.

We managed to get deals on tickets but it meant we had no choice over trains so we had to go early. We just about made it to the platform in time but when we got there the sign did not have our train on it. The boards had displayed the wrong platform number. Thankfully, someone had noticed and asked a passing member of staff who pointed us to our train which was just pulling into the platform opposite and we hopped on.

We spread ourselves out in preparation for our 5 hour trip and then, 5 hours later, I awoke. The train was meandering through the Czech Republic, 30 minutes after we were supposed to have arrived in Prague. After a long silence, I heard an announcement and thought I deciphered the word Prague amongst the unfamiliar sounds that were otherwise indistinguishable. I woke up my travel buddy and we hopped off, looking desperately around for the name of the station. It was nowhere to be seen and the train had pulled away. Thankfully, however, I was not wrong. We were in Prague.

Stupidly, we hadn’t printed out directions for our hostel- Hostel Orange. We also hadn’t brought a map. On the website, it said that the hostel was near the Astronomical Clock- a 10-15 minute walk from the station. Astronomical is like ‘astronomically big’ right? So we should be able to see it from the station, right?

We were wrong. So wrong (obviously). Our destination didn’t even look like the Prague we’d seen in the guide books. Less magnificent architecture, more industrial-like. And there wasn’t a clock in sight.

Our first stop was an ATM. It was only the night before we realised that the Czech Republic was not in the Eurozone so our Euros would be useless. It was also only then it occurred to us that they would obviously speak Czech and not German. Yeah, we were so ready for this.

Mercifully, we also found an information centre. We entered and asked the woman if she spoke English. She did and she even had a map: us 1- Prague 0.

We took it and went outside, only to find that it was not easily decipherable. Anyone who has been travelling, and uses those tourist maps you get from hostels and tourist centres, knows that main attractions are usually marked- often with very helpful pictures. This had neither; we couldn’t even tell where the station was.

We went back inside and asked the lady where we were on the map. She looked blankly at us. We asked where Wenceslas Square was. Our hostel was there and it was meant to be central and famous. She looked blankly at us. We asked again where we were, gesturing desperately at the map. She got up and picked up a guidebook with the word’Prague’ written on the front.

Great, we were in Prague. Well that’s something, I guess. A phrasebook really would have been a good idea.

In the end, she showed us how to get there using the metro. Thankfully, tickets were very cheap and we soon ended up at our stop. Unfortunately, there seemed to be very few signs. There were some roads beginning with W but not the one we needed. One began with V- close enough but not the same thing.

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So, we left the station and looked for a big clock. We saw one- it looked a little dubious but a clock is a clock. The more we walked towards it, the more we realised that it simply couldn’t be the famous clock we were looking for. We saw a busier street and walked in that direction instead.

We soon came to a road with a clock at either end. We picked one but when we arrived we again realised it couldn’t be it. After popping in a bookshop for directions, we discovered we had walked in the wrong direction, so we headed towards the other clock. However, as we came to it, we saw a Levi’s at the bottom of it. Surely, that couldn’t be it either.

Thankfully, however, our map suddenly, unexpectedly lurched into use. It may not have had the clock marked on it or the castle or the cathedral but it did have a massive Debenhams. And we were standing right next to it. Hallelujah! We knew where we were- kind of. Annoyingly, as we looked up the road, we could see the metro stop we had initially arrived at. We had just walked in a massive circle.

We decided to double check the hostel address and it was then that we discovered that the Czechs had translated their street names. Fantastic. Wenceslas Square was actually a word beginning with V in Czech.

We then spotted a new street name on our map, close to Debenhams. We walked towards it but we never found it. Upon asking for directions for a second time, we realised we had got lost- again- whilst walking in a straight line.

PRAGUE WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING TO US?!

We backtracked and soon the sad sad realisation dawned that we had misread our position on the map. The road with Debenhams on it, with our metro station on it, was Wenceslas Square. We had arrived on it all along. That sign in the station beginning with V was probably pointing us out to our road.

We trapised up and down the square, unable to see any numbers on the buildings and unable to see our hostel. There were hostels everywhere. After debating whether just to hop in a taxi and ask to be taken a few metres down the road, we simply asked the driver for directions (again) and, finally, there it was. We had made it- a good hour after we arrived on the square but nevermind, the important thing was that we were there.

We hauled our bags up the steps of our tall hostel building. We got lost twice on the way to the reception- of course- once almost ending up in the restaurant and another time in the common room but finally we made it to our beds.

Sadly there was no time to rest as we wanted to get on one of the free walking tours that started at 2pm. We had got in at 12pm and had anticipated that we would have plenty of time to settle in first but obviously that didn’t happen. We were not happy. We now had to actually find the astronomical clock as this was the meeting point for the tour.

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A little tip for any soon-to-be travellers: preparation is key.

I was going to recount my entire Prague tale in this post but this has taken longer than expected- just like my transfer to the hostel. This post was meant to simply be titled, ‘When in Prague’ but now this is just part one: us getting lost. I assure you the next will be compact and comprehensive. Probably.

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