The Terrible Train Ride to Amsterdam

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The day after the program ended I spent most of the morning packing and cleaning up the apartment. It was the first time I was reluctant for a semester to end, and I knew I would probably never see this apartment again. Campbell had already left for Istanbul and Stan was leaving later that day to stay with his grandma in a small Czech town. Molly was off seeing the European Union’s longest escalator while I finished packing my bags for the train to Amsterdam later that day. I then realized that the train left in only forty five minutes and Molly was not back yet. I still wasn’t finished packing, so when she finally got back to the apartment it was a mad rush to get to the train before its departure.

With only a moment to look back at our apartment on Benedikstka street to appreciate all that had happened here, we ran towards the tram to get to the train station while I carried everything we owned. What followed were some of the most stressful hours of my life.

Our train was the furthest platform in the station, so we had to sprint to make it in time. The handle of my bag on wheels was broken so I constantly had to readjust it and I was definitely cussing with frustration the whole way through the station. It was my first time riding the trains in Europe so I wasn’t exactly sure where to go, but while roaming the narrow corridors a bag fell off my shoulder and was grabbed by an elderly man, who handed it back to me. I thanked him, and he asked in broken English whether or not I had gotten my ticket stamped. I told him no, and he looked alarmed and told me I needed to go to the officer right outside the door, about ten yards away. 

I resisted at first, but the man insisted this was absolutely necessary for every passenger. Molly had already walked down the corridor looking for our seats, and I was too stressed and too tired to remember any of the stranger-danger lessons I had been taught. So I put my bags down and walked over to the officer who would stamp my ticket. I looked back and the man on the train was urging me forward and pointing out the officer who I needed to speak with. So I turned around and handed him my ticket, but he gave me a curious look, and in that moment I realized what I had done. 

I sprinted back to my train car to see the man had disappeared along with my backpack. I was too shocked to realize what had just happened, and this backpack contained my most prized possessions: my laptop, camera, kindle, movie collection,and books. Within only a few seconds I heard a voice speaking in Czech over the intercom and the train began its journey out of the station. That sneaky thief had conned me out of all my stuff, and if I didn’t get it back my valuables would probably be sold over the black market.

Molly came back and I told her what had happened, so we both split up wandering the train telling everyone that my bag had disappeared. The customer service on the train was awful, the worst I have ever experienced, which made it particularly disappointing considering the severity of the situation. With only one exception, every train employee who I talked to simply shrugged their shoulders and told me this wasn’t their responsibility. I was livid. 

I called the ISA office and Lucie and Daniela were very helpful and called the Czech police to try to track down the man that stole my bag. I even called the Apple store to see if there was any way to track my laptop. My heart sank as I realized there was nothing they could do; my stuff was gone. The next hours were without question the worst of the semester, as I sat trapped in my tiny train bunk with my computer gone, thinking I would fail my classes as I had to start all my final papers over. I had not finished all my projects and since I had not e-mailed them to myself there was nothing else I could do but start over.

I’m sure I must have been a terrible travel companion that day. Molly tried to cheer me up by saying that someday I would look back on this day and laugh. “Well I’m not laughing now!” I snapped. What made the whole situation worse was being stuck in a cramped sleeper car with nowhere else to go but wander the corridors. 

When we got to Amsterdam the weather was gray and gloomy, fitting for what my mood was like. Amsterdam is very beautiful but I was in no mood to enjoy the city. I wouldn’t have time to anyways. I called the ISA office again and Daniela explained to me that I couldn’t have any more than an extra day to finish my finals, so I headed to the Amsterdam Public Library to write all my papers while Molly saw all the tourist sites and explored the city. In the hours I spent re-writing my finals in the library, I realized for the first time since I arrived in Europe that I was sick of traveling and really just wanted to go home.

I did get a chance to walk around Amsterdam a bit and explore the city, although I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more under better circumstances. I was also planning to go to Brussels after Amsterdam but I had too much to get done and really wasn’t in the mood, so after a few days in Amsterdam I booked a flight back to Prague, which I decided was a much better option than taking the train. Although I wanted to go home, that wasn’t really an option considering my family was coming soon for a two-week vacation, so I went to the closest home I had at the time: Prague.

When I returned, Prague felt empty, and I had booked a bed at the only hostel I knew of: The Old Prague Hostel, which unfortunately was literally right across the street from my old apartment on Benedikstka street. All my friends had left Prague and I spent all my time between the Prague hostel and the library rewriting my papers. I also went to the police station to file a police report with Lucie, and although I was hopeful, the chances that they would find my computer were miniscule, and they never ended up finding anything.

Although this week was the worst I had spent in Europe and I felt angry, stupid, and embarrassed for stepping away from my bag and having it stolen, the next two and a half weeks were much, much better. My family soon arrived and we traveled around four countries and I finished all my finals in time so everything worked out alright in the end. Having all your possessions stolen is always a terrible way to end your semester, but it had already been the best semester of my life, so besides that unfortunate event, I had loved my time in Europe and really had no reason to complain.

 

 

 

Last Week of the Semester

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Earlier on I joked that if I kept posting blogs at the same pace I wouldn’t be done until Christmas. Well, it’s a week from Christmas and I’ve still got two posts to go, so it turns out that actually happened. Anyways, as the title suggests this post will cover the last week of the program, where I was in a mad rush to finish my Prague bucket list as well as write all my final papers.

In most of my classes we had until the weekend after we finished school to finish all our finals, so I planned to write a few of my papers on the train to Amsterdam after the program ended. Looking back, that was a terrible idea, but I’ll cover more of that in the next post.

My classmate from Creighton Molly Manning had been studying abroad in Florence, so after her program ended she came to Prague for a few days for a visit. It was fun to show her around my favorite city, and there were also several tourists things I needed to that I had been putting off for a very long time (just like this blog).  I wanted to go to Vysehrad, an old castle and cathedral with a beautiful lookout view over the river, and Prague Castle, which was allowing people into parts of the castle that were only open once a year. There were several clubs I wanted to go to as well, such as Chapeau Rouge and some other place I can’t remember.

The whole week was bittersweet. It was much more fun than the average week but every day, more and more people would leave for America, so it was definitely our last hoorah in Prague. One night we went clubbing in Wenceslaus Square, a place I had been probably hundreds of times that semester, yet for some reason when I was leaving the club at 4:30 am I accidentally took the wrong tram and ended up in the Prague suburbs in the opposite direction of my apartment. I had no idea where I was and it took me until 7 am to get back to my apartment. This was only one of the many times I got lost that semester, and I suppose because of times like this I developed the reputation of being terrible with directions, which I believe is only half-true. Half the time I am terrible with directions and the other half I am simply mediocre.

The first night Molly was in town we went out for pizza, which I felt bad about since she had just left Italy, but luckily we got the chance to eat plenty of Czech food while she was in town. It turns out Molly is a vegetarian, which makes dining in the Czech Republic pretty tough. Czech food is basically pork or beef with some potatoes or sauerkraut with hardly any fruits or vegetables, so clearly being a vegetarian in this country takes some serious willpower.

I had told her that the longest escalator in Europe was in Prague, at the Namesti Miru metro stop, and she was very interested in the chance of seeing this somewhat impressive site. It turns out its not actually the tallest in Europe (there’s one in Moscow that’s taller) but, I mean it’s gotta at least in the top five.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKwaIY3TqKQ

(Okay turns out it’s the longest escalator in the European Union, so I was close) Also this video is probably really boring if escalators aren’t your thing.

Some memories include finding out that the Kafka Museum is actually really lame and having one final dinner at U Trajcu, the authentic Czech pub where you can get a full meal and a liter of beer for 100 crowns, the equivalent of $5! Another memory I’ll never forget is watching the Czech Republic vs. Sweden game on a giant projection screen in Wenceslaus Square. The night was warm, the surroundings were beautiful, and I was surrounded by hundreds of rowdy and drunk Czech excited to see their country defeat some Swedes (which they did). They played “I Want to Break Free” by Queen during halftime, and now whenever I hear that song it takes me right back to that very moment in Old Town Square.

After a night of late-night clubbing at a place called Nebo, which means “Heaven” in Czech, all but five people in the group slept through the graduation ceremony the next day, myself included. I felt guilty for missing it, but at least I wasn’t the only one.

Later that day the ISA crew (Daniela, Lucie, Martin, and Tamara) surprised us with a dinner cruise in the Vltava river, and I saw Prague like I had never seen it before.

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The dinner was of course Czech food and thinking of the ghoulash, dumplings, and beer is really making me want to go back to Prague, or at least go to the Bohemian Cafe. The night was still young by the time the boat ride ended, so we did a little bar hopping and ended up at a place called “The Music Club.” After dancing for hours people began leaving throughout the night. Some were going home, some were traveling around Europe, but all I knew is that I would not see these people for a very long time.

As the sun was rising I stood outside the club with some of my best friends. I’ve said many times in my blog that “It was hard to leave Madrid,” or “It was hard to leave Paris,” but this was different. I had no idea when I would see these people again, the people that I had spent four months of my life with, and the only people I knew in a foreign country far from home. The cities and places I went to were great, but they don’t mean anything if not for the people you enjoy them with. They made my time in Europe what it was more than any bars, clubs, or castles ever could. So after several difficult goodbyes, I headed back for my apartment and began packing for Amsterdam. If I only knew what was in store for me the next day, I would have never left Prague.