I remember two things about Prague. The first is walking over the Charles bridge which connects the east and west parts of the city centre. At over 500 metres long this medieval stone arch bridge had been a pivotal crossing point over the river Vltava for over 600 years. The 16 arches hold up a bridge which has been witness to numerous wars, the iron curtain and mass tourism, its stonework now witnessing a peaceful ebb in this part of the world.
Walking under the pointed stone arch of Mala Strana bridge tower in the direction of the old town you are overwhelmed by both the beautiful view of the bridge as it looks out over the Vltava and the bridge itself. The dark, heavy stone is decorated on its side walls by 30 large Baroque style statues which line the bridge. Erected over 300 years ago by prominent sculptors of the time these statues have a mostly religious theme including one of the Jesus carrying the cross in Calvary. Ahead is more magically historic stonework of the old town bridge tower and beyond this is one of the best preserved old towns in Europe.
The second reason I remember Prague so well was the absurdly long journey I took home. By the time I reached Prague I had been in Europe for eight months which included working for a spell in an Irish bar in Frankfurt and a chicken factory in Holland. This funded a summer trip around central and eastern Europe taking in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and finally the Czech Republic.
After my trip to Eastern Europe I planned to go back home via Holland so I left some of my belongings and a couple of hundred Gilders with Shoebill, a guy from Liverpool who I had worked with in Holland. The plan was to collect this on the way home. This was more of an emergency fund than anything because I wasn’t travelling with a bank card back then and using only cash and travellers’ cheques.
When the time came closer to return home I rang Shoebill’s mobile phone but he didn’t answer. I wasn’t overly concerned because he only answered it when he felt like it. There was still no answer when I rang him from Florenc bus station in Prague before I went in the direction of Amsterdam but I still didn’t think too much of it.
Fourteen hours later I disembarked the bus in Amsterdam and tried Shoebill again. It was only at this point I became a bit concerned that he wasn’t answering. I had his number back home in Liverpool which I rang. He answered and told me he had gotten sick of the land of chickens about six weeks previously and was now happily back in Liverpool.
Thanking him for the information I hung up and immediately counted my money. After putting everything together I had the equivalent of just over 100 Euro left. I inquired about the next bus to Dublin which went via the ferry in Calais to the UK then over to Holyhead in Wales for another ferry to Dublin. That bus had departed a few hours ago and there wouldn’t be another until the following evening.
I took the next best option and got the bus to Victoria coach station in London. This was an overnight coach departing in an hour and would mean I had somewhere relatively comfortable to spend the night. With my remaining 100 Euro I couldn’t afford to splash out, even on the cheapest of accommodation, so a night on the bus it was.
At least in London I would be a step closer to Ireland and there would be an onward service to Dublin soon after I got there.
After a relatively comfortable overnight trip onboard a Rainbow Coach to London I arrived just after ten in the morning and immediately went to the National Express desk at Victoria to ask about the next bus to Cork or Dublin. It turned out the buses to Ireland leave first thing in the morning and I had missed them by a few hours, the next service was early next day. You’re joking I thought to myself as I splashed out most of my remaining cash on the next ticket to Ireland which happened to be going to Dublin at 8am next day.
Only 21 hours until the bus to Dublin goes I remember thinking to myself as I settled into Victoria station for the day, which went surprisingly quickly. I broke things up with a walk around the nearby grounds of Buckingham palace, along the Mall and into St James’ park where I stopped to while away the hours looking at the ducks on the lake inside.
Later I managed to find a quiet spot and get some sleep using my backpack for a pillow and before I knew it was morning again. I must have looked rough because a kind woman passing on her way to work bought me a sandwich and a copy of time magazine, which I was incredibly grateful for.
The trip to Dublin went smoothly but we got into the station after the last bus had left for Cork. As I couldn’t afford a hostel I got the final bus to Newbridge County Kildare which was on the way to Cork. I pitched my tent on a green area just outside the town and got the first bus home in the morning.
It took more than three days, five buses, and two ferries to get from Prague to Mitchelstown because I had miscalculated my funds slightly and Shoebill had moved home before I got back to Holland.
This was one of my first trips away from home and what what stands out for me, apart from how badly organised they were, is how carefree they were. Most of the time you didn’t know who you were going to meet, where you would be staying or even how you planned to get there but that was part of the adventure of it all.