And so the journey of a lifetime begins. Ok, so not really the journey, but close enough nonetheless. It was my second trip to a wintry Europe, in the chilling month of December. Because of my work, I had to squeeze visits to three cities within ten days.
But hey, I am a hardy traveler, nothing can faze me!
The journey begins at Hong Kong, where I took the flight to Prague on Air France. As I was checking in, I told the attendant that my knapsack sometimes comes off, because of the silly, unsecured zippers. You know what? She offered to wrap my entire backpack in a plastic bag, so the whole thing remain intact during my long flight.
How nice of her! An extra brownie point to Air France! Or maybe it was the staff if KLIA. Haha.
The journey to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, where I had a 3-hour transit, took approximate 12 hours. It was an excruciating 12 hours. I am not sure why, but usually I love long flights. Maybe the fact that Air France was nothing compared to Singapore Airlines which made me feel shortchanged. Kinda, anyway.
The transit at Amsterdam was over quicker than I thought. I spent a good portion of my time having my usual Starbucks (grande-sized Americano, extra shot, with a little milk) and writing postcards to some special people, before heading to the gate where I was to board the KLM CityHopper enroute to Prague!
The journey from Amsterdam to Prague took a little over an hour (hence the CityHopper, see?), and after a hassle free checkout from Prague International Airport, I was on Czech soil! For real! For a moment I couldn’t believe that I am really in Europe… until the biting chill hit me squarely in the face. How welcoming, how nice. Oh, didn’t I tell you I love winter?
Anyway, from Prague airport I needed to purchase a bus ticket (me! taking a bus! ha!) to make my way on bus 119 to DejvickÃ¡ Metro Station, the very first station on Prague Metro Line 2, which can then take me to city centre. The journey was terrifying… for someone who can’t speak Czech, and the English announcement in the bus was as good as being in a total foreign language. But in the end I made it to the metro station with minimal fuss.
From DejvickÃ¡ Metro Station, I made my way to the second largest train station in Prague, the Praha – HoleÅ¡ovice. When I was doing my research prior to the trip, I was worried sick that I won’t understand the language and won’t be able to find my way to the station, despite having my faithful Lonely Planet with me. What do I know, right? The journey to the train station was as hassle-free as taking the MTR in Singapore.
I should really be more confident in my own ability navigating in strange land.
Since I have about five hours before my train ride to Budapest, I decided to take a short tour around the neighbourhood of HoleÅ¡ovice. HoleÅ¡ovice nestles inside the big bend of the Vltava, and runs west. It’s bisected by a major rail line and highway into distinct eastern and western halves. For decades, HoleÅ¡ovice was badly neglected. It was long considered he “German” area of he city and became rundown… but all that changed in 2002, when the Vltava flood inundated the low-level areas around the river, which prompted massive injection of development funds into the neighbourhood.
HoleÅ¡ovice is home to the vast exhibition grounds known as the VÃ½staviÅ¡tÄ›. Many of the buildings were built to house the 1891 Jubilee exhibition and are still impressive in the faded-glory kind of way. These include the Prague Pavilion and the grand, Art Nouveau Palace Industry.
Sadly though, the VÃ½staviÅ¡tÄ› grounds have been allowed to fall into disrepair and look a little shabby these days. Some saving grace can be found in form of lovely trees and hidden garden pathways, but I didn’t linger in the area for very long.
Soon it was time for me to find some food (which I did at this lovely Bohemia Bagel), but on the way there I met my first crook! Actually, he didn’t look like a crook at all. All he did was to speak to me in Czech, and since obviously I don’t speak the language, he asked me if I speak English, to which I affirmed. Then he asked me for an Euro or two for food. Thing is, this young man looked perfectly normal to me. His clothes wasn’t tattered, his face wasn’t smudged, his eyes not all baggy and dark. But truth is I was too startled by my first encounter that I just shook my head and quickly walk away.
Actually, I should bought the guy lunch. It wouldn’t be too bad, would it? Anyway.
On to my first meal in Europe! I ordered this humongous portion of burger, together with a glass of mulled wine. It was also here I started my updating frenzy on my Facebook, where I post some nice photos with description on what I have done for the day. It was also here I got confused with the damn currency and left behind almost 50% in tips. The waitress must be damn happy!
It was getting dark, time for me to board my train going towards Budapest. A horrific journey, that was. Not only when the train started to move that an announcement was made about the train not having a dining car “due to safety reason”, when I only have a half-drunk bottle of water on me for a freaking 8-hour journey. The heavily accented announcements made at the several hundreds of stops did not ally my fear that I might just missed out Budapest.
It was a ride I endured in pure misery, not being able to sleep well, and it was only then I realised I have traveled for 30 hours without a shower. Yuck!
But what do you know? Soon I have arrived at Keleti PÃ¡lyaudvar train station. Hungry, tired, sleepy… and very lost. The whole place was very dimly lit and suspicious character was loitering around. I can’t find an ATM to draw Hungarian Forints and the metro station attendant can’t speak a word of English. Being panicked was an understatement of the night, but like all seasoned traveler will tell you, everything will work out in the end. And I like to call myself one, so yes, by midnight, I was safely tucked in bed :)
Click here to view all my photos from that 30-hour journey from Hong Kong, via Amsterdam, to Prague and finally ended up in Budapest!