Do not take the night train from Munich to Prague. Conclusion.

…So we had gotten seats and the train was just about packed. Not only were there no open seats to be seen anywhere, It became increasingly obvious that there weren’t any anywhere. Slightly and not so slightly panicked looking Koreans drifted by our doorway, each with a look like that of a child looking for their lost mom. The whistle blew, the train lurched and we were on our way. As I sat in my lucky seat, I very shortly became aware of a few things. First of all, this was a nine hour train ride on which I would be surrounded by nothing but the Korean language. I prayed that SOMEONE here spoke english and wouldn’t mind chatting a bit. Second, that with the heat and the humidity and now the crush of an overloaded train car, it was turning into sauna here. Fast.

I still wasn’t too keen on getting out of my seat even for the thirty seconds that it would take to open the window lest someone leap into it behind me. The seatless still prowled the hallway looking for the weak of bladder or the very, very foolish who went looking for the snack car. Eventually, I asked out loud if someone could open the window. The guy across from me quickly replied in flawless english, “Good idea” and nodded to the guy on my left, who looked a bit like an Asian Elvis. The hair product alone was impressive, but the clothing choice of unbuttoned while shirt, necklaces and tight black pants really set the image off nicely. Being closest to the window, Elvis managed to get it open and back to his seat before a squatter moved in on the vacancy. The stagnant hot air was replaced with blowing hot air and we listened to the train groan its way out of the marshaling yard. After tickets were checked but before we all got too comfortable, I decided to see if we could improve our seating arrangement. I turned to Elvis and explained that my wife was in the next car and would he be okay with switching? We’d all have seats but that way Action Girl and I could be together. He looked at me from under his moussed mantle and quickly responded, “Okay.” I was delighted. I smiled. He smiled.

He didn’t move.

Uh Oh.

The english speaker across from me started to laugh and then quickly explained to Elvis in Korean what he had just said “Okay” to. Elvis’ smile vanished. Apparently, Elvis didn’t speak english and had been bluffing with his best “Okay”.

He was a man of his “Okay” though. The switch was made and Action Girl joined me in the compartment that was the lap of communist comfort. About this time, the sky could hold the humidity no longer and suddenly, it was like we were traveling under a waterfall. The open window let in sheet of rain and someone sprang up to slam it shut, whereupon he compartment quickly reverted to a steam bath. Ugh!

After about five hours of this joy we finally pulled into a siding and awaited a new engine to take us the rest of the way to Prague. I dared to leave my seat and go out into the hall to stretch my legs and my translator came to join me. The hall way was disgusting. The floors were soaked from the rain and up an down them there were Korean students sleeping or trying very hard to sleep, mostly lying on bits of soaked cardboard. Oh and did I mention the bathrooms? You don’t want to know the state of the bathrooms. Honest.

As it turned out, the nice guy / translator spoke perfect english and had previously spent quite a good amount of time in the states. He explained that this was a package trip from his university and that they had been traveling together for about a week. He was really a nice person to chat with and as my wife did her best to convince her self that she was sleeping, the Nice Guy and I had some good chats. Most of them started with a, “Holy Sh1t! it’s hot in here!”. After an uncomfortable hour or so, the train wobbled with the coupling of the new engine and we were off. I had really gotten to like the Nice Guy. He was a chess player, a scholar and had a really good wit. In short, just the kind of person you’d want to be trapped with in a smelly, wet, steel tube for nine hours.

We were in the home stretch now. The Koreans however were in trouble. Czech ticket agents came through the cars with way too much bluster. They did not look happy and other than the fact that it was something like four in the morning, we quickly found out why. The Koreans had the wrong tickets. All of them. Everywhere you looked, panic was spreading. They all needed to buy new tickets for the Czech part of the trip but to do this you needed money, and money is what most of them didn’t have. They didn’t have it in droves. Our tickets, thankfully, were correct and the ticket collector let us off with only a severe glare. We were, after all, foreign. There was much horse trading and begging amongst the group for loans and the tour operator trying to get the ticket collectors to see reason. It must have all worked out because the collectors finally disappeared and only came back to bother us seven or eight more times. Essentially, just enough to keep anyone from sleeping.

As we rolled into the outskirts of Prague, Action Girl pointed out bonfires dotting the woods. Gypsy encampments, we decided. A little over an hour later we squealed our way into the train station and squirted off the Hell Train on to the main platform. We looked around in a haze made of sleeplessness and being in an utterly unfamiliar place. All the signs were written in cyrillic and we had no idea where to find The Doctor. Then his voice piped up behind us. “Right now,” he stated dryly, “You are saying to your self ‘What the hell did I do to deserve that?'”. We boggled. Did we look that bad? Well… yes, I suppose we did. He took us to breakfast and over what was possibly the most lovely food we had had in months (or at least the most appreciated), we told him our story. He smiled and took a drink of orange juice. “That’s interesting.” he finally said. “Because for me it was exactly the same except for the Koreans. On my train, they were all Japanese.”

I will never take the night train from Munich to Prague again. I don’t care if I have to walk. The really best part of all this is that a friend of ours went to Prague via Munich just a few years ago. She told us her itinerary before she left and we warned her in the strongest possible way. She naturally did it any way and though her experience didn’t include the asian tour group, she told us later that she regrets not following our advice. It’s refreshing to know that some things in the world never seem to change.
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I’ve run out of room to get to the bit with the Evil Eye, but I’m sure I’ll mention it later in another post. Suffice it to say that gypsy’s can be a real pain when they are trying to rip you off but if you shoo them away with too much vigor, get ready for a hex.

Any way… That was the worst night ever for us. A cranky two year old at three in the morning is the minor leagues in comparison. I just have to remind Action Girl about it from time to time when sleep seems to be illusive. “Well, at least we’re not going to Prague by train”. That usually adds some good perspective.

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Do not take the night train from Munich to Prague. II

… So the next day Action Girl and I spent a lovely day waltzing about the town that had started to become familiar. We admired the scenery, the cow barns in the middle of town, the toy shops and the beer. Finally, after checking out of our home of the last three days, we rather reluctantly made our way to the train station. The ticket agent smiled to us, having remembered us from the previous day. We smiled and got on board or train. It was early evening now and we watched pasture give way to city as we slid in to Munich’s suburbs.

Here’s where things started to get… difficult. First, the little village we had just been in didn’t have a lot of train service. This meant the we had to take a train that got us into Munich too early to just hop on our next train, but not enough time to go poke around. There was also the problem of out giant back packs. Though handy to carry all your worldly possessions in, they also are a sort of nylon ball and chain. The bags are too large to fit in a standard storage locker but far too big to take for a jaunt into the city. Shop keepers are particularly loath to see you coming since you might as well strap on some horns and start pawing the ground and grunting. I wonder how much loss the average shop looses in breakage in a year due to huge back packs?

So, with out enough time to do anything and no place to put our bags anyway, we sat and waited in the Munich Hauptbahnhoff. Oh, and the heat. Did I mention the heat? No? Well, it was oppressive and had been, apparently, for days. What this means is that everything, every surface on every object, was warm to the touch. Just to add to the heat, we couldn’t have been more than a couple of degrees from the dew point. Hot and sticky. What fun. The walls of the train station glistened with grimy condensation and everywhere you looked were wilting travelers. Everything wilted, no one was comfortable and the two hours until our train arrived dragged on like a weasel pulling a gazelle carcass.
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Then, it was here! The train pulled in and after the wait for the all clear from the conductor, we bent our backs under our nylon loads and hustled to the train. Now, it was a long train, and I wanted to make sure that we were going to the right bit of it. Some times, trains get split up at stations later down the line so half of the cars go to the place you are hoping to visit and the other half go to Smelters-burg or something. I asked the conductor if this was the right car for Prague and he brusquely motioned down the line. We continued on, longingly looking through the windows of the first class sleeper cars until we were about half way down the train. “Prague?”, “No.” Point, point. We continued. “Prague?” “No. point point. But were are almost out of train! Then we saw them. The last four cars looked like they were refugees from some Soviet train depot and for good reason. They were. And, they were going to Prague. We hastened in to grab two seats and I quickly got panicky. Not only were the cars quickly filling, but all the seats seemed to be reserved. Not good. Not good at all. We were racing through the cars now trying to find two seats for the nine hour ride. The train was really filling up now. Then, in one of the cars, I spotted an empty, non-reserved seat and quickly gave it to Action Girl. Before she could ask about what I was going to do, i raced off to find another. One car down, the last one on the train actually, I found it and practically dove in. I was a ball of sweat, I was out of breath, exhausted and… now that I looked around, surrounded completely and utterly by nothing but Koreans. All of them. every last passenger.

“Well, that’s different.”

Conclusion tomorrow including the “Evil Eye” and angry Czech border guards!

Do not take the night train from Munich to Prague

Last night was one of THOSE nights. The reality of having a baby or toddler is that you don’t get a consistent, good night sleep for… well, I don’t know… It’s been two years now of sleep being interrupted, sometimes several times a night. With Lulu Bell on the way, we know that this is only going to get more entertaining. To this mix, add that I am a far lighter sleeper than Action Girl and as of this writing, far more mobile, seeing how Lulu Belle will be joining us in about three weeks. So the up shot is, I am almost always the one who gets up to attend to the two AM call of our son. When I’m away from my family overnight, it almost kills me because I want to be there with them. On the other hand, during such occasions I sleep like the dead. Sometimes when I know I’ll be alone for a night, the anticipation of a full night’s sleep is almost like the excitement before going on an adventure… but far quieter. My definition of a good time has defiantly changed with age.

All this makes last night far more painful. Last night, Short Stack was sound asleep, yet Action Girl and I were wide awake… for hours… and hours. It was awful. We had initially woken up to deal with our kiddo, who needed a pants change and a fresh bottle, but he was quickly back in bed and playing with candy penguins and dump trucks full of cookies. I actually heard him laugh in his sleep at one point. For various reasons, neither of us could manage to fall back to sleep. It was crazy-making. Action Girl gave up first and moved to the sofa down stairs. I shortly followed and took up residence on the other sofa. As I sat there sipping my warm milk and looking out at the front yard, I remembered the worst… by far, WORST night we had ever had together.

About seven years ago we had been traveling through Europe on the cheap. It’s hard to imagine, but you used to be able to do that. We were traveling cheap partially because funds were limited but also because we were with with my best friend and “brother”, The Doctor. The Doctor is a year younger than I and we have been best friends since we met in a combined 3rd/4th grade class room back during the Velour Shirt Age. We are both only children and we have always referred to our selves as brothers. He has always been part of my life. I can always count on him. He has a heart the size of the moon, an intellect that astounds me on an regular basis and he can be unbelievably cheap at times.

We had traveled together, the three of us, for about two weeks. We had been having a great time and seen a lot. Mostly we had stayed in youth hostels and for those who have never tried this, they they can often be pretty awful. The noise, the crummy beds, the drunk fifteen year olds. Ahh, good times. We had endured quite a few of this sort of establishment when by accident, we happened across the best B&B ever in Oberammergau, Germany. It’s called der Gasthaus Rose. It’s been tarted up a bit since we were there, but even then, it was like an oasis of civilized living, and back then, very inexpensive to boot! After all the fun and excitement of hosteling, this place was heaven. We were going to spend one night. We spent three.

The travel plans were to go from Oberammergau to Munich and from there to Prague. The Doctor was getting impatient sitting in a sleepy, little alpine village and wanted to get on the trail again. We elected for just one more night of down duvets and pastoral serenity. His offer was to head out a day ahead of us and secure lodging for the three of us in Prague. We’d get one more night in Oberammergau and he’d greet up at the train station when we arived. His insistence was he would take the night train and thus, not miss out on a day of exploration that would other wise be lost in travel. We would take the same train the next day. We agreed and he pushed off, traveling pack attached to his back like a giant nylon tick. The two of us walked into the town, spent too much money on a wonderful day and shuffled off for a happy evening in the shadows if the Alps. We had no idea how much we would be cudgeled by fate the next night. The Ammer river snaked through the village, looking for all the world like it was made of Sapphire Gin and the cow bells could be heard up in the low pastures. It was so beautiful just then. It was going to get ugly tomorrow.

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(Oberammergau in 1900. It isn’t all that different today. Just more tour busses and fewer horses.)

More tomorrow.

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