I arrive in Prague after 12 hours of train travel from Zurich, and given the general fevered pace of travel on this trip, I have but a fingernail’s grasp on the language, culture, heck – even the time of day and where I am in general. And I have only my friends’ phone numbers and a loose arrangement to get together.
Thank goodness my friend Martin is responsive when I text him, and after a short while I’m met at the train station. We take the scenic route back to his place (in a 1920’s apartment building with all original fixtures), where I drop my bags, get changed, and we have some wine.
It’s 10:30pm on a Friday night, and we are preparing for a night on the town.
Slight Change of Plans
“Okay,” says Martin in a let’s-get-organized tone of voice. “I’ve actually got a couple of other places I have to be tonight, that aren’t going to be very interesting for you. So you can connect with the other guys and go out, and I’ll meet up with you all later.” (The “other guys” he’s referring to are our other mutual friends in Prague, so I nod in approval).
“Here’s the thing,” he says as we’re walking out the door, “I’m kind of really running late, so I’ve got to drop you at the subway and you’ll have to find your own way there.”
Normally I wouldn’t find this overly challenging. Heck – I’m taking 25,000kms of trains from western Europe to Southeast Asia; a little trip on the metro is a comparative walk in the park!
Problem is, I have no cash other than my emergency stash of $20 Euros (which aren’t normally accepted in the Czech Republic), and a bank card and credit card – which I’m told won’t be very useful to me in Prague as many places take only cash. I had expected to visit an ATM or otherwise set myself up a little better for a night out before being thrown into it.
I also have absolutely no sense of the city, where we are in it, where I’m headed, or how to get back to Martin’s place (even with his incomprehensible address scribbled on a scrap of paper). I feel slightly panicky at the thought that he might not end up reconnecting with us (which is a realistic possibility). The metro will soon be closed, and I don’t have enough money for a taxi.
Oh yeah, and I speak absolutely no Czech, and I’m nicely toasted from the wine.
As if to make tonight even more interesting, I’ve decided to leave my purse behind. I’m tired of schlepping my bags around, and although this decision means leaving my camera behind, I’d rather enjoy the evening without worrying about my purse all the time. With these guys, I have no idea what the night has in store, and I figure the less I have on me, the less I have to worry about.
Initially though, this has the opposite effect; with less stuff, I’m more worried. This is a real departure from my normal ways – I almost never leave my purse behind. It’s not only a security blanket of sorts, but it’s also filled with a number of mildly useful items that don’t fit into pockets.
So I have nothing but a few essentials in my pockets and a cell phone (my lifeline to Martin and the rest of the crew if lines get crossed) – with a dying battery. Martin stuffs 100 CZH (about $5) and some change into my hand and points me in the direction of the subway.
I’m disoriented, unprepared, confused about where to go, slightly drunk, slightly scared, and without a purse to clutch on to for security. I feel totally naked.
Naked in the Subway
This feeling of “nakedness” has its perks, making you hyper-aware of your surroundings. While waiting for the train, my observational skills are heightened. Usually when waiting, I’d retreat to the security of my purse for something like my iTouch, a candy, a notebook and pen, or my camera. But without these accoutrements, I just wander the station, looking at signs, and studying people.
I use all my senses while walking down a tunnel to transfer between trains. I notice the general pace of walking is relaxed; nobody is in a hurry to be anywhere. English is also prominently spoken in many of the conversations around me; it comes in a variety of accents, many of which I can’t quite recognize.
Meeting and Eating
After wondering for half an hour if the designated meeting spot I’m standing at is actually the right place, my friend Kole appears. (Whew)! With him is Alex, another Canadian friend who lives in Berlin and is visiting for the weekend. So we’re a merry bunch.
Kole hands us each a beer and we start wandering through the streets of Prague. I discover he used give tours of Prague, so he’s a wealth of information that enhances our impromptu night tour of Prague.
I mention that I haven’t eaten (which, combined with alcohol is deadly for me). “Eatin’ is cheatin’,” is Kole’s smart-ass response (his head is in the beer game at this point), but he takes us by a pizza joint that’s open late at night.
Alex and I both get slices and we eat them on the sidewalk outside the pizza parlour. Then, inexplicably, we continue to stand there. There’s a steady stream of people coming in and out, and loitering in the area. So this inadvertently ends up being a great spot to meet all sorts of people at various stages of enjoying their Friday night.
Among the strangers we befriend that night, there is a huge international contingent, many of whom speak English. Some are living and working in Prague, others are studying, and others yet are just visiting.
We also meet a number of people from Czech Republic, as well as some neighbouring countries. It’s a very international evening.
The night gently rolls along as we meet people, start walking with them, then go separate ways, and repeat the exercise. Throughout the evening of migrating from one bar, patio, or piece of sidewalk to another, about a dozen people casually come into and out of our lives.
Prague at Night
At one point, we are crossing the Charles bridge, and Kole dramatically stops us. “I just realized – this is a very special thing, we’re doing. This is the Charles Bridge, and it’s almost totally empty.” I’m told that during the daytime, this same bridge is packed with people, so to have it almost exclusively to ourselves is a nice way to experience it.
This has been the case with the many squares we’ve wandered through, buildings we’ve gawked at, and historical wonders we’ve observed and learned the folklore behind. Prague at night is beautiful, relaxed, and relatively empty. (But of course, because I’m naked and without a camera, my pictures of Prague are stored solely in my memory).
Time to Go
I’ve lost track of time, but I suspect it’s quite late. My thoughts turn back to Martin, and I wonder if I’ll see him again. My phone battery is dead, so I’m reliant on Kole to liaise with Martin for a rendezvous point.
After some more wandering, we find Martin in a club that is still packed, in an area relatively congested with other such clubs and patios. I note that it’s long past the time when bars in Canada would have closed, and the streets emptied. However here in Prague, the night is still well underway.
Shortly thereafter Martin announces he’s heading home and asks if I want to catch a ride with him.
I look over at Kole and Alex and the newest contingent of strangers we’ve befriended and wandered with, and they’re still going strong. My fears at the beginning of the evening of being stranded in the city have largely dissipated. With a sense of excitement and wonder about the Prague at Night I’ve found, I actually consider staying out with them and (somehow) finding my way back to Martin’s place later. I’ve met so many people at this stage of the night that I realize it wouldn’t be that difficult.
But as the faint signs of dawn are already upon us, I decide it’s time for some sleep.
After all, I’ve got a train to catch.