The next day began the longest day of my entire existence.
My first train left Lucerne at 3pm. I took that train all the way to Frankfurt, Germany. This had to be one of the most boring train rides I had taken thus far. I’m really sorry Germany, but you just weren’t as pretty as everything else I had seen on that trip. I had a really tight connection again in Frankfurt, and had to book it from my train to catch my next train, but luckily I made it in time. The next train was from Frankfurt to Dresden, Germany. I arrived in Dresden at midnight and then had to wait for 6.5 hours until my flight left the next morning at 7am.
The station was freezing. The lobby area was this huge vaulted dome ceiling and everything echoed. The place was completely empty and kind of eerie. I found a bench behind this stand-alone coffee shop as to kind of hide myself. I put on my sweatshirt and my winter coat, two things I had not needed up until that point. I was still freezing though and ended up using my six-Euro towel as a blanket, man did that thing come in handy. I plopped my backpack down on the bench and tried to use what space was left of the seat to lay down with my head on my backpack, towel wrapped tightly all the way around me, purse hooked on my elbow, clutched to my stomach...was I nervous about sleeping in a train station in Germany all by myself with an iPhone, debit card, passport, etc. in my purse? Yes, yes I was indeed.
I fell asleep, but only slightly for about an hour and a half, and awoke to someone yelling, which echoed tremendously, and a man over to my left speaking to another man at the counter of one of the shops. After I sat up, he then turned to me and asked me whatever he had been asking the other man...though I didn't understand because it was all in German. I told him I didn’t speak German, to which he attempted to speak English to me. I had no idea what he was trying to say, but it was clear that he was begging for something, and because I had sat there for a solid 2-3 minutes trying to figure out what he was trying to say, I felt obligated to give him something. He asked for 2 Euro, but I only had 1 Euro in change so I got up and gave it to him. He said thank you and smiled…I noticed he was missing his two front teeth. He then put his hand out, as though to shake mine, and I took his and attempted to shake, but then he started to pull my hand to his face…and then he kissed my hand…it was awkward, but I was glad to have made his day (I guess?). Then he told me I was a “sexy lady” and that was when I just drew the line and ran back to my bench. Luckily he didn’t try to ask me for any more money.
I semi-fell asleep for another 45 minutes, but then awoke to an old man sitting next to me and an old lady sitting in the bench opposite. I sat up suddenly, I guess they startled me, and the man looked at me and said something in German (everyone assumes I speak German) and I again looked at him confused and said I didn’t speak German. He then said “Oh English!” and spent the next 10 minutes trying to speak to me in English which was more like grunting, groaning, and a few vowel sounds. At first I tried really hard to figure out what he was trying to say and then I just got lazy and decided that nodding and smiling was the best option. He pulled out a beer and started drinking it, which seemed odd to me that he should be drinking at 3am….anyways then the lady next to him started trying to talk to me in English. Her English was a lot better than the man’s but it was still a very broken conversation. It fascinates me that people I met during my travels in Europe are so eager to practice their English. We had a cab driver in Nice who refused to speak to Suze in French, insisting that we speak to him in English. I began to wish that I had been the same way with my Spanish. I’m always really shy about using the Spanish I know and suddenly found myself wishing I had been more confident while Suze and I had been in Spain.
Anyways, it was a very surreal experience and I found myself no longer able to sleep. I felt nervous with so many people sitting around me. I stayed awake and played Sudoku puzzles on my phone until about 45 minutes before my train was supposed to leave. I got up and checked the screen and Prague wasn’t showing up…it was then that I checked my ticket and realized that I had gotten off at the wrong station the night before. I was supposed to be at Dresden HBF and instead was at a different Dresden station. Luckily the train that went from Dresden to Dresden HBF came in the next 10 minutes so I booked it to the other platform and barely made it to my train at Dresden HBF. I was so lucky throughout this trip…I had so many close calls. I think I’ve found that I handle unexpected changes in plans pretty well and it was fun to try and problem solve.
I finally arrived in Prague at 9:30am. I then had to walk from the train station to my hostel, which was a good 35 minute walk, but this was nothing compared to what I had experienced over the last 24 hours. The hostel I was staying at in Prague was $10 a night, so when I first arrived I expected it to be shady, but to my surprise it was very nice. I couldn’t check in until 3pm, so I decided to pay the 4 Euro that it cost to have their all-you-can-eat breakfast.
I sat by myself at a table until a British guy asked if he and his friends could join me. The small basement/bar area was small and all the other tables were filled so I was happy to share. Soon my dinner for one turned into a meal shared with four others. A guy from India who was studying in Toronto, but currently studying abroad in Switzerland, a girl from Germany, a British guy who had recently sold all of his possessions so that he could travel, and an Australian guy named Dom soon became my companions for the remaining hours I had in Prague until Alex and her friends met up with me at 5pm. It was the coolest experience. They all invited me to come along with them to hang out in Prague while I waited to check-in. We walked all around the center of Prague and across the Charles Bridge. Later we met up with their friend McKenna, a girl from San Diego, just 19, who was traveling alone in Europe for two months. We all had such good conversation and I was so intrigued to meet people of so many different cultural backgrounds and life paths. We talked about music, traveling, life, and the future. I learned so much about them in the short amount of time that I was able to hang out with them.
Being a college student I feel like there is so much pressure to get a job right after college and start making money and settling down, but here I had met people who did not share in the search of these things. They were all about working, saving money, but above all, traveling. It was a breath of fresh air, and while I don’t know that I am planning on selling everything I own and traveling for months at a time, it did make me realize that no such thing as “the right way to live" exists. I think meeting and spending a day with those five really made the entire experience, the trip as a whole, worth it. I had found that when you travel alone you are forced to speak to strangers more often and was surprised at how talkative, friendly and confident I was with these complete strangers. I can see now how much I have grown up out of the shyness that I so often assumed in high school.
The next few hours in Prague with Alex and her friends were spent eating and wandering and catching up. We ate some delicious Czech food and were able to buy pints of beer for 35 crowns, which is equal to about $1.50. Everything was so cheap, especially compared to Switzerland and I was so grateful for that. The next day we wandered around more and walked all over. We had some of the thickest and richest hot chocolate. My flight left that night at 10:50pm so I had to leave and catch the tram to the train to the bus to the airport (traveling is exhausting, yo) at 8pm, which meant my time overall with Prague was very short.
However, I was ready to come back to London I think. I had been on the road for 20 days and I was starting to really feel it. My flight landed in London at 11:50pm and I then stood in customs for 2 hours. While in line though I met an Australian guy who was studying at UCL in London. We talked about our travels (he had just come back from his month break as well) and swapped stories about our experiences. He talked about how strange it is to travel alone, especially when you stay at a hostel and make friends so quickly and spend time traveling with them and then you may never see them again afterwards, which I found ironic because we talked as though we were old friends and then as soon as we both said goodbye and crossed the border, we too would probably never see each other again. It really made me think about the people I had met along the way…all of the Airbnb hosts, strangers, hostel-mates, etc. I was especially hung up on the group of people I had met in Prague and how such a brief encounter had significantly impacted my life.
I didn’t arrive back to my flat in London until 8am the next day as my shuttle from the airport back into London didn’t leave until 4am. Unable to sleep and wary of pickpockets I stayed up the whole night. I didn’t sleep for the entire 1.5-hour bus ride back into London either; I had so much on my mind. Once I arrived at the London Victoria Coach Station I caught the train from there back to New Cross, which was another 1.5 hours long.
Coming back to my flat was surreal and I fell right asleep, exhausted from my travels. Later that night I went out with Suze and Rachel, my flatmates, for a drink at our favorite pub right near our dorms, The Rose. We spent the night sharing stories of our travels and I was reminded all over again of all the amazing places and people I had been lucky enough to encounter while at the same time overwhelmingly appreciative of the friendship I had in these two amazing girls and my pretty London-town.