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Trip Report The third leg - Vienna to Prague

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I waited to purchase my train ticket Vienna-Prague until my Sunday departure. I wasn't sure if my friends would want to get together that morning before we all parted ways for our journey home from the Vienna conference. So, no discount ticket for me. I took the U-bahn to the Meidling station and bought my second class ticket at the window. The agent didn't mention and I forgot to ask about seat reservation--it would have been a good idea.
The station is small and the few food stands were swamped with customers stocking up for their trips. I was early, so bought a sandwich/drink and found a seat out on the platform in the fresh air to wait.

People mobbed the doors as the train arrived. The 2nd class cars turned out to have the 6-seat compartments with passageway along one side. People were boarding at both ends and trying to pass each other in the single aisle with full-sized suitcases. Families were separated. People were shouting. Bags were hitting people in the head. I ended up ducking into a reserved compartment until the fighting subsided, hoping I would find an empty seat once the train left the station.

I carried my rollaboard and backpack just one car forward once we were underway and found the second compartment held only 4 people. A quick query brought the response the seats were open and an offer to help lift my bag up top. Turns out the air conditioning wasn't working in the car so everyone was passing it by. Thankfully, it started up soon after we were under way. It turned out to be a great decision.

Our compartment contained 5 people at first--approx 50-yr-old American university professor, 40-yr old Macedonian soldier, 35-yr old Omani student, 30-year old German student, and 18-yr old Czech student. After a few polite remarks about the lack of a/c, the crowded train, etc., I think it was the young Czech student who started conversing with each of us and soon we all put down our reading material joined the conversation that ranged from what one can do with a degree in social services, to how many wives a man can have in Oman, to what a visiting soldier remembers about Savannah, Georgia, to why the birth rate has dropped so dramatically in many western countries. The time flew by. We really hated to find out our Macedonian friend was not riding all the way to Prague, but he was replaced by a Czech woman returning from camping at a weekend folk festival who found every question about Prague and answer from our young university student hilarious.

We parted ways with photos of our new friends and a telephone number of the young Czech woman in case any of us needed any assistance while in Prague. Great trip.

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    What a pleasant contrast to those others who, back from their tours, can really only recollect the nice fellow {insert nationality here} travellers, and no locals whatsoever.

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    So this sort of travel encounter really happens?

    The last time my husband and I thought we were having a pleasant conversation with the locals, their table adjoining ours in Amsterdam, the man launched forth into a diatribe about how the British invented concentration camps in South Africa, killing thousands of Boer women and children.

    We decided to forgo pudding.

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    My husband has facebook friends that he has made across the Central Europe train frontier. And we just had a couple over to our apartment who we met on a train ride to Zagreb.

    Interesting people ride second class trains ..... So glad you enjoyed your trip.

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    People often talk to me anywhere I go--something about the round, open face--but usually more polite chitchat than the full-scale intelligent discussion we had on the train. I too run into my share of people who want to immediately disparage the politics or history of a fellow traveler's country, missing any opportunity to learn, as we all did about Oman.
    I was also happy to have a seat. After Brno, people were standing in the aisle all the way to Prague.

    I opted to stay away from the tourist area in Prague near I.P. Pavlova metro station to meet my criteria of easy to access without taxi, air conditioning, nonsmoking, and reasonable price hotel. My room required one flight of stairs to reach a distant view of the castle lit up at night. I used the metro and trams extensively, purchasing a couple of 24-hour cards.

    I hadn't been to Prague and was slowing down now at the end of my 2+ week trip, so I didn't have many specific plans. I did go to see the clock (good, hot in afternoon, but crowd not bad), one of the synagogues for local Jewish history, tour of the municipal building (fantastic for architecture buff), Munch museum, castle, funicular with walk down. Most of the time I just walked to view as much of the art nouveau architecture as possible.

    I was rather disappointed in the St Charles Bridge day or night. I just didn't see the attraction of statue copies and it didn't appear that scenic to me. I did find the castle lit at night with bridges in the foreground very lovely.

    Police presence very visible at tourist sites and in the metro--cars, patrols, people stopped.

    A friend tells me she loves Prague in the winter with a fresh coat of snow. She says few tourists, cool temps, and lovely lights reflecting off the snow. I can imagine that. I had not trouble filling my 2.5 days in Prague and could envision another short stay to catch the sights I missed. I'm not a city person, so I have to take them in short doses.

    I booked a shared shuttle service to the airport online at prague-airport-transfers.co.uk for 290 CZK cash or credit card. Hotel pick up in the window promised, then 3 of us rode in a minivan to the airport with the driver talking on his cellphone the entire way. He parked in the lot between the two terminals and said, "That one is 1 and that one is 2" as the couple were flying out of a different terminal than I.

    I asked at the check in desk if I could take my rollaboard and backpack both on board because online it said they were looking for volunteers to be bumped and I knew there was a later flight that was a better connection for me than the very short layover Delta gave me at JFK 4. The clerk checked with a supervisor who sourly nodded OK and I was off to spend the last of my Czech cash in the shops before using the free wifi to check in back home. No bumping after all.

    After an uneventful flight, we landed at JFK and I disembarked with all my luggage in hand. Thanks to this board, I knew about orange cards for short connection times and when I reached the dividers for passport control, I showed the lady my boarding pass, she gave me an orange card and sent me down a lane to join others at almost the front of the queue. There was also a customs lane for orange cards, but I don't think it would have taken me much time anyway. A quick check of the boards told me that my flight would leave from the same terminal, so back to security where the orange card was worthless. The controller put everyone with orange cards in the regular line while pulling out others (premium flyers?) to send directly in. It was hot and slow, but I had seen on the board that my flight was delayed along with others because of weather, so I was not concerned. Maybe she knew that too.

    Unfortunately, the delay was extended several hours, so my tight connection turned into a tiring wait. I was exhausted and thankful my husband was picking me up at the airport.

    Thanks to all on this board for your help in the planning. Now I have to plan for my extra days in Finland in September and the extra days around a meeting in New Zealand in January. Always something in the queue.

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