Today's ornament is a blue blown glass bulb (I think this is considered a witches gazing ball or something like that) which I bought in Prague. My friend Terry and I went to Prague together "for the weekend" when I was visiting her in Vienna during my fall break from UEA in England (sounds very cosmopolitan, I know…wait, and it won't). We had planned to leave on an evening train after Terry finished with classes. Terry didn't make hostel reservations because in her experience on one previous trip to another city, she didn't need to. We were VERY green on this whole travel thing. I carried my full-size backpack–the same backpack I would later use for a whole month in Europe–for the 2-night trip. Terry, too, overpacked–with books for doing homework during this lengthy trip. We would regret these choices later. Badly.
After a trip involving some tense moments with a customs agent, we arrived at the main train station of Prague. Prague then was still in the post-Soviet stage of development. A horde of representatives of guest houses descended on us–the only tourists–upon our arrival. By representatives, I mean old ladies in babushkas, smarmy looking guys, teenagers–the gamut. We thought we had our stuff together and went to find the university hostel we were so sure about from the Let's Go guide. I don't know at which point we decided to go with the woman, but we did. She was an old lady and looked harmless. And she was. But, she brought us to several apartments, promising she'd put us with "American boys" and "near bar." We felt a bit like we were being pimped out, so we cordially declined and set off to find the hostel.
We boarded a tram in search of the hostel. We weren't sure we were on the right track. Fortunately, we ran into a nice student who offered to help us. He knew about our hometown area (Pittsburgh) because of Jaromir Jager, who played for the Penguins at the time. He dropped us at the very eastern block-looking building and went on his way.
It turns out that this building–way outside of the downtown area–is a dormitory and currently occupied by students. Not something the guide mentioned. Bummer. We turned around for the bus to take us back to town. It was very cold and dark. On the bus, we met the Czech army's basketball team, who were not supposed to be out but offered to house us for the night. Though they were fun guys, as you can imagine, we declined. We said goodbye to them at the last stop of the bus, the Sheraton.
It was very tempting at this point to max out our credit cards for a warm night's sleep. But, our stop at the Sheraton was mainly to use the phone to try to call hostels. We were a sight. Two girls with hiking boots and huge backpacks trekking through the fancy hotel. The woman at the front desk eyed us suspiciously. We made our calls with no success. One of the hostels was nearby, and so, we walked over. We were quite literally screamed at and chased out of the lobby. At one point, we were walking down a desolate street…unsure of what to do next. We were starving–we hadn't had dinner and couldn't find a place to eat. We see a shadow approaching…we were sure we were up for a mugging or something more sinister. The shadow got closer and closer. We considered running and then we heard "Hey guys, do you know where such-and-such street is?" It was an American expat–a miracle in tennis shoes! He took us to a commuter train station for some nosh and was going to offer us his sofa, but he was staying at a guest house where he was already in trouble with the hostess.
Long story (extremely long story) short–we didn't sleep that night. We circled the outskirts of Prague in trams, loaded down with books and shoes and clothes, with the homeless and nightclubbers (there were actually an insane amount of people on the streets). We waited for the McDonald's opening at 7 am to use the bathrooms and eat. I've never been so happy to have a burger for breakfast.
We sleepwalked through the day and seeing that amazing city. I bought a few of these ornaments, carefully carried back to Vienna and then England and then the U.S. in my trusty, overpacked backpack. I had 4–my parents have 2 and I gave another to one of my aunts. Wish now I'd bought more! Had we been cozy at the Marriott, I don't think we'd have as vibrant a memory of that time!