Our past few days in Prague we started to get the hang of using the public transportation system. It’s been great for us.
Saturday night we left Old Town with our new friend Merik to watch his band play in a jazz club. We ended up staying to watch the next band and got separated from Merik, so we had to find our own way back.
And so began Czech Public Transportation 101. Getting on the right bus was easy – it came to the corner at the club. We tracked the stops and got off at the metro station that would take us back into the part of town we know. We were the only people walking towards the metro station soon it became clear why – the metro closes at midnight.
Now we were in a part of town we didn’t know, without our friend, in the middle of the night. Prague, however, is a city that doesn’t sleep and plenty of people were out and about. Two guys who spoke just a touch of English got on their phones to find us a way home (we’re WiFi only on this trip). They sent us to the stop across the street and gave us the tram number that would take us back to the tourist part of Prague. People came to the stop, trams came and went. We stood alone. We trusted.
When our tram came we jumped on. It was packed, so we couldn’t sit together. Stop after stop, I watched the text scroll by announcing the pristi stanice, the next stop, looking for a name I might recognize. Since I’ve only learned a few words in Czeck, the odds were low. But finally we came to a stop where I recognized the name and Vinnie recognized the sidewalk and we got out, happy to find ourselves in familiar territory, just a block from the hostel.
The next day, charged with a growing confidence, we headed for the main train station to ride to the castle at Karlstejn. Walking into the main train station was overwhelming: it is huge, with pigeons flying around and all signs written in Czech. Thanks to a couple of super helpful station employees, we found our way to the ticket booth, then the right platform, and in just a few minutes we were watching the city go by from a new perspective.
The big challenge came Monday morning, when we were leaving for Budapest via bus. We wanted to know if we could possibly get a train ticket for a similiar cost, so first we went to the hlavni nadrazi (the main train station) – no luck on train tickets. Having used that time, now we needed to hustle to get to the masarykovo nadrazi (the main bus station).
Walking in what we hoped was the right direction, at a cross walk we asked the group in front of us. The Czech woman and her two teenage kids really wanted to help, we could tell, but they didn’t speak any English. A few blocks later, the young professional woman sent us to the bus stop that would take us to the main station. At the bus stop we found a sign completely in Czech that seemed to indicate some kind of change, but we couldn’t guess at what it might be. Then we saw the bus a block up the street, too far for us to race to. The driver pulled over where we were and picked us up. We asked if we were on the right bus to the station, but he didn’t speak English either. He recognized the word Florenc, the name of the bus station, but it’s also the name of a metro station, so we sat down, not knowing if we were on the right track.
Again I watched the display to see the next stop, and when it said Florenc BC, I figured we’d get off. The man in front of me said yes, go to the stop light and go left, and you will get to the bus station. We couldn’t see the way because there was a huge construction project, but we jumped off, hoping to figure it out.
Just a few seconds later, the bus stopped and a passenger jumped out and waved to us to come back. The only words in English she said were “not right” but I could tell by her expression that she was helping us, so we followed her back onto the bus. One turn and a block later, they shooed us off the bus, pointing towards a station that looked a bit like the one I’d seen on google map. Inside we asked on more person for help and with five minutes to spare, we made it to the platform where the bus waited, filling up with people.
After just two days of riding public transportation in Central Europe, here’s what I think: riding the bus is a meditation in kindness. It’s a time to be exactly in the moment, to be open to what happens and trust that we are all connected and that we all want to help each other.
During our week in Prague, we’ve gotten familiar enough that people have started to ask us directions, and generally they don’t speak English. The language barrier isn’t nearly as dark and imposing as I imagined it to be when we were state side. So we smile and listen for words we might know, and point and encourage, just like so many others have done for us.
Three weeks ago I couldn’t have guessed that riding the bus would be such an opportunity for kindness and gratitude.