Video Post: My First Night Train (Prague to Budapest)

Although it would be my last time traveling through the Prague subway, I was so excited that I would be traveling on my first night train! My next stop was Budapest, Hungary, and although there were many earlier trips I could have chosen, I decided to pay the 14 euro reservation fee for a bed in a couchette on the overnight train. I don’t know what the full fare would have been, but I’m happy I had a Eurail pass and didn’t have to worry about that :-). My main reason was to cut lodging costs. I needed to get to Hungary and I needed to sleep: night train solves all. Cheaper than the cost of a hostel stay, I was able to save all around on money and time and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in backpacking.

The only negative in my plan was the long wait I had in the train station between my last scheduled daylight activity and the train that left almost at midnight. Being closer to the North pole in the summer meant that the “day” was much longer throughout all my European adventure than it would have been in Florida at the time. At least, that sounds like something I remember from high school geography that sounds like it’s right!

Well, after paying to use the restroom and finding that one of them had been closed for the night (I have no idea why, if you have to pay to enter any way), and being offered narcotics while thinking that I had lost my luggage to a closed storage facility, I finally saw my train on the arrivals board!

Given permission to board the train, I searched the door tags for my room and found to my surprise that the other bed would be left unoccupied that night. I made a video of my exploring the amenities offered in the sleeping cabin that I hope will convey the comfort and utter awesomeness I felt that night!

Video Post:The Prague Castle Complex

Parts of this sprawling medieval castle compound, the largest Europe, can be spotted at almost any point in the old city.

 According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². [1]

Although collectively referred to as “the castle,” the many buildings that make up this mega-fortified mini-town include at least four churches, four palaces, over five gardens, and is home to shops, government offices, and museums. Today, the castle is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and represents as the historical and political centre of Prague and the Czech state.

One of the churches: Basilica dedicated to St. George

  • Main Architectural Style: Romanesque / Baroque (facade)
  • Extras: Benedictine Convent
    • Abbess possessed the right to crown the Queen consort of Bohemia
  • Royal/Sacred tombs:
    • Prince Vratislav
    • Boleslav II
    • St. Ludmila
St. George’s Basilica, Prague, Czech Republic – See if you can spot it in the video!

The Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslaus and St. Adalbert

  • Main architectural style: Gothic
  • Designations:
    • Roman Catholic Cathedral, Seat of Archbishop of Prague
    • Basilica
  • Famous:
    • Biggest Church in Czech Republic
  • Curiosities:
    • The church is owned by the Czech government
    • St. Wenceslas:
      • One of a small group of royals to have been canonised by the Catholic Church
      • He is one of the patron saints of the Czech state
      • He is the “good King Wenceslas” mentioned in the 1853 Christmas carol by John Neale
      • He died a Duke of Bohemia, but was raised to the dignity of a king after his death by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I
St. Vitus – Prague, Czech Republic

I didn’t have enough crowns (Czech money) left to purchase a trip up the bell tower and they wouldn’t take credit cards or Euro. Everywhere else took Euro (with a slight fee), but those volunteer girl guards weren’t budging for poor littles tourists like myself. 😦

Video I made of walk through much of castle complex:

Berlin Part Two (Video Post)

Night Wandering

I had made free reservations to see the Bundestag (yes, you need reservations to go inside the cool glass dome). Because I had arrived a few hours later than originally planned, I wasn’t able to take the tour and only got to see the German federal government buildings from the outside. I know I missed something special, but I was not to disappointed, because as I continuously discovered, the Germans sure know how to impress! Outside the Hauptbahnhof (on the Washingtonplatz side) there was a huge area for events that had large photo displays with work from local artists set up like a maze. There were also two outdoor bars with flashing neon lighting (I like flashing neon lights, that’s why I mentioned this). I crossed the bridge near the plaza (Friedrich-List-Ufer I think it was) that had a man-made beach area under it on the other side. It was too packed for me to order anything, especially because everyone there seemed to be in groups.

I ended up strolling down the “pier” and ended up in an open area with two large walls on either side. To this day I don’t know what those two walls were for, but they seemed to funnel your attention, and large crowds perhaps, towards  a really tall building. Not until I went closer did I realize that that building and the others that were emblazoned with light were the ones I had always read so much about. To my right was the Bundeskanzleramt (Germany’s head of state is a Chancellor or Bundeskanzler, his staff are housed in this building). To my left was the Paul-Löbe-Haus, a building associated with the Bundestag (German federal lower legislative chamber) that has extra office space for MPs. In the video, this is the building that is in the final freeze pane. Walking further, I was able to pass over the wonderfully manicured lawn with fountains in front of the majestic Reichstagsgebäude, the German Parliament building for the lower house, the Bundestag. My camera doesn’t take great night video or photos, so I didn’t take that many, but I think the ones I posted didn’t turn out too badly.

As I walked down Dorotheenstraße, I saw the amount of building space dedicated to parliamentary purposes was astounding, considering most office spaces I’d seen for the same before were relegated to one square or block. Now that I’m looking at the Google map, I can see what I was unable to at night: that the building is divided into sections and each section has its own courtyard. Turning onto Unter den Linder from Wilhelmstraße I was able to see what I considered the most beautiful sight of the night: the Brandenburg Gate. A restored former wall of old Berlin the old city.  It reminded me of other triumphal arches around Europe I had seen, but the neoclassical design, sheer size (up and out), and brilliant lighting led me to believe that it must have been a modern creation. Further research proved otherwise: Wikipedia.

As I knew I had an early day ahead of me, and the fact that everything was so quiet in the darkness, I decided to head back to the hotel with no stories of sordid drinking and revelry or the like.

Tips for next time:

  1. Don’t rely on tour guide maps being available after dark.
  2. Plan out night spots (events or photo ops) so you don’t wander aimlessly in the dark without knowing where the nightclubs or fun spots are.

Below is a very short video of me snooping around the train station outside the Bundestag. Pretty audacious having it so close to government buildings. Also thought it would be cool to show a bit of the opulence dripping off the smoothly polished stone. Standing by my opinion that Berlin knows how to impress!
Also, I uploaded the Germany Facebook album just now. Get it here.

VideoPost: Leaving London

About Tickets

One of the things that I hadn’t thought much about was trains/train companies and the way they decided who used which set of tracks. I’m still really not all to sure, so if you understand it all, I would be happy to hear from you. I have noticed, however, that many of the lines in England have a single service provider. I am to sure if that is a result of certain rights peculiar to certain companies (government contracts for example) or if those companies have delegated those right via group bargaining process between all parties involved. Or perhaps, it is simply a factor of demand and the amount of supply the companies can provide while maintaining efficiency. What if I wanted to start a rail company what would be the process and how would I receive access to the lines, would I pay a private entity or would I be responsible only to the government? I like asking questions like these (sometimes much to the exasperation of those around me at the time). And sometimes the answers to what some of my closest friend would deem as “non-important questions” become all too important for people like me in deciding whether to continue with your travel plans as (half-)planned.

You see, I was made aware that there were only a few options available for me to get from London to Brussels, Belgium that didn’t involve feathers and Icarus-like aspirations or scuba gear and waterproof luggage. Planes involve too much hassle and the prices weren’t looking to good either. However, the epoch of the BritRail pass and British trains had ended for me. No, not because a giant body of water separates the British Isles from the Continent, but because that modern marvel of human engineering, the Chunnel, was serviced by Eurostar and not the British national rail. This meant that that journey would require another train purchase beyond the amounts paid for the BritRail and Eurail passes. Luckily, I had some knowledge of this beforehand and had made provisions in my budget. What may please you as much as it did me was the large discount I got simply from having a Eurail pass when purchasing my Eurostar ticket.

The Justification

As you will learn, I need to justify expenditure to myself through careful examination of alternatives and sufficient understanding of the prices offered for products or services. Going back to musings at the beginning of this post, I researched and saw that the Chunnel had resulted in quite a large cost to the company that had headed its construction and maintenance. The ‘separate jurisdiction’ accorded the Chunnel (i.e., not accepting passes from either of the national territories it operated through) seemed only fair in light of this information and subsequently, I had no regrets in buying the ticket.

The Absentmindedness

I had purchased my ticket about a week before my travel date and had, for the most part, forgotten about my departure. Not smart! The night before I left, I was feverishly packing and searching the internet for tips related to my journey seeing as I wasn’t sure when I would have internet access again. This led to my two-hour bit of shut-eye commencing at 2AM and ending at 4AM. It’s not a good feeling having two hours of sleep for an early morning in which you have to check out of your hostel, walk to a bus top you have never seen, to get to a train station (London Bridge) that did not open until 5:30 (fund this out after I rushed there for 5AM). Through all these worrisome incidents, however, I remained calm and arrived at King’s Cross station just in time to walk across to St. Pancras International Station, which both share practically the same address. Its beautifully ornate red-brick facade was a welcoming sight in the dim dawn light. I was able to quickly find the Eurostar ticket-printing machine and head to the international boarding area. Customs wasn’t too much of a hassle, and I was able to find WiFi a nice seat in the packed waiting lounge…

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