Our first day in Prague started bright and full of promise. We had arrived late the previous evening and gone through the now-standard routine of figuring out public transport and the local currency, shuffling through an ever-dwindling wad of euros at the bureau de change.
“How much much money you reckon we’ll need?”
The smartphone proved invaluable again and we followed its advice to a hostel that turned out to be considerably more pricey than promised. Glad to have a home base we agreed to the extortion (why does it always feel like you are getting ripped off when you arrive somewhere new?) and wandered up the hill for a bite.
In Berlin we had largely avoided paying for the S-Bahn and had consequently developed the dangerous belief that no-one really checked public transport this far east. This assumption was affirmed by a free ride home after yet another Italian dinner in a country that wasn’t Italy. Local culture, like.
So we made no effort to even pretend to buy tickets as we hopped onto the shabby tram headed to Praha Castle, confident that our 24 Czech Korunas would be better spent on a pint of Pilsner Urquell later in the day. A few bumpy stops of taking in the city came to an abrupt end when I noticed an undercover inspector talking to Redbeard.
As the penny dropped so did my stomach, leaving me scrambling for options: I could jump off at the next stop, and have to undergo the ordeal of trying to meet up with everyone; or I could bluff my way through, feigned innocence and the tourist card a surefire way to get let off with a light chastising.
I was simultaneously trying to decide while eavesdropping on what was happening two people ahead of me when another undercover inspector came up from behind. His inital inquiry was politely in Czech, a pretence that rang hollow once I recognised him. It turned out that our two assailants were none other than the first people we got on the tram with, and they had been observing the whole time. Our mild felony was the easiest commission they had ever made.
My mumbled excuses were painfully transparent and fell away once I realised how long he had been watching us.
“You need a ticket? Oh there was no where to buy them from – we’re new here…Can I buy a ticket now?”
The inspector has no bars of it, and I am almost strong-armed into handing over my daily budget of 800 Korunas. Both LittleBear and RedBeard suffer the same fate, and it is with dejected steps that we get off at the base of the castle. We have been caught red-handed and look all the more foolish for it.
Our fine run of luck continues and RedBeard changes some more money, managing to do so at one of the only shops audacious enough to charge commission. The weather is glorious and the path up to the castle throngs with tourists but we want nothing of it. We spew vitriol about the conniving nature of the inspectors, painfully aware that we are the ones in the wrong but all the more pissed because of it.
“Fucking Prague. Why the fuck did we even come here? Look at all these fucking tourists – I hate fucking tourists.”
We wander amongst the other foreigners, full of cynicism, suspicious that we are about to be fined for being in the Castle grounds without paying. Were we meant to pay? There was no ticket queue but the feeling of ineptitude from our earlier indiscretion fuels a collective paranoia, and the frustration at being scolded for such an innocuous offense lingers.
Our only consolations are the weather and the self-deprecating laughter that sustains us as we attempt to recover from our budget blowout. The new game is to place a price value on everything and we are lucky enough to see the changing of the guard outside the Palace:
“That’s got to be worth at least 400 Krones; ok well 300 at least – if these fucking tourists weren’t in the way..”
Our other strategy is a simple one and we forgo solids in lieu of a liquid lunch under the Petřín Lookout, taking in the terracota roofs that stretch from the edge of the river to the horizon. Fortunately beer in the Czech Republic is gloriously cheap and we are soon mildly sauced; and consequently ambivalent about wrong turns in the park and missing out on the main sites.
Charles Bridge is a nightmare of buskers and caricaturists hustling for the attention of the grey-haired tourist hordes. The queue for the Jewish Cemetery is similarly hectic and the tickets expensive.
“Shall we just get another beer? I can’t be fucked waiting”
We retire back to the hostel to reflect and regroup. The morning had been trying, but Prague wasn’t done with us and things were about to look up…
(to be continued)