The pungent smell of ammonia filled my nostrils as I scanned the contents of the darkened room. Graffiti scrawled on a disused notice board, shattered wood from mutilated chairs scattered across the floor, broken vending machines casting a flickering light across the walls.
What am I doing here?
What is this place?
I wandered towards the noticeboard pondering the faded scraps of paper left over from the previous semester. It was strange to be back in a university and I couldn’t shake the feeling of uneasiness as I quietly observed the walls around me.
“Can I help you?”
The voice broke my chain of thoughts, echoing around the room as I swung in the direction of the sound.
The silhouette of a receptionist behind bulletproof glass.
“Oh… erm… yes,” I stammered, my heart racing in my chest. “Erm… I have a reservation? I think?” I exchanged nervous glances with Dave, knowing exactly what he was thinking.
Why on earth did I book this? Why did I think this would be a good place to stay?
After being informed that the owner had already taken the full payment for our three night stay from my bank account before we had even arrived, we knew we had no choice but to stay. I reluctantly handed over my passport, receiving our keys in exchange.
“Is there a password for the wifi?” I asked, desperate to get online and find out what had possessed me to book this hostel.
“We have no wifi here. The wifi, it is only for students.”
My jaw dropped in horror.
As Dave and I paced back and forth in our tiny, tiny room later that evening, I tried to work out what had happened.
“I would have NEVER booked a room without wifi. Never. I wouldn’t have booked somewhere without checking the reviews either. I thought this place was nice, I’m sure it sounded nice. I, I don’t know what happened… I just, I don’t remember… But maybe this could be a good thing? Maybe it means we’ll spend as much time as possible exploring Prague just to stay away from our hostel? Maybe it will stop us spending every single night on our laptops…?”
We were starting to feel slightly more positive about our time in Prague and awoke the next morning, eager to start exploring a new city…
And then this happened.
So. Much. Rain.
It started within five minutes of leaving our hostel and continued to thud against our heads as we miserably walked the half hour to the centre of Prague’s Old Town. I turned to Dave.
I cast my mind back to the previous month in Vienna. Dave and I were heading to the airport – I was leaving to fly to Morocco, Dave to the US. It was raining hard. We’d recently left Southeast Asia and so my excitement for travelling around Europe was fading fast. Eager to escape the rain, we’d jumped on the closest tram we saw and as it jolted forwards, I’d turned around just in time to see Dave’s umbrella lying forlornly on the ground in a puddle of water. We no longer had shelter from the storm.
I’d insisted Dave didn’t need to replace it – umbrellas take up far too much room and, well, the next time we’ll be in Europe it’ll be July! Summer! It definitely wouldn’t rain in summer.
He’d listened to me.
He thought I knew what I was talking about.
He’d trusted me and I had let him down.
And so we stood, soaked and shivering, under the awning of a roadside bar, debating what to do next. At this point, there was nothing more appealing than a long, hot shower, but the thought of going back to the hostel was enough to keep both of us outside exploring.
We trudged around the Old Town for several hours in the pouring rain. Unsurprisingly, the majority of our conversations revolved around how much we thought we’d like Prague if it were hot and sunny. It was beautiful, but with the torrential downpour we were experiencing I could barely even bring myself to raise my eyes to look at the buildings.
After our few hours of sightseeing, I finally gave in. I couldn’t do this anymore. I was freezing cold, soaked to the bone and all I wanted to do was jump in the filthy, cold water shower we were sharing with the 50 other people on our floor. We turned around and began trudging back…
And then this happened.
Prague was driving me insane.
We should have stayed to explore, we should have let the sun dry our clothes as we walked but we were too fed up. We knew it was only a matter of time before the rain would return and we didn’t want to be outside when it happened.
It was definitely the right thing to do. Had we stayed exploring, we wouldn’t have accidentally wandered into Kafka Museum on our way to the hostel. We wouldn’t have discovered the statue of two peeing men – peeing men who write quotes from residents of Prague using their penises.
Suddenly, our day wasn’t such a failure after all.
I left Prague feeling disappointed.
The rain lasted for the rest of our time there and though we attempted to explore the city a little every day, we just weren’t having fun. It felt like a chore rather than something to look forward to.
When I finally managed to get online and check out our hostel I found that although they claim to have wifi the reviews indicated otherwise. It was the first time I had forgotten to read the reviews before booking somewhere and it’s a mistake I certainly won’t be making again.
I have absolutely no doubt that had it been sunny for the entire time we were in Prague I would have adored the city. I would love to have wandered around the cobbled Old Town, exploring the maze of narrow backstreets in the sunshine, stopping at pubs along the way. And clearly a hostel with a higher average rating than 32% (how did I not notice that?!) would have helped a great deal in making our stay more enjoyable.
And so I feel torn.
I know that in the right circumstances Prague could be amazing – and could easily become one of my favourite cities in Europe but unfortunately, I left feeling like it was one of the most disappointing.
One thing is for certain, though – I will definitely be back.
My trip through Central and Eastern Europe was made possible by the lovely people at Interrailnet.com.