Date sent: Wed, 7 Aug 1996
Subject: Strange Trip

The Canadians in Prague:

I was in Prague for a week in the Fall last year and ran into three Canadian guys who had a heckuva interesting time since they had arrived in Europe a few days before.

They flew into Amsterdam where they were going to enjoy the local drug scene. Unfortunately for them, their first attempt at buying hashish from a street dealer (3 hours after their plane landed) ended with them being help up at knifepoint by that same dealer and losing all of their recently converted guilders. The next day, after regaining their confidence, and exchanging some more dollars, they set off again through the sunny streets of Amsterdam to but drugs.

This time, they weren't held up at knife point, but by a person wielding a syringe which was allegded to contain AIDS infected blood. Again these three guys lost a fairly good amount of money before being chased down two or three blocks by their acoster.

About this time, these guys decided that Amsterdam might not be the place for them so they decided to head for Munich, Germany in order to try some beers and chase after the local Fraulein. They caught a night train, having spent just over 36 hours in Amsterdan and arrived in Germany the next morning.

After leaving the train, out three unfortunate travelers were stopped by some rather large, and very German, police officers who asked them to accompany them to the local constables office. Of course they complied without any problem, after all, this was still Germany.

After arriving at the local station, these three unfortunates were asked, in the waiting room, to open their bags for examination and to remove their coats. Again, wanting simply to show that Canadians are able to follow orders, they complied. After being frisked and having the contents of their packs searched, although they were never told what they were being searched for, these poor boys were told to strip.

Imagine their predicament. They are in the waiting room of a police station in Germany, having arrived in Europe 48 hours earlier and most likely having never been in troouble in their native Canada with the possible exception of violating alcohol rules in their college dormitory. Should they comply, revealing their rather pale bodies to the police, who one could imagine were rather enjoying the entire episode. What is a person to do.

While you are deciding what you would do, I will tell you that they ended up naked and being subjected to a rather personal search for contraband, after which they were told to get dressed, pack their bags and leave the station.

They proceeded to their hostel, most likely in a mild state of shock, and one would imagine just a little bit embarrased, only to find that their hostel reservation had been given to someone else because they had arrived after the required check-in time. All of the local hostels were similarly filled so they ended up staying in a hotel, something which any reader who has backpacked through Europe on a limited budget will know is the equlvalent of having to buy dinner at the Plaza when what you wanted was McDonald's.

After checking in, our intrepid Canadians went to a little bar for dinner. Somehow they picked what is probably the only bar around that did not have an English menu so they ordered the daily specials and some beer from a beer list. They were enjoying the ambience of this establishment. It possessed a charm that they were not used to in their local bars back in Canada. They were going to pay a pretty penny for this charm.

You might be able to guess what happened next but I will retell it anyway. When presented with the check and pulling out their trusty currency converting calculator, they were shocked to find that their food and beer totaled about $200 Canadian. They had not bothered to look at the price they were paying for their beer - $35 a pitcher.

When they arrived back at their hotel room, despirited and thinking fondly of family and friends at home, they discovered that they had lost their room key - adding another few dollars onto their hotel bill. One of them also discovered that he had not emptied his locker at the hostel in Amsterdam of everything and was now short one camera and all of his pictures takes so far, which although were mostly of the farewells made at the airport in Canada, held almost mystical significance in their now dreary lives.

They left Munich the next morning, bound for Prague.

Ah Prague, the Paris of Eastern Europe. A beautiful city with a culture that survived communist domination and repression to emerge as a beacon for the confused youth of our generation. Prague is also a city at war with its own growth. In just a few short years, Prague has gone from a structured command economy to a service economy which is dominated by tourists, especially from neighboring Germany. While the legendary twenty-fice cent beers of Prague draw American college graduates who imagine weeks worth of drinking hearty Czech beers costing as much as a case of Rolling Rock back home, the average citizen, making a few dollars a day on average, often resent the inflation caused by these tourists tossing money around with abandon.

Into this environment, our three travelers arrive. At the train station , they are acosted by literally dozens of people offering to let them stay at their houses for "Very Cheap Prices!".

No - these travelers have wisened up a liitle by this point and know where they are going - to a hostel on the outskirts of Prague where at this time of theyear they should have no problems getting a room without a reservation.

They decided that traveling by rail or bus in a strange city, which only a few years ago had been the setting for some particularly bloody spy novels, was not the best of ideas - you see, they really were learning. Instead, they settled upon one of the local cabs that jam the streets around the station when the trains from Germany arrive.

Settling themselves comfortably into the cab, they gave the driver the directions - Stuebarnhoff. Away they went, under a cloudy sky to what they imagined would be a short, event free trip to the hostel.

They realized that there was something wrong when they crossed the same bridge three times. The driver, who of course spoke almost no English, seemed to be assuring them that there were "many bridges, many rivers in Prague", so they left the driving to him.

The travelers had of course changed their last remaining Marks at the train station in Munich for Czech "crowns", even though it was at a horrendous rate, and they assumed that this would cover the cost of a cab ride. After all, if the average doctor makes only a few thousand dollars a year, how much could a taxi driver charge them. The answer to that question was a long time in coming since the drive lasted almost an hour and fifteen minutes.

The final price, a straggering $55 (American, not Canadian) which was far more that they had in local currency. It was now time to dig into their emergency stash of hard currency - good old American Greenbacks. The driver was more than happy to take the American money but assured them that they would have to pay $60 because he would have to exchange the money at a very bad rate because of the local laws. Happy just to be at their hostel, the fare was paid and they stepped out of the cab in a light drizzle and mounted the stairs to the secong story entrance to the hostel.

This was when I met these three lost souls. I bought them all a beer and they took turns telling the assembled crowd of travelers at the hostel their story. After telling us about the recent cab ride, there were more than a few snickers and subdued laughter. The former from those who took the 25 minute bus ride to the hostel for the equivalent of about fifty cents each, the latter from those of us who had endured similarly elongated rides from the local taxis.

I remember them talking about my going to Greece and climbing Mt. Olympus. It seemed to impress them and at one poinf they swore that it would be their next destination. In retrospect I wonder how I could have been so stupid. The last thing this three needed was to go climb a mountain.

I left Prague a day or two later. During their time at this hostel, our friends seemed reluctant to leave the safety of their newly discovered Haven, where beer really was only twenty-five cents, the television was on 24 hours a day to American stations, laundry was washed and folded by the hosts for about $1.50 and everyone was a backpacker. As a matter of fact, I never did see them leave, even with one of the huge groups that invariably formed after breakfast of rolls and juice. For all I know, they might have remained at that hostel for the remainder of their time in Europe. It certainly seemed safer and they could always live vicariously thorugh the other travelers that would come and go every day. At least I never heard of any Canadians falling to their deaths from Mt. Olympus. I can only hope that they made it home to Canada safely. In any event, their story is now told and in the grand sccheme of things, that may make up for their suffering.

There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things, and because it takes a man's life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.
-- Ernest Hemingway


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