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Canada Day, a surprise, dancing in the rain & my birthday – Welcome to Prague!

CZECH REPUBLIC | Saturday, 19 September 2009 | Views [748]

The 1st of July had always promised big things for this trip. We were leaving behind the somewhat calm of Vienna, Austria and heading towards the nightlife of Prague.

Besides the fact that we had one of the earliest starts of our trip, I reluctantly woke up to my 27th Birthday. I really didn’t want to celebrate this birthday, as being another year older meant that I was getting that much closer to having to think about being an adult and settling down – something that at this point of my journey and year overseas, I really didn’t want to think about it. But it certainly turned out to be one birthday I certainly won’t forget. Celebrating your birthday with 40-odd other people all there for a good time promised a good day.

We had left Vienna by 7am, when Jonny, our tour guide, promised us a big surprise before we crossed the border of Austria into the Czech Republic. We would detour slightly and get to visit Mauthausen concentration camp. Being a history teacher this was a pretty big surprise for me – and when people commented that it wasn’t that nice a thing to do on your birthday, that’s exactly what I would tell them: that I’m a history teacher and it was a great surprise for me.

The experience of the concentration camp was incredible. For me, taking into account the studies I’ve done and the fact I’ve taught the subject almost every year I’ve been teacher, it was really surreal to be standing in the place where it actually took place. One of the weirdest parts of the experience was the fact that countryside around the camp is incredibly beautiful (luscious green rolling hills), so to think that there was this place where so much death took place right in the middle of it seemed strange. The contrast is completely obvious the second you enter the place. I want to say it was one of the best experiences but that is completely not the right word at all – it was something that I think has to be done when in this part of Europe, and it is certainly a very moving and sobering experience. The mood was sombre, but contemplative when we were back on the bus, and talking to others afterwards, I think there were quite a few of us moved to tears by the experience (so, thanks Jonny for that experience).

Next stop across the border into the Czech Republic was the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov – complete with a castle with a moat containing bears! It was a bit of a mad rush to swap money and grab some lunch and we soon realised that the shop and restaurant owners would prey on us naive tourists attempting to work out the different currency. Word of warning – make sure you count your change and ask for a receipt. Oh, and we discovered that beer is cheaper than water!

We eventually got into Prague just at the greyest clouds in the history of the world were rumbling in. The drive into the camping ground was interesting, as we trailed (in the bus) through the back streets of outer Prague wondering where in the hell Aaron (our up to now so reliable bus driver) was taking us, and whether he actually knew the answer to that question. The worrying did not subside when we got to the camp ground and grabbed tents, bags etc for what needed to be the quickest tent set up ever – those clouds were closing in on us, as was the thunder and lightning. Tents were thrown everywhere and frustration could be heard as people were swearing at the gravel which really isn’t conducive to putting in tent pegs. Then it hit. Rain like I have never experienced before in my life; one minute there was no rain, the next it was this torrential down pour that saturated everything and everyone in  its path within a matter of seconds. There was frantic panicking, bags getting thrown about in the hopes of keeping them dry, the people in the cabins watching us were nice enough to come and take some peoples bags into the dry, it was chaos. I stopped for a minute and looked around because at this point I could not have got any wetter. A few of the guys had started to strip of their excess clothing to make it easier to run around, the girls had rolled up pants and got rid of shoes, nobody could possibly get any wetter. It was at this point that someone came and shouted that we could upgrade to cabins if we wanted (about 20 minutes too late for our luggage and camping equipment really, but hey) so we organised groups and ran to get keys. But then the next puzzle hit us. Do we go into our cabin dripping wet, or stand in the rain? My cabin full of girls decided to just grab our luggage and get out of the rain and we would deal with the dirty cabin later on. Another cabin (predominantly boys) later told us that their solution was not so quick thought. They had decided to only dirty/wet one side of their cabin so they put all the wet luggage and themselves on this one side. However, they couldn’t quite think of what to do next in terms of drying themselves – so that idea quickly went out the window as they stood on the dirty side wondering what to do next! We on the other hand, threw inhibition out the window and quickly stripped off out wet clothes. Our cabin had a bathroom in it, so we took turns to sort ourselves out and clean up. I’d been to hire up clean, and more importantly dry, towels from reception, however the problem with these was that they were no bigger than a tea-towel. Most of us coped okay and managed to not expose ourselves to our cabin mates; then there was Katarina. It was just myself and Tonia (my Chilean tent buddy) in the cabin when Kat came out of the shower apologising. We looked up, and Kat had failed to realise the size of the towels when she went into the shower, not taking any clean clothes with her. Clearly the towel wasn’t going to wrap around her, so she had tried to protect her modesty by holding it up in front of her, problem was that it either covered her boobs, or her lower parts, but not both. With us all laughing and Tonia pronouncing that Katarina was an ‘exhibitionista’ it was one of the funniest parts of that evening!

The rain had subsided enough for dinner (after the boys did a stella job in putting the cook tent up in the pouring rain), but our so-called campsite where our sorry excuse for tents were hanging about was a good couple of inches under water – I’m convinced it’s really a car park, but they had nowhere else to put us. Dinner also saw a cake for Matt (also celebrating his birthday on this eventful day) and I and a nice rendition of happy birthday, before we journeyed on the public transport into the heart of Prague and to party the night away.

The Beer Factory promised great things for us that night – a bar with beer taps on the tables so you can pour your own beer and have competitions with other tables. Plans changed slightly when the place had been turned into a night club and we had to pay a cover charge, but it was still a great night. There was drinking and dancing, and then we moved to the Irish pub down the road for another drink before hitting up KFC in Prague in the early hours of the morning. I still don’t know how I managed to order the kids meal but it sure tasted great. And the best part about the evening was that we didn’t have to go back to wet tents!

Tags: concentration camp, prague, rain

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