Prague Day 1: Sleeping Rough (or, What Happens When You Rely On Dave To Book Your Hostel)

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Dave had been prodding me in the ribs and asking about Prague for a couple of weeks. Petra and Leslie were driving down there for one night over the bank holiday weekend, and he wanted to road trip down with them. I wasn’t super keen – seemed like a long way to go for one night. However, a week or so ago I went for a beer with Hannah, and she mentioned she was heading down as well on the same weekend. Well, this was starting to sound more like a party. I told Dave next day and we booked a coach to Prague on the Saturday. We would dick about for a couple of nights, and Leslie and Petra would meet us on the Monday.

I was originally going to end that introduction with the tired old hook, ‘what could go wrong?’, however if you know me or have read anything at all on this site, you’ll know that really, that question is redundant. Of course everything went wrong. Of fucking course it did.

*****

The coach was due to leave Berlin at 3pm Saturday. Naturally then, at 2.55pm I was sprinting through the station red faced and hungover. A mutual friend of Dave and I, Alfie, was already at the station waiting. Dave introduced me to Alfie about a week ago; he’s visiting Berlin for a fortnight as an escape from a rough time he’s having back at home. We’d spent a couple of nights the week previously drinking beers by the canal, watching the swans and having cathartic chats.

I’m really fond of Alfie. He’s a little disillusioned with the world and he wears it on his sleeve. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a male who is more open and honest about their state of mind. Because of this he exudes humble, pensive charisma. While Dave and I are busy rolling around laughing, he’ll just watch us with a half-smile and his head cocked. He might not say a word for 15 minutes at a time, but you’ll never forget he’s there.

Dave arrived at 2.59pm, because if he had arrived at any other time the laws of physics would have been shattered and the universe would have collapsed. It was at this point that Dave opted to notify me that, though I had asked him two days prior to book accommodation for us in the Czech capital, he had neglected to do so. Such is Dave. I learned a long time ago that you can’t really be mad at him. It’d be like getting angry at the clouds. We checked online for a hostel and found the last one available for 20 euros a night – steep, but at least it was a bed.

Arriving, we found Prague to be in the midst of a knuckle-rapping storm. Battered by the winds, we bought a four pack of beers and ducked underground to find the train. Two trains and a bus led us to a wintry hillside way out of the centre. A very large sign reading ‘Hostel’ crowned a large building at the top of the hill, however the street numbers didn’t match up, leading us to spend 30 minutes trudging around in the rain before surmising that the gigantic neon sign saying ‘Hostel’ was, actually, a hostel.

If the Gods were kind and we were not stupid, our adventure should have ended there: with a few pints in the hostel bar, perhaps a nightclub, and a good night’s sleep later that evening. But… no. No! Nothing is easy! T’was not to be! Fate’s mighty sword did once more cleave my fortune in two, god fucking DAMMIT.

Yeah so basically we had no booking.

The speccy wanker behind the reception desk took great pleasure in informing our weary trio that if guests arrive after 7pm, the room is automatically cancelled, meaning this hostel has an inexplicable check-in window of around 4 hours. It wasn’t even busy – the bar was completely empty save one drunken family who kept staring at us. The dork on reception told us that they had a 16 bed dorm available for us to book (the one we had already booked), but we would have to book the entire thing out. We also had the option to pay extra for double rooms, but a fellow band of stranded French backpackers beat us to it.

We figured it was a scam – lure backpackers out of the city and up to this shitty Bates Motel reject that nobody would ever actually book if it wasn’t literally the last hostel in the city, then they cancel their room, then force them to upgrade and/or pay through the nose for their original room, safe in the assumption that it’s late, far out, and nobody would be willingly homeless.

Well fuck you, Free Zone Hostel Praha, and fuck your shitty, smoke-stale, mildew stankin’, cum-stained grotto of an establishment, because me and my boys would rather freeze to death in the Czech winter than put up with your bullshit. We sat in the lobby, quickly booked another hostel for the Sunday and Monday nights, then called a taxi and fucked off.

Back in the city centre with our rucksacks, we met up with Ben, a friend of Alfie and Dave’s. Ben was with his girlfriend, whose name escapes me, having a romantic break in the city – pure coincidence that we were there at the same time. We pretty much had an ulterior motive when meeting Ben, which was to beg him to crash in his hotel. However, it was the couple’s last night together before a month apart, and so we raised the question once, received a negative response, and dropped the issue. We had a few more pints with the couple, then headed off to find… whatever.

We’d read about a big techno/house night going off at a club called Roxy. We were queuing to get in (tickets were THIRTY EUROS), when suddenly the ticket booth closed and the bouncers announced it was sold out. I was defeated, but not Dave. He took a bouncer to one side and asked if we could go in – no magic words, no schmoozing, no trickery – he just literally asked if we could go inside, despite it being sold out. And the bouncer just… said yes… apparently…. because nothing makes sense.

The club was huge and sweaty and bouncing by the time we got in. Checked our massive backpacks into the cloakroom and bought a Red Bull. I was already ugly drunk and knew I’d never the last the 12 hours necessary if I kept boozing. The venue was an old theatre. It was alright, I suppose; Berlin is the best party city in the world, best clubs, best techno, best fucked up lowlife neo-goths on the dancefloor, and everything else now seems a bit pedestrian. White shirted men with tribal tattoos and furious muscles, all elbowing each other dancing with gun hands in the air, noses dusted with sherbet; I’m good, thank you.

We tried to find some pharmaceutical aid to help us plough through the long night ahead, but the whole place was so busy and so damned loud that it was impossible. Apparently Czechs hate their eardrums. At every build up between heavy drops in the music, the fist-pumping DJ would play awful, piercing white noise that had everyone grimacing and clutching their ears. Think less Skream and more The Scream.

We then made the grave error of heading to the smoking area for a spot of delicious fresh air to wake us up. Only, the smoking area was not outside, where one might assume. It was, in fact, situated underground, in a red-bricked crypt with a frightfully low ceiling, populated by several hundred chain-smoking partygoers. Imagine opening your bedroom window in the morning to smell the fresh new day, but accidentally leaning too far out and landing in a passing coal truck.

We found some weed, which was the exact opposite of what we needed, but maybe at least if we got astoundingly baked we’d care less about how we were just completely fucked. I checked my phone: 3am. It was doable. 4 more hours and it’d be almost daylight, and we could nap somewhere if we really had to, or find a café to doze in, then eventually check into our new hostel.

Then, as I was looking at it, my phone blinked at me. Now suddenly it read: 2am. I squinted at the little old phone, wondering quietly if I accidentally just stepped through a urinal-situated wormhole. Nope. Daylight saving time. 28th of October. Of course. Of fucking course.

We sulkily two-stepped until 4am (actually 5am), at which point I was loopy. It wasn’t so much the tiredness; I’ve had hundreds of nights out that have lasted far longer. It was more the knowledge that it was far, far from over. No bed awaited us. Listen: nobody appreciates their bed, not properly. When we think of the necessities of life we think of food and water and whatever else, but nobody ever stops what they’re doing during the day and silently thanks the universe for the existence of beds. Now I was fantasising about feathers and thread counts.

We left the club and roamed the streets of Prague. The city is, of course, splendid, but we took no notice; we were far too hammered and tragic. We found a pizza window and bought a slice, then huddled in the grand oak doorway of a church, where we rolled a joint. I nodded off in the doorway for a bit, balled up against the slapping cold winds of Storm Herwart, and woke up periodically to find different characters sitting with us, somehow. Through my bleary eyes I registered a young spangled German man sitting chatting to Dave, then an angry Czech woman, and the next time I awoke we were alone again.

To kill time, we decided to hike up to the castle over the river. However, we took a wrong turn and ended up hiking our way to a locked-up restaurant instead. We stood a while in silence and admired the sparkling lights of the city, but I didn’t admire them for very long because I was too busy shivering and trying not to vomit and weep and shit myself all at once. Everywhere we walked, we began inspecting alleyways and nooks and ginnels for cosy places to cuddle up and slowly freeze to death together. However, it seemed all the good spots had already been taken by destitute Praguians. Pragueans? Pragons? Anyway. Isn’t it surprising how quickly you can go from being giddy for a nice holiday to squabbling with foreign beggars over the last free bench in the local park?

In our desperation for warmth, our ragged trio hopped on a passing bus without tickets, merely hoping to ride around for half an hour or so. We climbed aboard and sat down, thankful to finally be out of the cold. O! Warm feet! O! Hands thawing out, blood pumping, toes uncurling, miracle warmth, come unto me!

And then the bus drove 50 metres down the road to the depot and we got kicked off.

At 7am, as the grey dawn was tiptoeing across the sky, we decided to sack off being homeless and go to our hostel, the Czech Inn, whether it was open or not. Perhaps they would let us into our dorm early and we could sleep.

Aaaaand: no.

It turns out Czech Inn is a cruel misnomer because, though we were more than welcome to collapse on the sofas in the common area, they did not let us into our rooms until 3pm. Alfie and Dave slept, but we had emergency-booked the same hostel as Hannah, and seeing as she didn’t even know we were there, and also seeing as though we’d only met three times previously, I wasn’t particularly enthused at the thought of her coming downstairs to find her kind-of friend from Berlin slumped in her hostel’s common room, legs akimbo and mouth agape, snoring and drooling and twitching. No.

So, instead, I was left with no choice but to haunt the hostel for 9 hours in an unspooling nightmare, empty, hollow, listless, wailing. I met Hannah at 11am and she took pity on me and bought me a hot chocolate before she and her friends bundled out into the cold morning air for a spot of sightseeing, which left me with a mere 4 hours to kill before I could euthanise myself.

Dave and I went to travel to India next year. We’re going to fucking die.

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