Edited 11:27: grammar and wording improvements
When I woke up this morning I had no idea that my plans would end up changing so drastically. As of the time of writing I'm sitting in Prague airport when I expected to have just boarded a train out of Prague central station towards Poland. Due to the imminent travel ban I'm flying to New York City with all available speed. I've got a hotel room for the night next to Central Park. Tomorrow I'll be on a pair of planes to return me back to College Station so I can pack and prepare to move to Seattle. I have no doubt that those plans will change as well but I can only take this one leg of the journey at a time.
I plan on writing up a more substantial trip summary during my plane travel and maybe some follow up posts on some specifics about the trip finances, what I packed (and what I forgot!), and anything else as the muse strikes me. For now, I'll give an update on everything I did after leaving Copenhagen up to the present.
The morning of the 9th I boarded a train to Berlin. Well, throughout that day I boarded 4 trains. It took me 3 trains to reach Hamburg whereas the other direction only took one, and then it was another train to Berlin. The total journey took about 7 and a half hours, and my connections were a little too close for comfort. I had a hearty breakfast but throughout the day I got hungrier and hungrier. Since I could just barely make my connections I didn't have time to duck into any of the station concourses for a bite and unfortunately the trains I rode lacked food and beverage service or bistro cars. Once I finally got into Berlin I purchased and devoured a blueberry muffin on my way out of the station to catch the metro. Once I was checked into my hostel for the night and I unshouldered my heavy pack I was able to check the local options and found an open italian restaurant. Keep in mind it's now 8:30 in the evening at this point so most places were closed or closing.
After slurping up a pile of delicious pasta and quickly paying, I walked back to the hotel and crashed into bed. The next morning I had another long train trip though thankfully I only had one train and I booked a reserved seat in a private cabin. It was a much easier day except for one small item. When I checked out from the Berlin hostel I forgot to grab my towel which was drying on a rack that I forgot to check. I took the metro all the way to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central or main station) and was relaxing next to the platform when I realized my mistake.
It's a cheap travel towel but I bought it a year ago for my first European backpacking trip and since then I've gotten kind of attached to it. We've been across scores of miles together. But, unfortunately, the train timetable didn't give me enough wiggle room to run back to the hostel. However, soon after I noticed my error the departures board updated to indicate a delay to the train preceding mine. It jumped from arriving a few minutes hence to 70 minutes late in a second. Other platforms also began to show delays around us. Over the PA system a long impromptu message in german suddenly blared. It was followed by a much shorter english message that said "trains are delayed due to a problem on the tracks." That message might as well have been prerecorded for how general it was.
After attempting to communicate with the people on the platform around me—I in very broken German and them in simplified English—I understand that the problem had something to do with a doctor on the tracks. Perhaps prevention of a suicide attempt or maybe a workplace injury? I never did find out. But this ended up being a lucky break for me. After checking the metro timetable I confirmed that I had plenty of time to make the roundtrip back to the hostel to pick up my towel so I could avoid being a strag.
I was a little stressed that the train schedule might rebound towards some semblance of timeliness, but as I was leaving the station the delay notice slipped to 90 minutes. When I walked passed the main departures board the whole map was showing delays which reassured me. I made the trip out to the hostel and the concierge issued me a new key to look for my towel which was just where I left it! After returning the key and racing back through the metro system the departures list basically hadn't changed. There were several local trains and a few trains heading in the other direction that had left the station but my train and those following the same route out of town were still gridlocked, their lateness ever increasing. By now it was lunch time and I was exhausted by the stress of missing the train and all my running around. I ate over at a cafe within the station and wandered around for a while. Eventually the track cleared and the tangle of late trains slowly unraveled.
The train was only 4 and a half hours and my initial arrival time was going to be in the early afternoon. After all the delays I ended up arriving after sundown so I lost half a day of wandering around Prague, but it was still beautiful that first night even if a little rain-soaked. The next day it was still raining. I hoped it would let up so I slept a little longer but the rain persisted. I elected to just walk around the city in the rain and I think I made the right decision, though I did get soaked to the bone.
From the National Museum to the Lennon Wall across Charles Bridge the whole city was charming. Also, the hostel I stayed in was a wonderfully friendly place. Around noon all museums and state owned tourist destinations closed due to understandable fears about coronavirus. With nothing to do everyone returned to the hostel common room and we all bonded over our fears and uncertainty about the future. I wandered in and out of conversations while doing laundry. We were all sharing news articles and considering where to go next or what to do or maybe the city would be locked down or maybe we should go home? After freaking out for a while a few people packed and departed and a few drifted off. We all ended up reconvening for a free beer tour offered by the hostel and had a good time for the rest of the night unsuccessfully trying to forget coronavirus with our new friends. I had a wonderful time in Prague, and I wish I was leaving on better terms but this is the way things are.
At about 5am this morning, I happened to check my phone while I was going to the bathroom and I was confronted with a wall of messages from friends and family about the new travel ban from Europe. I had a brief moment where I was at a loss for what to do but after I started reading into the details I realized that not only was there time before it took effect but also that it didn't apply to citizens (yet). Out of an abundance of caution this is a good opportunity to return home as the situation may change with little notice in the future. I booked a flight and pivoted my travel plans. Cancelling hostels and quickly reorganizing my luggage into checked and carry on items. After waiting for a few hours until it was a reasonable time to take a shower without bothering my dorm-mates I showered and ate breakfast. Soon enough I was on my way through the last trains and buses I would take in Europe to the airport to ride my penultimate plane in this months long trip.
My plane is boarding now so I'll have to sign off. Hopefully I can decompress this trip while I'm on the plane so I can have some sort of summary worth committing ink to. Alternatively, since I've been awake since 5am local time and I won't arrive in NYC until what'll feel like 1 in the morning I might just sleep on the plane and write something coherent once I'm safely back in the States. For now, I think I'll go wash my hands one more time.