Jan 13, 2017 5:17PM (local time)
Helsinki – Prague
After spending time in Vancouver for the 3-week winter break from school in Finland, I realized that I only have two courses for the month February. Taking two courses for the month is definitely enough for me, especially when the courses do not require field or laboratory work. I went to school for one day after I came back to Finland and talked to the teachers and it was confirmed that I did not have to go those classes. So, instead of staying in the little city of Joensuu where there is really nothing much to do, I have decided to travel in Europe, since I have not been travelling in Europe at all.
I quickly looked up pricing for the cheapest flights and I eventually found very cheap flight to Prague – it was only 45 euro! (It ended up being 70 euro after taxes and luggage fee (additional 35 euro). Since it was so cheap, I took the flight 2 days afterwards.
I absolutely do not plan for my trips so I went with the flow. I used Couchsurfing for places to stay, and luckily, I did find a place to stay. It is not recommended for such last minute request to hosts, but it worked anyway – so try as you must.
It was a long way to go to the airport in Helsinki from Joensuu. I decided to try the train out. I was told that the train was more convenient than the bus, although the price was more expensive. The train was 4.5 hours to the airport, while the bus can range between 6 hours to 8+ hours depending on the schedule.
It was only 2 hour flight. I arrived in Prague at around 5:30pm and took some time to wait for the luggage to arrive at the luggage claim. Only another pair of two girls and another girl and I had luggages waiting at the claim, while all others had small packs as carry on. It was understandable because it is costly to carry on. The other girls had dog carrier and a big luggage, so it was understandable as well, while the other girl seemed to be a student.
The airport was located about 20 min bus ride from the train station. It was frustrating to buy bus ticket from the ticket machine since it only accepted local currency and credit cards that have tap options. Many people had trouble buying tickets. Like me, those who could not buy tickets went to the airport to exchange currency. It is highly not recommended to exchange money at the airport – it was a huge rip off. The only one employee who was working at the airport would double the price offered by the customer and offered no commission. I passed 50 euro for exchange and I doubled to 100, and that was a huge mistake. I had to go back second time because the ticket machine did not accept bill. The person behind me asked for 100 euro and the exchange employee said exactly same thing – if double, no commission rate. Overall, I lost about 20% from the exchange rate.
After finally successfully buying ticket at the machine, there was another Asian who spoke English with an American accent along with another man, who was a student (I overheard them talking). There was another girl sitting on the bus on the way to the train station. By the time I got off the station, after I discovered that the first train station I got off was wrong, because I did not have Internet and I was guessing which station to get off, after reading off the directions provided by the Couchsurfer on his profile. I eventually asked an elderly man at the tram station near the train station for the direction. At the correct station where I waited for the tram to go to the Couchsurfer’s home, I noticed that there were quite a few Asians living and working or studying in Prague.
I got lost trying to look for his home. I asked a girl at the tram station which he told me to go. Interestingly enough, both the elder man and this girl were not really familiar with how the Google Map on the phone works. Both times I held the phone and looked for directions myself.
I found the Couchsurfer’s home which was in the awesome location near the tourist attractions and bars. Ales opened the door for me and there was another Couchsurfer waiting. Her plane was just 30min earlier than me and got there an hour earlier me. They were eating homemade spaghetti with cheese and tomato sauce and it was good timing. Ales made another bowl of spaghetti for me. The kitchen was amazing, with the ceramic tiles on the wall. Apparently, it was not traditional, according to Ales, since the apartment is located in the centre area. The apartment itself had two rooms, one with kitchen where Ales stayed for the time, while the other Couchsurfer, who is from Taiwan, Carol, and I stayed in the room next to the kitchen. It was not the first time for Carol to visit Prague; she just re-visited Prague. She just flew from Syria/Palestine area to see the real life conditions, not the war scene casted in the news.
We are the first guests to the apartment that he has just moved in, only within this month. When the other Taiwanese girl first contacted him, he was not sure whether he can host us or not, but indeed, we were both lucky enough to find the place to stay. She contacted him only two days before I did.
After dinner, we joined Ales to go to a swing dance event near his home. He is a huge fan of swing music and jazz, and other music like these, so is Carol. It was unfortunate that I did not have much knowledge on such music because I do not listen to these music, though I do not hate them either. I am not just someone who can dance.
We took the bus to the event hall by the famous Charles Bridge. Everyone wore dress for dance. Neither Carol nor I were prepared to dance, so we just went with our travel clothes, and both of us were wearing outdoor/hiking clothes with hiking shoes. We ended up observing people dancing, enjoying the dance while drinking beer from Prague, Straoum…until the event ended. It lasted about 3 hours and ended until about 1am and we had great fun learning from each other. It was actually interesting to see the teenagers there as well and stayed up late, as I think it is unusual to have teenagers around 14-15 to take interest in such dance. It is just my opinion, but maybe it is just culture from a different sense of the world.
<Written on the bus from Tirana to Pristina, finished after the border>