Four thousand miles, we’ve clocked up on great railways around the world. In the lap of luxury on the Rocky Mountaineer. Breathtakingly fast on a Japanese Bullet Train. And clickety-clacking right through Vietnam, night and day, on the Reunification Express.
So bundling bags, backpacks, coats and hot coffee onto a corridor train at České Budějovice for the trip to Plzen was going to be a breeze, surely.
We weren’t even fazed when the guard rattled open our compartment door to tell us –with gestures, timetables and impressive English, that we’d have to do part of the journey on a replacement bus service. For Brits like us; this was regular stuff.
And if we weren’t familiar with the Czech station names in this part of Western Bohemia? No problem. We just had to get off at the stop we’d reach at precisely 10.46.
We settled back, chatting about the tightly packed schedule our hosts had planned for us – lunch, a walking tour of the city with a professional guide, and a detailed look around the famous Pilsner Urquell Brewery, with a pint straight from the barrel to round off the day. Nice.
Around 40 minutes later, give or take, our fellow compartment passengers: a middle aged lady, and a man with a laptop, started packing up their stuff and moving towards the door. We did the same. We clambered down onto the track – no platforms here – and started looking for the bus.
Then, a few steps ahead, the lady from our compartment caught sight of us, did a double-take, and started to wail. She turned a full 360, waved her hands at the now departing train we’d just left, and wailed again. Had she left her bag on the train? Had she been having a ‘Brief Encounter’ with Laptop Man? She spotted the guard, waved her hands at him, then at us again. The guard shrugged, hit his forehead with his palm and, significantly, looked our way.
This was all about us.
It was 10.36.
Time for Wailing Lady to get off. But as for the British travellers–they hadn’t checked their watches, had got off too early, and now the train was leaving.
Wailing Lady regained her composure, beckoned us off the track and gathered us around her phone. In a moment, she found a connecting train for us which was due to leave shortly. It meant we’d be stuck in Strakonice for a couple of hours and would miss our hosted lunch, but that served us right, frankly. We thanked her profusely in appalling Czech, gave her our card in case she wanted to follow our future mistakes, and waved goodbye.
It turned out that there are far worse places to be stranded than Strakonice. A supermarket next to the station provided us with hot pizza and ice cream. There were loos at the station; with plentiful supplies of toilet paper—quaintly located in dispensers outside each cubicle. And best of all, there was a waiting room book-swap library, with titles covering economics, ice-hockey training and then…to our delight, a Czech copy of Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’urbervilles’ and a couple of translated Edith Pargeters. We made ourselves comfortable, watched people come and go, and, belatedly, checked our watches quite a bit.
A couple of trains and a ‘replacement bus’ rumble through the countryside later, we were greeted in Plzen, with our schedule back on track. OK, we were a couple of hours later than planned; but with these lessons learned:
- Check your watch before you alight. But….
- No matter how many world-travelling miles you have under your belt…..remember that if you mess up, the kindness of strangers will always be close by to help you out. Remember this also, when you see a stranger lost in your land.
- A pint of Pilsener Urquell straight from the barrel after a very long day….tastes sublime.