Homeless in Prague

A view of Prague at night from Castle Hill

Prague at night
Sleeping on park benches

It was a long day. When my train rolled into Prague station at 730PM, I was exhausted from lack of sleep and the trips to Litomysl and Olomouc. My flight out of Prague was the next day, at 6AM. I had a hostel reservation in Prague; but then an insane idea struck me. What if, instead of sleeping, I roamed around Prague at night? Crazy plan; I had overestimated my energy.

Prague at night

Let me preface my story by mentioning that Prague at night is breathtaking. I realized why Prague is popular with travelers. Romantic spots, great nightlife, majestic architecture and delicious food in a relatively cheap city. Whats not to love!

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A beautiful view of Prague from Charles Bridge

My first stop was the iconic Charles bridge. I arrived just past sunset and the pedestrian only Charles bridge looked beautiful in the evening glow. Charles bridge is like an open museum; numerous baroque statues line the gothic bridge over Vltava river. Couple that to the magnificent view of the imposing Prague castle across the river and you have a tourist favorite. And the bridge pays the price for that. It was a chaotic zoo of selfie-loving lovebirds, hot-dog vendors, painters, painting vendors and tourists competing for the best views of the Vltava River. It was pretty difficult to walk without photobombing, being obstructed by selfie sticks or being edged out of viewpoints along the bridge.

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The crowd on Charles Bridge; Prague castle in the background

I quickly crossed the bridge towards Castle hill. I was surprised by the resemblance of Prague and Budapest. Prague castle seemed a grander replica of the Budapest castle across the Danube.

Maybe, it was because I was tired; but the hill seemed quite a trek from the bridge. As I trudged up the stairs towards the Castle, I came across a small restaurant with reasonable prices advertising a fish special. The delicious dinner cost ~8USD, which is cheaper than Western Europe and US; but twice the price of a similar dinner in Olomouc, Litomysl, Krakow or Warsaw.

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A beautiful fountain in Prague castle

With a full stomach and some rest, I was much better equipped to appreciate the breathtaking view of Prague from the Castle Hill. At 11PM, the majestic castle was devoid of tourist apart from photographers and a few couples out on a romantic stroll. Scores of people trampling Charles Bridge have little idea of the beauty of Prague castle, fountain and gothic St. Vitus cathedral at night. It was definitely my favorite spot in Prague. I probably spent more than an hour admiring the cathedral, fountain and the view of Prague from the Castle Hill.

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A crappy shot of the beautiful Charles Bridge at night

I decided to walk across Masenuv most back to Prague old town to see the dazzling lights on Charles bridge across the river. Crossing the bridge, I strolled through the Jewish Quarter and maze of other streets to finally reach the famed Old Town square. It was past midnight; yet the square was buzzing with people. The bars and restaurants were not only open; but had a wait-list of around 30min! I planned to check out Wenceslas square; but found it disgusting with with scores of pimps and drug addicts.

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Prague Old Town square and the Astronomical Tower

I returned to the main square, sat down on the porch of the Astronimical tower. My plan was to people watch; but I soon dozed off, resting my head against the door. I woke to a stench of weed emanating from a hippy sitting next to me. I checked the time. I was 1AM; I had been walking almost non-stop for 22 hours with little food. I wished I had gone ahead and checked into the hostel.

I decided to make my way to the train station, pick up my bag, get to the airport and sleep there. Unfortunately, public transport to the train station seemed spotty and I couldn’t spot any. I had no option; but to drag my overworked legs 20 minutes to the station.

Sleeping on park benches

When I started walking, I ran into another problem. I had to take a leak, and there didn’t seem to be any public restrooms in sight. A passerby pointed me to a public restroom. I took a detour for it; but found it closed. By this time, I was in dire straits. I barged into a bar and asked a server if I could use the restroom. She went back to ask the owner if it was okay. In hindsight, I can see why. I was in a disheveled, unkempt state and probably a rotten egg had a better aroma than me after the the sweaty trips in the last 20 hours.

She didn’t return in a few minutes. I couldn’t hold myself any longer and just barged into the restroom. I saw her on my way back and she was smiling. I left with a polite “Thank you”. I should have probably tipped; but I was embarrassed and wanted to leave ASAP.

I was elated to finally spot the station; unaware that the fun was just about to begin. I found out that the station and luggage locker were closed for the night and would not open until 3:30AM. I was distraught and just wanted to sleep. As I pondered over my options, I noticed a commotion in one corner of the station. A couple were getting cozy near the glass door; but the police woke them up and forced them to pack up. So, sleeping at the station door was not an option.

I went looking for close by hostels; but did not find any. As I was returning through a park, I saw a few homeless people sleeping on the park benches. On a normal day, the cocktail of malodor would have made me rush by. However, my legs revolted and I spread myself on an empty bench. I set an alarm for 3AM, hid my camera inside my rain jacket and went to sleep hoping that the cops wouldn’t wake me up. About half an hour later, I felt drops of water on my eyes and sprung up, startled. It had started to rain.

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Beautiful buildings of Prague

It was surprisingly quiet. I could hear nothing but the raindrops. The hustle and bustle had suddenly died down. It was as if Prague had gone to sleep too. The ambiance made it difficult for me to stand and keep my eyes open. Fortunately, the rain ceased in a few minutes and I found another shaded bench to sleep.

I woke up shivering around 2:45AM. The temperature had dropped significantly in the last hour or so. I had no option; but to join the waiting game near the warmth of the station lights. It was one of the worst 45 minutes of my life. Clocks tick so much slower when you are waiting for something!

A dramatic transformation happened at around 3 AM. The seedy characters around the station disappeared thanks to higher frequency of police patrols. The travelers who had early morning trains started arriving. Through the glass walls, I could see a janitor cleaning the station floor. The place was slowly coming back to life.

My misery ended when the guards opened the door at 3:20AM. Relieved and re-invigorated, I collected my bag and headed to the bus stop to board a bus to the airport ruminating on an unexpected experience.

Was a it a good idea to sacrifice a night’s rest after a busy day to roam around Prague at night? Well, the answer depends on whether I would return to Prague anytime in the near future. As of now, the night out at Prague was probably my most memorable part of my Central European Sojourn and obliterated the depression that Auschwitz had sunk me in.

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