Before I start, let me note that I am not, and never was, in any danger as a result of this story. The ambush thing is just an appropriate name. (Ambush: a surprise attack by people lying in wait in a concealed position.)
I’ve been in the Czech Republic for 6 months and, as of a week ago, I had never had my tram/metro/bus ticket checked. And then, it happened. The dreaded. The horrible. The surprising.
Okay, in reality, it wasn’t all that exciting. I have a long-term pass, so there isn’t ever anything to be worried about. But it was an interesting experience. The actual ticket-checking itself wasn’t, but what happened in the immediately preceding moments was.
Holly and I were on a night tram, somewhat curious about the two policemen just chilling in the back. We assumed they had something to do with the high numbers of homeless people that use the trams as a refuge of warmth during the winter months. They weren’t bothering us, and we weren’t bothering them, so it was whatever.
But then, about two stops from where we were getting off, just as the doors were closing and the tram began to pull away, the tram jumped to life. All of a sudden, four people were on their feet, showing their badges and asking for tickets. There were literally four transportation officials in addition to the two policemen in the back. There were only five other people left on the tram, myself and Holly were two of those.
Within three seconds, the tram transformed (tramsformed?) from a sleepy conglomeration of people on their way home to a mish-mash of conversation. Normal-looking people pulled little red badges out of their pockets and simultaneously were speaking to every single other person on the tram. There were some people who didn’t have their tickets, and wanted to get off the tram at the next stop, clearly in an attempt to avoid a ticket. Hence the cops. It literally took longer for Holly and I to pull out our tram tickets than it did for the transportation people to corner everyone, but it was never a particularly stressful ambush.
In reality, it was a bit funny. Holly, who rides the metro everyday, where the ticket checks are more frequent, didn’t find anything particularly exciting about the ticket-checking process, but she was the one that coined the term as we were leaving the tram: “We just survived an ambush!”
This is the first in a seven-post installment, one for every day of the next week. Each post consists of a handful of true stories from students here in Prague. Our first installment is about getting around the city. I’ve already written a bit about the tram and metro system here, but these are some anecdotes about people getting around the city.
Running for the Trams
It’s a thing. It happens. Regularly. At first you think people are crazy, running for a tram. I mean, really, the next one comes in just a few minutes, right?
But eventually (and by eventually, I mean in just a few weeks) you’ll be doing it to. Just remember, cobblestones and heels make running difficult!
Getting out of the Metro Stations
If you’re not careful, you might leave a metro station out the wrong exit and end up wandering aimlessly five blocks from where you think you are. This may or may not happen your very first week at Andel station, and you may or may not end up wandering around for almost an hour. Similarly, you may or may not have the experience of intending to get to Wenceslas Square from the Muzeum stop and ending up on the wrong side of a very large and scary looking highway.
To prevent these possibilities from becoming realities, I strongly suggest you read the signs. Now, this may sound obvious, especially to someone who has traveled a lot, and yet, both these things actually happened to me.
There are very intuitive signs in the metros that help you know which side of the platform your train will come on (the white circle is the station you are currently at – station names to the left are on the left platform, station names to the right are on the right platform.)
There are not, however, intuitive signs to help you get out. These signs sometimes have a symbol of a tram or a bus, and a bunch of names of places. Most inconvenient is that often more than one sign has the same place name on it (there are multiple entrances to Mustek in Wenceclas Square – there are, therefore multiple exit signs within Mustek that say Vaclavske Namesti). You’ll figure out after a fashion which exit is the best exit when you are going somewhere for the second or third or fortieth time, but the best way to know you’re going the right way (or one of the right ways) is to know a bit about where you’re going. Know the name of the suburb at the end of the line you’re looking to take, or know the Czech name of the State Opera House. The more you know, the more likely you are to find one of those words on one of the signs. Actually, the best way to know you’re going the right way is to have someone who has already been there with you, preferably someone who knows Czech…
Night Trams: make sure you’re going the right direction
This is a true story, and it happened to me. After a late night in the middle of the city – good friends, good beer, maybe too few friends and too much beer – it was time to head home. Prague’s transportation system is pretty fantastic, but there are some inconvenient truths. For one, the normal transport services stop between midnight and 5 am. The metro stops running completely, and the trams and buses run only on certain routes, and not nearly as often as during the day.
There are 10 night tram routes, and they come once every 45 minutes. Which means that sometimes getting home from somewhere that would take approximately 25 minutes during the day can take over an hour. Or, if you miss a connection, almost two hours. Understandably, therefore, when I got to my stop and saw the tram I needed to take pulling up, I ran for it, jumped on, and closed my eyes. (It was almost 3 in the morning, after all!) As you have probably already guessed from the title of this story, my tram – though the correct number – was going the wrong direction. Since I was in a part of town I hadn’t been in before, it took a half dozen stops for me to figure that out. Which basically meant I went 20 minutes the wrong direction. Then I had to get out, wait in the cold for another half hour for the next tram going the right direction, and take it 20 minutes back to where I started, and then the 45 minutes from there home. Long story short, make sure you’re going the right direction, especially at night!
Another note about the night trams – the drivers will wait. Obviously, they won’t wait for forever, but if you’re running towards the tram at night, they will wait for you. (This differs from the daytime trams, especially during commute times. At these times, the next tram comes in two to five minutes usually, so the drivers understandably make you wait in order to stay on schedule.) When the next tram isn’t for 45 minutes, though, the drivers are nice about it.
Finally, note that all night trams go through Lazarska. But they don’t just stop at Lazarska; they usually stop for anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. I have not been able to figure out when they stop for more time or when they stop for less time or why, but it something to know, so it doesn’t freak you out the first time the tram sits there as if at the end of the line.
It seems silly to mention this, but I didn’t use buses for the first two or three months that I was here. But there are certain situations in which buses are the most useful mode of transportation. This doesn’t hold true in the city center – anywhere on a typical tourist map is most easily accessed by either metro or tram, but the buses are very useful on the outskirts of the city. If you are trying to get from one suburb to another, the buses are definitely faster. In my experience, destinations 35 min and 1:15 apart by tram and metro are only 15 minutes and 25 minutes, respectively, by bus.
The buses run on the same system as the trams and the metros – your ticket will work on all three modes of transportation (and the funicular up Petrin Hill!) – so if google maps says to take a bus, it is probably the way to go.
I really like cobblestones. (And clocks) But I know a lot of people that do not. They destroy soles. (Not souls, but soles.) And they make it very difficult for most people to wear heels. (Not heals, but heels. There is a chance this story is full of puntential.) And they are everywhere. If you are on your way to Prague and are faced with the difficult task of picking which pears of shoes to bring with you and witch to leave at home, I recommend two bring the most comfortable shoes you own. A lot of people talk about the fact that study a broad typically includes more walking than normal, and I have found that to be true. Sew bring comfy shoes, and maybe a second pare. I will note, however, that the pair of healed boots I bought hear have been my absolute best friends. They our warm and stylish and haven’t bean worn down buy the cobblestones at all, even though I probably where them five days a week and have even worn them on walking tours all over Europe. (All of Europe is covered in cobblestones…)