Picking up from the previous post…My sleeper compartment in the Polish train from Krakow to Prague ended up being a single, which made me extraordinarily happy not to have to share with either a boisterous young backpacker or a grumpy older woman. The compartment was in an older train car, no doubt about it. But it was clean and relatively spacious, particularly since only one of the berths was set up. There was a small open closet and a wash basin/mirror combo along the side opposite from the berth. I thought there was plenty of room for my suitcase and backpack in the closet, although adding someone who had the exact same amount of luggage as me would have definitely made it cramped. Grateful for my space, I locked the door, got into pajamas, snuggled under the blanket and tried to get as much sleep as possible. The bunk was firm and I slept fairly well, I thought.
In the morning, the attendant knocked on the door about 40 minutes before the scheduled arrival time and handed me a small tray containing a cup of hot water for tea (I declined the coffee) and a box with two soft brown bread rolls, butter, jam, and a small bottle of apple juice. Surprisingly, I loved the apple juice. Normally I find juices to be too sweet, at least in the States. But this was crisp and refreshing. I may have to rethink my stance on juices – at least when I’m in Europe. I pulled up the window shade and idly watched the countryside which turned into the outskirts of Prague over the course of the next 20 minutes.
Pulling into the main train station, I grabbed my suitcase and headed off to my next hotel, located in the New Town section of Prague. While I ordinarily like to stay in the Old Town sections while in Europe, I was spending the weekend hanging out with a colleague. So finding a twin bed room (not a room with the two beds shoved together to make one bed) was a challenge. In the end, I opted for the Sheraton, which not only has twin bedded rooms but also helped me requalify towards Platinum status with SPG. Platinums also get access to the club lounge, and those usually have free bottled water and sodas (and sometimes snacks and wine/beer depending on the particular Sheraton, but obviously not the Sheraton Jacksonville…)
Check-in was made even more delightful by the fact that my room was ready at 9am! I decided to take a nap before heading out to explore. Well, I guess I needed sleep more than I realized because when I woke up, I had slept for over 4 hours! I rolled around for another 30 minutes before I actually got out of bed and opened the curtains to find that the sky was growing darker by the minute. In fact, the first crack of lightning struck while I was still standing there staring at the sky. OK, so I ended up getting back into bed with a book and listened to the storm while I read. It’s OK I’m being lazy right now, I thought. My friend is coming here and she didn’t want me to do too much sightseeing without her anyway. After a few hours, I decided to get dressed and at least find my way to Old Town so later we wouldn’t wander around lost. But despite the alleged clearing in the weather, about 5 minutes from the hotel the heavens opened up again. I made a strategic retreat back to the hotel, where I discovered that the lounge not only had free sodas and bottled water, but also had peanuts, chips, cheese sticks, as well as beer, red wine, white wine, and a sparkling rose on offer. I settled in with a glass or two of the rose and played on my phone.
And then in quick succession, I got the messages from my friend – Worried about my transfer to Prague, going to be super tight. And then – if I miss it, I will get something in the morning. And then – I won’t make it. And then – So I will miss the Prague thing…
OK, I’m going to say this right up front. She had been acting a bit squirrely about the trip to Prague for the last week or so. And although I tried to ignore the feeling that she was going to blow me off, I thought I was just being hyper-sensitive about it. Surely she wasn’t planning on blowing me off after I purchased two train tickets and pre-paid for the twin-bedded hotel room, right? She really wouldn’t have had me do a bunch of research and planning for two people to do this weekend if she was thinking that in the end she wasn’t going to actually show up, right? And she definitely wouldn’t have agreed to bring my camera with her a few days ago if she wasn’t going to even come to Prague (I busted my phone’s screen in Krakow), right? She really wouldn’t blow me off to spend time with a guy that she likes who lives in Budapest when she was going to be here another week after I left, right?
Well, it turns out that I was wrong… and I don’t like being wrong. That makes me angry with myself for ignoring that small voice that always seems to be right. And it makes me angry for thinking that someone is a friend and then they act like I don’t matter to them. And it makes me angry to feel stupid to believe that people are true to their word.
The couple I was chatting with in the lounge watched my face for the five minutes that the text exchange was occurring. And when I set my phone down, face down, they knew. They were very sweet and told me that I would going to have a great time regardless – which, I mean, I can travel by myself and have a fun time. That’s not the issue. I finished the rest of the bottle of the rose while I sat fuming.
The next morning, the rain was gone and in it’s place was a gorgeous sunrise. I messaged my friend that lives in Germany (the one I went to Scotland with last year and whom I also visited in Germany a few years ago) bitching about the situation. And then she sent this message – Ummm, I could be in Prague in 3.5 hours. There’s a bus that’s leaving in about an hour and I’d be there by 1p.
Wait, what? I had no idea she was that close to Prague. In the end, she booked her ticket and jumped on the bus. And it really hit me in that moment that despite that person choosing someone else’s company over mine, there was at least one person willing to travel 7 hours roundtrip to hang out with me for approximately 30 hours. I went from feeling like I had no business ever trying this friendship thing out again to realizing that I was capable of making a friend or two that really did want to spend time with me without wanting anything from me. In fact, I did have friends that would drop their lives for a day or two to take advantage of unexpected time with me.
I wandered through Old Town and across the various bridges, exploring the city while waiting for Natasha’s bus to arrive. Because she has been to Prague quite a few times and relatively recently, there was no concern about her missing out on any sightseeing. The day was absolutely postcard perfect, blue skies, temperatures in the lows 70s. And with the change in my temperament, the city looked even more beautiful to my eyes.
Natasha’s bus arrived, and then we set out just walking aimlessly, talking a mile a minute. We poked our heads into small jazz clubs. We checked menus of takeaway places and fancy restaurants. We glanced at displays in shop windows. We ended up in the lounge that evening; the lounge attendant making sure to always keep a bottle of the sparkling rose chilled. And this time, it tasted ever better than it did the night before.
While I lounged around the next morning, I realized she had fallen back asleep. She’s been under a ton of stress lately and hasn’t really been sleeping well for months. Although I wanted to get out to explore some more, I opted to let her sleep as long as she could. In the end, we didn’t even get out of the hotel until checkout time. Storing our bags, we walked through the park on the castle side of the river. It was another beautiful spring day and the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. Couples and families were having picnics or just hanging out. We got to the castle, bought a snack, and crossed back across the Charles Bridge.
And then, it was time to grab her bag. After she got on the Metro to head back to the bus station, I wandered back to a park near the hotel to sit on a park bench and stare into space, thinking about how my time in Prague turned out versus how I expected it to be before I got to the city.
Friendship is a weird thing. Sometimes, the people you don’t expect to disappoint you do. And sometimes the people that you don’t expect to be there for you are. But I was heading to Budapest next and needed to come to grips with my disappointment, my anger, and my sense of rejection that this whole episode generated. I had to decide exactly how I was going to react to this woman in person. She’s a co-worker and I was going to Budapest to get some work accomplished. But she was also a friend and now she inhabits a very grey area for me. I don’t make friends easily but when I do consider you a friend and you lie to me, that usually means game over as far as I’m concerned.
I pondered this situation until it got dark out. I picked up my bags from the hotel and made my way to the train station. Looking on the bright side, I realized that I was definitely guaranteed to have a single in the sleeper car on the way to Budapest…