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Sep 10 2013

Guide Books are Helpful… to a Point!

At the beginning of my 22-day InterRail trip, I took a train from Munich to Prague.  Well, I was headed for Prague but, while I was on the train, I changed my mind and decided to get off at Plzeň.  I had been reading the Lonely Planet guide I had downloaded onto my Kindle and it sounded just up my street.  Since it was near the spa places I wanted to go to and it was the home of lager that was enough to make me get off the train there rather than continue on to Prague.  I hadn’t booked any accommodation but it was just after 5 pm so I figured I would have enough time to find a place before it got dark.

According to the Lonely Planet guide, it seemed pretty easy to get from the train station to the main square, either on foot or by tram.  The thing is, I didn’t have any Czech currency which meant I couldn’t buy a ticket for the tram.  So, that was the decision made for me, I was going to walk it.

As I walked out of the train station, there was a major road and I had no idea if I should go left or right.  This is because that vital piece of information was missing from my LP guide and maps do not seem to transfer well onto Kindles.  So, I did what I normally do in such circumstances and I followed the crowd.  I walked past the tram stop but I had no idea if I was going in the right direction.  There was no indication that I was – no signposts for Nam. Republiky or the centre – as I thought there might have been or even some buildings in the distance that I could aim for.  It wasn’t long before I stopped.  I didn’t want to walk too far in the wrong direction.

In the absence of a bank, I went with the next best thing… a Tesco Extra store.  No, it’s not your eyes, you did read it correctly, there is a Tesco store in Plzeň.  It’s almost opposite the train station.  In the absence of any banks or signposting for the centre, I was very relieved to see it.  My thought process was as follows: In the UK, Tesco stores have cash machines so I thought I might be able to get cash out and then get some change so I could jump on a tram.

Tesco in Plzen

As soon as I entered the store, there was a security guard so I asked him if there was an ATM.  Unfortunately, he could speak and understand as much English as I could Czech, which was zero, so that was a bit of a problem.  Since we couldn’t communicate that way, the thespian in me came out and I acted out getting money from an ATM.  Apart from thinking I was some crazy foreigner, I think he understood because he indicated straight on and then right in the store.  I thanked him and followed his directions and, sure enough, there was an ATM.  I was SO happy!

Having got to the ATM and put my card in, the next challenge was working out how many hundreds or thousands to get out, yes it’s BIG denominations!  I had to cancel the transaction and go through the turnstile again to have a look at some prices to gauge roughly how much to withdraw.  I went back to the machine and withdrew some money.  I went back through the turnstile once more, picked up a bottle of water and went to pay at one of the self-service tills.  Oh, yes, I had some change so I could get a tram to the main square in Plzeň, which is where I wanted to stay.

I found the tram stop for Nam. Republiky, which is where I wanted to go and I had the correct change I needed for a ticket, according to the LP.  I boarded the tram and approached the driver.  She couldn’t speak or understand English either but she realised I wanted a ticket when I showed her the money.  She was a lovely lady but it seems that the money I had wasn’t enough.  I was cursing the LP at that point.  In the end, she just gave me a ticket.  It was probably easier for her to do that, although she didn’t have to.

She indicated when it was time for me to get off so I did.  I wanted to find a place with WiFi where I could sit down and search for some accommodation online rather than having to pound the streets, as I have done on many occasions.  The tram stopped beside a pub, which advertised free WiFi, and the bartender could speak English, which was really helpful.  It was too early for me to buy a beer but she was happy for me to sit in there and use the WiFi so that’s exactly what I did.  I was really tired by that point.  I hadn’t slept well the night before and my search online was getting me nowhere.  In the end, I decided to take to the streets and find something nearby.  The lovely woman in the pub offered to look after my backpack while I searched for a place to stay.  It didn’t take me long because, by that point, I couldn’t be bothered to wander around for hours searching for a place so I went into the first hotel I came across.  It seemed OK, albeit a bit pricey but I went for it.

Once that was sorted, I sighed with relief and went back to the pub and had my first Plisner beer in Plzeň.  It was great.  After that, I just needed to find a place to eat but, being close to the main square, that wasn’t going to be a problem.

My first beer in Plzen

Lessons learnt (Well, sort of…)

It’s difficult if, like me, you do things on the spur of the moment but here are some things worth considering when you travel:

  • Some information in printed guide books such as the Lonely Planet might be out of date (prices, accommodation etc.).  It’s worth being aware of that.  Online information and local information is likely to be more up-to-date.
  • Signposting isn’t always that great when you arrive in a new place.  If it also isn’t clear in the information you have, check out where it is in advance, if you can.  Offline maps on your mobile device of places you are thinking of going to would be useful.
  • Have currency, including change, for that country before you arrive, if you can.  To be honest, I still don’t do that if I am travelling from one country to the next.  I normally get money out of an ATM when I arrive, either at one in the train station or a bank close by and buy something so I have change for the bus or tram.  Having said that, it isn’t always an option, which is when you have think creatively.
  • Check out the exchange rate in advance of arriving in the country.  It makes it so much easier when you are at the ATM!

Location

I have pinpointed where the train station in Plzeň is located and Nam. Republiky (the main square).

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Have your say

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve found something familiar has helped you while you were travelling?  Is there anything else you would like to add that will help others travelling?

Disclaimer

I would like to thank Traveldudes and ACP Rail for giving me the opportunity to travel around Europe with a 22-day Global Flexi Pass.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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