An Innocent Abroad in Prague: Tales from an American College Student Studying in Europe

An Innocent Abroad in Prague: Tales from an American College Student Studying in Europe

St. Nicholas Church in Prague’s Old Town Square was built in 1735. During World War II, Czech army units were stationed in the building. Artists, who otherwise would have been sent to the front, were put to work by a colonel restoring the church.

Taking the night train from Budapest to Prague was a horrible idea. Or maybe we just handled it the way college kids handle everything: poorly.

I had visions of sleeping in luxury, with the aid of two tall Hungarian beers I bought for the ride. Instead, the cabin we were in was just a regular one, and riding a night train does not automatically mean you’re going to sleep. What it does automatically mean is that the train ride will go slower than one during the day. This increased travel time by several hours, and when you’re sitting upright on a moving train, it doesn’t matter how much beer you’ve had: you’re not sleeping.

Our tickets had said we’d be arriving in Prague around 4 a.m. and I had drifted off into some weirdly conscious, yet exhausted state. My friend woke me up, since the train had stopped moving and it was 4 a.m. We looked out the window at a totally deserted train station with no signs. Frantic, I got out to find some kind of life and to ask if we were actually in Prague. The man I found was wandering around the trains, and after asking him if we were in Prague he revealed that he didn’t know a word of English.

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is at least 500 years old. About 100,000 people are buried here, one on top of the other, in 12 layers of graves.

He kept saying something along the lines of “Popaduce” over and over, which I and my now awake travel companions assumed was a city in the Czech Republic. We then woke up other passengers, who revealed that the train wasn’t supposed to arrive until 6 a.m. according to their tickets. That would have been just a blip had this guy not followed us back onto the train and awkwardly stood – all 6’5”, 250 toothless pounds of him – outside our cabin for twenty minutes with glazed eyes and smiling gums. Welcome to the Czech Republic.

As a whole, Prague is a pleasant place… a pleasant place if you’re missing the United States and want to be surrounded by American tourists. The city is small and absolutely packed to the brim with tourists, walking tours, etc. An especially nice, unexpected element is the Jewish quarter, which has loads of museums and synagogues to browse through.

You are unlikely to run into too many Czechs, which is why I would advise those living in Prague to make as good a first impression as possible: you will be one of the few Czechs the tourists will meet. A good way to start is to not drunkenly stalk American students at 4 am on a train in a deserted station.

According to tradition, Jews must not destroy Jewish graves. When the Old Jewish Cemetery ran out of space, more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves and the old tombstones were taken out and placed on the new layer of soil. This explains why the tombstones in the cemetery are placed so closely together.

                                Matthew Grant Anson is a junior at Whittier College in Whittier, California. He is studying this semester at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Authored by: Matthew Grant Anson