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Friday, February 19, 2010

I like Czech trains

Even though my travel curse for this trip made our train this evening 40 minutes late, I still really like Czech trains. It turns out the train we were getting on was a Budapest train going to Prague with some stops in between, and one of the stops was apparently for skiing. I guess what impressed me was that even though for the first hour or so leg of the journey the train was pretty packed, people self organized really well, the train conductors/fare collectors almost instantly memorized whether passengers had paid or not, and the whole boarding/dis-boarding was very, very quick.

One thing I didn't like was the actual train station. Basically, unlike an airport where the arrivals/departures are displayed in what feels to me to be an organized fashion, the Czech railways might move gate/departure time info from their boards from one place to another without much apparent logic. There probably is logic, but it certainly isn't intuitive to me. For example, we were monitoring when our train was supposed to arrive, until it disappeared from the list of trains on that schedule board due to it being late. We all figured it would eventually come back with an updated set of info when the railways had it, but that never happened. What actually happened was the train info was moved to another display board (which had this one late train and some others, for reasons unclear), where after twenty minutes one of our colleagues noticed the gate info had been updated.

I am sure there is some rhyme or reason to why the train stations do this, but to an outsider with a) all the relevant numbers and b) the willingness to approach strangers for tips, it was still more challenging than I thought it should have been. Luckily we encountered a nice Englishman from Portsmouth who gave us the sage advice of, "Look over there!", which helped us spot our ride.

So the trains really do rock. Finding the one you are supposed to be on continues to be a challenge, but not one that has messed anything up so far.

When we got off the train in Prague though, we thought it might be a good idea to grab a taxi to the hotel since it was cold and raining. It turns out that even though the Czech republic has passed new laws aimed at combating taxi fraud, it still happens all the time. I knew the hotel was very close to the train station, but since one of our crew was feeling pretty sick (and I didn't have a lot of confidence not getting lost) I thought it would be a good idea to go the half mile in a cab. When we found one that wasn't a completely outrageous, we were already within three blocks of the hotel--basically people walk up to travelers, ask them if they want a taxi, quote a fee that has *absolutely nothing to do with the distance*, then walk them off the train station to a taxi that will likely give them a kickback.

I am not against convenience, and I am also not against people trying to hustle a bit of money, but when you want to charge 20 euro to go to a place and you have to walk 2/3 of the way there to get your taxi, that sirs and madams is a scam :)

But all in all, rail in the Czech Republic is good. It's fast, pretty reliable, comfortable, cheap, and clean. Four people on the way to Brno to Prague (250 kilometers, about 2 1/2 hours) was 790 crowns, which works out to $41 dollars. For four people. And the trains are quiet, have tables, and are generally pleasant. I get to have two more train trips in the coming days, so hopefully they are as positive as the previous.

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Cheese A Day by Jeremy Pickett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
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