7- Panic and Hope

Note-

Now that I have reached the end of my year abroad, these blogs shall be written in the form of ‘memoirs,’ giving an account of my experiences as well as reflections on such things as what I learned from the experiences, and how they went on to shape my year abroad as a whole.

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As I mentioned, I am currently in Poland. I must confess, getting here was not particularly easy. I would like, therefore, to dedicate this blogoir to the many mad rushes and logistical struggles throughout my year abroad, of which my final flight from Prague is a perfect example.

I actually left Prague on the eighteenth of June, two days after my parents had returned from their second visit to Prague, this time for a full week. This visit had been really rather lovely for both them and myself, giving me a last opportunity to see some of my favourite parts of Prague, including the incredible Prague zoo, Karlstejn castle and the surrounding woodland, now, in stark contrast to when I visited in midwinter with the choir, in blazing sunshine and scorching heat, and some of the many little teahouses, cafes and other spots of interest that I had developed a fondness for over the course of the year.

At the end of the week, my parents returned to England with my bass guitar and as many of my other non-essential possessions as would keep them within the minimum weight limit when combined with their own luggage. This should, then, have made it easy for me to pack and transport the rest of my possessions. Should have.

My university career, and in particular the necessity to move out all of my stuff at the end of each year, has served to demonstrate quite how much of a talent I have for accruing stuff, seemingly largely out of nowhere. This has proven very useful when it’s been necessary to craft something, go on an unexpected adventure requiring specific random things, or to otherwise invent some manner or doodad or jigger to solve this or that problem. It has proven less useful, however, when it has come to mobility of living. I have never had a problem with packing and travelling light, but I certainly seem inclined to live really rather heavy.

Fortunately, on this occasion I was provided with the perfect solution to how difficult it would be to transport all of my stuff back to England. This was, of course, to delay the inevitable for as long as possible! I moved my stuff, as well as some stuff that Shirral had left behind, from Prague to Poland in two journeys, in the middle of which was a camping trip arranged by the local couch surfing community. Shirral, her boyfriend Matt, Gergő (another friend of hers from Prague) and I went along for the weekend and had a brilliant time, improvising music for a traditional Slavic campfire celebration of the Solstice, preparing food from our respective cultures, kayaking on the river that was at the base of our camp, and generally having a really good, chill time.

After a few more, very pleasant days thereafter spent at Shirral and Matt’s apartment in Poland, I returned to Prague to sort out the last of my paperwork and to collect the last of my possessions. This visit was timed to coincide with the arrival of Lia, the friend of Shirral’s who had come to visit at the same time as Matt had, the premise being that I could spend a few days helping her settle into Prague and pass my kitchen stuff on to her.

I did indeed have a really nice time showing Lia some places newly discovered since the last tour that I had given her, but it turned out that she would not be needing the kitchen stuff, on account of her moving into a shared apartment that was already fully stocked. Having then only a day or two before I was due to return to Poland and a lot of packing yet to do, I decided that the best thing would be to simply take all of these items with me and deal with them in Poland. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake.

In fact, when the day came for me to check out of my accommodation and catch the bus back to Poland, it became apparent that I had made a number of mistakes. One was that I had, in wanting to ensure that I was in Prague at the same time as Lia, booked my bus for two days after my accommodation contract was due to end. Another was that the receipt of my last rent payment for the year, something listed as necessary to show to the receptionist before I could check out, had been safely stored in a folder that I had put in the suitcase for my parents to take home to England. A third was that, with all the added crockery and other kitchen equipment, I was forced to carry several additional bags, and thus more than Flixbus technically allowed for my ticket type. ‘I’m sure that this’ll be fine,’ I thought to myself.

Fortunately, at least at first, things more or less were fine. My late checking out didn’t seem to be an issue at all, and though I was unable to get another copy of the final rent payment receipt, the translating efforts of some passing Czech students seemed to convince my building’s very friendly and helpful receptionist that I had nonetheless paid it. Having cleaned out and vacuumed my room, had it signed off by one of the building’s cleaners as acceptable and handed in my room keys and dormitory card, all that remained was to get my stuff to the bus station and board the bus, which should have been the easy part. Should have been.

The small issues that I had faced and it taking about half an hour to take out and sort all of my recycling notwithstanding, I left for the bus station a good hour or so before my bus was due to depart. By way of allowing myself to stop walking and put down my luggage every couple of minutes on the way to the tram stop, the wait of my collective possessions was not altogether unbearable, no pun intended. When the tram arrived, I allowed myself to relax a little, believing the worst of it to be over. I was, I’m afraid, terribly mistaken.

I had planned to meet up with Lia on my way to the coach station, her office being only a couple of minutes’ walk away. However, with the weight of the luggage and not having quite as much time as I had hoped for, I messaged to let her know that I probably wouldn’t be able to do so. I checked my ticket one last time to be sure, and for a moment my heart froze. I suddenly remembered noting when I booked the tickets that this bus would not, in fact depart from the usual bus station, a fact that I had, for whatever reason, blithely neglected to write anywhere in my plans or reminders.

‘Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine, I’ve got plenty of time,’ I thought to myself in a mental tone that I did my best to keep calm and optimistic. I checked the travel time to the new bus stop. ‘57 minutes,’ it said, just enough time for me to comfortably miss my bus’ departure.

‘This is fine,’ I thought to myself, my mental tone of voice now perhaps a little less convincing. I had tried to download the Uber app earlier that day for cases of emergency such as this, and, in the process, somehow prevented the app from being able to contact my phone. Thus, as I had when it came to sorting my accommodation many months ago, I started panic-googling the numbers of taxi companies.

I called the taxi to a tram stop that I was approaching, got off the tram and waited. At around the time that the taxi was supposed to arrive, a got a text saying that it had. Wanting to make absolutely sure, I called the number that I had been given for the taxi driver to confirm that the taxi was, indeed, invisible. Unfortunately, it turned out merely to have been directed to the wrong place. I waited for what felt like about a week for the taxi to get to where I was (on the other side of the same street, as it turned out, but separated by a tram stop), and then, upon boarding the taxi, checked Google maps. By their estimations, I would arrive at the coach station just as my bus was pulling away.

As I sat in the back of the taxi, I started to make contingency plans, if just to stop me from checking Google maps’ predictions every ten seconds. Flixbus is supposed to have a strict ‘only on at your first stop, only off at your last stop, but how strictly those kind of rules are observed tends to depend on the driver (the more Polish they are, the less, by and large, you need concern yourself with silly things like ‘regulations.’ Perhaps I could find another way of getting to Liberec, where I had a two and a half hour tranfer, in time for my second bus? A possibility, though one that I would really rather have avoided, particularly with my final Erasmus grant a yet undelivered.

Then, all of a sudden, we were there, and with five blessed minutes to spare! I paid the driver as fast as his slightly doddery Czech manner would allow, grabbed my various bags, backpack and suitcase from the back of the taxi and rushed over to the nearby coaches. The first coach that I saw was going to Liberec, but definitely seemed to be with the wrong bus company.

“Excuse me,” I addressed to the driver, having already indicated that his was not the bus that I would be taking with a deft wave of the hand and a mumbled ‘oh, this isn’t the bus I’ll be taking.’ I thought back to the details on my bus ticket. “Do you know where platform four is?”

He pointed in a direction that, to my horror, indicated a double flight of really quite steep stairs.

“It’s up, and, uh…” The hand signals that he used to give the subsequent directions were enough to convince me that I may not survive the next few minutes.

As I absolutely pegged it up those stairs with my luggage, I pondered quite how these events had come to pass. How could it be that, after all this time, and all the things that I supposedly had learned, here I was, just like at the start of the year, panic-running to my destination as the great pendulum of time swings above my head?

Spotting my bus a little ways away distracted me from these thoughts, which is just as well because I didn’t have much of an answer to them. I charged recklessly down some nearby stairs, fortunately unable to remember what I had packed in the rear bottom corner of my suitcase and thus willing in my optimism to allow it bash against the stairs on the way down. I leapt from the bottom stair and half-sprinted to my bus, immensely relieved to see it still at the station.

I practically screeched to a halt at the driver’s door, and looked up at him in hopeful expectation.
“Liberec?”

The man tutted with a little smile, paused his final pre-departure checks, and opened up the doors for me to load my possessions into the bus.

I did almost go on to get off that bus at the wrong stop, but fortunately the driver, seeing the amount of luggage I had, correctly suggested that I probably wanted Liberec bus station, rather than the town centre. When we did arrive at the bus station and I finally disembarked, he made sure to point out the correct stop for me to board my next bus from.

“Děkujeme,” I thanked him, in what I hope by now was at least half-decent Czech.

I suppose that what I can take away from this is that no matter how much you think you’ve learned, how prepared you think you are, there’s always more things that you can miss, more mistakes you can make. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the lessons aren’t worth learning, far from it! But at the same time, there’s always that possibility for things to be more difficult than they need to be.

But that’s something that I’m very much okay with. You can never be completely in control of things, no matter how hard you try. Of course, the more that you prepare the more time you have to deal with problems as they arrive, and the more opportunity you have to spot them before they become problems.  Still, there’s always the potential for things to go wrong. And yet I remain very much an optimist, because despite this, I maintain that, on the other side of the equation, no matter how bad or hopeless things seem, the more you go through life with good intentions and a willingness to talk to people and make things work, the more potential there is for things to miraculously go right.