Searching for the Elusive Tiger Express in the Czech Republic
“We’re going to die!” wasn’t exactly one of the thoughts I expected to have while abroad this summer. Traveling is never what you expect though, is it? Sure, you could plan for months. Even so, travel has a way of defying plans. This is often part of the fun. However, in this case, the only fun is the story I get to tell now. Let’s just say I’m glad we didn’t die.
When I embarked on a 10 country-long adventure this past summer, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. That was the best part about it. All the possibility and all the potential of the unknown, was ahead of me. Still, with the potential of the unknown comes risk and fear. This story is all about those two things.
We were traveling from Prague to Krakow. I had been given tons of warnings about the Czech Republic. Sure, Prague was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. In fact, going to Prague was like walking into a fairy tale. The sights were completely unreal and although I took hundreds of pictures, the pictures didn’t come close to what I experienced in person.
Everything was closed down, including the bathrooms. I started to wonder if our bus broke down, or if it even existed at all.
Still, in every fairy tale, comes a downfall. In Prague, beyond the beautiful fairy tale, lies a city abounding with poverty. As a group of females, we were told to be extra careful there. Some warned us of pickpocketing, others brought up the amount of sex trafficking in the Czech Republic. Even in this picturesque world, we knew there were deeper, more concealed problems.
During our stay though, we felt safe. It wasn’t until we left Prague that things heated up. Our plan was to take a train to another part of the Czech Republic called Ostrava. From there, we would take a bus to Krakow. The train ride was a great start to our journey. For no known reason, we got bumped up a class, giving us our own train cabin and free refreshments. We enjoyed this thoroughly. Several hours later, we arrived (very comfortably) at our stop.
We walked out into the dead of night only to find a deserted train station. Oh, good, I thought. I tried to keep my cool and turned to my friend who seemed totally calm. “Now, we wait.” As it turned out, our bus would come in several hours. We went to an information booth (with one of the only human beings around) to make sure we were in the right place.
“Yes, Tiger Express. Wait here!” So we did. 2 am came and went. Everything was closed down, including the bathrooms. I started to wonder if our bus broke down, or if it even existed at all. At one point, another girl appeared. She barely spoke English but we were able to figure out that she was waiting for the same bus as us. Phew.
Time continued to slip away from us, eventually leading our new friend to sleep. I was exhausted too but my anxiety kept me wide-awake. Out of nowhere, a little man with an indecipherable accent emerged. “Krakow! Krakow!” he shouted. I wondered if I had fallen asleep and this was a dream. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a light came from the sky at that moment. Maybe I was in the land of Oz. We shook our friend awake and followed the man off. It must be a miracle! I thought to myself. Well, I thought too soon.
The strange man led us to a car…with only one other male passenger. My heart went into overdrive and my mind became a congested train station of its own. “A car? Where’s the bus? Who is this man? Why is no one else here?” My friend and I exchanged a very severe “This is how it ends” look.
The other girl with us (still not speaking our language) just got in the car without any sort of qualms. I guess we had no choice. The car did say “Tiger Express” and that’s exactly what the lady at the information booth mentioned. I noted that on the outside of the car there was mention of Wi-Fi. (So if I was going to die, at least I could tweet about it) I got in the car and took a deep breath. We were off.
Several hours evaded us and my doubts turned to sleepiness. I didn’t want to close my eyes but my friend insisted. (What good was it being awake if I didn’t know where we were anyway?) When I finally woke up, I was informed that we were almost there. Minutes later, we arrived at our destination. The driver helped us all with our luggage. I was in complete and total disbelief. After the longest night of my life, after everything we had been warned against, we were okay. I will never forget this story, or the Tiger Express. However, in the future, I may just stick to trains.