For the past week I have attempted to buy a rail ticket from Prague (Praha) to Vienna (Wien). I have had a few difficulties since I am not a native Czech speaker and everything about the website confused me. I am no rookie when it comes to navigating foreign language websites, I know how to find the button near the top of the website with an American or British flag (I can read and write in British also) and push the little icon. These icons can be helpful when a traveler might be language challenged like me. I did have five years of Spanish classes and I can say some pretty entertaining things in Spanish like: “There are many tacos in the airport.” “The elephants are very long.” “The door is closed.” These key phrases have helped me when making my Spanish-speaking relatives laugh, but I have yet to travel to a Spanish-speaking country where I needed to use this wealth of language.
My language limitations have not stopped me from doing what most Americans do when traveling: expecting everyone else to speak English. This makes it hard for me to have meaningful conversations about philosophy or global politics, but I can live with that. I doubt if I spent the next 30 days studying Icelandic it would pay off anyway. Icelandic people speak English better than most Americans and how often will I be called upon for the rest of my life to say something in Icelandic?
So, back to the Czech rail site. I have tried unsuccessfully for about a month to buy tickets for my trip from Prague to Vienna. I finally figured out that I cannot buy tickets from the website until the trip is within a 60 day window, for German rail it is 90 days so I was semi-aware that this could happen to those of us that want to have our trip planned out five years in advance. I waited until I reached the 60 day window and then I went to the Czech rail website to buy. I found the little “en” button at the top of the page and pushed it and the page was transformed into actual, readable English. I filled out the little boxes at least five times and got rejected each time. This was a bit frustrating because each rejection had the same paragraph about why my request could not be fulfilled. I switched a few things around, maybe leaving later would work, nope. Maybe I should try earlier, nope. Eventually I lucked out and my request was accepted. This was great, but I could not tell you why it worked or what magical combination you should select if you were going to be traveling between Prague and Vienna.
The next problem I encountered was selecting a seat. Reserving seats is for suckers because most rail passengers just grab whatever seat they can find, but since reservations were only 7 Czech monetary units (either 25 cents or $2.50, I think) I pulled the trigger on reserving a seat. The seat map was wide open since the rest of the world was not waiting to order their tickets at the moment they became available. This was mildly exciting for me. I looked at each of the train cars, thought about what it would be like to sit in different locations and then notice that some of the cars had those private four seat rooms. I have never traveled on a train with those little rooms so I narrowed the seat selection to the two cars with little rooms. One of the cars had a bike storage area and I decided that I did not want to be on that car since people stuffing their bikes on my train would get in my way. (The real reason had more to do with body odor, but that sounds even more shallow than having to wait to get to my seat. I figured people riding bikes might be sweaty and being in a little room with smelly people for four hours does not meet my romantic idea of traveling on rail.)
I finally narrowed down the seats and looked for a lucky number (77) near a window. I pushed the button, paid for the ticket and then had all kinds of second thoughts. Reserving a seat might put me in a little room with a pack of Gypsies, or even worse a pack of loud Americans. It was too late. My ticket was approved and I printed it off.
Hopefully my little room with be filled with travelers like me: quiet, and self-centered. Then we should all get along.