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A colleague of mine, recently attended a press-conference about whether travelling to the Czech Republic was safe. The Ministry of Regional Development hosted it and of course, as I already know, travel in this country is considered safe. So, with safety concerns out of the way, what about convenience - or shall we say slight inconvenience - of travelling in the Czech Republic.

Let's start with Railway travel. The Czech Rail system is quite intricate and can drop you off at pretty much any small village in the country. The boxcars are old and while slipping off the vinyl seats and looking through the chrome windows of the enclosed cabin at the countryside slowly rolling by, it feels like you are riding a slightly aged Orient express.

But getting a ticket to board the train is a lot less exciting. You see, unless you are a seasoned Czech traveller it may take you an hour to buy your ticket. As I've found, the ticket purchasing system goes something like this: to find out when trains leave to your required destination you must line at the timetable/ticket purchase counter. You must ask the woman behind the glass shield, who looks like she hates every moment of her job, when your train departs. The woman will then pound on her computer keyboard and find your train and print out a ticket, no seat assignment, because you never specifically asked for one. You will pay and move on. You'll have no idea what time your train departs, because you never specifically asked, and it's not on your ticket. So, you'll wander around until you realise the train schedule with platform allocation and time of departure is on a huge arrival/departure board. Once you've found the platform, usually after a seasoned traveller has come to your aid, you wait for your train while everyone around you eats fried cheese sandwiches or sausages in a roll and you feel slightly left out because you haven't realised that to buy these yummy treats you must walk to the kiosk that looks boarded up at the end of the platform. When the train arrives everyone scrambles to get a seat, because like you they don't have seat assignments, and often trains can be full for certain segments of the voyage which means you risk getting stuck standing in the hallway for most of the ride. But once you are comfortably seated on the train - what a ride. The Czech countryside is beautiful, the ride is comfortable and once you've been initiated, rail travel becomes quite convenient.

But note- this type of initiation process seems to be all encompassing. I had a similar experience with bus travel. Most international buses leaving Prague depart from the Florenc bus terminal. The rides are quick, efficient and often cheaper than the train. But buying a ticket here is also quite inconvenient. To find out information about international bus departures you must stand in line at the information counter. The woman behind the plexi-glass shield answers your questions regarding departure times and dates quite helpfully. But, when you ask how much the ticket will cost, she frowns and points you to another long line. You see she only gives out information on departures, to pay for a ticket you must visit the neighbouring wicket. After moving to the ticket sales line and paying for your ticket you're ready to go. Well, almost, have you booked a seat on the bus? Just because you've bought a ticket doesn't mean you've got a seat. So, this time you loose and you have to stand the whole ride. But next time you'll be the seasoned Czech traveller laughing at the poor souls who haven't learned the ropes and who are in the process of being initiated. In fact, once you've learned the ropes, it becomes more convenient because all the people who don't know their way around are jumping from line to line and are out of your way.

Just so I don't give the wrong idea about travel in the Czech Republic, remember the first time is the worst. After you've learned the ropes - it's smooth sailing.

Author: Nicole Klement
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