May 27 2008
We met new people virtually every day of our trip. It’s the best part about traveling, actually. We had some amazing experiences with amazing people.
Meeting so many new people from around the world, you become adept at quickly identifying who you’ll get along with, and who you want to avoid. On the other hand, long-term travel forces you to broaden your outlook when it comes to friendship. Sure, you may never be friends with a person in “real” life, back home, but when they’re the only fellow English speaker in your vicinity, you bond immediately. And people often surprise you. It’s just another reason traveling opens your mind in unexpected ways.
At our hostel in Prague, we met a guy named Toby, whom I’ve always wanted to write about. I loved Toby. It became clear right away, when he plopped down in the seat across from me at the downstairs bar with an awkward, “hello, mates,” that Toby was our kind of people.
A 19-year-old, floppy-haired Australian on his gap year between school and “Uni,” he was the antithesis of all those annoying elitists you so often encounter in travel circles. Everyone would be sitting downstairs in the hostel pub discussing the various sights and experiences of Prague we’d witnessed that day. Then Toby would pipe up with his daily adventures: he’d slept all morning and surfed YouTube all afternoon. That was it. When fellow hostelers would stare at him quizzically, or disdainfully, he seemed not to notice. He’d just say, “yeah, I saw this wicked video…”
He did this every day. And he didn’t apologize or make excuses. We’d come home from our explorations to find Toby in bed, in front of a computer screen, or scrounging up some food from the common kitchen. In his pajamas. And we pretty much hung out with him every night.
On the evening of our last full day in Prague, we came bustling through the front door of our hostel, frost-bitten, laden with Christmas presents, and running late. “You check game times, I’ll get the boys!” I shouted back to Ben, as I ran up the stairs.
We’d made sketchy plans the previous evening to attend a hockey game with Toby and his travel buddy, Owen. I’ve never attended a hockey game, ever, but the fervor surrounding hockey in the Czech Republic matches the fervor surrounding “football” in the rest of Europe, so I though it was a good place to experience the sport. In fact, one of the hostel receptionists got into a surprisingly heated debate with her friend over which sport was the “national” sport of the Czech Republic.
“TOOOOOOBBBYYYYYY,” I yelled, banging my fists against his door. I’d been standing there for five minutes, pounding the heavy wooden door, my screams echoing through the halls of the hostel. “TOBY! OWEN! I know you’re in there! GET UP!”
Finally I hear a groggy moan: “Who’s there? Bugger off, mate, wouldja?”
“Toby, it’s Brittany, would you open the door?! We’re going to a hockey game, remember? You’re coming!” I heard Owen slowly climb out of bed, shuffle over to the door and turn the lock to let me in. Toby rolled over in bed and put a pillow over his face.
“But I just got in bed!” he whined.
“Toby! It’s six o’clock at night! You’ve been in bed all day!”
“Nuh uh!” I hear his muffled voice arguing from underneath the pillow. “I went out to the bakery and then got on Facebook some, too. I only just got in bed for a nap.”
“‘Just got in bed’ when?” I asked.
“I don’t know. ‘Bout three, I suppose.”
It took much yelling and pillow-throwing from Owen and me to get Toby out of bed. He finally stumbled out, promising to meet us downstairs. He showed up with a parka thrown on top of his pajamas.
As usual, we hadn’t planned well. Turned out that the hockey tournament venue was about an hour train ride outside of Prague. The effort to get there, coupled with the additional expense, our inevitable tardiness, and sub-zero temperatures outside, quickly deflated our excitement. I may have been convinced to go if someone in our group was particularly enthusiastic about it, but we didn’t really keep Toby around as a motivator.
“Want to get some food then?” Toby suggested. Since I’m always game for food, we agreed.
We stepped outside of the hostel, bundled up so tightly that only our eyes and noses poked out from beneath our wool hats. Only then did we realize that we didn’t have a destination in mind. We stood there for a moment, shivering, discussing our options.
“I guess there’s that pizza place next store,” Owen suggested.
“Yeah, but I think that’s closed for the holidays,” I replied.
“I think a lot of restaurants are closed tonight,” Ben said.
“You know, I’m not even hungry,” Toby said, after a bit of self-reflection.
“I’m not really, either, actually,” I agreed. “I guess… let’s just go to the grocery store to get some food for later or something?”
And so, in an anticlimactic turn of events, we ended up walking to the small, local supermarket to pick up some dinner for later. There, Toby was able to once again prove why we liked him so much. He bought a honey pomelo. Because while we shopped for sausage or potatoes or other authentic fare, Toby, in Northern Europe in the middle of winter, shopped for tropical fruit.
Later, when we got back to the hostel, we sat around the large, oak table in the warm kitchen, sharing Toby’s pomelo.
And then Terrance walks in. One of Toby and Owen’s roommates was a Canadian guy whose name I can’t remember as I intentionally tried to erase the knowledge of his existence from my brain. So, for now, I’ll call him Terrance.
It was clear early on that Terrance was NOT our kind of people. He was a one-upper: no matter where you’d been, he’d been there too and done it better. He went out of his way to establish that he was so much cooler than you: he knew all the best beers, the best drinking games, the best local bars. Most annoyingly, he kept coming up with lame excuses to mention his sex life. Now, to people with a maturity level beyond that of a twelve-year-old boy, it’s painfully clear that anyone who talks excessively about their sexual experience to strangers has never actually had any sexual experience at all. That didn’t stop Terrance from inventing games that allowed him to divulge disgusting details no one wanted to hear. “Yeah, there was this girl in college,” he’d say to the uninterested crowd. “And one time we [insert graphic sexual act he’s never experienced but learned about from the porn he buys off the internet]. It was HOT.”
The first night he’d hung out downstairs with us, he’d excused himself early to go “do some work.” When people didn’t seem to be making a big enough deal out of him leaving, he paused at the bottom of the stairs. “Yeah, I can work from abroad… you know, anywhere I want… [still no reaction from the crowd]… my company gives me all this fancy equipment…I’m a web designer… yeah, I know html code… important stuff…” he trailed off as he realized no one was listening, and stormed upstairs. It was a good thing, too, because if Ben hadn’t been there, trying to calm me down, I was about to go off on Terrance in a big way.
Terrance had walked into the kitchen as we were trying to formulate our plans for the evening. We’d thus far avoided the numerous massive nightclubs in Prague, but the general consensus was that the Aussies wanted to celebrate our last night in the city at a popular nearby club. So once again, we donned our many layers, and set off: me, Ben, Owen, Toby, Terrance and a couple other people we picked up on our way out the door.
I’m not a loud, techno-music-loving nightclub kind of person. And Ben’s even less so. As in, it takes some serious peer pressure to convince him to step foot in one. Still, Kross Klub immediately impressed me. The entire club was outfitted in a hardcore industrial motif: whirring car engines hung from the ceiling and rotating gears lined the walls. As opposed to one gigantic space, the club was a maze of small rooms, each with its own bar and music. We wound through narrow staircases, suddenly popping through a door to find ourselves on a dance floor with a DJ spinning trance music and a huge screen on the wall flashing the words TAKE LSD. Other rooms were quieter, just a string of tables and a black-lit bar.
In one such room, we chose a small booth in a corner and squeezed in. Shortly after we sat down, a shifty-eyed Czech man slid up beside our table. “You want to smoke some drugs?” the man whispered in a heavy Czech accent.
We looked at each other, nervously. Sure, we all agreed. ‘Cause you only live once, right? So we made a hasty exchange. The next thing I remember is waking up, freezing and half naked, in the dirt on the side of a road – my feet frostbitten, all my belongings gone, alone, with no idea where I was and how I’d gotten there. And this, my friends, is why you DON’T DO DRUGS.
Just kidding. In case our parents are now worried that they’ve raised children who make Bad Decisions, I’ll tell the truth. We sat in the club, talking for a while. When I couldn’t convince any of the boys to dance with me, I pouted. We eventually left, walked back to our hostel, tiptoed into our room so as not to wake our roommates, and fell asleep in our bunk beds. So there you have it. A boring ending. FINE.
There is a bittersweet part to meeting new, awesome people everyday: you have to leave them. It’s something I never quite got used to—saying goodbye to people that meant something to me with the full knowledge that I’ll never see them again in my life. So even though it breaks my heart that I can’t just call Toby and meet him for lunch on a whim, it’s heartening to know that people like him are out there in the world. Especially since returning home, where I’m bombarded on a daily basis by the media giving me new reasons to believe that people are evil and life is scary, the people we met on our trip help me remember that people are good and life is fun.
So, here’s to everyone we met during our eight months abroad. You rock. Thanks for making our trip, and my life, better.