This story is from our archives—a real-life experience narrated by Anna Rostokina, one of our brightest correspondents.
A few years ago, when Wizz Air started operating low-cost flights from Serbia, my boyfriend and I decided to use the opportunity to visit several European cities in a few weeks. We booked our flights from Belgrade to Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Eindhoven to Prague and Prague to Venice. The tickets cost us a moderate amount compared to the regular airlines and they were also cheaper than the much slower trains.
On day one of our vacation we boarded a comfortable plane and one and a half hours later we got off in Eindhoven. It was fast, it was convenient, it was inexpensive. After two fulfilling weeks in the Netherlands we were looking forward to our first ever trip to Prague. We were supposed to fly there early in the afternoon, which would give us three and a half days in the Czech capital. However what actually happened was quite different.
On our last day in the Netherlands instead of heading to Eindhoven, in the south of the country, we decided to go to the northernmost Groningen to meet a dear Dutch friend. It seemed like a bit of a risk but we knew from experience that the trains are perfectly reliable in the Netherlands and it would take us only 3 hours to cross the country. So we decided to spend the night in Groningen and to catch an early train to Eindhoven in the morning.
What we had overseen was the fact that the next day was Sunday. After arriving at the railway station we discovered that the ticket office would open half an hour after the scheduled department of our train! The other option was to purchase tickets from a ticket machine, however there is a trick with these machines in the Netherlands. Out of all credit cards they only accept Maestro, which we did not have. Alternatively, you can buy a ticket with coins but we could not possibly produce 30 euros in metal, and all the nearby shops were closed because, well, it was Sunday. As riding a train without tickets was not an option, we decided to stay and wait for the next one departing in one hour, which would still give us good chances to arrive at the airport in time.
So one hour later we were on our way to Eindhoven. We were gradually drifting away into sleep after the stressful morning. The timing was fine. And then, out of the blue, the train broke down. We found ourselves on a lonely platform surrounded by fields, with a few fellow passengers. It took 20 minutes for the next train to come and pick us up – as it turned out, just enough to miss our flight. Once in Eindhoven, we caught a taxi and rushed to the airport, only to learn that the check-in had finished 5 minutes ago. They could still get us on the flight but only with cabin luggage. Unfortunately in our large backpack there were all our belongings and letting go of them with such ease seemed like a bad idea. Which meant: there was absolutely no way to get on that plane. The air company offered us new tickets at a reduced price but even with the discount they now cost 115 euros per person as opposed to the 15 that we had initially paid. We just did not have extra money. At first it seemed like a disaster. But after a short while we realised we could hitchhike all the way to Prague.
It took us two days and two terrible nights, one at a parking lot in the middle of nowhere in Germany and the second at a gas station in Czech Republic. As a result, our stay in Prague was shorter than we had anticipated. But there was a silver lining: we made a new friend on that trip, a truck driver from Slovenia, one of those big-hearted people who make me believe in the kindness of strangers.
This experience taught us some important lessons.
First and foremost, take every flight seriously. Make sure that you spend the night before your flight in the city of your scheduled departure. If you decide to take a risk, be well aware of the potential consequences.
Second, it is impossible to rely 100% on trains and other means of transportation, even in countries where they are known for their accuracy. Accidents happen and unexpected circumstances occur.
And finally, above all, we should never forget to appreciate this unpredictability. In the old times, every traveller had to deal with a lot of uncertainty and every trip was an adventure. Nowadays, with our advanced technology and tight schedules, we have but little chance to experience this way of traveling. Sometimes taking the plunge doesn’t really hurt.