At this point in my life, I have been to over twenty countries on three continents, lived in four major metropolises in three countries, and have technically five visas in my passport. (Not all currently valid, of course).
This is a story of what happens when two well-traveled, educated and experienced young girls get too cocky…
I ran my first half marathon in the Fall of 2014 in Chicago, just before I left for Spain. One of my bucket list items for my year abroad was to run a race in a foreign country. My dear friend, Meghan, was also studying in Barcelona and we decided to register for a half marathon together. The one in Barcelona didn’t work out, because it was the same weekend as Carnival and clearly, we are women with priorities. Soon, our schedules filled up and we had to pick a race quickly. We had both been to Prague before and loved it, so when we found a race online matching that location, we jumped on it! (Traditional Czech food is also a wonderful post-run indulgence!)
We bought plane tickets, told all of our friends and classmates and even starting looking for hostels in the beloved capital of Bohemia. Thankfully, the prices were not as economical as we were expecting so neither of us booked quickly, favoring, as we usually do, to consult the other first. When it was my turn to search, I tried to download a map of the race to make sure we could at least get an AirBnb close to the starting line. Lo’ and behold, when I looked up the route, the image did not match what Google had labeled as central “Prague”. I zoomed out and started panicking…
The Prague Half Marathon we had been planning for, registered for and already bought plane tickets for was not actually in Prague.
Not even just outside of it. Not even close.
The race was more than two hours west in a whole different city called Karlovy Vary.
As you can imagine, the acronyms for many curse words and religious defamations ensued in our Gchat: WTF IS WRONG WITH US?! OMG. GODD*MN IT! HOLY SHIT. WTF ARE WE GOING TO DO?
As young and carefree as we may seem, we like to plan things out. I tell everyone that that is how I am able to travel so much — simply plan ahead. Plane tickets are cheaper, hostels are cheaper and you have more time to plan your sightseeing and make sure you use your time wisely. So now, here we are, mere days before the race, and we realize it’s not even taking place in the city we had been planning on for more than three months. We still had no place to stay and now we had to plan connecting transportation to make up for our blunder. We had clearly gotten a bit too cocky with years of traveling experience under our belts and planning many other trips simultaneously.
Quick to adapt, though, and infused with surging panic attacks, we swiftly found an AirBnb host the first night in Prague and a truly lovely Couchsurfing host in Karlovy Vary. THANK GOD. There was also an economical bus in between the two cities and we were going to be able to make the race on time, as it began in the evening. Phew! Damage control at it finest!
We arrived in Prague without any problems (ahoj!) and our first host was adorably amiable. The young artist and resident cat subsided our fears of something else going wrong on this trip. Eventually, the morning finally came to take the subway to the bus station and grab our student coach to what English speakers call, Carlsbad. I talked Meghan into getting brunch at a restaurant I had found on a Czech food blogger’s website and we set out to eat there before our bus left. (Pre-run energy, right?)
After walking for what felt like eternity, but was probably more like 20 minutes, we found the joint. The place was just as adorable as I was hoping and it looked crowded, which we’ve learned from all our European friends is a very, very good sign. I went in to ask the hostess how long the wait was. “Do you have a reservation?” A Reservation? For brunch? Really? Apparently, since brunch is such a new concept in Europe, though it is gaining in popularity all over, it is still chic enough (in Prague at least) that you need to have a reservation. Dismayed, I quickly checked a couple of the other places on the list and on a closer note, they also needed reservations. Ugh.
So we gave up and moved on down the block to another place and set up shop for a quick bite to eat before our departure. Finally, everything seemed to be working out well — no more surprises, we thought. We were checking our bus tickets online when we realized that the bus stop where we were supposed to disembark was closed due to the race. NOT AGAIN. Now what? It seemed like everything was turning against us on this trip…nothing that was planned was working out as it should and everything we forgot to account for seemed to be nipping up in the butts.
With no time to come up with a Plan B, we raced to the bus station and hoped for the best. When we arrived in Karlovy Vary, we prayed our smart phones would work and followed Google the long way to the race expo. Thankfully, I’ve learned from the past 10 months of living on WiFi only that Google location services still work even when you’re not connected. We were able to get out race packets, “czech” out some of the vendors and meet up with our wonderful host, Betty.
The rest of the trip went quite swimmingly, though Meghan beat me by a landslide! The race was well organized, a bit small by comparison (about 3,000 runners), but much more professional and filled with the most able-bodied athletes I’ve ever seen in a public event. We learned afterwards that Karlovy Vary is a bit of a hub for athletics. I ended up beating my Chicago time by 10 minutes but still didn’t make my goal. I didn’t mind much though, because it was honestly the most beautiful event I have ever run. Seriously. If you’re into running and love nature, sign up for this race.
All in all, the race, brunch, the bus stop…I’d like to think this was fate’s way of telling us that no matter how much we’ve seen or how far we’ve gone, we still do not know everything.
And that’s just fine.
I think us making it to Karlovy Vary and being able to complete the race meant much more than simply being physically capable. So, be advised fellow travelers, always double “czech”! Here’s to less slip-ups and more adventures! Na zdravi!