My train got me from Berlin to Prague right on time, which gave me two hours to kill before meeting up with my next Couch Surfing host. We had arranged to meet for a couple days in Prague, check out the sights, and then catch a train back to his home in Munich. I had been in touch with this Couch Surfer for a few months now; after meeting him once before in Houston, Texas. At a Couch Surfing BBQ in Houston he said, “if you ever make it out to Germany let me know!” And sure enough, there I was in Germany and we were meeting in Prague … it really is a small world!
While I was waiting for him to show up at the train station, I decided to visit the National Museum in Prague. I packed my stuff across the street from the train station, and bought a ticket to wander around the museum for an hour or so. The staff required me to check both of my backpacks before going inside and so I handed them over (I like to travel with my primary backpack and then a 2nd, smaller backpack for valuables – that way I can leave my main backpack in hostels or lockers and walk around with my valuables in a smaller backpack). I remember thinking at the time that it was kind of weird that they wouldn’t let me take my smaller backpack inside … but it was a national museum. “I’m sure it will be fine,” I thought…
… It was not fine. The staff at the Narodni Muzeum ended up returning my backpacks to me when I was done at the museum; but one of them was slightly lighter than it was before. Apparently, while I was inside, someone had relieved me of my iPad and charging cable! I had just gotten robbed at a national museum within 1 hour of being in Prague.
Unfortunately, this all happened in the beginning of my trip to Czech Republic and it gave me a pretty bad first impression. (Needless to say, I highly recommend skipping the Národní muzeum when you go to Prague … they are dishonest and they are thieves). I lost a small part of my livelihood that day. It wasn’t earth shattering or anything, but it was a $700 iPad that I used to stay in touch with family and friends, most of my pictures were on it, I booked hostels with it, and used it to contact other Couch Surfers. It was a frustrating loss but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.
I decided to talk to the museum staff after it happened, but they magically forgot how to speak english while I was inside the museum. Then I talked to a police officer outside the museum and he told me that he didn’t speak english either (in surprisingly good english). Anyway, after the cop implied he wasn’t going to help, he then decided to waste another 30 minutes while he called in my passport number for a “random security check.” I left the museum empty handed and sulked to the train station to wait for my Couch Surfing friend.
After my unsuccessful museum visit; I met up with my friend with no issues. We ventured through the streets for the next couple days and saw a good portion of the city through back allies and coffee shops. We had a great time and I would end up traveling and staying with him sporadically over the next 2 months in Europe! He proved to be one of the most generous human beings I’ve ever met and single-handedly improved my european trip through friendship, advice, and helpful planning.
So, after blasting through Prague we caught the train back to his apartment in Munich. In Munich, I decided to stop my fast-paced-city-hopping strategy that I had been doing up until that point, and established a temporary home-base in Munich. With a sleeping bag and a comfortable piece of foam, my friend’s kitchen became my temporary home. I helped out around his apartment by doing the dishes and cleaning a bit here and there, and every day became filled with some new adventure.
During my 2 weeks there I did the Free Walking Tour, saw Dachau, Marienplatz (the heart of Munich), climbed the Tower of St. Peter’s, and just settled into living the German lifestyle. At one point, my host even let me drive his van on the autobahn (180km/hr)! We drove to the Bavarian & Swiss Alps, saw jaw-dropping scenery, and never had a dull moment.
Surprisingly, the museums in Munich turned out to be some of the best museums I saw in Europe (Pinakothek); displaying art from Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and Van Gogh! In addition to the art culture, there was the beer culture! … it is not just a stereotype; German beer is the best in the world.
I felt like home in Munich and it was humbling to experience the generosity I was shown there. The selflessness that I saw from my host in Munich; along with countless others that I met as a backpacker in Europe, is beyond explanation. Human kindness truly comes out on the road. When you are traveling, sometimes it is necessary to throw yourself at the mercy of others; it is always amazing how much people are willing to help. I owe a great deal to the friends and hosts that made my trip a success.
After a couple weeks relaxing at places like the Nymphenburg Palace, the English Garden, and various destinations throughout Munich; I found that my motivation to hit the road was dwindling. Munich had become familiar to me and in a way it felt like my home away from home. Eventually however, I convinced myself to venture back on the road.
So where would I go next? … Well that answer came to me from CNN. At that time there was a lot of talk on the news about the pending elections for a new Pope. Pope Benedict had resigned at the Vatican and Rome was buzzing with excitement over the new Papacy. I decided that this was a pretty significant event in history and it would be cool if I could make it to the Vatican to see the next pope get elected.
I threw my backpack on once again, and lined up a ride with a German Priest who was headed to Rome for the elections as well. We split the cost for gas and toll roads and drove the 12 long hours to Rome. For those who like “the scenic route,” this drive is paradise! We worked our way through the Swiss Alps, into the wine country of northern Italy, and eventually to the ancient capital of Rome … Once again I felt the thrill of life on the road and the freedom of being on my own!
The next 3 weeks were some of the most exciting weeks of my life. Even today, I think back to those moments and remember why traveling makes me so happy. It was during those weeks that I truly became comfortable as a backpacker, had multiple “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences, and discovered a lot about myself along the way.