The adventure began as soon as we hopped on the train going from Budapest to Prague. The train departed at 5:28AM from the Budapest Keleti train station. There were hardly any people traveling on this train. As soon as I settled into my seat, two suspicious looking males sat next to us. It's hard to describe 'suspicious' in words, but it just seemed strange that they sat next to us when they could have sat in another wagon or further away from us. I stayed awake until these men got off the train, which was about ten miles outside of Budapest.
The adventure continued when we entered Slovakia. A train conductor made his rounds and asked to see our tickets. After looking at the Eurail pass with which I was traveling, he quickly explained that my ticket was invalid. It turns out that out of the twenty-one European countries I could travel by train in Europe, Slovakia was one of the few not on the list. Explaining to him that no one in Budapest asked questions about our train passes did not calm the man down, who kept insisting that our tickets were invalid and we needed to get off the train. I asked if there were other options. He said we could travel to Bratislava and buy tickets there. He then mentioned that we could buy tickets from him for 'twenty-four euros each,' a number which to me seemed like he made up on the spot. I again insisted that we were just passing through Slovakia on our way to Prague, Czech Republic. I then told him that I only have ten euros in my wallet, and he quickly agreed to take that sum in order to leave us alone and continued on our way. The entire scenario was quite sketchy, since we didn't get a receipt for our tickets to pass through Slovakia (perhaps one can even call it a bribe). However, we didn't face any problems for the remainder of our train ride to Prague. It was definitely my fault for overlooking the fact that our Eurail passes did not cover going through Slovakia, but I was glad that things worked out. Until we got to Prague, that is.
Things got more interesting with our arrival to the Holesovice station in Prague. For one, this isn't the main station of Prague, and there were not too many tourists at the station. First stop was the currency exchange, as I needed some Czech korunas to pay for the upcoming taxi ride to our hotel room. Making our way to the taxis next to the train station, we only saw three taxis, with two of them seemingly out of service. It was a strange sight, and one man quickly approached us. We told him the name of our hotel room, and asked him what he would charge. He ended up asking for a flat rate of twenty-five euros, and negotiation wasn't working in this case (there were no other taxi drivers in sight, so we could either refuse to go with him, or wait for another taxi to eventually show up). We decided to take the taxi.
The trip through the city was fairly short. When we stopped across the hotel, the taxi driver quickly asked for the fare, even though we wanted to check whether he brought us to the right hotel (apparently there are two hotels in the city with the same name). This is where things became strange. As I approached the front desk of the hotel desk to check in, I looked around me and realized that I only had three of my bags (my suitcase, my bookbag with the laptop, and my other carry-on bag). But I was missing my camera bag!
I realized immediately that the camera bag must still be with the taxi driver. However, by the time I came to this realization, the taxi driver was long gone. I let the hotel management that I will most likely be making a call to the police. I also asked for them to order a taxi, so I could go back to the Holesovice train station, hoping that the taxi driver would be there. As all this was happening, the hotel made a mistake and gave us a room which already had occupants in it. We walked in and a girl says, 'Hello. Umm, this room is occupied by my family.' So in the midst of dealing with a lost camera bag, I had to go back downstairs and request for hotel management to provide a key to a different room (so I could put my suitcase there before departing for the train station).
Not too long afterwards, I was in another taxi, going back to the Holesovice train station. On the way there, I was probably as pale as can be. I kept thinking over and over again how the camera bag could have been taken from me (and if not taken, how I could have forgotten it inside the taxi). Since I barely parted with the camera bag during my entire trip, I couldn't envision forgetting the camera bag inside the taxi (though that explanation makes sense, of course).
As we approached the destination, our taxi driver explained that this was the Holesovice train station. I did a double-take. I didn't believe that this was the right train station because there were about thirty to forty taxis in the parking lot now! We made a circle and came back, and it was true: the place was now buzzing with tourists and the taxi lot was full. I quickly got out of the taxi and started looking for the taxi driver. I approached the front of the lot and there were about ten taxi drivers there. I quickly told them that I am looking for a taxi driver. They knew exactly who I was referring to, and he came out not a minute later. He went over to his taxi, opened the trunk, and pointed to my camera bag there. Without asking any questions, I quickly lunged forward, grabbed the camera bag, and looked through to see if everything was still there. It appeared that everything was intact, and I breathed a giant sigh of relief. I thank the taxi driver multiple times, even though he said he wanted a reward of $100 for his efforts. I told him that I don't have that much money on me, and that I was displeased that he ripped us off in the first place (the cab fare should have been around half of what we actually paid). I thanked him again and said thank you for being an honest man. Truth be told, I was expecting a not-so-pleasant outcome, but I was extremely grateful that things worked out.
The ride back to the hotel was filled with smiles. After getting back to the hotel, I posted a message on twitter. Some of you saw it and inquired if everything was fine. I responded that everything was all right.
So what would have happened if I didn't find my camera bag? I would have filed a police report in Prague. My camera equipment (Canon 5D + Canon 17-40 f/4L + Canon 35mm f/1.4L + Canon 580EX flash) is insured, so I would have filed a claim with my insurance company back in the United States. The biggest thing that nagged my mind while the camera bag was away from my possession was the fact that I didn't transfer seven days worth of images from CF cards to my laptop or external hard drive. I wouldn't have sweated if I simply lost the camera equipment (since I could have bought another camera in Europe to continue taking pictures), but losing the images would have been a different story. I need to be more careful about offloading images from CF cards next time I travel. If you're a photographer, what's your strategy for offloading/saving images while you travel?
Getting to the picture seen in today's entry...After the safe return of my camera bag, I ventured to explore Prague in the evening. It was a beautiful evening. I walked across Charles Bridge and took in the sights. I captured this image from the Charles Bridge. The evening stroll was a perfect way to wind down after a stressful day.
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