It’s been two years now since I backpacked around Central Europe. I’d travelled up the east coast of Australia roughly a year and a half earlier, but it was in Europe that my love for the road was born. It was a typical backpacking trip, the likes of which I’m highly unlikely to ever embark on again. A typical backpacking trip being the standard thing of continuous buses and trains from one city to another, staying in youth hostels, essentially only ever associating with other travellers, and living of a combination of noodles, bread and wine in an effort to stretch your budget over as many weeks (and pub crawls) as possible.
I arrived in Europe in late April 2014, my head filled with idealistic dreams of living in the moment, and embarking on a spiritual quest to achieve bodhicitta, that is; an awakened mind. The month that followed was beyond anything I could have expected.
I’d recently decided that my life had previously been far too structured, I’d been far too bound by black and white morality, and I’d paid far too much attention to the expectations of society. So, having recently re-read Kerouac’s On the Road, I concluded that a road trip was needed. As I stepped of the train in Paris, citing those Beatnik prophets I’d come to idolise, I decided that for at least the next month I’d just live for the sake of living, I’d embrace the moment, and the hedonistic pleasures of mortality. What actually happened was I began a month long binge-drinking session, and most likely significantly reduced my life expectancy through rampant alcohol abuse.
While it didn’t prove to be the spiritually eye opening experience I rather foolishly hoped it would, Europe did leave a profound mark upon me, largely thanks to those fellow wandering souls whose paths crossed mine from time to time. I could write a book on those free-spirited vagabonds and the love I have for every one of them, but there’s no time at present.
What I would like to share, with anyone who cares enough to read it, is a particular night I spent in a little town called Český Krumlov, in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, it was a night that I feel sums up all that I love about traveling and the people you are inevitably going to meet when you set out upon the road, but most importantly, it was a night that taught me a great deal about the nature of a singular moment.
I’d arrived from Prague earlier that day and checked into one of only a handful of hostels to be found in the town. There was a large group of us, all traveling with the same bus company, and almost all of us were put into the same ten bed dorm, in a room so small you literally had to climb over one another to get to your bed. As anyone who’s backpacked in Europe has probably found, most of those you meet in European hostels tend to be either Aussies or Kiwis, traveling Europe is some sort of right of passage for them. So it was me, a couple of Canadians, a handful of kiwis, and an army of bogan piss-heads, in a quiet tourist town where the bars had to shut by 11 pm. Everyone agreed that we’d buy some cheap lager from the local shop and throw a makeshift party in the hostel. The acid-head hippie of a receptionist even sorted us out with a keg.
There was one Aussie fella in particular I’d been hanging around with in Prague, he was some kind of early 90s hip hop throwback, bucket-hat and all, let’s call him Jay for the sake of anonymity. He was the epitome of a stoner, but I liked him, he didn’t say a lot but when he did it was generally something worth hearing. There’s nothing worse to me than those that never shut their god-damned mouths, but yet never have anything remotely interesting to say. Anyway, he found out from another Aussie staying in a hostel down the street that there was a bar named after some post-Impressionist painter, where the proprietor would supposedly sell us weed. So Jay, one of the two Canadians (who I’ll simply refer to as the Canadian because that’s literally the only thing I can remember about him) and I set out to meet Jay’s bogan friend from the Gold Coast, who I’ll refer to as Lew and then headed to find the bar.
We found it right next door to the police station, which seemed somewhat odd, but not odd enough for us to really give a shit, so we walked in and went to the bar, where we found this big, fat, Turkish, Ron Jeremy looking mother fucker, who instantly recognised us as his “Australian friends” he’d been expecting. It turns out Lew had heard of this place from the Yankee guy that worked in the hostel he was staying in, who in turn had told the Turk to expect a group of Aussie looking for some weed. The Turk immediately poured us some free drinks, told us to take a seat in the smoking room, and promised us all free shots of his own personal absinthe, “this shit should be illegal” he kept saying, trying to convince us that it was the strongest alcohol we’d ever taste. He brought us a couple of grams of weed and told us we were more than welcome to smoke it there, but to roll with our backs to the window and to keep the little bags out of sight as the filth walked up and down the street outside. Why he thought they wouldn’t be able to smell it through the open door I have no idea, but it was his place so he set the rules.
We sat in the corner rolling a few joints. The only other people in there were a couple of young Czech kids who were sat smoking in the back, it wasn’t long before the place started to fill up however. There was a young lad, friends with the other two Czech kids, who’d been working behind the bar when we’d arrived, upon finishing his shift the Turk gave him a small bag of green as compensation for working a few extra hours, and he came and sat with us in the corner, calling his two friends in the back over as well.
More people kept arriving, most of them seemed to know either the Turk or the young lads at our table, but after saying hello they’d grab a drink and a bad of weed from the bar and find a table of their own. We’d been there for an hour or so when the Turk brought us out a plate of nachos, “on the house, great for the munchies” he told us, and we got stuck in, who’s going to turn down a free plate of nachos? I usually hate nachos, but I shit you not, those were the best things I’ve ever tasted in my life.
It wasn’t long before a young Irish fella we’d met earlier that day showed up. He was a true bohemian living on the fringes of society. He was hitch hiking and busking his way from one city to another, not as a backpacking trip or gap year, but as a way of life. He immediately got out his guitar and started entertaining the patrons of the bar.
The Turk somehow convinced a group of female Asian tourists that were passing by to come into the bar for some free drinks, despite the fact that they spoke no common language and he looked like a pedophile trying to lure children into the back of a transit van. The Turk kept sending more free drinks over to both us and the Asian girls, and we started to wonder how in the hell he ran a bar when he seemed to just give half the alcohol away for free. But why would we complain? Weed, free drinks, free food, beautiful Asian girls that were necking vodka like it held the gift of eternal youth, and a crazy Irish vagabond with a guitar howling away, and all of it for our enjoyment. It was surreal, it seemed too good to be true, but we were too busy living it to question any of that.
The yank from Lew’s hostel showed up and sat at our table, talking to Lew like they were old friends, despite the fact they’d only met that morning. He started telling us countless stories, most of which I can’t remember now, a large amount of them involved the acid-head hippie receptionist with the keg from our hostel and the endlessly stupid, drug induced capers he seemed to find himself in.
The yank knew everything about the town, its inhabitants and its invisible underbelly, he’d been passing through, much like we were, a decade or so earlier and had liked it so simply decided to stay, and he’d embraced everything about his adopted home. The Czech kids seemed to look up to him for some reason, I guess they idealised his care-free outlook on life.
My favourite story he told us was about the Turk, and how he’d made his fortune. If it was true, it would explain why he was able to be so generous, but it seemed a little embellished. Basically, the Turk was the yanks best mate, and a few years earlier, not long after the Turk had first purchased the bar, the yank went round to visit him. He found his friend in the cellar, deep down in a well that was just randomly dug into the centre of the cellar floor. The Turk was chucking all kinds of shit out and all over the floor of the basement. He’d had no idea there was even a well in there when he’d bought the place, as it was literally filled to the brim with shit. The yank took one look at his friend, turned round, went up to the bar, and poured himself a drink, and another one, and another one, and so on. He was woken the next day by the Turk, who he then asked what the hell he was doing down in that well the night before, and the Turk simply replied that he was cleaning it out when he found some “treasure”.
Apparently the Turk would never admit to anyone what exactly the treasure he found was, everyone in the bar had their theories but no one actually knew what it was or where it came from, nor, for that matter, had any of them actually seen it.
As the night progressed one of the Czech kids got his djembe drum out and started jamming with the Irish busker, and the Turk asked us all to take the party down into the basement as the bar had to close up at 11. So just like that, we all got up and made our way down the old wooden stairs into the basement, where we all took seats around the infamous well where the Turk had (allegedly) acquired his fortune.
Joints were being passed round and the Irish lad treated us to a few old Irish folk songs, those of us that knew the words sang along, and the Asian girls drunkenly danced (stumbled) around the well, and for a moment I was almost certain one of them would fall in and be teleported to wonderland.
Jay, started freestyle rapping as the Irish lad played a few renditions of a recent pop songs, they worked well together and created some enjoyable renditions.
I sat and watched those beatniks. I watched them laugh, and sing, and dance, and drink, and embrace the night in all its glory. I don’t know where they came from, or where they were going, I don’t think even they knew, but I saw in them an unparalleled appreciation for life and for the moment they lived in. It was the only thing that mattered to them. That was when it dawned on me, that the present moment is the be all and end all of our entire existence, it’s the only thing that will ever be real.
But eventually it was time for us to go. We made our way up to the bar, where the Turk, as promised, poured us a shot of absinthe each. He was 100% right when he said that shit should be illegal. It was without a doubt the most brutal but brilliant drink I’ve ever tasted.
We made our way back to our creepy as shit hostel, where the party was over and everyone was passed out in their beds. The next morning, they all asked where we’d got to, so we told them out the crazy bar we’d found, but no one fully believed it could have been half as surreal as we made out.
We went back to try and find the bar in the daylight, but literally couldn’t find it anywhere and gave up our search. It was like it had just vanished when the sun came up, or that the four of us had shared some kind of connected hallucination.
We asked the acid-head hippie receptionist about the Turk when we saw him that afternoon, all he said was “yeah, that guys crazy, did he tell you about his treasure?” And he wandered off singing some old Portuguese love song to himself.
Early the next morning our stay in Český Krumlov was over, and we all boarded the bus to Vienna, not quite knowing what to make of the past two days.
I’d recommend Český Krumlov to anyone visiting the Czech Republic. It’s a fairytale, even the castles an illusion with its painted on windows and plant pots. It’s a true Bohemian town, not only because of its location in South Bohemia, but also because it embodies the Bohemian approach to life. It is a town of vagabonds, gypsies and lost adventures from innumerable lands they’ve long forgotten. A dreamlike world of bodhisattvas, who cling with hope to all that is good and holy in the world around them, true poets of action, and possessors of freedom of both the mind and spirit.
I’ve not been back since, but will someday. I wonder where they are today, the Turk, the Yank, the Irish busker and those crazy wide-eyed Czech kids. I like to think that they’re still there, and that tonight they’ll be sat around a table telling some unknown backpackers stories of mythical treasures, and that they’ll be there forever and ever, bestowing their wisdom through their actions in the night, upon all those lucky enough to encounter them.
I have a desire to one day fake my own death in a Kaufman-esque practical joke/commentary on the uncertainty of death and the impermanence of endings, and to live in forgotten solitude there in Český, spending my days wandering the mountains and forests of Šumava, and my nights among those lost prophets who first made me question the nature of my reality.
I wanted to share that night, because those are the nights we travel for, those are the nights we live for, those are the nights we pursue on the tiresome path towards enlightenment. Poetry isn’t only found in words written upon paper, sometimes it can be found in the souls of men, and in the nights you spend among them.