Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Trip Report, part 1: Prague, Czech Republic, May 1–8, 2005

Byrnes Family Trip Report, Prague, May 1–8, 2005

Not nearly enough time was available for us to do anywhere near all that we wanted. We had only 6 nights in Prague and the wedding and dinners and parties for it took up much of our time, so we only did a few of the tourist things – for tourist purposes it was almost like a long weekend trip, and with jet lag. We saw some of Prague Castle, toured the Smetana and Dvořak museums, took a one-hour boat cruise, and visited the old fort/castle/national tomb (Slavin) at Vysehrad. Gerald rented a cello and took two music lessons while we were in Prague.


Sunday afternoon we left Albuquerque on Continental Airlines, connecting to our trans-Atlantic flight in Houston. We got boarding passes for both Continental flights in Albuquerque. Watched a movie on individual video screens, had dinner on plane over northeast US. Did lots of napping, but Gerald did lots of movie watching. We were on a back bulkhead row, which limited our ability to recline, but did put us close to the lavatories and good access away from our seats in the “triple seven” airplane, which had three rows of three seats across. Headphones were complimentary, though I think the business and first-class passengers got fancier ones. We were served a dinner in the evening and a breakfast in the morning. The route from Houston to London took us over the US-Canadian border near northern Maine and the Canadian maritime provinces, then over the ocean and southern Ireland.

Monday –
Monday morning, we arrived in London, to switch terminals and airlines at Gatwick, which was quite a maze because of construction; the monorail was out of order so we followed a maze of signs and winding corridors and stairs and elevators up and down and around to a transfer lounge so as to avoid officially entering Britain (and to avoid the long queues of people doing so). (The British hate to chuck anything into the dustbin or tear down any old buildings, so I’m sure that they decided the best use for some old parts of the south air terminal was to provide a maze for the amusement of travelers.) We followed the transfer bus driver out an emergency exit when he popped up, traveled through a maze of girders, scaffolding, and buildings, enjoyed being on the “wrong” side of a road for a bit, and went through a "secret back door" into the north terminal and did check in and security, then passed through another "back door" to the departure lounge.

At Gatwick, at least in the north terminal, all facilities for departing passengers are in the large departure hall, including lots of shopping. Most gate assignments aren’t made or gates opened until fairly shortly before departure, because it turns out that the gates are small, separate/isolated areas with no facilities – no restrooms, water fountains, etc.

We flew a British Airways 737 to Prague, eating lunch en route.
We met Carol Anne's parents, Phil and Barbara, who flew in from Rome after a week in Umbria, in Assisi. They had been participating, for the first time, in a week of an elderhostel program. The steep streets (“hill streets” of Assisi had prepared them well for the hills of Prague. Their plane was five or ten minutes or so behind ours instead of the scheduled ten minutes earlier, but we still had a nicely timed connection. Unfortunately (Bohuzel!) none of us knew that Philee had sent a driver, and although we happened to see the signs held by a couple of other drivers, we weren’t looking for and never saw Philee’s driver.

We settled into our suite at the Hotel Ušemíka after ringing the buzzer and speaking to the attendant for admittance to the lobby. We learned unfortunately that in the process of adjusting our reservations, a goof had been made and we wouldn’t have reservations for our last night. The flat (byt) was very nice, though it involved some serious stair climbing. From the back/uphill side it was on what we Americans would call the third floor and from the front it was even higher off the ground. It had nice views since the front side, where our bedroom was, looked out on the town. The back side, with windows from Phil & Barbara’s room and the sitting room, looked south through some trees upon the high brick walls of Vysehrad. The suite had two bedrooms, a sitting/living room, and separate compartments for the toilet (zachod) and the room with the bathtub (koupelna). Our bedroom was large and had a Czech double bed – essentially two single beds with firm mattresses pushed together – sort of like what I hear some cruise ships do – and two single beds, plus a small loft with no means of access. Were told that European hotels don’t typically provide washcloths.

We briefly explored the Vyserad fort/park and the national tomb (Slavin) inside with the tombs of composers Antonin Dvořak, Bedřich Smetana, poet Jan Neruda, writer Karel Čapek (he came with the idea and coined the word “robot”), and others.

We enjoyed a small dinner with family, Carol Anne's brother Philee, and a friend (James?). We had to convince our waiter to permit 7 people to sit at a table for 6, then 8 as Jerry, who brought us some metro/tram tickets, James, and Lee/Philee joined us.


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