Czech Republic: Day One

Posted: under 2011/04 - Czech Republic.

I am writing these reports at the end of each day to hopefully summarize my trip.

Today is actually more like 1.5 days as it started on Wednesday at 6pm Eastern time and ends on Thursday 10pm Czech time.

This trip is a bit ambitious for me as not only do I have several of my regular traveling companions (Allison, Josh and Bob) but also two new additions to the group, Ben and Abe. And by new, I mean not only that I haven’t traveled with them in the past or really know them (Ben I knew well back in grade school, and not at all since High School), but also that they have never traveled over seas before. Thus we have a learning curve as well as an unknown personality profile to deal with.

We all met at the Dulles airport and made it through to our gate with little or no problems. Josh got profiled as usual and had to have himself swabbed for explosive residue. I blame his big ass beard. And Allison once again got ‘randomly’ selected for the back scatter machine. Frankly if she ate a few more sammiches like me I doubt she would be chosen as much.

Our first leg of the flight was to stop in Amsterdam. It was to take almost 8 hours, but due to a massive back wind we were able to make it in under 7 hours. We flew KLM, my first time on this Dutch carrier. The flight was smooth and pleasant. I had a problem getting comfortable as my leg room was halved due to a metal box under the seat in front of me. Really wish I could have gotten some sleep, but at least I got to catch up on some movies. They have great in flight entertainment on KLM.

The Amsterdam airport was just as I remembered it from my last visit 2 years ago. Very well maintained airport with a great selection of restaurants and shops to choose from. Our lay over was for 2.5 hours so I was able to avail myself of a Sausage Roll and some Apple Strudle while I was there.

Our next leg was only an hour long and we got to fly on Czech Airlines. Nothing really to note here other than the flight was a good one and no complaints from any of the passengers.

Arriving in Prague we quickly made it to the baggage terminal and picked up the bags from the three that checked them in. Still no clue why they made Bob check his as his bag was a little smaller than mine. Perhaps it was just easier for the gate agent to confront him. At least they didn’t charge him for the check in.

I had already arranged for a car service to take us to the hotel, which is fortunate as there is no train service to the Prague airport. You can take a bus and then a tram to the hotel, but the passes get convoluted due to the need for passes for your luggage also. So the car service I found (Prague Airport Transfers) gave us a reasonable rate since there were six of us.

The ride to the hotel was exciting for a couple of reasons. First we had an excellent driver (Carmine?) who picked us up in his bright purple van. And there is a reason I make note of the van’s color, because shortly into our trip a white worker van tried its best to run us off the road. The other driver did not look at all and did a quick 2 lane change. Certainly gave us all a scare but the driver navigated us well and kept his cool about him. After that the rest of our 15km journey was uneventful, but we did get some good local information on the drive. Lots of communist era buildings were pointed out, and how they have left them up but painted them in bright colors…they reminded me of the ugly grey apartment tenements found in the US built for the working poor. but they were for everyone.

We arrived at our hotel the Ibis Mala Strana. Ibis is a chain of hotels in Europe that would be of the same quality in America as a Holiday Inn. We all checked in and relaxed for a few minutes before heading next door to the mall to get SIM cards for me and Josh’s phones. While there we decided to grab some lunch at one of the local restaurants. It was good Czech food of which most of us tried out. I had the Beef Goulash with bread dumplings, it was quite rich with fresh onions but very tasty.

After that the jet lag kicked in and we all crashed for a couple of hours. The rooms at the hotel are quite small, but efficient. I am rooming with Josh’s father Abe, who I am just now meeting. We would have gone 3 to a room but it would have been very cramped at that point.

So we are refreshed and out on the streets enjoying a nice cool evening and investigating the city. We walk along Palackeho most toward New Town and cross the Vltava river. Its quite scenic here, looking north toward Old Town and the Prague Castle in the distance.

After we cross the bridge we walk along the river to the Dancing House.  This is a facinating building that resembles two people dancing. Originally it was called Fred and Ginger but later came to be known as a simpler title of the Dancing House.

Along the river here is two converted barges that have been made into a hotel and a restaurant. Very cool looking but we did not go down to check out the dinner prices. Though by this time we are all thinking dinner so I figure its time to find a nearby beer hall for the evening.

After a quick search I find we were near U Fleku, a beer hall that has been serving since 1459. After a few miss turns on the back streets I orient myself and we settle down for dinner. It is true beer hall style with long tables and benches to sit on. The clientele seemed to be a mix of tourists and locals. We were definitely touristy with our cameras out and I think the staff capitalized on it. They greeted us with a tray full of shots of Carlsbad Becherovka, a local Cinnamon shnaps type beverage. Quite tasty and invigorating. Next up came the dark beer, plenty of it. And as soon as your mug was empty they had another one out for you. But even in that case I think we only had 2 each, with a couple having 3. The beer is brewed on the premises and not available anywhere else. VERY smooth and tasty.

Our food was good Czech fare. Josh had the Pork Neck which was neat (and pretty tasty) and everyone else had a mismatch of different things. I got the sausage and found it very good. There was also some excellent accordion music accompanied by French Horn. Abe got into this and sang quite loud when a song was played that he knew. And this was the guy who WASN’T drinking!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel taking a slightly different route this time crossing the Jiraskuv most instead. We got to see the Prague Castle lit up at night and it was awesome. Its been a long but great day…now time to catch some sleep!

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