A visit to the Czech Republic

I had a very easy stroll through Heathrow when I was dropped off on the Thursday afternoon - no queues at check-in or security, I just wandered to the lounge, had a muffin, then on to the gate. Did my usual trick of being one of the last to get on the plane, but we then spent about 30 minutes taxi-ing before finally taking off. To my surprise on such a short flight we were fed, otherwise I just alternately dozed and read. There was even a cycling article in the in-flight magazine, with a feature on the Athens Olympic course. Unusually for me, I hadn't done any research and little planning for Prague - I had booked a hotel on line a few days before leaving, but that was it. But the point of this trip, besides the main factor of attending Duncan's wedding of course, was to relax and have a break, so I was chilled out and in no hurry after getting off the plane. I showed the lady at the bus/train info booth the address of my hotel, and she told me which transport to take. So I went out to the bus stop, only to discover that you need coins for the ticket machine. So I went back inside to buy a ticket. Good timing though, because I had just walked out again when the bus pulled up. I took the bus to the end of the line, then got out at the tube station entrance. It was a lovely sunny day, and I contemplated walking the rest of the way, but decided to save my shoulders from hefting my rucksac too far and went down to the tube. The tube train was very smart - plush and new and very clean. And bizarrely also boarded by a large number of people dressed as pirates - complete with eye patches plastic cutlasses..... Four stops took me to the centre of Prague, and after randomly walking down a street I got my bearings on the map and headed for the hotel. Which I found easily enough - oddly all the buildings have two numbers, which I haven't had an explanation for yet. Slightly quirky place, but a comfortable, albeit small room. Not too keen on the single bed idea though! One observation from the tube: Long, steep escalators to get out, just like in London. However, at home they put the adverts on the walls set vertically. In Prague they are perpendicular to the escalator, which I found very disconcerting - it made me want to lean back as I looked at them, and I had to concentrate not to fall backwards - I wonder if it has had that effect on anyone? It would be a nasty fall..... Anyway, I dropped my bag off and went out again to look around. Found a pizza place for dinner (Most traditional Czech cusine is based on meat, so not too suitable for me!); 32cm pizza and drink for 3, and they say Prague has got more expensive now! On the way back to the hotel I went into Tesco, where I discovered the largest yogurt selection I've ever come across - there was even about four different types of chocolate yogurt, mmmm. I bought a couple for desert, but didn't have a spoon - used the handle of my toothbrush, no worries. Now, I am generally not too keen on cities, but Prague was appealing to me already; Incredibly clean for one thing - the street cleaners were still out at 9pm on a Thursday. Nice cobbled pedestrian sections and incredible architecture everywhere. Mind you, I wouldn't want to pavement layer here - they seem to mostly use very small cubes of stone, not much more than an inch square at times, which must be very time consuming to lay. Back at the hotel I discovered that I may have cable TV, but it was mostly German, so just had a short read and slept.

I woke up a couple of times in the night, disturbed by noise from elsewhere, but slept well enough, finally waking up at 7:30 - time for a (cold!) shower before my breakfast was delivered at 8. After stuffing myself with cereal, rolls and yogurt, I headed out to explore. Over the river and I was drawn to the hills overlooking the city. This area is lovely, forested with a network of paths and the old castle walls and buildings. I could have spent all day wandering around quite happily. But I satisfied myself with a couple of hours before returning to the hotel. After a short rest I picked up my bag and checked out for some more walking. First I found the department store where I was supposed to be for my lift to Krumlov at 1:30, then strolled some more before getting a sandwich for lunch. The only information I had was that six of us were meeting an American called Bill with a van.... very cloak and dagger. But after eyeballing people for a bit, the six of us found each other, then Bill arrived - on foot, but the Espace was round the corner. We squeezed everyone and luggage in and headed off. Quite a lot of traffic - apparently many Prague residents leave the city on the weekends. But otherwise a nice drive, quite scenic, especially when we took to the back roads. We arrived in Krumlov at 5:30, then played hunt the hotel, followed by hunt the parking, followed by discovering that Bill didn't have a reservation. He almost ended up sleeping on my floor, but eventually found a place to stay. But no time to rest - I just grabbed another layer and headed out to meet everyone in the square for the quick town tour. Very groovy castle - complete with bears in the moat! The town is also pretty amazing, loads of incredible architecture and little cobbled streets with the river winding through the middle of it all. Dinner was in an old converted prison-turned-restaurant. Very low and dark and with awful accoustics that made it very loud. I hadn't eaten for over eight hours at this point, and also wasn't really in the mood for small talk with strangers. But eventually we got some food - soup in bread, which was novel, a large crusty roll hollowed out and filled with soup! Very tasty. Then salad, then by that point I was done and needed to get out, so I had a quick chat with Duncan before retiring for the night. Talking to the others in the van, it seemed I got off lightly with my flight - Prague is very popular with stag parties and the flights at weekends are regularly filled with noisy stagites, which really wouldn't have amused me. Fortunately mine was quite peaceful!

I had a lazy start Saturday morning, not actually emerging from the hotel until 11. I had been reading a leaflet on Krumlov though, and was amazed by quite how rude it was: recommending a place for a 'public shag' and giving the phrase for 'do you fuck on a first date' amongst others!

to be continued.....
(and pictures to come soon too)