Sunday 21 September 2008

Day 1: Prague

Map from Explore

This time two weeks ago, S and I were wandering around Prague on the first day of our Explore cycle trip. The day started at 4:30 AM British Summer Time, when our minicab arrived to take us to Heathrow Terminal 2. Clearly our driver had little respect for either speed limits, or for those in the back seat prone to motion sickness, because we got there in 30 minutes: record time. The last thing I expected at 5 in the morning on a Sunday was queues at the airport, but it seems that Heathrow never sleeps. After checking in, visiting the currency exchange, navigating through security, and buying a new bottle of water, we had some time to sit at Caffe Nero with some hot drinks. The flight was relatively easy (although since the middle seats on Czech Air apparently have no padding, I can't say it was painless.) Soon we were at the other end - and even with the one hour time difference, it was still earlier than we normally get up on the weekend. Perhaps there is something to be said for getting an early start after all. More on that later.

We met our tour leader, K, and a few other people who had flown from London. We drove to the hotel, which as the tour literature had accurately noted, was about 4km from downtown Prague. We checked into our room, and then decided to go out and explore. We had free time until 8 PM and it was around noon. We walked to the nearest Metro station, and headed into central Prague.

Kobylisy Metro

From Kobylisy, it is exactly five stops to Muzeum, in the heart of Wenceslas Square. Our first views of the city were the National Museum and Wilsonova Street.

Fountain outside the National Museum

Wenceslas Square

We spent several hours wandering around Prague, soaking in the atmosphere without bothering to consult the maps and tour book much. I loved the decorated buildings - sgraffito, art deco, and generally over-the-top architectural details.



The Frank Gehry Fred and Ginger Dancing House

Vltava River with Prague Castle in the background



Push the button! Since Czech was totally incomprehensible to us, we started making up words based on what they looked like. Clearly this button would get you across the street, but maybe only if you were pro-choice.

We crossed the Charles Bridge, with its throngs of tourists, street vendors, and construction. And a balloon overhead.



Then up Nerudova Street to Prague Castle. We didn't go in (this time); just took pictures in the square.





Last, we headed back over the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square, and saw the astronomical clock.



At this point, I should mention it started raining. We hadn't eaten much all day - just a crushed slice of orange cake that I brought from the Caffe Nero and we split at the hotel before heading into town. We passed up Starbucks in favor of a Coffee Heaven, but annoyingly, we still weren't very hungry, although we knew we needed to eat. We sat in the coffee shop (surrounded by students and other native English speakers) until the rain let up.

We decided not to walk back to Muzeum. Instead, we walked through part of the Jewish Quarter, along the river, and made our way to Florenc Metro. We found a supermarket and bought some crisps - why do we seem to rely on snacks that we never eat at home when we're traveling? We did the same thing in Copenhagen. The grand adventure was at the tills, though. The woman at the check-out yelled at everyone in front of us, until it was our turn to be yelled at. From what we could gather, she had only a limited supply of change and was not impressed that her customers (ourselves included) did not come prepared with exact cash in hand. S saved the day with some 2 koruna coins from the coffee shop, and we rode the Metro back to the hotel.

We had our first formal meeting with the group at 8 PM. It is always a bit awkward for both the tour leader and the group members to meet each other, and immediately have to deal with certain formalities, but that seems to be the Explore way. "Hello, I'm K, your tour leader. Have you all filled out the manifest with your emergency contact details, and brought 100 euro each for the local payment? I'll just collect that now, thank you..." Really, the only way to break the ice after that is to visit the closest watering hole and start enjoying the cheap Czech beer. Topic of conversation: have you taken any other Explore tours? Any cycle trips?

And so our group began to bond over tales of travels and bicycles...

Day 1 Stats:
Blisters: 2 big ones on the backs of my heels (I wore sandals for the rest of the trip)

No comments: