Tuesday, September 6th 2016
Each year we go on a trip somewhere abroad on each of our respective birthdays. For my birthday this year, we are going to Prague, arriving today and returning to the UK on September 9th.
Prague, as you no doubt know, is the capital, and largest city, of the Czech Republic, a land-locked country in Central Europe bordered by Germany, Poland, Austria and Slovakia. The above map shows it situated in its immediate neighbourhood and if you wish to explore further, clicking on the map will open the corresponding live Google Map.
To be honest, I was a little nervous at the thought of going to Prague as I know nothing of the Czech language and wondered whether this would be a problem. People assured me that English is widely spoken and this turned out to be the case. Hotel and restaurant staff, ticket clerks and, in short, everyone we interacted, with spoke English at least well enough for the purpose at hand.
Usually, when we travel to Europe, we just top up our stock of Euros but that trick would not work on this occasion. The currency used in the Czech Republic is the koruna (‘crown’) and so, the Sunday before departure, we went round the currency exchange bureaux trying to buy some. The first we tried didn’t have any korunas. The second had some but not enough and the exchange rate wasn’t very good. As it was Sunday, a lot of exchange bureaux were closed so we gave up for the day, leaving it for the morrow when more would be open. On Monday we managed to obtain the korunas we wanted at a rate of 30.7961 korunas to the pound sterling.
The fact that there are about 30 korunas to the pound makes prices look frightening at first sight but I soon became used to dividing prices by 30 (divide by 3 and shift the decimal point one place left) to calculate the approximate sterling cost. Prices turned out to be quite reasonable, no more expensive than in the UK and perhaps even a little cheaper.
Language, currency… what else do you have to worry about you travel abroad? These days: electricity! The modern traveller goes armed with electronic gadgets such as mobiles, cameras, geotaggers and perhaps computers and tablets. All these need recharging regularly. Hotels may or may not be well provided with power points but in any case you need to check what plugs you will need and whether the voltage is compatible with your equipment. Happily, power points in the Czech Republic accept our French adaptors and the current lies within the acceptable range for our gadgets (220v AC 50Hz).
We booked our flight and hotel together as one package with BA. We have travelled with them before and found them reliable. The only slight disappointment was the outward travel time. The only cheapish flight left for September 6th was at 19:45, arriving in Prague at 21:40. That meant that we would have only two full days in which to explore Prague. Prague time is one hour later than London time so the flight lasted just under 2 hours.
On arrival, we exited the terminal building and looked around for a taxi rank. We found one and settled down to wait. It turned out to be a long wait. There were taxis: we could see them running along here and there but, for some reason, they seemed unwilling to come to the taxi rank. Several approached and looked as though they were about to stop but them zoomed off again. Why, I do not know. Cabs did occasionally stop at the rank but only at long intervals. Finally, we obtained our very own taxi. The driver even got out and helped put our bags in the boot. The 45-minute ride through night-time Prague was quite exciting.
We paid off the taxi and went into the hotel to make the acquaintance of the night clerk. This gentleman was polite, friendly and helpful and spoke fluent English. He also told us that they were expecting 4 people, not two, or possibly 6 people in three rooms.
When we booked online, there had been a problem. The booking didn’t seem to go through at the first go so we tried again. Guess what happened: yep, we received two emails confirming two bookings! Next day I phoned BA’s customer services and explained the problem. They assured me all was now well: they had cancelled one of the bookings and confirmed the other. It now seemed that, somehow, the message from BA to the hotel had become garbled. The clerk suggested we might like to talk to the manager about this and made us an appointment with him after breakfast on the morrow. I had visions of being asked to pay for 4 people… or was it 6?
Our hotel room is quite large. In fact, it consists of two adjoining rooms or three if you count the en suite separately. The bed , though, is hard. In fact, I have known only one bed harder and that was at the Chinese floating hotel in Rotterdam.
Power points? Yes, there are just about enough but they are all in the second room and none are near the bed. I use my mobile as my alarm clock and if I want to leave it on charge during the night, there is nothing for it but to leave in the other room and leap out of bed to silence the alarm when it rings in the morning.