Friday, September 9th 2016
Today we said goodbye to Prague and returned to London. We awoke bright and early and packed our bags, all but the last-minute items, and then went down to breakfast.
Usually, we don’t have breakfast at the hotel, firstly, because it tends to be expensive and, secondly, because there is often little choice for vegetarians. Somehow we had signed up for breakfast at the Cloister Inn and as we had paid in advance, we were stuck with it. As is now common in hotels, breakfast is laid out as a buffet and you choose what and how much you want to eat. There were no vegetarian options labelled as such but we managed to cobble together a reasonable meal each morning.
There are various ways of reaching the airport from the hotel, but, given the distance, the fact we had luggage and the need to be on time, we had decided to take a taxi. Hotel reception booked the taxi for us yesterday morning. The company they use specifies a fixed fee of 550 koruna (about £18, based on the rate we got in London) and the journey takes around 45 minutes.
The taxi duly arrived and the driver helpfully stowed our bags in the boot. Despite the weekday traffic on the roads, the journey went well and I think shaved some minutes off the estimated journey time. The taxi parked in front of the terminal building where we had waited so long and anxiously for a cab on the night of our arrival. We looked with sympathy at the people queueing for cabs today… I paid off the driver and we went into the terminal building.
Terminal buildings, at least in Europe, all look the same. As we wandered along looking for the BA check-in desks, we could have been at Heathrow or any of the airports in a dozen other countries. There was nothing that particularly suggested we were in Prague.
I tend to be anxious about catching the plane or the train home. Tigger knows this and insisted that we arrive at the airport in plenty of time. This meant that the check-in desks for our flight had only just opened and we were about 10th or 11th in the queue. On the outward journey, we had had ordinary seats which meant that I spent the flight with my knees jammed against the seat in front, trying unsuccessfully to twist and turn to avoid cramp. We were determined on the inward journey to get better seats. And, being early, we succeeded: the nice check-in lady found us seats beside the aircraft’s emergency side exits where there is more leg-room.
Next, we had to go through the bag and person search. I thought I had got this down pat: before getting to the machines, I had put in my cabin bad everything but my hat and any ‘liquids’ that have to go separately in a transparent plastic bag. Imagine my surprise when I walked through the detector and the alarm sounded! It seems that a bracelet Tigger had given me was the cause. It’s made of plaited cord and is decorated with 3 shiny buttons that I thought were plastic but in fact have metal in them. They’re only about 3mm in diameter but the machine detected them. A few waves of a hand-scanner by a patient security man showed that I was harmless and we could proceed.
As we were early, all we could do now was to sit in one of the large seating areas and wait as our flight moved slowly up the departures board. No departure gate was yet indicated. Sitting next to us was a man wanting to fly to Barcelona. He was worried because his flight was annotated ‘Wait for for information’. He spoke just odd words of English but tried to seek our advice. My Spanish is somewhat rusty but I sought to pacify him, saying that I thought it probably meant that his flight was delayed for some reason but that they would make a more helpful announcement later. As he continued to be agitated, I suggested he speak to airport staff as they would have a better idea of what was happening. He tried this but they simply said to sit and wait. He continued to be anxious and to claim our attention.
It was a relief when our gate was announced, giving us an excuse to leave. In any case, the Barcelona flight was also now announced, making our agitated neighbour happy too.
We reached the departure lounge and did some more sitting and waiting. As usual, they first called people with seats in the back rows on the plane and then worked their way forward. At last it was our turn and we followed the slow movement down the tunnel, past the welcoming committee in the plane doorway and made the usual slow progress along the aisle to our seats. Being beside the door, these gave me a small but precious amount of extra leg room. My knees were not jammed against the seat in front and I could even change position slightly to ward off cramp. Of such small blessings is happiness made. The flight was uneventful and even arrived a little earlier than the scheduled 2 hours 15 minutes.
We made the long walk through the terminal building. Having no luggage but our cabin bags, we went through baggage reclaim without stopping and joined the queues at passport control. Nowadays, machines have been installed to examine passports. You insert your passport, open at the appropriate page, and the scanner checks it, opening the gate if all is well.
Tigger went through without difficulty but when my turn came, the machine wouldn’t co-operate. Even though my passport is of recent issue, I have had similar problems with it before. There was nothing for it by to wave to Tigger and make signs indicating that I had to go to one of the manned desks. My passport was checked by a human and pronounced satisfactory. No one can tell me why the machines don’t like it.
We made our way down to the Underground station and boarded a waiting Piccadilly Line train that would carry us to King’s Cross. The journey takes about an hour but it was quite pleasant to sit and watch the suburbs slide past the windows (for the first part of the journey from Heathrow the ‘underground’ train runs above ground) and reminisce about our stay in Prague. At King’s Cross we emerged and climbed to street level where we boarded a bus that carried us up the road to our stop.
Everything was in order at home, almost as though we had not been away. I lugged my bag into the bedroom and dumped it on the bed. Back in the living room, Tigger said ‘I’ve put the kettle on. Will you make the tea?’ ‘Right,’ I said. And I made the tea.