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.
Wednesday, September 7th 2016
This is the first of our two full days in Prague and we mean to make the most of it exploring the city. When we left London, it was in the midst of an unseasonal hot spell or ‘Indian Summer’. We arrived in Prague to find the temperature here several degrees hotter still. While sunny weather is better for our purposes than rain and cold, it does lead to a tendency to walk on the shady side of the street and to make frequent stops for iced tea!
Before starting out this morning, however, there was the important matter of seeing the manager about our multiple reservations. Accordingly, we had breakfast and then settled down in the lobby to wait. The manager turned out to be a friendly and pleasant gentleman. He confirmed that there had indeed been multiple bookings (three rooms for six people instead of one room for two people) but that we need not worry: there was no question of us being charged for more than one room. The management was, he said, ‘in negotiation with BA about the other reservations’. That was a relief and we set out on the day’s explorations in cheerful mood.
Prague turned out to be a picturesque and beautiful city. Fine buildings and elegant squares abound. One risks becoming overwhelmed with it all and using one’s camera like a machine gun. Really, to do a good job of conveying the city’s appearance and character, one would need to make a systematic plan and spend time, probably weeks, carrying it out. We, though, had only two days, not weeks, and no plan. So, as we usually do, we rambled as fancy took us and photographed whatever took our fancy along the way. We did, however, have some definite destinations in mind.
We spotted this old pump. I don’t know how old it is or even whether it still works. Affixed to it was a notice:
VODA NENÍ PITNÁ
DO NOT DRINK
The Czech means, literally, ‘water not drinkable’ but I was impressed by the fact that this was accompanied by an equivalent phrase in English. We were to discover that many notices throughout the city were expressed in both Czech and English.
The great river that runs through Prague is called the Vltava. (The stress falls on the first ‘a’ – vltAva – and the word is pronounced as though there is a neutral vowel between the ‘v’ and the ‘l’. Listen here.)
The Karluv most or Charles Bridge was built between 1357 and 1410 and is a famous and much visited Prague landmark. We’ll take a look at it tomorrow.
I was happy to spot cormorants beside the river, with one of them drying its wings, indicating that it had recently been diving for fish. This shows that the river is clean and biologically active.
Beside the river, there is a park or garden, called Smetanovo nábreží (Smetana Embankment), named in honour of the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana (1824-84). In it, stands the imposing Gothic-style monument to Franz Joseph (1830-1916), Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia from 1848 to 1916.
It was designed by architect Josef Kranner (and is also known as the Kranner Fountain) with sculptures by Josef Max. It was unveiled in 1850 and restored in 2003.
Some of Prague’s historic buildings are quite ancient as, for example, the Church of St Martin in the Wall, which dates from the 12th century.
In the 13th century, the church building adjoined the town wall, hence its name.
Situated in the old Coal Market, Uhelném Trhu, in the Old Town, is the Wimmerova kašna or Wimmer’s Fountain, created by sculptor František Xaver Lederer (1758-1811) in 1797. It shows a couple of allegorical figures representing viticulture and agriculture. The fountain was the gift of Jakub Wimmer, a rich merchant of Prague, who donated much money to improving and beautifying the city. The name of the area derives from the fact that from the Middle Ages until the early 19th century, this was the market for charcoal.
Sitting on a bench in front of the Modrá Ruže Hotel (the name means ‘Blue Roses Hotel’), we found this engaging figure. It is a lifelike sculpture of a man, apparently cheerful and relaxed, perhaps resting from his labours. His left leg is crossed over his right but the foot is missing. This must be recent damage as there are photos showing the sculpture complete. I have not been able to find out the name of the sculptor or any other information on the piece.
Thus we arrived at the Old Town Hall. In Czech its name is Staromestská radnice which means Old-Town Hall, that is, the Town Hall of Prague Old Town. It is an impressive structure and one of Prague’s oldest. It is difficult to date because it has evolved over time rather than being built in one single act. Its history began in 1338 when a set of houses was bought and adapted to the town council’s needs. This process of adaptation and expansion continued over the centuries. A Gothic Revival eastern wing was added but this was destroyed in the Prague Uprising (May 1945) and was never rebuilt. The Town Hall can be visited though we did not do so on this occasion. Something to add to the list on a possible return.
On the side wall of the building is a remarkable device. It is called the Staromestský orloj, which means ‘Old-Town Clock’ but it is better known in the world of tourism as the Astronomical Clock. In the Middle Ages there was a fashion for such devices, no doubt because they added considerably to the prestige of the institutions (usually churches) that could afford to install them. The ingenuity that went into their design and the skill with which the mechanism was put together is still greatly admired today. Astronomical clocks were the advanced technology of their day. The clock was made by Mikulas of Kadan, possibly with the help of a university professor called Jan Sindel, and was installed in 1410. It has been repaired and refurbished a number of times over the centuries as is only to be expected.
The clock was the first of our three destinations mentioned at the beginning. We knew that the clock was supposed to ‘perform’ on the hour and took up position some time before 11 am. Though we were early, quite a crowd had already gathered and there was a certain amount of ducking and weaving to secure a good viewing position.
We were standing with our backs to a cafe terrace and I felt a little sorry for the customers because their view of the clock was obscured by a wall of bodies. If any had come there to watch the clock in comfort, they were disappointed.
The clock did eventually perform. Two windows above the main dial opened allowing us to see Christ and the Twelve Apostles parade past the openings. The show over, the crowd melted quickly away and we sat on the cafe terrace and ordered iced tea!
Horse-drawn carriages are very popular with tourists. We have encountered them in several cities, including Bruges, Vienna and, now, Prague. They are usually pulled by two horses and the driver may or may not be dressed in some sort of uniform or livery. In the Victorian times, London was ankle-deep in horse dung but the inhabitants of the aforementioned modern citied are spared that inconvenience. The problem is averted by the simple expedient of hanging a bag behind each of the horses. This supposedly collects any out-fall and can be emptied when it is convenient to do so.
The carriages shown above were lined up beside the Kostel svatého Mikuláše or Church of St Nicholas, a Baroque style building raised between 1704 and 1755.
Our second destination was the Muchovo Muzeum or Mucha Museum. As the name suggests, this museum collects and celebrates the work of Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphons Maria Mucha (1860-1939). Like Toulouse Lautrec and other artists of the period, Mucha produced advertising as well as works of ‘pure’ art.
(An approximation to the pronunciation his name is MU-ha, though in the Czech pronunciation, the ‘ch’ has a slightly aspirate or fricative sound similar to the ‘ch’ in the Scottish loch.)
Unfortunately, though understandably, photography was not allowed in the museum and so I cannot show you what we saw. Happily, all you need do is type ‘alphonse mucha’ into your search engine and click on Images to see a vivid and colourful display of his works.
Rounding a corner, we came unexpectedly upon this somewhat sinister figure. It stands beside the entrance of the Statovské divadlo or Estates Theatre. It is by Czech-born sculptor Anna Chromy and is entitled Il Commendatore. The English version of the attached plate reads ‘In memory of W.A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni, premiered in this theatre 29.10.1797’.
On our way to our third and final destination of the day, we again passed in front of the Church of St Nicholas (Kostel svatého Mikuláše), brightly lit by the afternoon sun.
We were heading for the Obecní dum or Municipal House, a civic building that includes, among other treasures, the Smetana Hall concert theatre. Built on a site once occupied by the palace of the King of Bohemia, construction of this Art Nouveau gem began in 1905 and was completed by 1912. The architects were Osvald Polívka and Antonín Balšánek. You can just see over the main entrance the mosaic Hold Praze or Homage to Prague by Karel Špillar.
We joined a tour of the building and were taken through a long series of rooms, including the Smetana Hall, most beautifully designed and decorated in Art Nouveau style. All were different in conception but unified by the same artistic inspiration. It would take a book – a large book – to describe all the features of this glorious interior in the detail it deserves. I have collected a few of my photographs into the Gif below. This does not do justice to the subject, of course, but may give you a glimpse of it.
The tour guide spoke in English though with my hearing I didn’t manage to understand everything said. We were given booklets containing descriptions of the various rooms and historical notes but we were asked to return them afterwards! When the tour ended, we were free to explore and photograph the public parts of the building as we wished.
The Municipal House possesses a magnificent bar, the Kavárna Obecní dum, resplendent in period décor. We ordered iced tea and enjoyed a rest in beautiful surroundings.
Later, we went looking for somewhere where we could have our evening meal. Finding dishes acceptable to vegetarians is not difficult in Prague, though vegan food might present greater problems. The game is to find a place with vegetarian choices that also offers a pleasant environment.
The Palladium Praha or Prague Palladium is a well known shopping centre or mall. It opened in 2007 but is worth a look for its own sake. In there we found El Emir, a Lebanese restaurant. Lebanese cuisine offers lots of choices for vegetarians and so that’s where de dined. It made a pleasant end to an interesting, if busy, day.
Thursday, September 8th 2016
This is the second of our two full days in Prague and in fact the last as we return to London tomorrow. The weather continues sunny and hot so we can wander at will though with occasional stops for rest and refreshment.
Our hotel (Cloister Inn, should you be interested) resides in a street called Konviktská and on a corner of this with another street, Karoliny Svetlé, stands a curious little building which we notice each time we go past. So today we photographed it.
It was not open so we could not look inside. The building is ancient, dating back to the 11th century. Its name indicates that it is a religious institution of some sort but of which flavour? Apparently, it belongs to the Starokatolická Církev v Ceské Republice which, being interpreted, means the Old Catholic Church of the Czech Republic. The Old Catholic Church is one of a number of so called Breakaway, or Independent, Catholic Churches, and it split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1870s over the issue of papal infallibility which its members do not accept. It’s a pretty little building and one of Prague’s three rotundas, the others being those of St Longin and St Martin.
We went to visit the Karluv most or Charles Bridge. In the above photo we are approaching the bridge’s eastern gate. (The photo is not quite as it seems: I manipulated it to remove unwanted clutter encroaching on the left. The gate itself, however, is pukka.) This magnificent and useful construction was begun in 1357 on the orders of Charles IV and completed in 1402.
Near the eastern end of the bridge stands a monument to Charles (Karel) IV. Charles (1316-78) was chosen Holy Roman Emperor and was also King of Bohemia (Bohemia is now the western part of the Czech Republic). The monument, designed by Dresden sculptor Arnost J. Hähnel, was made in 1848 to mark the 500th anniversary of Charles University (Universzita Karlova).
The bridge is lined with sculptures representing saints. There are 30 in all and they were carved from 1683 to 1928.
The bridge, happily, is pedestrian only and, while it serves the important purpose of crossing the river, it also provides a pleasant environment in which to stroll on a sunny day.
There are, of course, good views of the Vltava. The bridge you see is the Mánesuv most or Mánes Bridge. Completed in 1914, the modernist style bridge is named in honour of the Czech Romantic painter Josef Mánes (1820 – 1871).
From here too you can observe and admire the colonies of swans that live on the river.
The Vltava flows roughly north through Prague and the Charles Bridge runs east-west across it. The bridge carries you from the Old Town on the east side to the Malá Strana (literally, ‘Little Side’ but usually called Lesser Town in English) on the west.
We left the bridge by the western arch or gate and entered Malá Strana.
This is a view back towards the Charles Bridge along Mostecká, which I am guessing means something like ‘Bridge Street’.
Prague, I’m happy to say, has a well developed tram network and we decided to take a tram ride from where we were in Malá Strana to… well, wherever it would take us. A tram ride is enjoyable in itself and is a good way to see the city.
In common with other European cities, you buy public transport tickets in advance of travel and frank them on the vehicle. Visitors to Prague can buy travel cards from tourist information offices or machines at tram stops. A convenient ticket for tourists is the Prague City Card which comes in 2-day, 3-day and 4-day variants. The card gives you unlimited access to all public transport. You can buy it at any time because the period of validity starts only when you frank it for the first time on a vehicle. It’s a little expensive but it gives you discounts on many tours and admission fees.
And here is a bonus for the older traveller: if you are 75 or over, you do not pay at all to use public transport. You do not even need an exemption ticket: it is sufficient to produce, if asked, a document such as a driving licence or passport that shows your date of birth. In any case, you will need this only on the rare occasions when ticket inspectors board the bus or tram. You don’t have to be a resident of Prague or a Czech national as the concession applies to anyone over 75.
This is where the tram brought us and where we disembarked because we were overdue for refreshments! This place is called Výstavište Praha or Prague Exhibition Grounds. I have to admit that we did not know this at the time or what the buildings were.
The one on the left is the Prumyslový palác or Industrial Palace. A magnificent Art Nouveau building, it was designed and built for the Jubilee Exhibition in Prague in 1891 and hosts exhibitions and trade fairs. Unfortunately the left wing was destroyed by fire in 2008.
On the right is the Lapidárium Národního muzea or Lapidarium of the National Museum. I am uncertain as to the origins of this handsome building as the sources I have seen are vague or contradictory. I believe it was once a summer palace but have no ides when it was built. From 1905, however, it has served as the National Museum’s lapidarium, that is, a collection of sculptures of historical as well as aesthetic value.
We didn’t explore these buildings but were content to sit in the sun and enjoy a cooling drink. There was a mobile drinks stall and I asked for iced tea. The man said he didn’t have any in bottles but could make one up. I was a bit dubious about this but he insisted and proceeded to mix ingredients from various bottles like a cocktail waiter out of an American comedy. I have no idea what went into the drink but it seemed all right (though not much like iced tea) and we suffered no ill effects.
Near where we sat were three metal objects. I’m not sure what they were originally, perhaps water tanks or some such. Now they have found a new destiny as a group sculpture or installation by Cestmír Suška, entitled Tichý rozhovor (‘Silent Talk’).
Returning once more to the eastern side, we continued our explorations and along the way photographed another church dedicated to a local saint and martyr. The Kostel svaté Ludmily or Church of St Ludmila was designed in neo-Classical style by Josef Mocker and built in 1888-92.
The church is dedicated St Ludmila of Bohemia who lived from about 860 to 921 and was the grandmother of that St Wenceslas who is known to carol-singers as ‘Good King Wenceslas’. Ludmila, entrusted with the care of her grandson, the future King Wenceslas of Bohemia, brought him up as a Christian at a time when Bohemia was ruled by pagans. Wenceslas’s pagan mother, Drahomíra, resented Ludmila’s influence over her son and is said to have had her murdered by strangling. The religious background to the murder caused Ludmila to be seen as a saint and martyr.
Our next landmark was also religious but of a different faith. This handsome building is the Jubilejní Synagoga or Jubilee Synagogue. It resides, appropriately enough, in a street called Jeruzalémská and is thus also known as the Jeruzalémská Synagoga (Jerusalem Synagogue). The style of this remarkable construction marries Art Nouveau and Moorish architecture in a beautiful way. It is Prague’s largest synagogue but also its youngest, being built in 1905-6. The name Jubilee comes from its role in the commemorating the 50th year of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I (reigned from 1848 to 1916). The size of the building and the narrowness of the street makes it hard to capture a good complete image.
Possibly the highpoint of today’s adventures came next. This was when Tigger ushered me towards the door of the premises shown above. It is called the Cajový klub Cha Dao which means ‘Cha Dao Tea Club’. We can interpret further and say that Cha Dao in Chinese means ‘the way of tea’ where ‘way’ is a path or progress of spiritual or philosophical development. Yes, this is a tea shop but the name hints at something a little more serious than just a place where they serve a nice cup of PG Tips.
Inside the shop, an entrance of the left leads into the tea room. The low doorway and the subdued lighting induce a feeling that one is entering an esoteric world. It is almost like entering a temple.
You take your place at a table upon which there is a kettle gently singing away. The attendant comes and asks what tea you require. I chose Lapsang Souchong and Tigger Keemun. The attendant returned, not with a pot of tea, as you might expect, but with with leaf tea in a dry vessel and several cups and pots. I have lost count of how many. The tea was then prepared in front of us. I cannot now recall all the steps but it involved several pourings and several decantings from one vessel to another, culminating in tea being poured all over the outside of the tea pot, something I have never seen done before. Then, at last, we were left alone to drink our tea, being told that we could top up the pot, if we wished, from the still singing kettle of the table.
Was this the best tea that I had ever tasted? To be honest, I am not sure it was, but, then I do not posses the taste buds (not to say, patience) of a tea master. I like my tea and enjoy it as long as it is good enough. And this was certainly good enough and a bit more. But what made the occasion worthwhile and would bring me back here if ever we return to Prague, was the elaborate spectacle of the making of the tea, raising it to the level of ritual and performance art.
After tea, Tigger set off with determined mien. Time was getting on and the light was beginning to fade. I was already day-dreaming of supper and going back to the hotel but Tigger was adamant: we had to see this.
‘This’ turned out to be a bust of Franz Kafka by David Cerný. Not a static bust, however. No, this is a work of kinetic art in which a representation in shiny metal of Kafka’s head has been divided horizontally into 42 ‘slices’, all capable of rotating in either direction, independently by in concert with all the others. The head continually makes, undoes, and remakes itself in a variety of ‘programs’. The fact that the surfaces of the ‘slices’ reflect the light and images of the surroundings make the work that much more hypnotic. I have created a slide show but static images cannot capture the essence of the thing. For that reason, please take a look at this video which will make better sense of it.
We started to look around for a place where we could have supper. Happily, we did not need to search far before we came upon an eatery called Vegetarian Dhaba. (Dhaba is a Hindi word for roadside diners in India.) We went in and found an easy atmosphere, rather like a student cafe or hostel dining room. Food was laid out as a buffet and you just grab a plate and pile it with whatever items take your fancy. When you have finished selecting, you place your plate on a weighing machine and pay according to how heavy it is. As the name of the restaurant suggests, the food was Indian inspired. It was tasty and rounded off the day nicely.
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.