Eastern Europe Tour

Day 19 Thursday June 7, 2007
Prague - Atlanta - Home

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I did not remember hearing any of the hourly church bells until I took my ear plugs out a little before 5 a.m. There was enough ambient light to work on my journal without turning on any lights. I had no notes at all for the two days in Lake Bled and our eventful day in Kutná Hora. I set up the pages for those days and our final travel day with the intention of filling in as many details as I could remember.

Our room's view of the clock tower.

I was startled by my computer's announcement that it was connected to the Internet. Evidently one of the unsecured wifi signals was temporarily strong enough to reach my laptop.

I downloaded my e-mail. There was not much news from the office. I sent my dad a copy of Dowd's and Meyerson's columns. I checked the sports and learned that the Red Sox had lost three in a row and were losing to Oakland 3-0 in the seventh inning. Tom would not be happy. They still had a big lead, but no lead was too big for the Red Sox.

Rybna street as seen from room 407.

It was six in the morning in Prague. It certainly seemed extremely strange that last night's baseball game was not yet over.

The wifi connection died at about 6:30, but it came back a few minutes later.

Sue's pastry and postcard.

Sue tried to call the number for the Čedaz airport minibus, but she was unable to get an outside line. She decided to try to get the desk clerk to call them for her. Sue and I went down to breakfast at 7:30 or 7:45. The driver from the shuttle was just outside the door.

The breakfast was about the same as the first time through. The eggs were warm, but the little wieners were cold. They put a pitcher of coffee on each table. The coffee here is quite good, maybe better than anywhere else on the trip.

After breakfast Sue took a little walk. I went up to the room to brush my teeth and perhaps take a nap. As I packed up my shaving kit, I decided to pitch my deodorant. It was down to practically nothing but plastic.

I took a little nap and dreamt of a lizard, a frog, a fly, and a pond. The frog jumped past the lizard to snatch the fly. The lizard glommed the frog. The pond just sat there. There is a moral in there somewhere, or maybe a Budweiser Light commercial.

Sue went out and bought a pastry and some stamps for postcards. She also located the most famous salsa club in Prague. She said that it was only forty meters away, and according to her its proximity was the reason that it was so noisy at night near our hotel. She vowed to return to the city some day in order to go there with Jana.

I looked through all of my things for the card advertising the special rate for the return trip to the airport. I could not locate it.

I had done most of my packing the previous evening after the opera. I had decided to wear my shorts with the shirt that could most easily pass for clean. I threw my nylon pants in my backpack. The big decision was whether to bring my jacket in my backpack or my suitcase. I always like to have a jacket with me on trips. It makes it easier to go through security, and the planes are often cold. However, it was pretty warm already in Prague, and the suitcase had more room. I decided to pack it. [I regretted this decision.]

We were ready to go downstairs at about 10. I pressed the button for the elevator. There was at least a two-minute delay before it arrived, and when it did, someone was in it. I told him that we would wait. I decided to walk down the stairs with the red bag and the duffel. It was not a problem. I felt fine.

When I got downstairs, Sue came out of the restaurant and asked me what took me so long. The maid had let her use the freight elevator, which deposited her in the restaurant.

I turned in our key and settled our bill with my MasterCard.

The ride to the airport.

At 10:10 a minibus arrived. The driver was letting off some passengers at the hotel across the street from ours. He said that he would get us to the airport by 11:15, so we piled into his van, which was completely full after we boarded.

He let off four passengers at the Hilton, which was not too far from our hotel. We had heard that George W. Bush had stayed at the Hilton. The other two passengers were staying at the Corinthia Panorama, which was quite a long way from the touristy area. Neither of these would qualify as a back-door hotel.

The van was hot. We could not figure out how to open the windows. The driver's window was open just a crack. Maybe the air conditioning was on, but I could not feel it. If I was hot, Sue must have been dying.

The Czech Republic has astonishingly few stop signs and stoplights. At most intersections the drivers just took turns. Everyone seemed to have a second sense about this. If no other car was immediately visible, the car would zoom through the intersection. To me it looked chaotic and very dangerous. I wonder what their accident rate is.

On the way to the airport we saw a large number of trucks. We also saw a Hummer and two of the smallest cars that either of us had ever seen. They both had four wheels. The first one had two people in it, one behind the other. I have no idea where the engine could have been. Only one person was in the second one. If I had not seen two people in the first car, I would have assumed that the second car was a one-man vehicle. Sue said that she saw a BMW logo on the second car.

We reached the airport at 11:15. We soon found the line for the Delta flight to Atlanta. We had to answer the pre-9/11 questions about who packed our bags and whether someone had given us anything. The employees at the gate all seemed to be Czech.

Does this tiny dog understand that he is about to fly across the ocean?

Sue was worried by the sign that said that the machines would destroy any exposed film. Unfortunately she could not remember where she had packed her film, and she could not find it on short notice.

Sue wanted to sit for a minute to finish her water bottle before going through security. I wanted to go to the men's room. We found a couple of seats. While I went over to the food court in search of the WC, Sue was accosted by someone who claimed to be from the Czech tourism office who wanted her to fill out a survey about her visit to the Czech Republic. When I returned, they announced our flight. I was not quite sure what they said, but I convinced Sue to leave the survey half-completed in order to go to passport control, which was the next station.

After we got through passport control, we needed to go to gate B8. A sign told us that we had a six-minute walk. It was all of that. Others may have made it faster, but we just rested on the moving sidewalks; plenty of people passed us. At our gates were two long lines for security. One was for people "in transit," i.e., transferring from other flights. We got in the other line. Sue asked if she would have time to run to the bathroom. I said that I thought that she would. When she got back, I had only moved perhaps three feet closer.

The screening for gates B7-9 was a little stricter than we had become accustomed to in Europe. They made us remove shoes, watches, and belts. Even at that they seemed to wand every passenger. They had no problem with my carry-on luggage, but they searched Sue's. She was carrying her CPAP machine and quite a few video tapes of an unusual size.

We finally got through with the screening at about noon. Boarding was scheduled for 12:05, but almost as soon as we sat down, they announced that the boarding would be delayed until 12:30. I decided to use up some of our Czech coins by purchasing a coke from a machine. It cost thirty Kč. This outrageous price meant that we could get rid of a twenty, a five, two two's, and a one, so we went for it. When I opened the bottle, it sprayed quite a bit on the floor and stained Sue's shirt a little. So, I managed to spill cokes all over the floor at both ends of the journey.

They then delayed boarding for another twenty minutes. We finally started boarding a little before one. This was a terrible setup for a delayed flight. There were no restrooms at those gates after security. Boarding was delayed for nearly an hour. If someone had needed to use the facilities, he/she would need to leave the gate and then go back through security. If you were hungry or thirsty, the only choices were a snack machine and a coffee machine.

Can't this guy get relaxed on the nineteenth day of his vacation?

Sue loosened up with a bit of the bubbly and her menu for supper.

I wondered if they used these gates for anything besides this one Delta flight. If not, I wondered what these security guys did all day. Hardly anyone went through security during the last half hour before we boarded.

We sat in the same seats as on the flight from Atlanta, 3F and 3G. This time Sue took the window (and the photos). I was a little uncomfortable with the breeze that always seemed to be blowing. There was at least one empty seat in business class, so if I had purchased a ticket, I probably could have gotten upgraded. Of course, Sue would have been forced to sit with the plebeians.

What's the hurry. It's only 7:10 a.m. in Atlanta.

We had another unbelievable meal: (1) an appetizer of grilled rosemary shrimp accompanied by a daikon (?) and sweet pepper slaw; (2) assorted breads and butter; (3) either fresh mesclune lettuce mix with cucumber slices, tomato wedges and toasted pine nuts, offered with garlic and sour cream dressing or olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette or roasted chicken and vegetable soup with orzo featuring zucchini, carrots, and red peppers; (4) grilled tenderloin of beef with chimicurri sauce, accompanied by corn polenta with blue cheese and sauteéd muschrooms, OR seared turbot with lobster dill sauce, accompanied by lemon basmati rice and asparagus with grilled red bell peppers, OR mushroom ravioli enhanced by porcini mushroom sauce tossed with arugula, diced tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and chopped walnuts with or without roasted chicken breast, OR vegetable soup with orzo featuring zucchini, carrots, and red peppers garnished with shredded parmesan cheese. (5) sliced, fresh seasonal fruit OR fine cheeses selected to perfectly complement one another in flavor and texture, offered with grapes; and (6) premium vanilla ice cream sundae with a choice of sauces, whipped cream and chopped nuts, garnished with a Piroulin cookie.

This was probably the Sudetenland.

Steak, mushrooms, polenta, and dinner roll: before.

Sue and I both had the beef. Sue chose the salad; I chose the soup. Everything was quite good. I passed on the last two courses, but I did enjoy a glass of cabernet sauvignon and a cup of coffee.

I nearly dozed off several times during the flight. I dug out the sleeping mask from the goody bag. This time the bag was black and the mask was red. After one of my patented sneezing fits, I was quickly asleep, and I napped for twenty or thirty minutes. When I woke up, I felt energetic. I set my watch to Eastern Daylight Time — 9:30 in the morning. Sue was sleeping soundly while pretending to watch movies on her video display. The first one was "Zodiac," about the Zodiac killer in San Francisco. At the end they put the resolution of the mystery on the screen, but the print was so tiny that Sue could not read it. The second movie was "Music and Lyrics," a Hugh Grant movie with Drew Barrymore and some bimbo.


The leading flight attendant, whose name was Jeanne, was the oldest stewardess that I have ever seen. She had no lack of energy, however.

Although I shut off my vent entirely, it was still chilly on the plane. I regretted not bringing my jacket. The blankets that they give out in business class are real blankets. I covered up my legs with mine. My arms were still a little chilly.

Near the end of the trip they brought us a "snack." The choice was "Margherita pizza" or some kind of salad with chicken. We both chose the pizza. It was awful. It is hard to believe that someone could even describe it as pizza. It was just some dough with grated cheese on it. The best part of the meal was the two olives in the salad. In fact, that was just about all that Sue ate. She did get the ice cream that she had rejected during the main meal, and she gobbled it up in no time.

I read through the libretto of Le Nozze di Figaro. They cut a lot of material out of the fourth act, including the two funniest numbers, Marcellina's goat aria, and Don Basilio's aria about the ass's skin. What could have possibly possessed them to do this? They turned the parts of Marcellina and Basilio into minor characters that were impossible to understand. I was pretty sure that they also removed some of the material that explained the mix-ups in the notes and the pins. If I were putting on anything written by the mature Mozart, I do not think that anyone could get me to add, delete, or change one note. It would just seem so presumptuous.

Sue's ankles got quite swollen. She had taken several precautions and tried to keep her feet lifted, but nothing seemed to work for her.

Sue had to go to the restroom a couple of times. It seemed to her that the stewardesses were reporting to someone on the plane phone when she entered or left the facility. Sue has never been easily offended, but this irked her.

Our flight was mostly uneventful. We landed in Atlanta right on time. We had plenty of time before our flight to Hartford was to leave, so we were not worried about the time going through customs this time. Nevertheless, the lines in Atlanta were ridiculously long. Once we finally got to the front of the line, we went through passport control, luggage retrieval, and customs quite quickly. We had to take our luggage over to a special area so that it would be taken to our flight to Bradley.

Since Jana would not take any payment, we still had a supply of Czech crowns. Sue went over to the exchange desk to see what she could get for them. She thought that it was a rip-off, so she kept her Czech crowns. She later told me that she knew what she was going to do with them, but I never did find out.

While we were waiting, the posted gate for our flight kept changing. Sue set up camp at gate #B18. It was by far the coldest gate in the airport. I sat over in the sun working on my journal; I was still cold. Sue sat under the air conditioning in her short-sleeve shirt.

At about seven o'clock I started to get bored and hungry. I went up to the food court, got in line, and picked up some Popeye's chicken. This was sort of a tradition. On our two previous Rick Steves tours Sue and I stopped at KFC for fried chicken. It seemed appropriate to eat the least European food available.

We were more than ready to get on that plane to Hartford.

Sue's telephone fiasco.

Sue tried to use the pay phone at the gate to call her sister Betty to tell her that we would probably be right on time. It was a fiasco. Sue got connected, and she could hear Betty, but Betty could not hear Sue. There was not much that we could do about this.

In the end the plane came to us. The last gate change put it at B18, where we had been camped for hours. Our flight to Hartford made it official. Every single connection via any mode of transportation was made without difficulty. Everything went very smoothly.

I slept through the entire flight to Bradley. Our luggage was among the last to come off of the plane, but all the bags were there.

My dad calls Giacomo "Seldom Seen."

Sue called Betty's cell phone. She said that she was on route 75 (that's what we call the highways in New England). While Sue was trying to locate Betty, a young woman asked me if I had a cell phone. The two of us were probably the only people within a mile of the airport without cell phones.

The last anxious moment on these trips was always spent in determining whether the cats were OK. Woodrow came down the hall to greet us almost as soon as we entered the house. He had a very sleepy look on his face. A few minutes later Giacomo materialized out of nowhere, as black cats are wont to do.

How well did I do at meeting my objectives for the trip? The results were mixed.

  1. The photos were certainly better than two years ago, but I never figured out how to use the camera indoors or at night without a flash. Sue and Patti told me that I should have used the timer on the camera. I will have to learn how and then try that next time. I also forgot to check the camera's setting before I started snapping a few times. The two photos in the Atlanta airport on this page are examples of this negligence. I tried to make up for in quantity (over 2,600 photos) what I lacked in quality.
  2. This was by far the least relaxing of my European vacations.
  3. I learned much more about these countries and their inhabitants than I ever expected to. Each country now seems completely distinct to me.
  4. I did almost no proofreading on the trip, but I knuckled down when I got back.