The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris

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Prague, Czech Republic
October 2004
"We Have Big Luck!"


It was time to try our luck at Prague again.  Although BJ and I had just been there in February, we’d gone alone.  Several of our friends had never made it there, so they wanted to see for themselves the home of the 70 cent beer.  By travel day, our original group of seven had become a group of five.  This was actually a better size, since our back-up plan, if we didn’t make it to Prague, was to fly to Manchester (England), rent a van, and drive into Scotland; staying in Edinburgh and St. Andrews.  Seven folks would have required a van, where five would easily fit into a much less expensive station wagon.  And as we later learned, there was a major golf tournament in St. Andrews, and a huge celebration taking place in Edinburgh, making finding places to stay in either almost impossible.  This turned out to be the first of our “Big Luck” for this trip (more on this later).  Wednesday evening, arriving early, we all checked in for our 6pm flight to Amsterdam (the closest approach on Delta to our destination.  From Amsterdam, we would be taking a Delta codeshare flight operated by Czech Air.  We had all purchased airline-employee, reduced rate tickets on Czech Air.  This will later turn out to be important.  Sounds like you’ll need to keep reading!!)  The five of us made it into Business Class (Big Luck), settled in for champagne, warm nuts, good food, ice cream sundaes and a nap. 

We arrived in Amsterdam on Thursday morning, made that long walk from the Delta gate to the Czech Air gate, checked in (checked in for Czech Air!), boarded our (full) flight and the five of us were in Prague by noon.


We changed clothes, breezed through Passport Control (without the drama of our previous trip to Prague), exchanged money (about 25 Krona to the Dollar this time), bought our 3 day transportation passes ($8.00), and boarded bus 119 for Djevica, to hook up with the Metro.  We decided we would head first for the main square Stare Mesto, near the Staromestska Metro stop, since the main Tourist Information Center was in that square.  Since it was lunchtime, we grabbed an outdoor table at the TomTom Pizzeria and ordered pizzas and our first Czech beers (Krusovice) of the trip.  Waiting for lunch, I walked next door to a small hotel on the square and inquired about rooms for the night.  The price was high ($6000 Kc for a small apartment with 2 rooms, but only 1 bathroom) so I thanked the receptionist and went back to finish lunch.  While dining, Lucy happened to ask BJ and me what we did with our passports, while we were in foreign countries.  I replied that I typically keep mine with me, either in my shirt pocket, or in my raincoat pocket (depending on the weather/season/temperature, etc).  Refreshed and refed, the group trouped over to the TI, only to discover that the “hotel guy” was taking a late lunch and wouldn’t be back for another 45 minutes or so.  We started walking towards a hotel that we had “priced” before we left Atlanta, but after about 15 minutes, the group decided that it was a bit further out than we had in mind.  We went back to the TI, inquired about accommodations, only to discover that there was nothing available anywhere in the parts of town we were interested in staying.  There was nothing in particular going on in Prague; it is simply busy on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.     As we were walking earlier, I had noticed an “Internet” sign, so we backtracked there and ducked in to use the “power of the internet” to locate and book a room.  BJ and Lucy, the internet shopping pros, logged in to look for rooms, while Fred, Ethel and I sat down in the café next door, for another sample of Czech brewing expertise.  Hotels rooms at reasonable prices were virtually impossible to find, but persistence paid off.  Two rooms for one night (all they get… rooms were just not available for Friday and Saturday nights) were booked at the relatively close-in Hotel Berlin and the shoppers left the Internet shop to meet up with rest.  About 2 minutes after sitting down at the café, Lucy realized that her backpack wasn’t with her, and ran next door to retrieve it.  Well, to try to retrieve it.  It was gone (Big Bad Luck).  We scoured the Internet shop and the café without success.   We asked Lucy what she was missing, and were delighted to find that she had moved her passport from the backpack, to her purse, while we were having lunch (remember that discussion?  Big Luck!).  Her camera was gone (one that she was thinking of replacing anyway), her gloves, her make-up, a company “duty pager” and the only item that was of real concern…  her return ticket; a reduced-rate, employee-only, purchasable-at-Delta-only, return ticket.  We decided we’d better file a police report, since that might be helpful in getting her ticket replaced.   I called the Prague equivalent of 9-1-1 (actually, 1-5-8) and after listening to a recorded message in Czech, realized that I’d never be able to negotiate THAT call.  We found the location of the nearest police station and the group headed off that way.  A sign in front of the police station asked that only the complainant come in; please leave your friends outside.  So BJ, Fred and Ethel ducked into the café across the street (the Konbikt Pub; that 70 cent beer is now an 80 cent beer… these were the cheapest beers we found on the trip) while Lucy and I went in to fill out the paperwork.  In my best Czech, I asked the receptionist if she spoke English (since many people there do).  Sadly, she replied by shaking her head in the negative.  Now what???  I looked concerned, and as I was thinking about what to do next, she suddenly said “Robbery?” and we said “Yes!”.  Then she said “English?” and we “Yes!”-d again.  (Apparently these are the only words she speaks in English, but it was enough for us.)  She pointed to a sign-in sheet, called upstairs (I was able to pick up the word Anglitsky ~ “English”) and pointed Lucy and I up a flight of steps, where we found a “Victim’s Waiting Room” with signs in English and German. 

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We found a German couple (who spoke no English) already in the waiting room.  We learned (now THAT was a fun conversation… them with no English and me with high school German from…uh… MANY years ago) that the couple had been in the waiting room about 2 hours, so we settled in for a spell.  After a beer, BJ, Fred and Ethel decided that they’d head on over to the Hotel Berlin and Lucy and I would meet them there when we could.  BJ, Fred and Ethel had some trouble finding the hotel, but after asking directions from a shop owner, a taxi driver and a policeman (none of whom spoke English), they found it. 

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Finally, after only about 90 minutes, Lucy and I met with an officer who spoke English, took Lucy’s information, and prepared a police report for us.  We then left the station, took the train to the Andel (pronounced like we say Angel) Metro stop and hooked up with the rest of the group at the Hotel Berlin (Lucy and I only had to ask the one policeman for directions). Since today was a travel day (meaning: a LONG day) and we’d had plenty of excitement, we all grabbed a quick dinner at the Restaurace Hlubina.   At dinner, we decided that Lucy and I would go to the airport tomorrow (Friday) morning, to try to take care of her air transportation needs, while the other 3 would look for hotel rooms for Friday and Saturday nights.   We also decided we’d head back to Amsterdam Sunday noon, rather than at the crack of dawn Monday morning.  After dinner, we stopped at the Hombre el Mundo for a bottle of wine (and a bottle or two to take back to the room).  Back at the hotel, after verifying with the front desk that the hotel was indeed full for the next two nights, everyone headed upstairs after agreeing to meet in the lobby at 9:30 the next morning.

Friday morning arrived earlier than I had expected (after getting to bed at 1:30) so I was a bit slow getting started.  This prevented BJ from being prepared on time.  Right at 9:30, BJ asked me to run downstairs and tell Ethel (who BJ KNEW would be on time and waiting in the lobby) that she would be about 10 minutes late, since she was still drying her hair.  I did; she was.  When BJ and I finally made it to the lobby with our bags, about 9:40, everyone was waiting.  As we all put on our backpacks, and prepared to split up, the receptionist at the hotel suddenly started waiving at us, while holding the telephone to her ear.  As it turns out, while we were in the lobby (10 minutes later than we’d planned), someone called to cancel TWO rooms for the next TWO nights!!!  Perfect!  As we checked BACK in (to one of the same rooms we’d had) so we could drop our bags, the receptionist commented that it was very fortunate that the cancellation had come in while we were still in the lobby and that our group had “Big Luck”.  She meant Good Luck, but we decided we liked Big Luck, and it became the catch phrase for this trip.  It would come up several more times.  While Lucy and I headed off for the airport, to try to get her a ticket home, BJ, Fred and Ethel went to the Mala Strana, a park, and started doing some sightseeing. 

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Lucy and I had an interesting train ride, sitting across from a gentleman who seemed to have something like Tourette’s Syndrome; characterized by his rocking, ticks, frequent shouts (apparently ignored by everyone who understood him) and an occasional “devil sign” that he made with his face and hands.  Ask me… I’ll show it to you.) 

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At the airport, we were disappointed to learn that the Czech Air ticket counter would be unable (unwilling?) to assist us.   The agent there gave us the telephone number and address for the Delta Ticket Office in downtown Prague.  After making a successful telephone call in a non-English-speaking country (I’m proud of that, can you tell?), Lucy and I bought our first beer of the day at the airport bar, so we could page the others with the news of our plan to head to the downtown CTO.  As it turns out, the others were having a beer too, at the U Glaubicu.  As Lucy and I headed for the street Narodni, where the CTO is located, the others toured the Karluv Most (Charles Bridge). 

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Successful at the Delta ticket office, Lucy (and, in fact, all of us) are relieved and can quit worrying about the trip home and concentrate on sightseeing.  The group hooked up at the TomTom again, for a beer, then headed off to lunch at a place where BJ and I had had several good dinners on our last visit.  We located it quickly, although it is now called the Annabar (rather than Dzar).   We had a great lunch (more garlic soup, goulash, dumplings, schnitzel, etc… classic Czech food), and then trekked back across the Karluv Most (now in the rain).

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We did a little shopping after crossing the bridge.  There were lots of little shops with nesting dolls – even ones featuring Mr. Kerry.

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We ducked back into the U Glaubicu to wait for the rain to subside.  There, we met some fellow Georgians from Marietta.  BJ asked them about their travel plans and they said they would be spending a few days in Vienna before heading home.  I mentioned that we had just been to Vienna (using the Georgia pronunciation of Viii-enna – meaning Vienna, Georgia).  I knew the lady had picked up my meaning when she responded, “Oh, did you go to the Big Pig Jig?”    We had, in fact, been to the Pig Jig!   We had a big laugh about what a small world it is. 

I took the tram back to the hotel to relax (and try to make dinner reservations), while BJ took the others on a tour up the hill to the Hradcany Castle.  Even though it was cloudy, the castle and the views from the top of the hill were still spectacular.

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Although I was unable to reserve a table for dinner tonight at the restaurant that had been recommended by two different receptionists at our hotel, I WAS able to get several bottles of wine for the room, and a box of Toto Eggs (like the Kinder Eggs we buy in other European countries.  And we were ultimately successful making reservations there; we just had to make them for Saturday night).  Dinner tonight would be at the nearby Pizzeria Kmotra, where we enjoyed a wonderful mix of Italian specialties.  After dinner, most of the group headed out to see the Karluv Most at night (it’s beautifully lighted), before returning to the hotel for a nightcap of red wine and Toto Eggs.  Although we didn’t find any Kindereggs this trip, BJ did spot this giant blow-up Kinderegg in a shop window.

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Saturday was our day for touring.   We first headed to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) to see the famous cemetery there; reputed to have the highest density of graves per square meter in all of Europe.  The bodies are buried “standing up”, in order to use less room, and are reported to be “twelve deep”.  Unfortunately, today is the last day of a Jewish holiday, and the cemetery is not open, but we could see the headstones through the fence. 

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After an early lunch (at the strangest place… we didn’t get the name, but the wall is hung with very, uh, suggestive photographs of women in various states of undress), we then located the St. James (Jacobov) Church, which has a severed and now wrinkled hand hanging to the right above the entrance. Apparently the hand belonged to a thief who tried to take the Jewels off the sacred Virgin Mary. The unfortunate fellow’s hand was grabbed by the Virgin Mary and consequently had to be severed. It now hangs on display as grizzly warning for any like-minded ‘sticky fingers’.   

Next, we walked along the river a bit to see some of the lighted buildings we had seen in the distance the night before.  

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We also found a bizarre statue of Franz Kafka depicted in a three-piece suit and his trademark Homburg hat, sitting astride the shoulders of an enormous empty suit (from one of Kafka’s early short stories).

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We crossed the Cechuv Most (two bridges north of the Karluv).

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Just across the bridge, we climbed the seemingly never ending steps up the hill to Letenske Sady Park. 

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Almost to the top of the steps, we could see the Metronome that was erected to replace the Stalin Monument, built in the 1950’s and blown up in 1962, leaving only the huge concrete base.

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The park was a delightful place for a break.  We took turns climbing trees and zinging each other with chestnuts.

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At the top of the hill, we enjoyed the highest priced beer I have ever seen in Prague ($4 each!!!!) at Hanavsky Pavilon.   We decided to splurge since these were the best views we had seen of the city.

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From there, we took some winding paths through the woods.  We passed this grotto commemorating the romantic poet, Julius Zeyer.

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We made a quick pass through the Hradcany castle grounds and noted how glad we were that we had come the evening before to avoid the crowds!

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Ready for some French Fries, we were disappointed with our stop at the Pivnice Vojanuv dvur where we learned that “it is not possible” to order a side dish without a main meal.  We were pleased to find the Gril u seminaristy, a little outdoor café that served French Fries, had gas heaters and blankets on every chair.

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The boys headed back to the hotel while the girls snapped up crystal, glass, globes and a “WC” tile (to hang on our bathroom door at home) in the shopping district.  Dinner tonight is at the U Andela, where we again enjoyed a fabulous mix of traditional Czech cuisine.  The restaurant only had one poorly translated English menu that we shared.  We enjoyed a laugh at some of the translations.  “Vltavian drowned man with a puffed-up belly”, “Bacon on salamander with fried egg”, “Golden baked knee with all that belongs to that” followed by “Surcharge to the knee”, “Roast ducky or goosy, unlimited number and choice of dumplings and cabbage” and “Beefsteak of an old mushroom picker” 

Sunday we awoke around 7:00am in order to make our way to the airport for an 11:35 flight to Amsterdam.  As we were leaving the Hotel Berlin, the receptionist once again   commented on our Big Luck.  We knew that there were 5 flights a day from PRG to AMS, so we targeted the second one, wishing to avoid that crack-of-dawn 7:00am flight (which would have had us awake by 4:00am).  What any of us failed to realize was that the 11:35 flight was a Czech Air flight operated by KLM (a codeshare).   Since our reduced rate tickets were on Czech Air, the agent at check in would not accept them, and directed us to the (same) ticket counter (that Lucy and I had found pretty unhelpful two days earlier). 

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Our fortunes changed this time (Big Luck) when the ticket agent endorsed our Czech Air passes over to KLM (something I have never heard of happening before). 

We went back to check in, successfully this time, and asked the agent how the flight looked.  She smiled, a little, and said “At this time, there are 5 seats”… which was sort of scary for the five standbys in our group.  At the gate, we made plans for what we’d do if only one person made it, if two made it, and if 3 or 4 made it, and who would go first, etc.  About 10 minutes before departure, we were all given boarding cards.   We got the last five seats on the plane!   (Big Luck)  With no plans for what to do if we ALL made it, we boarded the KLM plane for the 1 hour flight to Amsterdam.

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At Schiphol airport, we located a region map and decided we’d take the 30 minute train ride out to Zandvoort ( a seacoast town) for our one night in Holland; knowing that this would allow us to easily get back to the airport for tomorrow’s 11:35am flight home via Cincinnati.  In Zandvoort, we scouted out a hotel and (reluctantly) settled on the (somewhat pricey, and, as Ethel referred to it, cheesey) Best Western Palace.   It was on the beach, so after checking in and dropping our bags, we wandered down to the beach to put our fingers in the water and then to the Route 16 beach bar, for a late lunch of beer and burgers and to watch a beautiful sunset over the North Sea. 

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Next we stopped by another Internet café (Lucy kept her replacement backpack on her back) to check on tomorrow’s flight home, then ended up at the Café del Mar when we enjoyed fish dishes, pork and a neat foil covered kabob.  Then it’s back to that (Cheese) Palace and to bed. 

We had agreed to meet Monday morning at 7:00 (since that’s what time the restaurant started serving our (included) breakfast, and since we had a 7:53 train back to Schiphol) and everyone was on time today.   Breakfast was not the usual “continental breakfast”, since it included bacon and eggs.  Around 7:30 we headed out for the 5 minute walk back to the train station.  We boarded the train, which left about 2 minutes early. 

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Like our outbound trip, the return trip was a one-change-of-trains-at-Leiden Centraal.  While waiting on the platform in Leiden, we heard an announcement (in Dutch) that included the words “defect” and “Schiphol” and a red “something” (in Dutch) popped up on the “Next Train Board”.   I asked a nearby “local” if she spoke English, and she said she did, and that our train was delayed and that we should take the train on the next platform, if we were going to Schiphol.  After thanking her, we started reviewing the train schedules, since the train on the other platform didn’t appear to go to Schiphol.  A second “local” walked up and said “That train goes to Schiphol.  You should get on now”.  So we did… and it did…  the train went to Schiphol… but it didn’t stop there… it slowed down, but just kept right on going through the station towards downtown Amsterdam.  Ever resourceful, and obsessively early, we changed trains at the first stop, and got back to the airport only 30 minutes later than we’d planned (and 2 1/4 hours before our scheduled departure… plenty of time.  Big Luck). 

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We checked in, cleared passport control, headed out to the gate and ALMOST all made business class.  Four of us did, but the junior member of the group had to endure the ride in coach.  Because we arrived almost 30 minutes early into CVG, we were able to make a quick connection and got back home before 6:00pm, tired, but ready to go again.

Tony Morris