Saturday, August 1, 2015

The big visit part 4

Weekend in Prague, Czech Republic.

Before Shannon came here to visit, she told me she would really like to visit Prague, Czech Republic.  So, I got on the internet and booked us a flight from Warsaw to Prague on Friday, July 3.  Alicja booked us train tickets from Malbork to Warsaw.
On Thursday, the 2nd, we took a taxi to the train station here and boarded the Pendolino - the new high-speed train.  I have talked about the Pendolino before.  It is a very comfortable and relaxing way to travel here in Poland.  And, of course, it is economical.  Unfortunately, this time it was not so high speed.  They had some kind of computer malfunction that caused us to sit in one place for about half an hour.  But, other than that, it went smoothly.

We left Malbork about 8 a.m. and arrived in Warsaw about 11:00.  We had a room reserved near the airport for our flight the next day, but it was too early to check in.  So, we checked our luggage at the luggage check place in the railway station until later in the day.  Then, we grabbed a taxi to Old Town Warsaw.
The Old Town area has actually been totally rebuilt because it was reduced to rubble during World War II.  But, the city ensured that the buildings were faithfully restored and it has its own kind of charm.

We wandered around that area for several hours and had lunch there.  Then, it was time to go to our hotel.  We taxied back to the railway station and retrieved our luggage and caught another train from the central station to the airport.  From there, the hotel shuttle picked us up and we were soon at our overnight location.
We had booked rooms at the Hampton Inn by the airport - primarily because Alicja’s son works for Hampton and he got us the family rate.  The hotel is actually quite nice.  The rooms were spacious enough and clean.  Interestingly, this is a hotel that requires the room key to be placed in a slot to turn on the lights, etc., in the room.  Also, the elevators require a room key to make them move.  When we checked in, I first told the receptionist that Alicja and I would not need two keys.  But, later, when I wanted to go downstairs to the restaurant, I learned that we did, in fact, each need our own key since she was staying in the room.  So, Shannon and I went downstairs together and I got an additional key.  Shannon and I had a beer in the bar/restaurant area and ordered some food to take back to the room.  Since we had an early flight the next day, we called it an early night.
Friday morning, we were up and out very early for our 7:00 a.m. flight to Prague.  I had booked us on LOT, the Polish airline.  The plane was a small twin engine jet.  But, regardless, the flight was smooth and uneventful.  By about 8:30 a.m., we were in Prague, Czech Republic, the home of some of my forbears.
Shannon had booked transportation to be provided by our hotel, but they somehow did not have the reservation.  When she called, they were clueless.  So, we took a taxi.  It is a pretty good distance from the airport to the Old Town area in which we were staying.  About a 20-25 minute drive.
But, soon, we were at the hotel.
Shannon had booked the hotel in Prague.  We were booked in the Design Hotel Josef in the heart of the Old Town area of Prague.  It is a very nice hotel, overall.  It does not have a restaurant, per se.  Rather it has a breakfast buffet each day.  No swimming pool, either.  But, it does have a nice bar and a very nice outdoor terrace area with seating.

Hotel lobby area:

When we checked in, Shannon told them we had not eaten and they allowed us to go to the breakfast buffet even though that was not part of our booking for that day.  Nice of them.  The breakfast was very good.  It had the normal breakfast items we Americans consider usual as well as European items like cold cuts, cheeses, etc.  Additionally, there is a menu from which you can choose one breakfast entree item.  Included were omelets, eggs benedict, cereals, etc.  Plus, they offered French press coffee at your table.  Shannon and I loved the coffee.
It was too early to get our rooms, so they stored our luggage and we went out walking.  I went to an ATM to get some cash in Czech money.
The money is interesting.  While most places will accept Euros, the currency is the Czech Koruna, or Crown.  One dollar US was worth about 24.50 Crowns at that time.  I first withdrew about $200 US and the machine spit out almost 5000 Crowns.  That would have been nice except the price of things is still comparable to everywhere else.  It is an experience to pay over 1000 for a dinner.   Also interesting is the fact that there is no denomination smaller than one Crown.  In the US, the dollar is broken into various amounts of cents.  Here, in Poland, the Zloty is broken into grosze.  But, in the Czech Republic, there is nothing smaller than one Crown.  About 40 cents.

Shannon in front of the clock tower:

The Charles Bridge:

 Crown jewels:

Pilsner Urquell:

On the hill overlooking town:

 A classic, no doubt:

 Beer sampler:

 The Prague Beer Museum and Pub:

On Saturday, Shannon and I visited the castle and church.  Alicja did not feel up to the trek, so she stayed near the hotel.  The castle and church are very picturesque and historic.  And, the good part for me is that the people of the Czech Republic love their beer.  Every place has beer. Even the concession stands in the castle have beer.  I was in heaven!

      At Shannon's suggestion, we took the subway across the river to go to the castle.

        After trekking through the castle and church, we headed back toward our hotel in Old Town.  It was there that we visited the Prague Beer Museum and Pub.  There was an outdoor patio in the back and we sat there.  We ordered a sampler of different Czech beers to try.  I thought they were all good.

      On Sunday, we went to visit the Jewish quarter.  It was an interesting tour of the area.  We walked through a museum and an old, old cemetery. Before going into the museum area, I had to buy a yarmulka to put on my head.
      It is said that the cemetery has over 2,000 headstones but more than 100,000 graves of people.  They charged a fee for a permit to take pictures in the cemetery area. I did not pay it, but I snapped a few surreptitiously:

     Early Monday morning, we made our way to the airport to return to Malbork.  Our original flight was booked through LOT Polish airlines; but, I got an text on my phone telling me that the LOT flight was cancelled and we would be on a Czech airlines flight scheduled about 5 minutes later than our original flight.
     We made our way to the airport early Monday.  Despite checking in and getting our boarding passes through the machine, we still had to stand in line with a MILLION other people to check our luggage.  Interesting to me was that many of them were flying to Hanoi and other destinations in  North Vietnam.  I don't mean to offend anyone, but, to me, they are still the enemy.  I won't ever get over that.

Our plane back to Warsaw.  A propjet. But, we arrived safely:

     After we arrived in Warsaw, we took the short train back to the railway station.  Shannon and I decided to go to the Warsaw Uprising Museum.  Alicja had been there numerous times before, so she opted to go wander the mall next to the railway station.  Shannon and I taxied to the museum.

     The museum commemorates the uprising of Jewish and other citizens against the Nazis during World War II.  It is very interesting.  But, it it really requires a lot of time to actually go slowly and read the story of each exhibit.  Regardless, we enjoyed it.

     After touring the museum, we grabbed a taxi back to the railway station for the train ride back to Malbork.

     For the return trip, we could not book the Pendolino because it was sold out.  That is no big deal.  We just booked the intercity train.  I told Alicja that I wanted to try using seats in a compartment.  She (of course) told me she did not like compartments. But I told her I had never had one and I wanted to do it one time.  So, she booked us three seats in a compartment on the train.

     The compartment had six seats total.  We had three.  Two were taken by a young couple.  The last was by a nun (I kid you not) who was seated across from me.  Shortly after we left Warsaw, she leaned back, stretched her legs into my leg space and proceeded to go to sleep.  A deep sleep.  Shannon and Alicja laughed at me.  I did NOT laugh.  After a short time, I decided to go to the dining/bar car for a beer.  Shannon and I got out and went down the corridor.  We asked a conductor for the location of the bar car.  She said there was no bar car on this train. All we had was the young guy with the cart coming around offering tea or really shitty coffee.  (he came twice in FOUR hours).  So, we went back to our seats to suffer the remainder of the journey.  It was not fun, but we survived.

     We finally (finally) arrived back in Malbork.  We were all a bit tired, so we had went downtown for a quick bite of dinner.  Then, we returned home for the night since Shannon's flight home was very early the next morning.

     Alicja's ex mother-in-law is an artist.  A very good artist and very well known in northern Europe.  Alicja had promised Shannon she would take her to visit the ex MIL and see some of her work.  So, Alicja called her and arranged for her and Shannon to go to her home to see some paintings.  They went and Shannon came home with 3 paintings she had purchased.  We agreed to ship them to her in the US since she could not take them as luggage.  I admit, they are very beautiful. 

     Finally, early Tuesday morning, we all got up and went to Gdansk to the airport.  It was sad for me.  The week seemed to just fly by.  It seemed that Shannon just arrived and then she was gone.  We had such a good time together.  Just too short a time.  Darn it.

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