Friday, 13 January 2017

Back in Prague...and it's a bit chilly!

An early easyJet flight out of London Gatwick and hey presto! Prague. The flight was smooth and took about an hour and 20 minutes. As the plane descended through thinnish cloud the snow was revealed, covering the city like a blanket. On the ground and once through passport control and out on the streets, the pavements were slippery and slushy and soon we were on a minibus heading into town.
Christmas tree at Prague airport on 12 January!
I don't remember Prague being dreary, but it looked that way as we drove through the suburbs, past countless old tenement buildings. While others commented that it must be awful having to live in a small apartment on the outskirts of the Czech capital, I admitted that it wouldn't bother me in the slightest.

The Czechs clearly have no idea that Christmas is over. There are Christmas trees everywhere: one every 20 yards back at the airport and also dotted around in shop windows. Perhaps the Czech festive season lasts longer than in the UK?

The view from room 324, Hotel Fenix, Prague, Czech Republic.
Check-in at the Hotel Fenix was fine, although I don't like checking in as part of a large group of people. That said it was pretty smooth-going and now I'm in my room (324) and it's pretty average-looking. Cream-coloured walls (make that beige!) with a pine skirting around three feet high, the now commonplace flat screen television, a mini bar offering what minibars offer, including a Snickers bar, which I'm tempted to eat, but the plan is to have lunch, possibly across the street in a Mexican restaurant.

Inside room 324, Hotel Fenix, Prague, Czech Republic
There are two twin beds pushed together – again, pretty standard stuff – and the bathroom is also pretty much par for the course. But that's not to say it's rubbish, it's absolutely fine. I've never been one for flashy hotels, although I do like a decent hotel restaurant.

The last time I was in Prague was in March 2014. I was attending a conference for a few days and I stayed in the Grand Majestic Plaza Palace hotel, which was also fine. The time before that was either 2003 or 2004, can't remember exactly, let's say the 'early noughties', but I was here reviewing hotels and restaurants with photographer Rob Wilkinson.

Central Prague on a cold 13th January 2017
A brief walk was followed by a light lunch and another walk and then I headed back to the hotel for a meeting. I'm now back in the room, reading, online, about the first US execution of 2017 – some idiot decided to kill two men over a spoof drug deal that cost him a measly US$20.00. What an idiot! He was described by the DA as an old-time Wild West villain, somebody who was honest to the point of lunacy. And now, of course, he is no more, but I suppose he was lucky in one way: he didn't get to see Donald Trump inaugurated as President of the United States.

Street performer – how does he do that?
Anyway, executions aside – and let's remember, before we go any further with this article, that America is just as bad as any of the nations it claims has an awful human rights record – I went out for dinner and discovered that the restaurant in which I was booked was somewhere I had visited before! It was like a cave, it was as if we – 'we' being my fellow diners – were enjoying dinner in stone age times! We weren't, of course, but I was pleased to recall that I'd been here before, back in the early noughties, as referenced above, with my trusty photographer Rob Wilkinson.

Earlier I had commented to a colleague that I couldn't remember the restaurants I had visited all those years ago, but then, when I walked through the door of the restaurant in which I would be dining, it all came flooding back, and the food was top-end grub.
Czech fast food

Now it's late and I really ought to hit the sack, although there's no cause to get up early. In fact, I'll be literally hanging around this great city for most the day tomorrow and will probably find myself somewhere interesting in the daylight hours. But right now I'm going to hit the sack, so the next paragraph you read will have been written in the morning, the day after I've penned what I'm writing now.

And so it's 0800hrs and I've just woken up. Well, actually, that's not true; while I did wake up at around eight o'clock, it's now just gone 3pm, I've had lunch at the same Italian restaurant as yesterday (and the same meal, mushroom risotto and a glass of red wine) and I'm sitting in the hotel's business centre writing. This morning, around 1000hrs, I headed out of the hotel for a long walk through the city and down to the Charles Bridge, walking back towards the Italian restaurant where many people had taken up my recommendation and were sitting comfortably enjoying the food and hospitality.

I don't fly home until 2130hrs, meaning I need to be at the airport around 1930hrs. This, of course, means that right now I'm killing time. I might retrieve my book (The Circle by Dave Eggers) and decamp to a Starbuck's for tea and a cookie and a long read. It's either that or wandering the streets window shopping. Outside it is bitterly cold. In the UK there has been snow and poor weather. Yesterday, planes were cancelled out of both Heathrow and Gatwick so there's a little concern about whether we'll get home today or not, although I'm sure we will.

It's the cold that is keeping me indoors, although I might head out for a long walk in a minute and hopefully end up in a warm coffee shop somewhere far away. I say 'far away' when I really mean somewhere nearby but a fair distance from the hotel. I took a stroll, poked my head into a few bookshops and briefly checked out a teashop with a view to tea, cake and a bit of writing, but that would have meant returning to the hotel to get my lap top from my suitcase. I bumped into a colleague and we visited Hamley's and then headed back to the hotel.

I never saw any bikes, probably because it's too cold to ride around in the snow and ice. I never saw any evidence of a Bike Share scheme either, but later research led to me discover that they do exist. Click here for details.

A shuttle bus ferried us to the airport and a couple of hours later we were in the air. It was a clear night and the flight was relatively smooth. The approach to London Gatwick was, well, twinkly: lots of orange and white lights, like Christmas decorations, and then cars, headlights on, were visible. We flew over the M25 and touched down on the tarmac.

Flying in to a snowy Prague...
On Thursday a lot of snow fell in the UK, flights were cancelled out of Heathrow and Gatwick and I'm guessing that had we left it later we would have been unable to leave the UK. Twenty four hours later, however, and there was little evidence of the white-out described by the media. That said, in Prague, they de-iced the wings and tailplane of the aircraft I was on, sitting with a whole row to myself on the right hand side at the very back. Nowt better than having an entire row to myself as it means I can stretch out and spread myself a little bit. I remember a flight from Paris to London many years ago when there were only six passengers aboard, including yours truly, and we had the entire place to ourselves. Wonderful.

It seemed to take an age to reach the gate, but when we did there was no jetty, just a staircase down to the tarmac. Immigration was fine, probably because it was late at night and soon I found myself in a taxi to Redhill followed by a car ride home. I opened my front door around midnight and hit the sack.

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