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Published: January 15th 2014
Pat, Elizabeth, Barb, Julie and JJF in Vatican Gardens, Rome
It started with a simple text message…
My good friend Barb sent me a text about her daughter Elizabeth's upcoming semester abroad in Rome. Barb and her husband Pat are long time friends and travel companions. Truth be told, Pat and I have known each other since we were children.
Barb's text went something like this … "Elizabeth doing spring semester in Rome. We are taking her over and going 2 Prague first. I believe u think we should stay at the KK Hotel in Prague. Please confirm."
I immediately confirmed they should stay at the KK Hotel Central in Prague, but more importantly, over the next couple of minutes, in a series of not more than 4 texts, either (i) I was invited along on the trip, or (ii) I invited myself along on the trip. I like to believe that I was invited along because Pat and Barb could not bare the thought of undertaking this adventure without me, but I suspect the truth is something closer to "that SOB invited himself on our family trip, what are we going to do now?"
Regardless, I was on board for a 10 day trip to Prague
and Rome. I also decided to tack on an extra 5 days for my own trip to Cinque Terre on the Mediterranean Coast of Northern Italy.
I soon learned that Barb and Pat invited our good friend Julie to join us. The paranoid part of me fears the invitation to Julie went something like this … "Julie … please, please, please … we can't handle it alone … the random facts, the endless non-sequiters … we need you to come along to take the edge off … otherwise he is going to drive us CRAZY!"
Julie … clearly a glutton for punishment … signed on.
Elizabeth, a bright, attractive and vibrant 20 year old, was of course THRILLED to be traveling for 10 days with her parents and two random 50-somethings.
So this was our group … JJF, Pat, Barb, Julie and Elizabeth … also known as "Team Elizabeth."
My trip started a day before the rest of Team Elizabeth. By agreeing to some less than ideal departure times, I was able to snare a very cost-effective ticket on Lufthansa.
I was particularly pleased to be traveling on Lufthansa because it gave me the
opportunity to fly on Boeing's 747-8, the newest member of the 747 family and the world's second largest commercial airliner. If you are at all interested in aviation, I urge you to learn more about the 747, which was put into service over 40 years ago and changed modern air travel.
The 747-8 was a very nice ride, and to make matters even better, I was upgraded to first class from Chicago to Frankfurt, which was a very pleasant surprise. I was, however, a bit disappointed that Lufthansa used canned whip cream on our made-to-order sundaes. Homemade whipped cream would have been much more elegant.
Upon arrival in Frankfurt I was again struck by the fact that no matter where you travel, all large international airports are exactly the same. And those fearful of international travel should note that everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is identified in English.
One thing I really do like are the departure boards, which generally identify departures to a whole host of interesting international destinations. You don't find that in Des Moines.
From Frankfurt it was a quick and easy 45 minute flight to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.
In preparing for the trip I was surprised to discover that there is no train or underground transportation from the airport to central Prague (that is very unusual for a European airport).
There is, however, a very cost effective "express bus." Express Bus 111 to be exact.
Accordingly, when i cleared customs, I purchased a bus ticket from an easy to use "bus ticket machine" (please note that all ATMs and other ticket machines in Europe have an "English" option) and I was on my way … or so I thought.
When I arrived at the bus stop, a sign was flashing, indicating in Czech, German, French and English that there was some sort of disruption (an accident perhaps) and Express Bus 111 would be unable to complete its route.
Now this is where I am proud to be a fairly experienced traveler. Instead of throwing in the towel and taking a very pricey cab ride into the central city, I instead jumped on the next bus, sat next to the driver and asked him to alert me when the bus was stopping near an underground station. When we arrived at a station, I thanked
I have always thought the European "Baggage Reclaim" is more accurate than the American "Baggage Claim." You are "reclaiming" your baggage.
the driver, descended into the underground, located a system-map and took the underground to central Prague. Easy-breezy.
From the underground station it was an easy walk to the KK Prague Central, where I was greeted at the front desk by my old friend Jan.
After a nice walk around Old Town Prague, I returned to the KK for an early dinner and bed. In the bar, I ordered a wonderful bowl of vegetable soup and a cheese plate off the appetizer menu. When Frantisek (Prague's best waiter) set the cheese plate in front of me, I was stunned to discover that it included 5 lovely multi-grain rolls and exactly 14 pounds of cheese. Seriously, there was enough cheese for 10 people. I ate what I could and wastefully left the rest.
After a long day, I crashed, knowing that tomorrow would bring the arrival of the rest of Team Elizabeth.
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