The long awaited trip to Prague had arrived.  It had been a while since I set out alone to explore a destination abroad.  On past trips I’d sought adventure in Istanbul and Amsterdam.  I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to check in since, it’s best not to cut it close with international flights (I mean, what if you left your passport and had to call someone to bring it to the airport?  It could happen). Coming up the escalator, I ran into Scott Vanlaningham, Executive Director of XNA and Cyd King, Public Relations Account Manager at CJRW/NW. They’d been touring the new gate area, and we visited a bit before I made my way into the security line.

 At the security line, two of the TSA agents were engaged in pretty funny banter, and were giving each other a hard time.  When I got to the scanner TSA agent #3 asked, “Did he say something funny?”  Since I didn’t know which of the two guys he was referring to, and they’d both been funny, I just said, “Yes,” to which Agent #3 responded, “Well we’d better record this day in history because I do believe that’s a first.” Interactions like that make going through security much less stressful, and were a good start to the trip. Walking towards the gates I noticed the beautiful new gift/snack shop, so of course I stopped to take a picture. While I was doing that, a voice said, “I knew that was you when I saw the camera.” Brad and Julie Choate were also flying out of town that day.  They were on their way to Phoenix to see a new grandbaby.  Congrats! 

The flight was uneventful except for the fact that there was no coffee.  Since I’d had my jug-o-coffee that morning, I was fine with that and read The Rough Guide to Prague, so I could hit the ground running (so to speak) when I got there. I try, when traveling internationally, to follow the advice to acclimate one’s self to the local time upon arrival.  That means going to bed when it’s appropriate in the new time zone. I was developing an agenda for the first day in Prague (Tuesday) as I read.  The good news was I’d received an upgrade on the O’Hare-Helsinki leg of the trip; a surprising, but welcome development.

Once I landed at O’Hare, I headed to the lounge I remembered from years ago, when I’d travelled with Carol to Barcelona and we’d been upgraded.  We’d been whisked to a mysterious lounge, by a fellow driving a cart.  I wasn’t certain I remembered where it was, but I found it, and went in. “The desk agent smiled one of those, “Oh you poor lost dear” kind of smiles and said, “Are you an Executive Platinum member?” “No, I remembered coming here once when I received an upgrade.” “Well, dear, you’re welcome to go to our Admirals Club between gates K6 and H6, but this is for Executive Platinum (EP) members.”  “Umm, ok,” I said, and off I went.

The Admirals Club was chaotic that afternoon. I’m not sure if that’s the norm, because I’m not an Admirals Club member.  It was close to 1:00, so I decided to have lunch (no free lunches there as were the case in the EP club). The line was really long, and although there were reputed to be servers, none ever surfaced in the area in which I was sitting, so several of us went to the counter to order.  I bought a salmon salad, which wasn’t bad, and a glass of wine (hey, it was vacation).

My seat mate on the flight, Klaus Viljanmaa, turned out to be really interesting, though I initially tried the ole fish eyed, don’t bother me trick.  It didn’t work, so we visited until he went to sleep.  During our conversation, I found out that Klaus was from Finland, fell in love with a woman from Kansas, sold a company, and moved there to be with her.  He has 17 (yep, that’s right) motorcycles, including every collector’s edition Harley for the past (can’t remember) years.  He also has 5 Porsches and goes around the world racing them.  His company made for an interesting flight. The flight attendants commented that we seemed to be having a lot more fun than the other passengers, and I think that was true.

When Klaus went to sleep, I devoured a novel by Beverly Jenkins entitled, Indigo. It’s a guilty vacation pleasure to pick up a romance (yes, I confess) novel.  I like her books because they’re set against the backdrop of slavery and the struggle for abolition. Her protagonists are strong characters of color who agitate for change.  No femme fatales in her books, they’re all kick butt women. From a bank robber, to a woman who dedicates her life to street orphans, to a conductor on the Underground Railroad, they’re all smart and tough.  (By the way, all the books mentioned in the blog are available from the lending library on the third floor of the law school.).

When we landed in Helsinki, Klaus was concerned that I’d have trouble making my connection so he walked me as far as permissible and sent me off with a hug for safe travels.  I wished him well in his upcoming business meeting and told him to be safe racing those cars.  The plane from Helsinki was pretty full and the flight took close to two hours. We were given a breakfast sandwich (pickles, mayo, lunchmeat, lettuce and tomatoes on a wheat bun). Though it wasn’t my choice for breakfast, at least we received something.  In the states there would have been coffee (maybe).

The customs process was soooo much easier than here. Sheesh. The agent asked me where I was from, what I was doing in Prague, for how long, and that was it.  There were no long lines, and the process was really quick.  The fun began when I had to find my prearranged shuttle.  First, I went to the place outside the arrival gates where the shuttles lined up.  No luck. Then I went back in and asked at the desk. Nope. Finally, I pulled out the reservation sheet to (what?) follow the directions. The directions said to go to parking building C, stop at the Dollar/Thrifty rental desk and I would be directed to my shuttle. So off I went.  Hmmm, building C, building C, oh there it is! When I arrived at the desk and asked (as directed), there was some confusion because I was not Ms. Gonzales.  Nevertheless, the driver decided to take me and another couple and let his colleague pick up Ms. G.  The driver was nice, and spoke English. He didn’t, however, speak the Baltic sounding language the couple spoke (they didn’t speak English) so he talked with me, gave a mini-tour tour and explanation of the various landmarks we passed.  He even slowed for my pictures and gave me safety tips.   

My hotel, the Grand Majestic Plaza was nice.  When I checked in the clerk knew who I was by name. I thought that was a great touch. The lobby was beautiful; the rooms clean with dependable (wired) internet, and the location great.  It’s very close to the St. Charles Bridge, the metro and the Town Hall Clock, all historic landmarks. Checking into the room reminded me of all the little things to remember in other countries.  For example, as an energy saving measure the hallway lights go out and come on again when someone enters the hallway.  The room lights only come on after you place your key card in a holder by the door, so that when you’re out, everything goes off.  There are other little things like figuring out how to work the fixtures, and remembering that washcloths are not a universal norm in all bathrooms. (Don’t forget to pack your electronical adapters).

As I mentioned above, the best way to avoid the dreaded jet lag is to stay up until bedtime in the new location. I had a plan. I’d take a river cruise, get dinner and call it a night.  So after checking email and sprucing up (much needed) I went to the desk to arrange for a riverboat tour. “Will they bring me back to the hotel?” “Oh, yes.”  Good, I thought, because the last thing I need is to be trying to figure out, in a half daze, how to get back to the hotel on the first day.  The pickup was not for an hour or so, so I wandered a bit taking pictures and trying to get a feel for the city.  I’ve been known to absentmindedly step into the street to take pictures, but I was standing on the sidewalk when a guy in a very small minivan backed into me. I saw him coming in my peripheral vision and banged on the back window in time to avert a major crisis “Hey!” An older lady carrying a toddler saw the entire episode and yelled out, “Oh my God!” which was actually more startling than the minivan—almost. The bus arrived right on time and off we went—first to the tour office to be greeted by a snippy clerk, then onto another bus with a disinterested and bored tour (Premiant) guide. To make a long story short, I sat on the top deck sipping a beer enjoying the river, but without much of an idea of what the sights were other than the tips from my Rough Guide to Prague and the few words I could glean from the Italian speaking tour guide. Things got decidedly more interesting when we docked.  There was no bus, no guide, no nothing.

A very sweet older couple was in the same fix, and was struggling a bit because of the heat.  I told them I’d help them find their hotel (hell, I didn’t even know where  mine  was).  I was worried about them, especially the husband because he was becoming flush and short of breath.  My approach to these situations is to ask directions from as many people as possible,  then go with the consensus, which is what we did.  Along the way, the wife began to recognize landmarks, and before too long they left me after big hugs of gratitude to go sit in the shade with cool drinks.  That was a good beginning, but I still didn’t have a clue where I was and what’s worse I’d forgotten to bring a piece of stationary or a card from the hotel with the name and address.  Suppressing panic, I pulled it up on my IPhone Tripit app, and headed for a police officer, conveniently sitting in a car waiting for me. When I showed her the address she pulled out a map and said, “I don’t know. There are so many.”  Now the panic returned.  It was well past the 24 hour mark for being awake, and I was hot and tired. Ah, “The Palladium!” I said.  “Oh yes” and she gave me directions.  It turned out I wasn’t very far at all, and remembering the nearest shopping mall had been a lifesaver. (One of the first things I did when I got back was to tuck a hotel card in my wallet.  At the very least, that way I could call and have the clerk give directions to whoever is helping me). 

After getting to Truhlarska Street on which the hotel was located, I decided having dinner nearby was the safest bet. I went into a restaurant that was filled with customers, and conveniently, right down the street.  After I was seated I realized that I was in a Chinese restaurant (in Prague—go figure),  Macao and Wok.  My dinner was a dish called 8 Treasures. It was fresh and delicious with lots of vegetables.  After dinner, my server brought me some “Chinese wine” which tasted a little bit  like a plum wine, only lighter.  Maybe it was cherry because it was red. Inside the glass on a plastic toothpick was a lychee.  The check came with a stick of gum.

After that pleasant ending to a long day, I was ready for bed, and crashed soon after returning.  However I awoke about two hours later with a swollen eye.  A bug had gotten into it.  Benadryl to the rescue!  But when I turned on the light there were LOTS of bugs on the walls, behind and on both sides of the bed. Ewww. Sigh.  I couldn’t get an answer on the phone from the front desk, so I dressed and went down there, big eye, rollers and all.  The clerk sent the bartender up to figure out what the heck I was trying to tell them.  Roman, the bartender, and jack of all trades quickly sized up the situation.  The window had been left open.  He motioned that he would return, and in a few minutes he did, with a vacuum cleaner. Genius.  No more bugs. I gave Roman a tip that reflected my gratitude and Czeched out.