Prague Diary: Getting There


Monday, September 14:

Since Mercury’s retrograde, I was determined to give myself enough time to get to the airport with obstacles. I ate a huge pasta lunch to fortify myself (because I am an army that moves on my stomach).

My mom drove me across the street to the train station with my luggage (since it’s uphill). I caught the 1:19 train, which was only three minutes late — a record for Metro North. No problem getting the seat in the front with the little indent for my suitcase, the backpack sitting on top of it. All good.

The train ride was exceptionally smooth. That should have been my first clue that something was going to go wrong down the line! The train even came in on an upper platform. I’m convinced that, whenever they see I have luggage, they radio ahead to say, “Make sure you put us as far away on the lower level as possible — she’s got baggage!” But we came in on an upper track.

The Samsonite bag rolls so smoothly that I kept looking back, thinking maybe the handle had come off in my hand and I didn’t have a suitcase with me.

Got across Grand Central, wandered across the street to the airport bus. Bought a round trip ticket. The bus came a few minutes later, I was loaded on, and off we went.

Costume Imp texted me that he was in the car on his way to the airport.

It wasn’t bad until we got onto Long Island. For some reason, there were cops EVERYWHERE and it was a parking lot. I wondered if there was some horrible accident, but we kept inching forward.

Costume Imp arrived at the airport and checked in. I was getting a bit tense.

In actuality, it didn’t take all that much longer than usual to get from the city to JFK — maybe an additional 15 minutes. But I had visions of not making the flight, in spite of leaving early.

I got there, Imp was waiting for me, and check-in was a breeze. I didn’t have to wait at all. Got the boarding pass, we went through security, and headed for our gate. We bought overpriced water and really bad coffee. I bought a couple of Godiva bars, in case British Air decided to act like a US carrier and not feed us.

We sat in our lounge. My iPod Touch wouldn’t connect to anything, which was frustrating, since I’d been promised everything would now work properly.

We also noticed that there were an awful lot of extra SWAT-types walking around, Feds, and various other guards. They walked through each lounge, making eye contact with every individual. In other words, they were looking for someone specific. But we didn’t know who or why. It was a little disconcerting. I was relieved that they were on top of it, but you could tell they were stressed.

We later learned that a terrorist plot aimed at New York had been thwarted, with several figures arrested, a key figure arrested in Denver, who was shipped back to New York for prosecution. Several raids had happened in Queens, which was why there were so many cops on every overpass, and traffic crawled. Again, disconcerting, but glad that they were on top of it and tragedy was averted.

And, when we got on the plane, there were extra police checking out each individual as they entered the ramp and then again, at the bottom of the ramp, just before we entered the plane.

We got settled in our seats. I had the aisle, Imp was in the middle, and there was a very nice young woman in the window seat, on her way to study for a semester in London. The seats on BA were much more comfortable than on United or American. They also gave us pillows and blankets, and little kits with headset, socks, eye mask, and toothbrush. I felt very pampered, after the US carriers who act like they’re doing you a favor by letting you on the plane in the first place. Imp still didn’t think they were as good as Virgin, but, never having flown Virgin, I couldn’t make the comparison.

We took off only a little late, settled into the air just fine. They served drinks — I had a rather mediocre red wine from California. Dinner was okay — some tortellini, with more mediocre wine and some of the worst coffee I’ve ever had in my life. We weren’t really in the mood to read, so we chatted.

Later, Imp tried to nap. I started Italo Calvino’s IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER, which is great, but I wasn’t in the mood to read. I wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie. I listened to some quiet music and tried to rest.

The descent into Heathrow was bad for my ears. Really painful, in spite of the precautions taken.

And then, we were regurgitated into the infamous Terminal 5, the new international terminal that’s supposedly so brilliant.

I loathed it.

I felt like a gerbil in a Habitrail.

We walked through glass-enclosed corridors up and down various levels (Habitrail), went through security and went through the terminal. We didn’t have a lot of time to make our connection. I wanted to get a British newspaper, but there was only one WH Smith close to where we disembarked, and nothing close to our next gate. I got progressively crankier as other people showed up in the lounge with newspapers! We did get some decent coffee, so I somewhat revived.

Our departure gate was A-10, which is another Habitrail maze they put you through before loading you on busses and driving you far out onto the tarmac before loading you onto the next plane.

I took the middle seat this time, giving Imp the aisle. These seats were larger and more comfortable than on the overseas leg. We got into the air reasonably on time. Unfortunately, the entire flight was just at the altitude that causes my ears the most pain, so the hour and change was agony. They fed us a fake English muffin (cold) with some sort of fake salmon spread on it and more bad coffee.

But we touched down in Prague on time. The first thing I saw made me froth at the mouth –all of the runways to the planes are plastered with Citibank logos. Now, we bailed them out with millions of dollars of TARP money so they could paint their logo over the Prague Airport? Needless to say, a letter to the TARP overseer is going out.

Security wasn’t a problem, and there we were. Mid-morning in Prague, up for nearly 24 hours.

I’d assumed we had vouchers to get to the hotel, but we didn’t; it wasn’t part of our package. I later found out hotels in Prague don’t do that. Taxis screw you and the airport shuttles aren’t much better. Fortunately, I had downloaded directions from the hotel’s website. We found an ATM for Imp to withdraw money (I had my first 4 days’ budget already in Czk).

We had to take a bus and then a metro. The ticket machines only had coins and we only had bills, so I left Imp outside with the luggage, smoking, and I went back in to get change. I found a transportation desk, and asked for the ticket that allows us to transfer. He shook his head and said we were going too far out to risk it — the ticket is only good for 75 minutes and one transfer. Praha 10 is far away, and we should purchase a day pass. I said I’d risk it. He also said we had to pay child’s fare for our suitcases. That’s not in any of the guidebooks, but since I know the fine is 900 czk if you don’t have the right tickets, I bought them. I later found out that it wasn’t a scam, that’s actually true.

I gave Imp his ticket and his suitcase’s ticket, and the 119 bus rolled up shortly thereafter. When you enter the bus or the tram or as you enter the metro station, you stamp your ticket. It gives the date and time. The inspectors can ask to see your tickets at any time and then fine you if you don’t have them or if they’re expired.

We got on the bus, punched our tickets, and got our first views of Prague. Out by the airport are still the beige concrete walls with barbed wire and then the block houses built under Communism. It reminded me a lot of East Germany in the 1970s and just after Reunification in the early 90s. Lots of busses, lots of streetcars, so public transport is the way to go.

It was about a 35 minute ride to Dejvickå, the first stop on the Metro line we needed, and the last stop for the 119 bus. We got off, rolled out suitcases into the station. Since it was the starting/ending stop of the line, we didn’t have to worry about direction. We knew our stop was 11 stops in, and the stop before it was a long stop starting with a “Z” — which we nicknamed “The Z stop” for the duration of our stay.

The metros are great. They run underground, are clean, fast, easy to navigate. One has to push the button to open the doors — they don’t open automatically. The metro was crowded, but a very nice woman sat opposite us. She reminded me of my mom’s best friend. She told us what phrase was used to mean the doors were closing (there’s no way I can spell it, so I won’t put it here). She loved Scotland, especially Glasgow, and was a big fan of Charles Rennie Macintosh. In fact, she was on her way to borrow a book about him from the library.

We got off at our stop (only 20 minutes from our starting point, well within our ticket time) and headed in the direction indicated by the hotel map. We saw “Billa”, the grocery store which was mentioned in hotel reviews, and headed in that direction. It was definitely a residential neighborhood, with blocks of flats on both sides of a wide boulevard. We headed towards a street called “Solidarity” — mostly because it was something we could pronounce. We saw a large building sticking up, and when we turned the corner, there was the Hotel Juno, which was to be our base for the coming week.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009
Waning Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant

Yesterday was fun. Hot and sticky, but lots of good food and great company, after typical NYC transportation kerflamma.

I left early to run a few errands and got to the train station well before my train. The previous train was running late, so when it turned up, I jumped on, figuring the later train would be even later. Got in to Grand Central early. Texted Costume Imp — who was stuck on HIS train. Wandered over to Starbucks for an iced coffee– the woman behind the counter was hilarious, telling the woman in line behind me, “We have lots of great stuff here. Don’t you be fixing your face like that!”

Revived by iced coffee, I heard the announcement that the train I PLANNED to take was stuck somewhere along the line, and was grateful I wasn’t on it. Also noticed heavy police presence and that the trash bins were removed — NYPD must have gotten a tip.

Costume Imp arrived and we booked up Fifth Avenue through the tourists to Central Park. Of course, when we got into the Park, I got us headed in the wrong direction, but we found a helpful man with a map and only got to the Boathouse a few minutes late for our reservation. We were seated at a table right at water’s edge, where we could see the turtles poke up their little heads asking for bread from the bread basket. I don’t think I’ve ever seen turtles beg before!

We had a lovely three course meal with the appropriate wines — pate to start, I had the flank steak with horseradish-dill mashed potatoes and asparagus, Costume Imp had the pork, and we split a layered Key Lime Cake with mango after. Unfortunately, the cake also had coconut, which neither of us like.

We pulled out the Prague books and shared information, and Imp told me about this three weeks in Italy, which sounded wonderful! We’re gathering a lot of information for the trip, but also giving ourselves a lot of flexibility — not deciding a moment-by-moment itinerary, but seeing what we feel like doing each day, knowing we will cover a lot of ground over the course of a week.

On the way back, we stopped by the Strand outpost next to the park, where I got a book about dime novels and a Swedish mystery. We continued back down Fifth Avenue — Costume Imp peeled off to go back home, and I went over to Hagstrom’s to get a better map of Prague –one that actually has the part of town in it containing our hotel. I found it right away — and there was a whole shelf of books on Prague, which made my mouth water. I settled on a book of walking tours — although I don’t think we could do all of them (most of them are day-long excursions) — it will give us some details along the way.

The cultural history of Prague I’m reading discusses their “tradition of defenestration.”


As good as the food was, I don’t eat meat often, and it sat like a lead ball in my stomach all night. I skipped both dinner and my workout.

Books arrived from National Geographic — a travel tale about Norway, a book about an excavation in the Andes, and the Family Reference Atlas, which is one of the coolest Atlases I’ve ever seen!

Packed for next week — clothes, anyway. I’ve got to back the books and reference materials today, and then I’ll pack the food first thing before I leave.

I’ve got to stock up on cat food at Trader Joe’s today, get some client work done, and get some work done on the short stories. I had a great morning’s work on the second mystery, but I’ve got to get the draft of the first one typed and printed so I can revise it over the weekend. I am not looking forward to figuring out how to cut 1500 words — that’s almost a story in itself. In other words, I have to decide if I’ll take out one of th elements running through the piece, or if I can make enough small, internal cuts and tightenings so that it adds up to 1500 words.

Ran into a neighbor while I took out the garbage this morning, and mentioned the DSL problem. He’s been having the same problem with Verizon, as have several other people in the building. When they call, they’re told to switch to FIOS to fix the problem, which is of course, more expensive. So it looks like all of us are making the jump to Optimum instead. None of us are amused by this strong-arm tactic.

Fixed the other side of the 1950’s chair yesterday, and hope to fix the seat today. Week after next, after the site job and the internet switch, I’ll go in search of fabric to make new cushions.

Got a reply to a job pitch. I’m definitely qualified, but this guy is trying to get me to give him a quote without giving me the details I need to give him a quote, saying he can’t talk about the project in detail yet and he needs a quote to see if we can move forward so neither of our time is wasted. I asked him a few more questions — if he answers, he gets a quote. If not, buh-bye. I’m sure I’m out of his price range anyway — I’m pretty sure, even though this is a long-term, royalty-producing project, he’s looking for an inexpensive work-for-hire, so he should probably get someone earlier in their career. But if he wants it to really take off, he needs someone with experience. Tough, when you’re creating a project, but if you’re going to hire in people rather than creating from within your tribe, the boundaries are different.

At least it’s cooler and less humid — for the moment.

Have a great weekend!