Logo: Lobster cartoon

JOURNAL : June 2004

June 2004 sees the start of my journey - a few trips to friends in various parts of Europe, to get myself used to travelling ! First stop Prague (to visit Graeme Chisholm), and on the way a few days down south first...

Wednesday 02/06/04

Flew down from Edinburgh to Gatwick, and immediately surprised by the number of St.George's flags flying from car windows - funny that I didn't see these in Edinburgh ! Drove across to Storrington to update Rodney, Sandra and Gary on my forthcoming travel plans, and then met up with Ros to go down and see the family in the Worthing area. Everyone keeping well (Kate has 6/7 weeks to go before her bump disappears) - and lots of work being carried out on both Nigel's and Simon's houses. Leon gave a great performance on the new trampoline, and Madeline was busy with Sonic the hedgehog!

Image: Flag of St.George

Thursday 03/06/04

Woke early, to hear the news that the UK airspace had been closed due to a computer failure at the Air Traffic Control Service - good job I flew down south yesterday. Popped down to Steyning to see Grandma - still doing well at 92, despite the frustration for her of recently losing her hearing aid. Got back to Southwater where I was picked up - it's a good job I knew the driver, as mum always told me never to get into cars with strangers. My friend (and ex-colleague) Jan then took me on a hair-raising journey across the Sussex and Surrey countryside - with only one emergency stop - thank goodness my heart rate recovered quickly (note that the air bags didn't work!!). Had a mango quango latte frappe noncafficcino in Sainsburys - the Starbucks franchise seemed to be deserted - so much for Friends finishing on the telly...
Now enjoying a rather delicious drink of gin and tonic, before setting out for a mouth-watering supper at a local posh establishment. It's a hard life!

Update: Vienna Restaurant in Farnham gets added to my list of great eating places - it was a brilliant meal... I recommend the seafood risotto starter, followed by the Gressingham Duck. All stuffed (Jan, Roy and me - not the risotto or duck) so unable to cope with any dessert. The waiter was a great laugh (a Slovak called Milan) - interested to hear that I was about to visit Prague, despite being in the half of his old former country that is now the Czech Republic, and even more impressed when I knew Bratislava was the capital city of Slovakia. 'World is my Lobster' added to my comment in the visitors book!

Friday 04/06/04

I previously thought that Farnham was going to be similar to towns like Basingstoke - but it actually is a great place with lots of character ! Jan and I were approached by a person offering us tickets to a free barbecue at the church (hopefully being held outside), but this clashed with the appointment at the hairdressers. So, on to John and Barbara's at 'Headmasters' in Beacon Hill - Jan to get her natural blonde highlights refreshed, and me to get a short back and sides. Lots of noise - not the hairdryers, but one of their customers who was literally like a whirlling dervish, and didn't stop for air during the whole 25 minutes of her visit. Relaxing in the garden this afternoon, with the thoughts of a pleasant evening ahead - barbecue (at Jan and Roy's, not at Farnham church), with Jan's sister Suzie joining us.

Update: Much to Jan's disappointment, Suzie didn't bring her chiminiere with her, especially as she's been trying to persuade Roy to buy one for her. Had a great meal, and a little vin rouge to wash it down with. Some leftovers for the badgers and foxes, although Suzie was a bit concerned that Roy was going to nip out to the garden during the night in order to eat up the scraps himself - he has a big appetite, but I think that would be going just a bit too far ! Finished the evening sat in the warmth of the conservatory... something about not having a chiminiere meant it was no longer warm enough to enjoy the rapidly darkening garden. (Memo to Roy - don't forget for Jan's christmas present!)

Saturday 05/06/04

Nice relaxing start to the day - a sort of Sunday morning feeling, but on a Saturday. After a spot of breakfast (including home-made mango frappucino ... yum!), Jan and Roy kindly drove me to Gatwick - they were to return home later that day for another barbecue, lucky things. Nothing untoward at Gatwick (clearly, any problems caused by the air traffic system failure had been sorted out), and a pretty uneventful 2-hour easyJet flight over to Prague. Met at the airport arrivals by Graeme and his flatmate/colleague Steve (from Wales) - the airport taxis at Prague are renowned for over-charging tourists, so Graeme managed to phone for a local firm instead. After getting to the flat, we took the bus/metro into the City for a bite to eat. Kenny Haig (Graeme's long-time chum from Scotland, who also teaches with him at the Riverside School, and also lives in the flat) joined us. Initial impressions of Prague were favourable, and it was as though I had stepped back in time into an old movie set. Great buildings all around. Such a shame that there were a few 'british' stag parties in full swing, as (1) it didn't do anything to improve the ambience of the place, and (2) it reinforces everyone's opinion of Brits abroard ! Still, everyone is free to do what they want, within reason - perhaps I'm just getting old. To think that the old town square now 'boasts' a British Pub - aargh ... not what I wanted to see. (Whilst I may use the term 'Brit', it seemed that the main participants were 'English', much to my embarrassment). The goulash was very good, washed down with a suitable quantity of the local ale - and a toast raised to Steve as it happened to be his birthday.

Image: Czech flag

Sunday 06/06/04

Image: View from Clock Tower, Prague


First day of looking round Prague, with lots of hints and tips from my guide Graeme. Best tip of all was to concentrate around the Old Town, across Karlov Most (Charles Bridge), and towards the Hrad (Castle) - much less likely to encounter tourist prices. Interesting to see the various water level marks dotted round the city on various buildings and bridges where the river flooded back in August 2002. There's even one inside one of the tube stations halfway up the escalator ... I'm assuming the trains stopped running for a few days !

Returned home late afternoon to watch the highlights from the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

Monday 07/06/04



Graeme, Kenny and Steve have to teach during the day, so I was free to go roaming about the city. Am now fully confident on how to get about on the transport, and a real bargain for the ticket, which is only 12Kr (Czech crowns) - about 30p - for a single journey on the bus and metro combined. I just have to remember to keep one ticket spare all the time, as you can't seem to actually buy them when you get on a bus ! Buses and trains are amazingly punctual - perhaps Lothian Buses (and Southdown for those of you reading this in Sussex) can learn a thing or two.

Paid for entry to the castle museum and Golden Lane, where tiny houses were once inhabited by the workers of the castle - these days, they all seem to have been changed into mini craft shops. The castle itself is split into many courtyards - combining palaces, churches, streets and squares, so it takes quite a bit of time to look round it all. A three-piece band playing traditional Czech music added to the atmosphere, but I haven't a clue what they were actually singing about !

Met up later with some of Graeme's colleagues (Katka, Jill and Moragh .... guess which one spoke Czech? ) - a friendly bunch.

By the way, if you are ever needing to send a child to an English-speaking school in Prague (perhaps you are a diplomat or high up in business), czech out the Riverside School website : www.riversideschool.cz

Tuesday 08/06/04

Decided to go a bit further afield today, so having looked at the options available, I plumped for a trip to Karlstejn Castle. Situated about 30kms out of Prague, it's a one-hour bus ride. Shame that the air conditioning isn't working (especially as they make a big thing about it in the tour publicity leaflets), as it's a very hot day.



Once you arrive at the foot of the hill, it's either a taxi ride or a horse & cart ride to the castle entrance. Fortunately, there were enough spaces with the horse and carts - I was allowed to sit with the rider, but (unfortunately) I forgot about the exhaust fumes ! You may recognise the castle ? It was used for some of the shots in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (did the Child Catcher freak you out as well ?)

Great place to go and see, although most of the items being shown on the guided tour appeared to be copies or reconstructions - thank goodness it's not like that up at Edinburgh Castle. Air conditioning no better on the way back to Prague, made even worse by a long diversion due to a road accident. Finally met up with Graeme and Kenny for some beers. Ended up back at Jill's new flat (with Nicky, Moragh, Joe and Julie) for home-made sushi. Lovely. (Not quite Czech traditional fare, although I'm told many sushi restaurants have opened up in Prague - maybe the Czechs lost all their own fish during the floods, and are trying to make up for it ?)

Wednesday 09/06/04

Can't believe it's my final full day in Prague already. Temperatures again hit 31 degrees (by 12pm ... yep, mad dogs and englishmen do go out in the midday sun!) - decide to go up the Petrin Hill, a green oasis from the city streets. A funicular railway gets you up the hill, and I then climbed the stairs up the Rozhledna viewing tower, a sort of baby-brother of the Eiffel Tower. Views are fantastic. Plenty of chance to relax in good surroundings, before taking the short trip back down to the much noisier street level.



Met up later that evening with Graeme and Katka - another chance for me to use the bus - enjoyed (more) beer, and supper - a traditional dish of beef in cream sauce with cranberries served with dumplings. All going well (sitting outside due to the warm evening), but then drips start falling from a gutter above us. We move the table and chairs - all was well again, until the sky turned dark very quickly, and it became apparent that a storm was brewing. Managed to get the meal finished, with a quick goodbye to Katka, before we dashed back to the bus stop. Thunder and lightning followed (it's years since I've been outside during a thunderstorm) - great to clear the air. Thank goodness the bus would be stopping right outside Graeme's flat.

Thursday 10/06/04

Up early to say cheerio to Graeme, Kenny & Steve, before taking a taxi ride to the airport. Booked for 11 o'clock, it turns up early. Big assumption that it's actually my taxi. Well, when I get in the taxi, the driver doesn't speak any English whatsoever, so I just have to keep my fingers crossed that he knows where I want to go. I resist the temptation to make the sound of a plane and stick my arms out in a sweeping movement, but if all else fails... I see in my guide book that Czech is a similar language (Slavic) to Russian and Polish - just a shame I can't speak any of them! Anyhow, after a few worrying moments, he indicates that he knows where he's going, and half an hour later I'm standing in Departures waiting for the check-in desk to open.

Looking back, the trip to Prague was a really good opener for my travels - great hospitality, an interesting city to explore, no shortage of good food and drink, and great value. Definitely recommend it as a short-break destination.



© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2015 

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