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And It Begins… I Fly To Prague At Last

August 7, 2012

And now, at long last, after nearly a year of what passes for planning in my world, my trip begins. This entry will deal mostly with the tedia of jet travel, with which we are all familiar. But there is a lot of time on an intercontinental flight, time which can be nicely filled up with typing, which I do slowly and with endless revision, so my gain is your loss.

HOUSTON

On the way to the airport, Jeromy says, “Hobby, right?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s Hobby. I mean, I think I would remember if it said George Bush on my ticket.” I say. But I check my ticket just to be safe. There he is, George Bush, laughing at me. Completely on the other side of Houston. That’s why Barber is the producer.

We still got there an hour early, but check-in was snaggulous, because I was trying to get my baggage checked all the way through to Prague, across four flights on three different airlines. The check-in clerk had to call a supervisor.

Try F1?

They eventually got it worked out, but it seemed like something they had never encountered before. Don’t they process thousands of trips a day?

I had to jog a little, but I didn’t hold up the plane—which I am ashamed to say I have done more than once, through traveling incompetence—and  boarded with a few minutes to spare. AND I got my guitar onboard, which had been a real worry. I even thought about not trying to take it as carry-on, but the idea of not having an instrument makes me very panicky. If you can get it to the terminal, it becomes sort of a fait accompli.  Jeromy was right when he encouraged me to take the chance.

AUSTIN

It takes three quarters of an hour to fly from Houston to Austin. The Austin to Dallas trip is almost as short and it seemed like it was going to be effortless, what with no bags to check, no security gauntlet, and plenty of time to walk 50 yards to the next gate. Wrong.

The woman at the counter for American Airlines, to whom I was an international traveler, wasn’t sure I could fly to the Czech Republic without a return ticket. “Trust me,” I said, “I checked into that.” She called her supervisor, anyway, who backed me up.  She looked at me in a concerned tone of voice and said, “Well, just be sure you get a job within 30 days.”

“Ninety days,” I said. I’m sorry, but I’m not letting a minor airline functionary lecture me like a border guard.   She handed me my boarding pass.

I laid about and typed until the cattle call. Then, as I was trundling all my earthly goods across the threshold to my new life, this agent or clerk or whatever you call someone who takes your papers and then says unsettling things to you, cautioned me that, not having a return ticket, I might be refused entry to the country. Just something to think about. Thank you so much for helping me relax and enjoy my flight, airline lady.

I let it go. There’s nothing for it but to fall back on my winning personality to get me through Czech customs. (It won’t be Czech language skills that carry the day. I don’t have any.) And I can demonstrate that I have a bit of money and have made serious preparations to take care of myself. If I absolutely have to have a return ticket, I’ll bite the bullet and buy the cheapest refundable ticket I can find. Buying it 90 days out, in the off-season, shouldn’t be too bad. I might have money left over for a cup of coffee.

This is how I financed my plan for global domination.

I shrugged it off. As we accelerated for takeoff, I was feeling hopeful. That is, until we suddenly slowed back down, inducing that sinking feeling one gets when the bottom falls out of one’s arrangements.

The captain announced that a light had come on. A little later, he mumbled into the intercom that they had looked in the book, which told them to have it checked out. As though they were programming a digital alarm clock. Well, hey, at least they were reading the manual. After another brief pause, in which I imagined them puzzling over photocopied instructions that had been badly translated from engineer-speak in another language, the captain soothingly reassured us that we were headed back to the terminal, so that our friends in the ground crew could have a little look-see at a wheel that was not turning. These incrementally worse updates continued at what I must, in all fairness, admit were fairly brief intervals, until it was announced that we would be disembarking and getting on another jet… in about an hour. There was a lot of talk about connecting flights, all of them domestic, none of them mine.

I got on the 1-800 number for distressed travelers, and they told me that I would indeed be missing my connection, by about 15 minutes.

DALLAS

But you never know, sometimes you get lucky… obviously, planes are sometimes late. Maybe mine would be, and I could annoy the person next to me by telling them how I glad I was that they had been held up. (It’s the little things in life.) So when we got to Dallas, I strode promptly over to the nearest glowing screen to comb through the ETAs and the ETDs, hoping that perhaps my jet was still loitering about on the runway, like one of those people who won’t leave your house, even though the party is over. Nope, Elvis had left the building.

So I moped over to a counter to talk about catching a flight the next afternoon, meaning I would have to spend a night in a chair in a DFW terminal. (I am convinced they specifically design those things so that it is impossible to sleep in one.) I had just convinced a rather stern-looking woman to take up my case, and was working up the nerve to plead for meal vouchers or whatever consolation prize she might have the authority to dispense, when she suddenly looked up, with the alert expression of a dog that’s just heard a window break, and said, “Have you checked D25? It’s showing that plane’s still here.” (It meaning of course the computer, our overlord at all times.) Well, I perked right up, I can tell you. I legged it with considerable vigor down to D25, where they knew my name and were waiting for me. Word had gotten through to some parts of the system, if not others. It was not my fault they were waiting for me. Not this time, anyway.

DALLAS TO LONDON

So I’m up in the air at last, squeezed into a colossal spam tin with fellow travelers of every human variety, plus children, hoping against hope that a flight attendant will have something remotely vegan to offer me. Oh, and a beer, there’s a capital notion.

*INTERMISSION*

Dinner is accomplished. I managed to lay hands on two cans of lukewarm beer, but the menu was about as animal-friendly as Ernest Hemingway on safari. I gave in and ate the cheese lasagna. Not having had cheese in ages, I feel like I’ve just suckled at a large tube of warm caulk. I should have just eaten the salad and grabbed an energy bar from my bag, but my will weakens when I am traveling. I wanted something hot, something that wasn’t an energy bar.

So now I’m on my way to London, where I’ll have a two-hour layover. Then it’s on to Prague, where, with any luck, I will be allowed to enter the country.

Well, it’s time to try to get some half-sleep, in that lumpy way that happens in planes and cars. My neck hurts just thinking about it.

Cities at night from the air are pretty awe-inspiring.  Even St. Louis.  I thought I was seeing a UFO until I realized it was a light on the wing,

Must remind myself: I like adventures. I get bored staying in one place. This is one of the main things travel is made of, this uncertainty. If I wanted to play it safe, I’d have joined a garden club, not moved to Europe with half a plan.

LONDON

My patchy sleep aboard a cramped, rumbling jet was just as restful as one would expect, which is to say that I feel as though I was attacked by children who know a bit of karate. (How did they reach as high as my neck?)

This is what the famous London sky looks like from above.

The Thames!

What traveling is really like.

But blimey, here I am in Heathrow! I’m gobsmacked! It’s actually kind of amazing that I’ve never been to England, innit, (okay, I’ll stop that now), what with me being such an anglophile. I’ve seen Withnail and I many times and can recite your Lord Byron and Elvis Costello couplets at the drop of a bowler. It’s truly wonderful to hear accents as thick as the London fog. (I wish I had my dad’s old London Fog raincoat, which is in my checked baggage, but I don’t suppose it would look terribly smart with my overalls. Also, I’m indoors, and even in England, it does not rain indoors.)

I found out today that it’s true; English customer service has a distinctly no-nonsense quality. Not unpleasant, but without the schmoozy how-are-ya sauce that we Americans like to pile on. Rather, you get a clipped, “They’re not going to give you a gate until about three o’clock, but listen, it’s going to be 24. Good day.” (Now that I’ve been in an English airport for all of 30 minutes, I feel authorized to make these sweeping cultural comparisons.)

Heathrow. Quaint it ain’t.  It’s actually a lot like DFW with English accents.

So anyway, I ordered a Guinness. I’ve been told it’s different and better here, but I’ll be darned if I can tell a difference. It’s just a Guiness to me. But it was worth $10. It’s helping with the aches and pains of jet cramp.

Next stop, Prague!

PRAGUE!

Well, it’s getting late and I’m tired and half drunk and so, now that we’ve got to the point of the story, I will finally be succint. Short flight to Prague, uneventful. Bloody Mary and a ham sandwich on the jet. (Terrible guilt. There wasn’t very much ham, but still…)

It was nice hearing Czech spoken on the plane. I recognized three words!

Got off the plane and walked up to customs, where they glanced at my passport, glanced at me, stamped it and waved me on. Mercifully anticlimactic. No, “Where’s your return ticket? Do you have medical insurance?” None of the things I had been warned about by people who haven’t been there.

I went down to get my checked bag and right about then it dawned on me that there was no way it made the connection I had almost missed. Still, I sat hopefully around the carousel, looking for a nondescript, black, cloth, zippered, roller-bag, (with a plastic bag tied around the handle to identify it,) from all the other nondescript, black, cloth, zippered, roller-bags.  After a while I gave up. I wasn’t upset. Honestly, I got here with fewer hassles than I expected.

Everyone who works at the Prague airport speaks English at least passably well. I found that if I greet them with dobry vecer, they think I speak Czech, so I wait a bit before dropping in the few, tiny, pathetic, Czech phrases I picked up reading a phrasebook on the last leg of my flight.  Except for the ř sound, Czech is not hard to pronounce.  It’s only hard to understand what it means.

I filed a missing bag report. I used my ATM card and changed my cash from $ to CZK.. I bought a transit ticket and rode first the bus, then the subway, then the trolley to my hostel, using the directions from the hostel website.  Honestly, the only mistake I made getting from Jeromy & Vicki’s apartment in Houston to my hostel in Prague was riding a trolley the wrong direction for two stops. I just got off and rode back the right way.

A Prague escalator from the subway to the street.  

A Prague transit system map.  Easier than New York.

I borrowed an adapter for my computer. I found some vegetarian sushi two blocks from my hostel. Easy, easy, easy.

So getting here, all in all, was remarkably easy and cheap. My flight was a little over $700 and I spent exactly $18 on food in airports.

Blogging in Prague.  Is that Pragueing?

The real work starts when I get to Brno on Friday. Then I have to look for a job and a place to live.

PS – They are not kidding.  The beer here is very, very good.  It was worth losing my suitcase for.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. STONECIPHER permalink
    August 7, 2012 11:47 pm

    Yay for a relatively painless trip! Glad you made it 🙂

    • August 8, 2012 10:56 am

      Thanks, Stönecypher! Hope you’re doing well. Haven’t heard from you in a while. How did the recording go?

      • STONECIPHER permalink
        August 8, 2012 7:01 pm

        The recording went well, then we stalled…I thought I sent you one of the songs, maybe I never did (3 of the 5 of the initial set can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/MarcysMusic/app_178091127385). The new plan is to record a full albums worth of songs, get the album set up with CD baby, and have a CD release party in conjunction with my 30th bday party. I have almost a full year to accomplish this. We’ll see how it goes! Other than that, I’ve just been working…a bunch….the overtime pay is nice, but I feel like I’m missing out on summer.

        Anywhoooo, you may not have heard from me much, but I’ve been keeping up with your adventures via FB and the blog.

        I hope the airline finds your bag soon!

  2. Vicki Lynn permalink
    August 7, 2012 11:49 pm

    Yay! You made it!

    • August 8, 2012 10:58 am

      Either I did or I’m having a dream and in a minute I’m going to be woken up by the sound of Jeromy lugging a refrigerator up the stairs by himself.

  3. August 8, 2012 12:06 am

    Hope you are fast asleep but doubt it. Very funny and pithy recounting. Love you.

    • August 8, 2012 10:59 am

      Slept like a rock last night. In a real bed! Man, that is a luxury. Planes are way less comfortable than camping.

  4. rich permalink
    August 8, 2012 2:24 am

    yo brother. i’m so happy for you! long term goals. whodathunkit!

  5. August 8, 2012 4:22 am

    Great entry! I was giggling throughout. Tittering, one might even say.

    Glad you had a decent flight. It sounds like you took those few glitches in stride, which is the only way to do it when one travels.

    Mittens (aka MItt Romney) is already building a wall around ‘merica to prevent you from easily reentering. I suggest tunneling upon return. 😉

    Best of luck, my friend. Tip a beer or three back for me! 😀

    • August 8, 2012 11:14 am

      I’ve already performed the honorary ErosLane arm curls. And I don’t think we have to worry about the Mittster being in charge of the borders. He’ll be back to corporate raiding in December.

  6. Norberry permalink
    August 8, 2012 9:43 am

    ‘with the alert expression of a dog that’s just heard a window break,’ – this is just one of the classic THAT lines which the continent of AMERICA will now miss dreadfully now that you’re officially one of us. One of us…one of us…

    The trick to dealing with British desk jockeys of any nature is to relax, smile and make no sudden movements. The no-nonsense attitude is to get you processed and away from the desk A-fricken-SAP so that they can go back to complaining about the job. Usually if you start the conversation they’ll respond pleasantly.

    I don’t think there’s a difference to the taste of Guinness either. It tastes slightly different when you’re drinking it IN Ireland because the brewery apparently sweetens it with fairy’s farts or something, otherwise the stuff you (used to) get in the US is the same as we get here. It would have been cheaper to buy a couple of pint cans from a duty free shop than pay for it from the tap though.
    Czech beer is excellent. I’ve never had it actually *in* The Republic, but we get all kinds of crazy imports here from all over Europe.

    Anyhoo, all I have to raise at this moment is orange juice, but raise it I shall. To your new life! And here’s hoping that bag turns up soon. :o)

    • August 8, 2012 11:18 am

      A mug o’ juice it is, then. But yes, the Czech beer… If, as a middle-aged man, I may avail myself of the latest in teen netspeak, then EHRMERGERSH.

      Found an English penny on the sidewalk at the airport. Is that worth a lot? Should I get it changed? Who would offer the best rate? Perhaps I should approach the British embassy. I’l let them know I’ve used an Englishman on my latest album. (I won’t mention that his work was unremunerated.)

      • Norberry Beaverry permalink
        August 8, 2012 1:15 pm

        Uh-oh, you’ve got to pay tax on that penny, otherwise the tabloids will out you as a tax-dodger. You owe the treasury £7, though most of that is a fine for stealing British currency and transporting it over international borders.

      • August 8, 2012 1:54 pm

        Ah, well this is a hopeful development. If Interpol can find me, surely they can find my luggage.

    • August 8, 2012 12:13 pm

      Beer sweetened with faerie farts? Does that make it a lambic beer? 😀 Also, I don’t recall this being covered in ANY of the Tinker Bell movies. I’m checking her wiki at the moment to see the status of her toots. :-P~

      • Norberry Beaverry permalink
        August 8, 2012 1:16 pm

        Toots? Pahahahahaha…

  7. haemony permalink
    August 8, 2012 2:27 pm

    Great post! I couldn’t wait for you to translate it to LJ, cuz I wanted to know that you made it okay. Yay for London! Yay for Prague! Two places I’ve always wanted to go. Jealous! Good good luck!

    • August 8, 2012 2:30 pm

      Thanks for checking in on me, Tiffany! I’m going to try to keep livejournal up to speed, but this one may take precedence for a while, especially for things travel-related.

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