It’s a 7.15am start this morning to get on the road for our bus trip to Prague.
This is not my first time round the traps with Intrepid. The first time I ever decided to leave the comfort of home, as far away from home as I could get at the time – China, Intrepid were there. Not by choice, because I’d tacked onto someone else’s trip.
Then again in 2008, I joined a couple of girlfriends who were doing an Intrepid tour through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I like the ethics of Intrepid, the fact that they try to spread their cash around town, encourage ethical travel, frequently at those places that the other tour groups don’t and through the use of their amazing local guides – the best chicken curry I have EVER had in my life, was at the home of a local guide in Cambodia – I would never begin to be able to replicate it because it would ruin the memory, but that meal will stay with me forever. Of course, the personal stories of these guides, is a part of what makes the trip so special as well. In China, we learnt some of what it feels to be a ‘black baby’ (a second child, and a girl at that, born into China’s one child policy), the corruption and the powerlessness felt by those that live with it every day, and those whose friends and family have survived the unimaginable.
As a tour company, I find there is a really good mix of tour time and solo time, though in your solo time if there are several people who may want to go off and do the same thing, that can be arranged, usually through the guide. And there’s no end to the types of travel you will use – cyclos, boats, minivans, bicycles, walking, buses, trains – it’s a more grassroots kind of experience and I like it.
So when it came time to think about Central Europe, and on my own this time – there wasn’t really any other choice in my mind. Though of course, it does come with some challenges for the mega planner – apart from your beginning and finishing hotels, you don’t know where you’ll be staying, and of course, sometimes (usually either due to an unforeseen event – ah, like the train tracks washing away in China), or with the consent of the whole group, your itinerary can change – maybe for the better – we got to see an amazingly beautiful waterway town because of a delay causing our train tracks to wash away.
So of course, it means I can’t plan everything to the nines, like I usually would, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing and I did promise I wanted to do more of that this time.
There are 10 people in my tour group – four single travellers and three couples, all hosted by our guide Matt. We spent our last night in Munich at a welcome dinner at Augustiner Brauhaus (a different Augustiner hall than the one I had lunch at the other day). ‘Who would like beer?’ goes the call. Yes, the majority wants beer. ‘Who wants a big beer?’ Several of us put our hands up (I don’t really drink beer, but when in Munich….). This is what happens when you ask for a big beer:
The food was hearty – half chooks and ducks, and schnitzels and knuckles – perfect to help wash down a beer of that size.
So today we start the tour, by leaving town, and travelling to Prague by bus, which takes approximately five hours. Last time I took a bus trip with Intrepid, the toilet was way too high off the ground and a large window overlooked the roadside, with a window curtain that covered not much – so you had to balance yourself cause your feet couldn’t touch the ground, while trying to hold the curtain across the window so the locals couldn’t see you! So I’m a little, um, intrepid, about this ride!
It’s all good though, cause unlike my last two trips, this one is a Comfort level trip. The bus is comfy, although the wifi doesn’t work. the countryside keeps you interested enough that you don’t really notice the travel time. We pass small village towns, villas painted in cream and orange, and fields of solar panels, and more of fields.
And so we arrive in Prague. I’m not sure what my first impressions are – IKEA and other assorted warehouse type buildings are the first in sight, followed by what seems to be the derelict end of town. Then further and further in, the architecture changes and becomes more charming. The bus station looks almost as if its abandoned and its not until we disembark from the bus and head to the lower levels, a more modern façade appears. It’s raining in Prague, which explains why everyone else’s photos of Prague always seem so gloomy. But on the bright side, we get a hotel transfer instead of batting the drops.
Our hotel is Hotel Clement, and its nice. Really nice. I’m looking forward to staying here for our two nights in Prague. Especially cause there’s a bath.
We freshen up and then head out into the city to wander the streets. Matt takes us through to the old town, pointing out the various monuments, especially highlighting the landmarks that will help us remember how to get back to the hotel. Every tour guide in this town seems to rely on an umbrella to help their followers locate them. Matt has decided on a different approach, which kinda does draw a few looks from passers by:
The cobble-stoned streets of the old town of Prague are just magical. Lined with baroque architecture, the streets are a pleasure to walk, and its easy to loose track of where you are, not only because the beautiful buildings steel your attention, but because there are twisting and turning alleys everywhere.
After walking to the Charles Bridge, our afternoon of walking is over. Time for a nice glass of wine before heading back for a bit of a hot bath before dinner. And what a view to take in…