Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Diary of a niiave traveller

It all started so brightly, the cab turned up, kilburn was at the station and despite the 8.07 to manchester airport being 6-7 mins late, we got seats and arrived at the airport comfortably, destined for leipzig.

Great, only 2-3 people queuing at the czech airlines check-in (we were flying to prague and training to leipzig).

"Sorry, flight's full, you can't fly" said the clerk, about the flight I'd booked 4 months earlier and paid for (in full) in april. After several hour-long seconds and the jaws recoiled from the floor, we were ushered over to a new angry queue of people similarly blighted.

Eventually we were heavily compensated to the tune of 500euros and also a flight to prague via amsterdam, albeit arriving 2hrs later than planned and ultimately missing our appointment with the 4pm berlin train which would take us up the elber river to dresden and then onto leipzig.

Fortunately there was very little waiting around; chance for a crafty guinness and a bacon sarnie at manchester before boarding for amsterdam. I joked at this point how it would probably make sense to stay there...

Our short flight was held up on approach which made for a very tight 40mins transfer onto the awaiting prague flight which was typically very much on-time. Despite stress and misgivings that our bags wouldn't make it, we were assured they would and we got on for another shortish flight.

After getting the bags, which had somehow, unbelievably, showed up, I went to claim our 500euro winnings from the surly czech-airlines desk. Cue rip-off number one; they wouldn't give me euros, just czech wotsits and obviously at a very advantageous rate to them. The 500 euros suddenly looked more like 440 :( I then legged it to the currency shop to get them back into euros and find our 440 had now become about 420.

After the initial wave of anger subsided, it was agreed that since we wouldn't miss any meetings and no harm was done other than a bit of inconvenience, the 500 (now 420) euros were somewhat "winnings" and we'd enjoy them.

After a taxi ride to the centre, to the main station we arrived in prague sometime after 4 and with the next connecting train being at 7pm, we decided to use the time to chill, have a bite (or several bites as it turned out when you order pork ribs) and a beer.

During the beers in a packed and apparently very popular restaurant, we found that there was a direct train at 8.25 which would get us to leipzig pretty much the same time as our 7pm train without waiting, changing and buggering about - so we decided that would be our plan.

So at 8 (no last minute dash) we walked back to the station and sure enough on the big ticker board there was our train listed, with something in czech written next to it. Despite trying to get the two words translated by all and sundry (the info kiosk had long since closed) we assumed since a platform number hadn't flicked up that it must mean "delayed" or "please wait".

Unfortunately at 8.26 we found out that this text means "doesn't stop at this station" and in reality we needed to be several kilometres away at another prague station and this wasn't the main one at all that the cabbie had brought us to. Cue several more very long seconds and more stunned, if a might tipsy and also resigned to the day's fate, silence.

So we ended up checking into a nice (posh even) hotel with our "winnings" and wrote a few explanations to those waiting for us in the kildare pub in leipzig, explained to our leipzig hotel that we would be turning up late and also apologised to our breakfast meeting who would be enjoying a solitary continental instead.

With that done, at 10pm we headed out to the old square to a favourite bar and sat down to order a guinness. "No guinness" she says.. Followed by "no lager" and "no beer". Bollocks. We did manage to get her to sell us "pilsner" which we deemed to be fine and enjoyed the fact that it wasn't beer nor lager. After the pint, I went into the bar to settle up to find out that the table we'd sat on wasn't actually belonging to our favourite bar, but a shitty out of view bar around the corner... This in more ways than one summed up our day and a quick shuffle to another nearby table ensured guinness delivery and a much nicer barmaid.

The night closed around midnight, with both of us pretty tired and the only plus for me was spotting take-home gifts that I could pick up on friday when we return to prague.

Despite a truly epic thunderstorm that rattled the room and lit it with a stunning lightning show, we managed to get 4-5hrs kip before the 5.30am wake up call for the 6.36am train at the station which we should have been at earlier.

On checking out we were told that a cab would be a while, not the "straight away" we'd been assured by the concierge... The last thing we needed was to miss this train too. Fortunately he turned up and the station was a ten minute drive, not the twenty as suggested by the concierge who seemingly gets everything inaccurate. However this wasn't before being totally fleeced by the cab driver who charged more for our quick drive than the half hour airport journey and also benefitted from the mix of czech wotsits/euros wallet mix that ensured he got a big tip that he really did little to deserve.

We got the train and currently are winding our way through the czech countryside, mostly down the banks of the elber on our way to dresden, a quick change there and we'll be leipzig bound. Fortunately our hotel is close to the station so we'll check in and make that 11am meeting. Phew.

Lessons learnt, even after a prolific stint of travelling;

- use online check-in if possible to avoid the czech airlines overbooking fiasco
- don't ask a bloody concierge anything
- if you "win" compensation, keep an eye on how its settled
- when sitting outside bars, ensure the bit you're in is the bar serving
- keep enough local currency handy in case a robbing cabbie takes the piss.

We're looking forward to leipzig now, with about 150 euros intact after our prague stopover and I know that won't last long in the evening, especially with plans of liberating enigma machines in the air.

Martyn Brown,
Studio Director,
Team17 Software Ltd.

Sent by Blackberry (Out of office)

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