Sunday, 16 March 2014

In Prague...

I allowed an hour (by taxi) to get from South Croydon to Heathrow on a Sunday morning, but it took almost two hours due to slow traffic. It was the start of the travel hassles. When I reached Terminal 3 I went to the 'bag drop' area for my BA flight and found, to my dismay, that, despite booking my seat online on Saturday afternoon (at the cost of £10) I was given seat 7b (the middle seat in an aisle of three seats). I'd bought seat 15a (a window seat) but was told, by customer services, that I should have booked for both ways and that the seat I'd purchased was for the Prague to London leg. Fine, you might say, but this was far from clear and British Airways get a severe black mark for this.

However, the flight was good and it was only 90 minutes. Despite the pilot threatening turbulence over Paris, we didn't fly over Paris and the only 'choppy' skies were on our approach into a very windy and cloudy Prague.
Room 117, Grand Majestic Plaza Palace far, so good...

I jumped into a cab for the 30-minute journey into town and my hotel, the Grand Majestic Plaza. It's alright. The check-in was pretty straightforward and soon I was in my room. Downstairs, the receptionist had told me that there were a couple of good restaurants nearby. I'd been considering the hotel restaurant, but it didn't look too inviting: for a start it was empty, the seats looked a bit uncomfortable and, well, I just didn't fancy it so I went out and turned right out of the hotel and there, about 500 yards away, was the Italian restaurant, Al forno. I ordered soup to start, followed by chicken and accompanied by a glass of red wine and a bottle of sparkling water.

The restaurant was great: quick service, good quality food, pleasant wine and a great atmosphere. I'd happily visit this place for dinner most nights of this week.

More to report as the week progresses, but so far, so good. The room's fine too: there's a lead rather than a complicated password to access the internet, so it's just a case of plugging in the laptop and off I go.

I'm just sitting here watching CNN, but in all honesty I'm considering hitting the sack. The room's fine, but it's pretty unimpressive and there's an odd, 'walnut dash' design that grates a little bit. The bathroom's nice – although the washbasin suffers from the interior designer's inability to remember the golden rule: function before form; there is a plug, but it can't be sealed to prevent water simply flowing down the plughole. Ridiculous. Everything else about the bathroom is fine: there's a security safe for valuables and a minibar that's full of stuff – I hate it when I visit a hotel and find the minibar to be empty or locked. For me it's a sign that the hotel doesn't trust its guests. Not here, though! There's everything: spirits, wine, soft drinks, but no chocolate bars, not even a Toblerone or a tube of Munchies. Not that I'm bothered as I'm not planning on eating (or drinking) anything. Well, that's not strictly true. I will be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, but nothing in between.

Talking of breakfast, it wasn't brilliant. Lots of cakes – and American tourists – which I avoided. The fresh fruit looked a little tired and then there was the usual selection of sausages, scrambled eggs and so on. I opted for cornflakes, a bowl of yoghurt and yes, the fresh fruit, plus a cup of tea and an apple. I'll scan the city for a decent caff on my way to the conference centre.

The rather uninspiring view from room 117.
In the news, two disturbing stories, the first being that of Malaysian Airlines' Flight MH370 which was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. It's disappeared off the face of the earth and nobody seems to know where it is, whether it's crashed or been hijacked – or both. It all smells a bit suspicious if you ask me, but there's no sign of wreckage, nothing at all and it's been over a week since the flight went missing. If it's not terrorism then it's got to be something to do with the plane being accidentally shot down by, say, the Chinese or the Americans and they're stalling for time while they think up an excuse. What amazes me is that none of the passengers used their mobile phones to make contact with the outside world.

Also in the news, Russia has done an 'America' – it's gone and 'invaded' a sovereign nation and guess what? The West ain't happy, despite the fact that they do this sort of thing all the time: think of Iraq, the lies over 'weapons of mass destruction', the mysterious and unexplained death of Dr. David Kelly...need I go on? But that aside, the West ain't happy and they're deeply hypocritcal in my book. Besides, the people in the Crimea seem to want to be part of Russia. They're all waving Russian flags and the Crimea prime minister has been standing proud, announcing to his people that they are going to be part of the Russian Federation, amidst cheers from the crowd. What, then, is the problem?

As I sit here watching CNN, there appears to be a lot of happy Russians, glad to be going back to the Motherland. The West says the referendum was illegal, but what exactly does that mean? Who knows what's going to happen next, but it seems as if the Russians have got their way – for the moment.

I'll be out exploring tomorrow – and looking for Boris Bikes – as I'll be walking to the conference venue so look out for further posts.

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