Sunday, October 11, 2015

Europe 2015 Day 1 - From Kuala Lumpur To Prague

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Europe 2015 Day 1 - From Kuala Lumpur To Prague
Prague, Czech Republic - 24th September 2015
After months of hard planning by Lynn and some of her friends we are finally going to Eastern Europe; to the Czech Republic, Austria & Hungary. It's our first time going there and we are of course very excited and yet at the same time anxious. Excited because we have heard of how beautiful these countries are. Anxious as we will be doing these on our own, i.e. a free and easy tour and hoped that all will turn up well and we won't get lost. We were concerned too about the then prevailing refugees problems that Europe was facing, hoping that it will not mar our travel plans.

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All set to go, a group of eight of us met at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Although this was supposed to be a "honey-moon" trip, the company of the others added to the enjoyment and fun time we had.
Each played their individual roles very well. Lynn was the tour leader with the help of Adelene & Marina as co-organisers. Ken was our scout, reading the maps and leading us on the ground routes. Sally was the director and Yue the camera man for the various fun photo poses. Cheong was the calming factor, keeping us grounded in practicality. Me? Well I am the blogger, taking as many photos and notes to record every aspect of our trip... some of the photos seemed nonsensical to the others, but they gave a sense of timing on when and where we were.
Okay then, let's get started!

It will be a long journey for us flying via Emirates Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Prague with a transit in Dubai. With  a six hours flight from KL to Dubai, four hours transit in Dubai and another six hours flight from Dubai to Prague; it took us sixteen hours to get there!
Fortunately, Emirates Boeing 777 was very comfortable, and their cabin crew were most attentive and helpful. An extensive in-flight movie choices ensured that we did not get bored should we not be sleepy. And they made sure that we did not get hungry! On each flight sector we had two meals and while in transit we were given food vouchers to eat at any accepting outlets at Dubai International Airport.
Flying Emirates was an interesting experience, their cabin crew came from all over the world: Czech Republic, Britain, Algeria, Taiwan, Korea, etc. One way to recognise where they hailed from were by the lapel badges which they wear, these display the flags of their respective home countries. And they are friendly too; above is an Algerian stewardess posing for a photo with me. She is quite tall, and gave me "face" by crouching slightly for the photo.
By the way, depending on the type of plane, Emirates provide wifi on board.

Dubai International Airport is one of the largest in the world. We had to take trains, coaches, up and down large elevators (which could hold 200 persons each) to get around the airport which has three terminals. There are many shops to while away one's time and eateries too to keep foodies occupied.
Well, might as well have some fun during our four hours here. This is where Sally made her directorial début; here she is sitting on the lap of Jack Daniel's statue, toasting for a great and safe journey. The old man must have been one happy fellow having a pretty lady sitting on him... do I detect a faint smile forming on his serious face?
A tip here, one of the better place to eat using the Emirates food voucher (with a value of about RM40/-) is at The Mezzanine. They have an all-you-can-eat buffet with a fairly good spread of Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern and some Western fare, etc.

Around 1:25pm we arrived at Prague Airport, although tired from the long flight the girls were most happy to begin their adventure. They had started to call themselves the "Four Seasons". Later whenever one of them called out "four seasons", it meant that it's time to take a photo of them four together.
A pre-booked airport Volkswagen airport transfer van (at 29.5 Euros) whisked us to the city. Along the way, the driver explained that Prague is divided into six sections with the old inner city called Prague 1 and the airport area called Prague 6.

The drive down from the airport gave us our first glimpse of Prague.
On the outskirts, electric trams running along grassy verge rail-lines, the city looked green and was very clean. 

Into the Prague 1 district, the old town, stately buildings with elaborate architecture emerged.

Ken squeezed into the small lift with some of our luggage.
The van dropped us off at our stay in Prague for the next few days, the Old Town Square Apartments located within walking distance from the Old Town Square itself.
The management managed to put us into a larger apartment with three large bedrooms that can supposedly sleep ten. With a large kitchen/dining room, it was okay. Except we were up at the fourth floor and the small lift could only take four persons at one time.

Although another couple had a bedroom which peered over the roof-line of the old town square; ours was not too bad, it had a view of buildings in pastel colours with well decorated eaves and windows. I was beginning to love Prague and could not wait to see more!


With eagerness, we did a quick light unpacking, freshen up a bit and were out of the door. Above is a map of our walking route and some of the places we went to or viewed from afar.

Of course the first place we headed for was the Old Town Square and the building that always catches the eye is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. The late afternoon sun shone on it like a spotlight, highlighting it gloriously. The church does not immediately face the square and is accessed by a narrow lane to the left of a pastel pink building.

The Old Town Square is quite a large square, it's surrounded by colourful buildings of intricate designs. Near the centre is a monument, Jan Hus Memorial which symbolises Czech national rebirth. It was built in 1915 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Jan Hus' martyrdom.

The place is full of tourists and activity. At one stall a lady was roasting cinnamon rolls over a charcoal fire, slowly turning the spits. This reminded me of our scouting days when we were making twisters, of course ours were not as elegantly done as these.
Within the square are money-changers which give quite good exchange rates. Although the Euro is accepted in the Czech Republic, it is better to change to the local Koruna (crowns) as vendors tend to charge a higher price (between 5 to 10 %) if purchases are made in Euros.

Not up to walking and perhaps feeling a bit regal; then tour the old town in these horse-drawn carriages. These seat up to four persons and the charges are 2,700 Korunas per hour.

Feeling a bit more adventurous, then try these modern looking rickshaws tours at 950 Korunas for an one-hour Grand City tour. A shorter 30-minutes Old Town & Josefov tour costs 550 Korunas.

Reluctantly we had to leave the old town square as we had a 7:00 pm dinner appointment at U Fleku. Unfamiliar with the town, we orientated ourselves by heading for the Vltava River and walked along its riverside. This is a good thing too as otherwise we would have missed several nice buildings like this round stone Medieval tower standing in front of a Renaissance building.

The riverside route took us longer than expected and we arrived half-an-hour late at U Fleku. Fortunately the place was still fairly empty and our reservation was still intact. A waiter led us to a large hall with arched ceiling which looked like a beer cellar... interesting... we were  going to eat in a former beer cellar. This should be fun.
We ordered different dishes to share bits with each other, the dishes were traditional "medieval" fare like goulash, roast pork knuckles, pork neck, etc. It was a good introduction to Czech food in a very old establishment that had been brewing their own beer for centuries.

It was real authentic fun indeed.  As we ate a horn and trumpet band played patriotic songs on a stage at one end of the hall. The music added to the atmosphere inspiring us to down more of U Fleku's beer.

The Four Seasons at U Flecku's open courtyard.
When at U Fleku don't miss their open courtyard, it looks like a medieval courtyard and there are tables there for drinking and dining too (..... read more on U Fleku).

Happy that our tummies were sated with good Czech food, we headed back. Our route back was a shorter direct one, but it took us a longer time getting back as we took a slow walk to admire the night scenes of the city.
We passed by the stately National Theatre of the Czech Republic; the railing at the top of its roof is purportedly made of solid gold!

A riverside night glowing view of the Prague Castle.

A fountain at one of the smaller park, this one is of an elaborate Gothic tower.

A close look shows the intricate craftsmanship that have been put into carving of the statues and embellishments.

Further down a view of the Charles Bridge with nice reflections on the Vltava River. We resisted temptations to walk on the beautiful bridge as we will be doing that another day.

Taking one of the underpass, we were pleasantly surprised to find it full of shops selling all sorts of souvenirs.....

... one of the more interesting shops, a puppet shop with the owner acting out Geppato playing with Pinnochio!

Oops... a reminder... time to go take a pee to unload the beer!

Near to the Charles Bridge, at the Knights of the Cross Square is an important statue, that of Charles IV. He is often called Pater patriae (father of the country), was an important personality of medieval Europe. He made Prague the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and he had many buildings built in the city. He also founded the oldest university in Central Europe – the Charles University – in 1348. Many places and buildings in Prague and in the whole country bear his name: the Charles Bridge, the Charles Square, and others. His monument was made on the occasion of 500th anniversary of the Charles University in 1848.

Further along we popped into the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and were marvelled by its explicit interior.

A look at the altar shows the detail and fine craftsmanship that has been put into it.

Mural at the dome ceiling above the altar.

Back at the old town square, the spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn shone an eerie white. Looks fairy-tale familiar? Yes, it does, as Walt Disney has used this as a template to build Cinderella Castle!

"Charlie's Angel + 1" in action at the square.

Our fun was only marred by an incident where a thief tried to snatch a tourist's bag in front of the money-changer's. The poor fellow did not realise that the big bouncer (the bald guy) sat just a few feet in front of the shop. He was apprehended and given a beating.

Putting the ugly incident behind us, we walked on to do some window shopping and notice this statue of Charlie Chaplin sitting at a display window of the wax museum.

View of the Powder Tower near our apartment.
Dobrou noc!
(That's Goodnight in Czech; and looking forward to another exciting day in Prague tomorrow.)

(For more photos of the day Click Here)

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