Walking Cultural Tour of Prague
On Saturday, June 16, 2012, we spent our last full day in Prague. The bus arrived at the hotel at 9 AM and took us to Prague castle. Prague castle is the largest coherent castle complex (Guinness Book) in the world with an area of just short of 70,000m2. It was founded sometime in the late ninth century. It also sits on top of a large hill overlooking the western portion of the center of Prague in the part of Prague known as Lesser Town. The Czech government still uses a portion of the complex to conduct matters of state (interesting factoid: President Obama and the Russian PM signed an agreement in the castle about two years ago as the Czech government played neutral host), but opens the majority of the castle to the public year round.
From afar, the castle has a distinctive appearance due mainly to the design of St. Vitus cathedral which sits inside the castle complex. The cathedral took over 600 years to complete and played a pivotal role in the thirty years war (one of the most significant conflicts between Catholics and Protestants consuming most of Europe) during the early part of the seventeenth century. In fact, Prague and the castle were deeply involved in that conflict. Walking through the cathedral and the whole of the castle complex leads your imagination to what it would have been like to be involved in so much history. Those buildings have seen it all. They also stand as testament to the tremendous creativity and craftsmanship as the buildings have lasted centuries and still manage to look unique even today.
After touring the castle, we ate lunch in a restaurant founded in 1360. The building we ate in has been in use since the sixteenth century. It really makes you think about how young the US is as a country when you encounter incredible places such as the Restaurant Vikàrka. After a delicious meal, we left the Prague castle behind and began to make our way back towards the hotel.
The walk through Lesser Town took us by sights such as the John Lennon wall and the Charles Bridge (a stone bridge that has survived several major floods since it was built in the fourteenth century. Today, it is a pedestrian bridge and a huge tourist attraction.
Once we crossed the Charles Bridge, our official tour ended and we decided to tour the Vltava River (runs through Prague city center) by boat. The tour included eating ice cream on a covered boat. It lasted about an hour and cost us the equivalent of just less than $15. The ice cream and the shade of the cover were very refreshing on what had become a hot day.
We all meandered back towards the hotel at that point. Some shopped while others made a more direct route. After a shower, we met for a walk to a Thai restaurant several blocks from the hotel. There, we ate our last meal in Prague. It was delicious. We then walked back down to Wenceslas square for our last gelato of the trip. We got back to the hotel sometime after 10 pm.
It was a great, yet tiring day as we walked around eight miles in significant heat. But, it was a very satisfying day as we saw history and witnessed great architectural feats. Prague is a wonderful city steeped in history and tradition. I highly recommend that anyone reading this blog to make plans to go to Prague. It is well worth your time.
Travel Back to Elon
On Sunday, June 17, 2012, it was time to begin our trek back home. The bus arrived at the hotel at 6 AM for an early morning flight. Like our trip to Prague from Milan, the bus required a separate trailer to haul all of our luggage. Because the flight on the way back was considered international, we were able to check one bag but it had to be less than 50 pounds. Please note – if you are traveling within countries in the European Union, it is not considered an international flight (much like traveling within the United States) and the checked bag must be below 20 kg. On top of that, your carry on will be weighed and cannot exceed 8 kg. I found this out the hard way and had to pay a fee for my carry-on’s additional weight. I mention the weight constraints because the overweight fees can be quite expensive. However, on international flights, the carry-on is not weighed, so you have the ability to transfer the excess weight from the checked bag on to your carry-on bag, saving yourself a lot of money.
The airport in Prague was different from any other airport I have ever been in. The security check is not until you enter the gate area. Therefore, you must get all of your shopping, food, and bathroom breaks in before you head to the gate yet still account for enough time for security to scan your bag. While I was waiting to enter the gate area, I bought a water bottle for the plane. Since liquids are not allowed to go through security, the cashier had to seal my purchase in a clear plastic “airport approved” bag so that my purchase could be brought on the plane. If it was not in this sealed bag, I would have had to throw out at the gate the brand new water bottle I had just purchased in the airport.
After a short flight, we landed in Heathrow airport in London for our connecting to flight to Raleigh. We only had an hour and a half for our layover, which at any other airport would be plenty of time to make a connection, but at Heathrow, it is iffy. After traveling through Heathrow, I now know why. Usually when you are catching a connecting flight, you just get off of the first plane you were on and walk to the next gate you are taking off from. At Heathrow, it is not that simple.
After exiting the plane from Prague, we went through a long line at security. After taking off my shoes, scanning my carry-on, and swabbing the handle of my carry-on for chemical residue, I then had to stand on line to check in to my next flight. The representatives for the airline scanned my passport and then asked questions about the nature of my trip. After going through the first part of the line, we were told we still needed to speak to the representatives at the front of the line in order to completely check in. Finally, an airline representative told us we could proceed to the gate without checking in since we were a large group. It is still a mystery as to why we were allowed to get off of the check in line and go to the gate. After power walking to the gate to make our flight, we went through security once again at the gate. Once we made it to the gate on time for our flight, it was delayed due to mechanical issues.
Since we were inside of the gate, it was airport policy that we could not leave the area unless we left our passport with security. This would not have been too bad of an issue except for the fact that we were all thirsty and hungry. There were only two vending machines inside of the gate area and they took British pounds (a currency we did not have). So please note that when traveling through Heathrow, do not enter the gate area until the last possible minute in case your flight is delayed. After an hour delay, we made it on board and made our way back to America!
Overall, the traveling was grueling, but the trip was well worth it! We met so many interesting and friendly people along the way and got the opportunity to visit beautiful cities. International business was only the tip of the lessons we have learned along the way. Sometimes the cultural aspect of international business is something you need to witness for yourself. I would highly suggest taking the international business class abroad; there is no limit to how much you will learn about countries, people, and yourself along the way.
Written by: Bob Daniels and Jessica Derr