Hmmm … where to even begin to tell you about my trip?
Well, I guess the most logical place is – to quote Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (how apt, ha!) – is “at the very bee-gin-niiing” …
Picture it: Prague, Tuesday, July 29.
After a seven-hour flight to Manchester, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour layover and then another two-hour flight, I arrive, blurry-eyed, at Ruzyně Airport. I get some of my euros exchanged so I can buy my fare for an airport bus to the metro station, which will take me to my final (temporary) destination.
By the time I find the hotel – and don’t even ask me how I managed to find it without getting completely lost – I’m a hot, melting mess. Sweet holy HELL. I was expecting cooler temperatures on this trip. In actuality, it’s around 28 or 29 degrees Celsius, and humid – almost exactly the same weather I left in Toronto.
I lumber into the small front lobby and line up behind a group of other fellow travellers who also have just arrived. As it turns out, these are the folks I’ll be touring with for most of the next 10 days.
I speak with the trip leader, get my room assignment, and find my way upstairs.
The room I’m staying in – a triple occupancy with two other women – is tiny, for three beds. The shower, toilet and sink are behind a sliding door off to the right, when I enter the room. (In my mind, I’m already trying to figure out how on earth we’re all going to manage to shower, change, and get ready in time to leave the hotel each morning.)
The TV in our room has no remote and – to quote one of my roommates – it only has one volume: “on” (and therefore unnecessarily loud). And there’s no air conditioning. The roomies find out it’s “kaput”, according to the man (with limited English) at the front desk downstairs. We’ll soldier on anyway – we have no choice.
Once I shower, I’m in a slightly better state of mind, and I get acquainted with my two tour-mates.
Lauren’s from Australia – an office manager who’ll be heading to Rome when our tour ends. Angela is a bubbly blonde from New Zealand who’s a substitute teacher in Leeds – when she’s not travelling all over the place. She’s already been to Egypt and will be leaving our tour group partway through (after Budapest) to tour Romania.
I don’t really get to chat with Lauren at first, since she takes a nap relatively shortly after I arrive. But Angela and I chat for a bit. Not only is she really nice, but she is definitely one who’s been infected by the travel bug – I am impressed and amazed with all the places she plans on visiting after she leaves Budapest. I almost want to ask her if she can stuff me in a corner of her suitcase and take me with her.
I chill out a bit, nodding off to sleep for about a half-hour, before Angela wakes me up to remind me to get down to the lobby to meet with our tour leader Carla – and the others who’ve also joined the tour on this particular day – to sign in and learn the ground rules for the trip.
The tour info I received prior to the trip said I’d be (a) one of approximately 15 people on the tour and (b) joining up with the Eastern Europe tour group which started in Berlin a couple of days earlier. Nope. I eventually find out that I’m one of only three new travellers joining the group in Prague, which brings us to a grand total of 26.
Misinformative, much? Mah, well – doesn’t matter much at this point, right? I’m happy to have found the tour at all.
A little while later, we all assemble in the buffet-style dining room for dinner (which in hindsight isn’t actually very good, but considering how hungry I am at the time, I’m happy for anything) and then prepare for night number one in Prague, which begins with a walking tour …