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Subject:  Trip report Part I Date:  10/8/2012  1:18 PM
Author:  fleg9bo Number:  18953 of 22238

We used United miles for one ticket to Prague and purchased the other. Shortly before leaving, we shelled out another $400 to upgrade to Economy Plus on the long segments, ORD to PRA and back. It was a very good investment -- even though we're not terribly tall (almost 5'11" and 5'9"), as you know the seats back in steerage barely afford room for the knees. For shorter hops, like PDX to ORD, it's not a big deal.

We got the best-ever aerial views of the WA mountains after takeoff. See link to photos below. At ORD we noted a restaurant by chef Rick Bayless. He had a TV series Mexico: One Plate at a Time which is still rerunning and which we record and watch. While we knew his main restaurant is in Chicago, we were surprised to see a branch at the airport.

We arrived in Prague with the first three nights reserved as well as the last night of the trip. We still weren't sure where we wanted to go after Prague and thus kept our itinerary open.

Prague is everything it's cracked up to be, a beautiful city. It helps that it suffered little or no destruction in WW2. Besides wandering around aimlessly and soaking up the sights of random lovely old buildings, we also included the tourist highlights. With the not-too-bad but still significant crowding we experienced in mid-September, I don't even want to think about what it's like in July and August -- the Charles Bridge must be impassable. The guide book (Lonely Planet) said that the hourly show put on by the popular astronomical clock in the old main square is overrated, so we took advantage of that information by buying our tickets to go up to the top of the clock tower as the hour was approaching and the thousand or two other visitors were aiming their cameras, phones and gazes clockward. There were only three people in the six-person elevator. When we came back down, there must have been 50 people waiting at the bottom to go up six at a time. Very nice views from up there.

Prague Castle does not fit my notion of what a castle should look like. Without turrets, towers or crenelated battlements, it more resembles a large and elegant office complex, which I guess the latest iteration pretty much was in addition to living quarters for some big-time VIPs. The cathedral inside it is magnificent and the entire complex looms above the city on the opposite side of the Vltava River from the main square. One's feet can get pretty sore walking on cobblestones for six hours, even in sensible shoes. If you want a more detailed description of the city and its history, you'll have to wait for Jeff Ormont to visit. I like to leave something to the reader's imagination.;)

We ended up staying a fourth night to do the town justice and to be completely free of jet lag before hitting the road, all at the Marriott Executive Suites, within easy walking distance of the old center. We paid $136 per night tax included for the first three nights, the nonrefundable advance rate, for a one-bedroom suite. Not exactly executive but very comfortable, close to stuff and with laundry facilities on every floor. The fourth night cost us $189.

Restaurant prices in the Czech Republic are also quite reasonable and I really liked the food at first. For a low-carber like me, it's easy to fill up on meat, duck, chicken and more meat with delicious potato pancakes if I felt like a little starch. And convenience stores carry at least a half-dozen types of pre-cooked sausages to put the fridge of your kitchenette for breakfast. Probably the most enjoyable meal I had in the country was a large flat potato pancake folded over a stack of roast meat and cabbage -- a big Czech soft taco. Mmmmm, good. After a bunch of meals like that, however, we began to tire of it and even resorted to an ethnic restaurant toward the end of the trip. More on that later.

When Prague time was done, we taxied to the airport and picked up a rental car, a Mercedes A160. While not a luxury car (it's the same rental price as a VW Golf), it features crisp handling, gets good mileage and is small enough to park in eurosized spaces. Here's a photo:

First stop was Cesky Krumlov, a few hours south of Prague and not far off the main road to Austria. Beautiful little town, also living up to its reputation. Unfortunately, like so many popular destinations,