FROM PRAGUE WITH TOO MUCH LOVE!
By Chaitali Aggarwal/Ravi V. Chhabra
A hurly burly, thunderous midnight downpour just isn’t the best time to board a flight, more so, as there had been, of late, mysterious mid-air civil airliners' disasters. The check-in time at the IGI Airport for my first trip to Prague was approaching and the taxi-cab driver had called up to remind he would be around in next 10 minutes.
I had barely stepped downstairs from my apartment with my friend Anie that I heard my maternal aunt shout frantically for me. Hey, you sleepy head!..come back and take your laptop. This was the last thing I wanted to happen to me at that moment.
This trip was made in a hurry as I and my friend had realized that an extended weekend was round the corner and all travel destinations across India were likely to be infested with tourists. I hit upon the idea of taking a trip to my dream destination, rather than going to a nearby humdrum hill station. Anie too was excited and soon agreed that we would go to a European town that still harboured the aura of an old hamlet yet with the charm of Europe and its verdant countryside. After not so much contemplation and counting each penny in our bank accounts, we decided on a 5-days visit to Prague (Czech Republic). Yeah, it could work out, we had yelled in mirthful unison!
What followed were a series of frenzied back and forth phone calls - negotiations with the travel agent in Connaught Place. Believe it or not, we had an itinerary ready by the end of the day and we were almost done with the final booking to visit the place that I had read so much about. Thanks to the early booking, we got decent air-fare discounts and a great deal at a cheaper hotel in the middle of Prague city, leaving us, we thought with some spare money too for picking up keepsakes et al.
Time virtually flew upto the day of departure. It was an exciting moment as we boarded the Lufthansa airlines flight and set out on what promised to be some fun girlie time in the picturesque European city of Prague. The romanticizing began even before we were ensconced in our seats in the plane, with dreams of an adventure a la the movie Queen (albeit two Queens in this case).
On landing, we were greeted by a handsome, somewhat graying and stoutly build representative named Franko. He was our travel guide who was courteous and he welcomed us to the beautiful city of Prague driving us down all the way to our hotel. From our room window, we got an astonishing view that lingers in my mind. We quickly realized why the city was described as “City of hundred towers” or “Golden City”. Since we reached in the evening and with nothing scheduled for the day, we spent the evening walking around the hotel and exploring the stupendous historical feel of the city.
The next morning, we were scheduled for a hop-on hop-off (read hoho) bus tour, but having heard that Prague was a city best explored on foot, Anie suggested we drop the idea to take a bus and instead, we walked, after buying a city map from a local store. This gave us the chance to stop and interact with the locals too.
The magical charm of the city, with its centuries old bridges, cathedrals, gold-tipped towers and church domes, left us stupefied. The day passed in wondrous sublimity, as we savored the glory of the past suspended in the present.
The following day was very well divided in certain day tours and night tours by the travel agent. We went for a city tour and visited the old town. An interesting experience was the Thematic Tour of Prague that had a big screen put up to show movies shot in Prague, along with the actual sites for comparison.
We spent the evening looking for and visiting “Bake Shop Praha” which happens to be the most famous bakery shop in the town. It is famous for the Kahlua Chocolate Loaf Café. Another bakery cum café we loved for breakfast was “Mansson Danish Café and Bakery” and their coffee cakes and Danish pastries were just splendid.
It was a glorious day that ended in a typical Czech evening of folklore, music and dance. Prague and its people have always been fond of music and hence in January 1990, we learnt from a music diehard that President Vaclav Havel had appointed famous American musician/composer Frank Zappa as “Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism”. Frank Zappa was so famous in Czech Republic that his blacklisted albums were smuggled in the town and it is said that he was the inspiration behind the Czech famous underground rock band called “The plastic people of the Universe”.
The city is also very famous for its pubs and beers and a visit to these make up for a good night tour. Karlovy Vary is one of the best-known spa towns near Prague - naturally, this was our next stop on this beautiful trip and we enjoyed every moment of it. We also saw the famous Moser Bohemian glass factory (from the outside though)– a real treat to the eye with its dazzling variety of luxury Bohemian crystal glass.
The next two days, we spent exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful city that is so blessed with numerous delightful historical structures. One such breathtaking structure was ‘The Macocha Caves’. These are a series of winding tunnels that end with a boat ride in an underground river, a kind of natural amusement park as you’d call it.
There's an open air museum in the heart of the city. With beautiful structures and historic buildings, it gives the feeling of being in a different dimension altogether – an experience that overwhelmed both me and Anie. The last day of our trip went in a kind of stupor, as we went out for lunch with the beauty of Prague overpowering in its glory.
Needless to say, we spent a couple of bucks doing shopping. Walking around the town and rubber-necking, we bought souvenirs and chocolates. Prague has a variety of beautiful brooches, hand-made jewelry and puppets. We also bought the famous miniature Prague castle and the Charles bridge replicas. Prague boasts of its chocolate museum called Choco Story, whose tour tempted us to buy and eat a lot of chocolates.
And then, the magical instant assumed a new proportion – immeasurable and indescribable. Even as I was enjoying my food in the open air restaurant closer to the hotel, I heard my name echoing from all corners of the street. Dazedly, I looked around me, reveling in the mystique of the moment, I felt the sensation of hands around the back my my neck...
I got up with a jolt - my mom had shouted down my throat trying to wake me up, thus, bringing to a halt, what was indeed a memorable dream sojourn!