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Pleasant Surprises · I am generally pessimistic before each trip, expecting the worst. But it’s not always like that. Item: In Prague the public transit system is efficient, easy to understand, and cheap; I paid 500Kč, more or less $25, to taxi from the airport to town, and 20Kč, more or less $1, for the train/tram ride back, which was a little slower but stress-free. And there are more good-looking women on trams. Item: On the way from Prague to Ljubljana, Czech Airlines gave me the best airline lunch I’ve had in years; a tasty cold-cuts plate with some cheeses you’ve never heard of and an unbelievably-fresh salad. Item: Pretty well all the beer in Prague is excellent. Item: In Slovenia, plan to drive if you get the chance. The highways (at least the airport-Ljubljana-Koper sequence) are outstanding, better than most Canadian roads, and while they’re toll roads the tolls are low, the mountains you drive through are lovely, and finally (if I understood the signage correctly) it’s autobahn style, as in no speed limit; my poor little Opel made alarming sounds on uphill turns at 160kph as I cackled maniacally. [Update: They tell me it’s 130kph, good thing I didn’t meet an industrious public servant late on Friday evening.] Also the signs are easy to read, I never had to look at my laborious Mapquest printouts. Item: Koper-Capodistria is way cool, worth a whole ongoing fragment. Item: Slovenians seem unreasonably nice, generally. Item: Slovenia is unreasonably cheap; it just can’t last, among other things it’s too close to Italy. Item: The Slovenian “Tolar” runs about 200 to the dollar; it’s soon to be replaced by the € I imagine; but anyhow, when you take money out of a bank machine and look at your remaining balance, you feel like Bill Gates. Item: I got to Ljubljana airport sometime between 6 and 7AM with breathing time before the flight, so I got an apfelstrudel & coffee at the smoky stand-up bar in the harsh pre-dawn airport light. It was a revelation, the filling eye-wateringly tart and the pastry fluffy yet chewy, with cinnamon and other complex accents. Then Adria (Slovenian airways) gave me a damn fine cheese sandwich on fresh-baked bread on the way to Frankfurt.
Unpleasant Surprises · I am generally pessimistic before each trip, expecting the worst; even so, some parts turn out worse than you expect. Item: The Hilton in Prague is insanely, criminally, stupidly overpriced for what it is. Among their many sins were the $4 local phone calls and the gold-plated Internet service, up and down like a yo-yo. Never again. Item: Taxi drivers in Prague are generally crooks it seems; take the train. Item: The food in Prague is wildly variable, I had the worst schnitzel I’ve ever encountered, at least you can wash it down with good beer. Item: Either we had bad luck or Slovenian red wine is Not Ready For Prime time; not just bad, but heroically bad. The people are nice and the beer is good so I’m sure they’ll do better. [Update: Andrew Brown writes to say there are excellent red wines from Western Slovenia.] Item: It makes me nervous when you’re checking out and you pull out your credit card and the hotel offers you a big discount for cash. Item: The Hotel Silvester, near Ljubljana airport, is decent enough and cheap but you might want to avoid Friday nights; there was a wedding or birthday or something in the bar underneath my room; the medley of Slovenian folk-songs and Deep Purple hits went on till 2AM. Then they all stomped in unison for a while—like, minutes—before they broke up and had loud beery conversations in the hallway outside my room. Mystified, I was going to go downstairs to investigate the stomping but then maybe it was a secret Slovenian fertility rite and foreigners who see it Must Be Killed. Item: WiFi in Frankfurt airport is exclusively by T-Mobil which should be OK because I have an account but they demand to know who your home provider is and then want $0.18/minute roaming, no that’s not a misprint; are they mad? Item: Frankfurt airport is less tolerable every time I go there. Its saving grace is decently idiosyncratic stores; but I gather they’re about to fix that by filling it up with The Body Shop, Starbucks, and friends, so it’ll be exactly like everywhere else, shopping-wise. It is full of smoke, everywhere, always. Earth to Germany: Pervasive public smoke is no longer considered acceptable among civilized people. There is nothing good to eat after you go through security. The washrooms are smoky, grubby and sized for midgets. I will take extreme measures to avoid going back. But that probably won’t do any good.
Prague Street-Lamps · It’s a tourist town, you see, but that’s OK; I come from one so I understand. Herewith Prague words and pictures ...
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