Departure airport: London Stansted
Destination airport: Václav Havel, Prague
There is something seriously wrong at Stansted. Security is actually working quickly and effectively and we both clear the scanners in under 15 minutes – even after Lin forgot to remove her toiletries from her bag and had to undergo the usual ‘enhanced’ check.
Ryanair’s advice to arrive three hours before flight time turns out to be utter nonsense. Departures is busy, but nowhere as bad as our previous visit. We have no problem finding a bench to sit on this time, and munch a £4.99 WH Smith meal deal for breakfast.
The gate experience is the usual Ryanair farce. The “priority” queue is longer than the regular queue – and that’s before you count the non-priority travellers taking the piss. Fortunately the process is relatively smooth and we leave just a few minutes late (airport incompetence rather than Ryanair’s).
Arriving at Prague Airport, the post-Brexit passport queue is quick and efficient – absolutely no different to the pre-Brexit process (I know – I have always queued because I have always collected passport stamps). The immigration officer even sends me away from the desk to call other passengers forward while he processes my passport.
Top tip: The Airport Express bus (route AE) leaves from directly outside the terminal and costs 100CZK (£3.45) per adult – buy your ticket from the driver. It takes you directly to the main railway (Praha hlavní nádraží) station in the city and the journey takes about 40 minutes.
When visiting Prague we have established something of a ritual – we stop at the Café Trinity at the bottom of St Wenceslas Square for a beer to break up the walk to our hotel. But after sitting on the terrace for five minutes and being unable to get service (or find out if they even sell beer any more), we decamp to the Jan Becher bar/restaurant instead.
Beer drunk, we continue our walk down to Hotel U Zlatého Stromu which will be our base for the next four nights. As we approach, I have two major concerns. First, the hotel is located on the main route between Prague’s famous astronomical clock and the Charles Bridge, meaning there are thousands of tourists passing our front door all day and all night. Second, there is a big sign advertising a nightclub inside our building – and it’s far bigger than the one for the hotel.
Check-in is quick and we are allowed into our room a little early. The room is decorated in a similar style to the other Bauer Hotels in the city, which is nice (more about them tomorrow). I’m pleased to see that our room is at the back of the hotel, away from the noise of the street – but it is also directly above the nightclub which I can see out the window.
Feeling quite hungry we head out for some food, eventually arriving at a place on Melantrichova that specialises in “Prague ham”. Linda and I both opt for the ham and mashed potato – and the waiter immediately forgets our order (he admits as much after the first 30 minutes of waiting). Eventually the food arrives and it is actually pretty decent, but the poor service detracts from our experience.
Afterwards, we head off for our first escape game of the trip – Moriarty’s Phantom Trap, operated by Questerland. Rated 10/10 difficulty, this is a hard room, particularly when there are only two of you. The first hour passes quickly and we expect to be ejected at any moment. However, we struggle on with the tasks, making very slow progress.
Eventually after 109 minutes, the games master helps us solve the final puzzle and we are free. We feel slightly embarrassed, but the young man running the room tells us that larger groups often take well over two hours before giving up entirely. (Prices from 1290 CZK / £44 GBP – not bad value if you’re allowed to keep going as we were).
A short tram ride and walk back to the hotel and it’s time to call it a night.
- The Hotel U Zlatého Stromu is not air conditioned – all you get is a fan which is hidden in the wardrobe.
- There is no lift at the hotel and your room will be on the second floor or higher (reception is on the first).
- The reception desk is not staffed after 7pm in the evening.
- You will be given two keys at check-in – one for your room and a second for the iron gate used to keep nightclub revellers out of the hotel after 7pm.
- There are never enough plug sockets at Bauer Hotels properties – you will probably need to unplug a lamp or the TV. I strongly recommend packing a socket doubler or 4-gang power strip as well as your travel adapter.
- The WiFi is rubbish. If you want to stream a movie, it has to be done during the day because there simply isn’t enough bandwidth to support all the guests at night.
- Taxis from Prague airport cost £20/€27+ if you really can’t bring yourself to travel on the bus.