SuperCity

Trip Start Dec 16, 2007
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Trip End Feb 24, 2008


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Monday, December 31, 2007

We've now moved on once again and are at the 2 week mark in Prague, on the cusp of a new year. But before I get into today's update I thought I'd give you a quick update on Charles' situation. Due to Dane's flight from Perth arriving into Singapore late he did miss the Frankfurt connection and did have to fly through London. This however got him into Frankfurt too late to take a flight to the USA (where Charles and he were planning to connect to Toronto). As a result, their plans had to be put back 24 hours and they flew out the following day. This however was not the end of it. When they arrived in Toronto their luggage was nowhere to be found! They are now running around Toronto with no new clothes or any of their other packed luggage. Will the fun ever stop?!

Back to the here and now, our last morning in Vienna started like any other with breakfast next to the oversized Adventkranze and in the shadow of the huge tree. For some reason packing up at each hotel seems to take Mum and Dad an eternity while I just put the few items I've taken out back into my case in a matter of seconds. Whatever their reasons, this packing phenomenon gave me time to look at the cool train we were going to take to Prague and even start this blog update.

With our train to Prague not due to leave Vienna's Südbahhof until 1:33pm we had time to do a few last things in town. Our plan had been to start with the Globe Museum (supposedly the only such museum in the world) but after a nice walk through some as yet undiscovered streets we found the museum to be closed. Next on the agenda had been a visit to a 2 storey confectionary shop and again we enjoyed a fascinating walk only to find that, being a Sunday, it too was closed! Evidently, it was time for a rethink of the day's activities as well as time to get out of the cold so we made an abrupt coffee break in the nearest café that was open.

As we drank we looked in our Vienna Card discount book to find something that we wanted to do that was also open on Sundays. We settled on the Kunstlerhaus and set off although with our bags stored at the hotel and the 72 hour travel period on our Vienna Cards expired we were walking in the cold without a map. Our knowledge of the U-bahn and ring trams guided us to the vicinity of the Kunstlerhaus, with the specifics of how to access it provided by the locality map in the U-bahn station.

The Kunstlerhaus itself does not have any permanent exhibitions and the 2 temporary ones did not interest us and thus we were again without anything on the agenda. The Vienna Museum had been scouted across Karlsplatz as we approached the Kunstlerhaus and so that was the logical next stop. For once we had gone to the right place; not only was the museum open and worth visiting but it was also free entry on Sundays! By this stage we were starting to run short of time so we started the museum at its most modern point and worked backwards in time. It was interesting to learn of how Vienna came to be how it is today and about its regal and complementing military history.

Halfway toward the beginning of time we had to leave, deciding to stay warm and save time by buying tickets and taking the U-bahn back up to the opposite side of the Innerstadt and our hotel. We briskly collected our bags and returned to the U-bahn, using the same tickets to travel further north to Wien Praterstern station and change to the S-bahn system. We figured that the S-bahn would be covered by our Eurail passes so we took this down to Wien Südbahhof, where our Prague train was waiting for us.

The Italian-made Czech Railways SuperCity Pendolino is based on previous tilt train designs like the Cisalpino and it shows. It is nice, fresh and comfortable although some of the problems that exist on the older designs are still existent, the most obvious and painful being the lack of adequate luggage storage and the small overhead bag rack. Luckily my bag had enough free space to allow me to compress my bag into the overhead rack but Mum and Dad's bags are far too large even to fit under the seats, let alone in the overhead racks. Since our service, EC72 Johann Gregor Mendell, has compulsory seat reservations we could see that many seats in our carriage would be unoccupied and that we could put our bags up on these, a strategy that most other passengers were also forced to employ. These design errors do not ruin the experience, especially for us 1st class passengers who enjoy plenty of complementary bonuses and can benefit the most from the great onboard staff.

We ordered lunch from the buffet before departure and this was delivered to our seats, was surprisingly tasty and cheap as well. I had to take advantage of the first regular train with beer on tap (Pilsner Urquell) with my lunch as well. Later in the journey the "minibar" cart came around and provided us with coffee, tea or hot chocolate, a mini cake, sandwiches and a cold drink for free (because we're in 1st class). I'm typing this part of the update on the laptop, plugged into the train, and may take advantage of the onboard music system... if they turn it on.

Overall I'm enjoying the train, but in a similar way to the Prospector back home. It's a great train, setting out to achieve good things but it is limited to only 160km/h by the track and has several aspects that could have been done better or be improved in hindsight. It'll be interesting to monitor the future of this train, which hasn't even been running the service to Vienna for a month yet.

Our arrival into the train's terminus at Prague's Holesivice Station was heralded with the first minute or so of Smetana's The Moldau along with a recorded welcome announcement and information about onward services, very corny but enjoyable all the same. We immediately headed for the Metro but the ticket machines only accepted coins, of which we had none, so we checked if we could exchange Euros into Czech coins but the change bureau was also out. When Dad asked the Czech Railways ticket booth we were reminded that, as is common practice in Europe, tabacconists sell public transport tickets and so we were able to buy 7 day travel cards from the adjacent Tabbak. We're only in Prague for 4 days but the next smallest travel card is 3 days and if we were to buy single tickets we would've had to buy extra ones for our bags and so it was much easier to just get a 7 day pass, which is only marginally more expensive than the 3 day anyway.

We made a good change at Florenc onto Line B, to get under the river to our new local station, Andel. We knew that the hotel was right next to one of the station's exits, but not which particular one. As luck would have it we exited out of the furthest exit possible and then navigated our way to the hotel with a mixture of a tiny printed-out Google map and the rail replacement service map stuck on the window at the station.

Hotel Akcent is a weird setup. All the rooms are on the 6th floor of an Communist-era block of offices and flats, although they were all refurbished only a few years ago. The building has a pretty large footprint so the walk from the lift at one end to our room at the opposite end is quite a way. Nevertheless the room is spacious and we even have our own balcony looking toward the river and the Nove Mesto ([not so] new town).

Dinner was at a chew and spew (Chinese) around the corner that we had spyed out on our walk to the hotel. Food was somewhat Europeanised and it's the first time we've struck Asians that can't speak English! This concept still baffles the parents.

The internet is free in this hotel as well so you can expect the blog updates to keep on coming regularly for the next few days.
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