Prague to London Gatwick – Trafalgar Square – V-Day Celebration – National Gallery – Big Ben – Westminster Abbey – Julius Caesar
Early to bed and early to rise we headed out to the Prague airport to catch our flight to London. Getting to the airport is typically pretty easy in most places but I found getting to airport in Prague from the Old Town to a bit of hassle. At the minimum you have to walk from old town to the nearest subway station which is at the Powder Gate. No big deal if you have an overnight bag but if you have a lot of luggage or anything heavy this is kind of a pain.
There are supposed to be special busses that leave early in the morning from around the Powder Gate to the Airport. We never found out. When we got to the place there was no signage, no staff and no other people waiting for the bus. I chalked it up to the unlikely event that I read the directions wrong and decided we should take the subway instead and then catch the transfer bus to the airport at the end of the subway line. This is a whole different kind of pain because it simply takes forever to get to the airport if this method is used. However, we had got up very early and had time.
Normally I leave the airport gripes out of these posts but I have to say Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport is on my list with Orlando, Philidelphia and Newark as one of the worst places in the world to catch a flight. My complaint mainly has to do with the location of the security check. They have a security check at each gate, which means you can’t wander around the terminal or relax. As soon as you get to your gate you stand in line for security. Once you get through security you are in the boarding area and say if you were hungry you would have to go back through security to get something to eat. This is stupid. The worst part is I went and bought two sandwiches and one drink for Shana and I to share on the plane. I bought them in the terminal and I had the receipt. Since the screening processes is at the gate they made me ditch the 3 euro drink I had bought even though it was on the same receipt as the sandwiches and was UNOPENED. “No liquids over 3 oz.” As childish as it may seem the desire to pitch an epic fit over this minor injustice was quite strong. That desire was also met with the gravity that airport security pretty much anywhere can detain you for the slightest grievance in the name of airline security. I did not want to test the waters with the Czech TSA. Moral of the story: Prague airpot is terrible. Take a train to leave Prague instead.
The short flight from Prague to London was easy and I eventually got a drink on the plane anyway. We landed in Gatwick and made our way to the Gatwick express which is a non-stop train from Gatwick airport to Victoria station. The train is rather pricey in my opinion but it is very convenient despite the roughly
300 km 15 min walk from the terminal to the platform. For those that have visited Union Station or any major train hub Victoria station is right up there with the busiest of them. We found our train with a little help from an officer on duty and made our way to Charing Cross.
As we exited the station near our destination in Trafalgar Square we noticed an incredibly elevated police presence. Also pedestrian traffic was being routed to a different street. We figured there was a construction site or something underway which was causing the slight detour. Then it began it sink in a little. There were a lot of people getting off at Charing Cross. I had no idea if that was normal but all the people getting off were waving small Union Jack’s around. As we made the turn on The Strand to walk across Trafalgar Square to our hotel we were met with a throng of thousands of Brits gathered along the sidewalks. Holy Hell this was a lot of people.
You see the Special Olympics had just closed and the Mayor of London was throwing the city a victory parade to celebrate the athletic successes of the olympics for the Commonwealth and London. Between us and our hotel was the parade route and about six to ten thousand people hanging out in Trafalgar infront of the National Gallery. There was a guy trying to walk his bike through the crowd and we used him to create a wedge so we could start working our way to the hotel. After about 30 minutes or so for what should have been a 5 min walk we arrived. Sweaty, tired and desperately needing a shower of some sort and our room wasn’t ready. To be fair to the hotel we were very early for check in.
They let us leave our bags at the front desk and we wandered off to the National Gallery (WHICH IS FREE) and has some amazing works of art. We got lost in the National Gallery looking at Da Vinci’s, Titian’s, Albrecht Durer and many, many, many more for several hours before hopping on the train and heading to Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Tours of Parliament have to be scheduled in advance and since we only had about a day and a half in London we opted for a tour of Westminster Abbey before we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up and go out and enjoy London at night.
Westminster Abbey is a magnificent place. A truly stunning beauty and filled with Anglican history that is quite apropos to our ancestry as former British colonies. There is a free audio guide that comes with the steep entrance fee about 16 GBP. Despite the price I would not pass this place up if you are visiting London. Shana had been there before so she let me wander and point in child like wonder for the next hour or so. Then we reached, “Poets’ Corner,” which is not limited to poets but more of gathering of memorials for great thinkers. Everyone from Oscar Wilde to Chaucer and Kipling, Shakespeare, Olivier, Tennyson, Austen, Blake, the Bronte sisters in between. At the exit to Westminster Abbey is the coronation chair or King Edward’s Chair. This throne has been used for every coronation since 1308. It’s a good thing Henry VIII was crowned when we was skinny.
We headed back to the hotel, cleaned up and grabbed a quick bite to eat in Leicester Square before heading to the West End to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Julius Caesar. If you are in London and are not super picky about your seat selection for some shows the TKTS booth in Leicester Square is your best friend. Most of the time the tickets will be about 40% off face value for last minute seats. We wandered off to the theatre to watch a fantastically directed and acted rendition of Julius Caesar set in sub-Saharan Africa. The actors all used African dialect accents in the performance and the costumes, set design and the inclusion of African rhythms and instruments were fantastic.
We were exhausted and wanted to get up early to venture out on London town the next day so it was off to bed after our night with the RSC.