Thanks in part to Conservative Party mismanagement of the UK transport sector for the last 13 years, things have gotten a bit fraught in the Old Country. And now, I get to spend a bit of extra time getting from Gatwick to my hotel on Saturday:
The Gatwick Express takes about 30 minutes from the airport to London Victoria Station. There is no other train option.
Instead, it looks like I can take a cab straight to my hotel for about £90, or a bus to bloody Heathrow and the Elizabeth Line for about £25. The former will take about an hour. The latter about 2 1/2.
So, I'm on vacation. No expense account. No schedule. Should I spend the extra $55? Sigh.
There's a line in The American President, when President Shephard (Michael Douglas) is trying to intimidate lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Benning). He says, "the city planners, when they sat down to design Washington, D.C., their intention was to build a city that would intimidate and humble foreign heads of state? It's true. The White House is the single greatest home-court advantage in the modern world,"
Good thing Aaron Sorkin qualified it with "modern," because this is the summer residence of the Austro-Hungarian Emperors from the 1720s until 1914:
Contrast with this mix of Soviet-era and 19th century architecture just 50 km away in Bratislava:
Near the end of my walk earlier, I climbed these stairs to the train station, and it really felt like something out of a Cold War novel:
And this cute cafè is exactly halfway between my hotel and the nearest U-Bahn station:
OK, now I really need that shower and nap.
I chose not to poke into Hungary, but I did pop over to Bratislava, Slovakia, and took a quick stroll around the Presidential Palace:
I'll have more photos possibly later today. Since I walked 3.5 km getting to the Vienna train station, I really could use a shower and a nap. Then I'll explore a bit more.
Europe really knows human-scale architecture. I'll have more on that later, but I just love this kind of thing (despite having to lug my bag up the stairs):
Tomorrow, more exploring, including possibly lunch in Slovakia.
Between check-out and my departure for Vienna I have about 2 hours to kill. I've had my caffeine for the day already, so I'm not hanging out in Wenceslas Square occupying space at a cafe. Instead, I decamped to the park across the street from the train station:
This might actually be the best thing I've done all week. And whether because either Prague has lax leash laws or no one cares about them, several random dogs have said hi today.
I'll be back here soon.
I have discovered the tram network, so I took it to the Royal Gardens and the Castle. (Also, apparently, to the president's residence, but the Czech army dissuaded me from exploring that area.) I wish we had something like this in Chicago, but then again, we don't have anything like this in Chicago either:
I took a short (5.5 km) walk and ended with a Czech open-faced egg sandwich:
For the record, I didn't stop in the Sex Machines Museum, tempting as that sounded. Stopping ever few meters to take photos didn't help my time. Neither did the perfect weather.
I did stroll around the Czech Senate grounds, which felt a lot different than our Capitol Hill:
It almost felt as if our Senate sits in a building designed to dominate the city around it, while Czechia's sits in a walled garden. There's some profound political theory in there, I'm sure.
I'm in a European-sized hotel room in a European-sized city. I'm also exhausted. But I did get out of Heathrow for about an hour and a quarter, and walked around Ealing a bit:
And now I'm here:
More tomorrow. I'm pooped.
I just got from the curb to the lounge in 18 minutes. No kidding: my bag check line was empty, and so was the TSA Pre-Check queue. I should point out, no other queues were empty; in fact, it looked like the general security queue is long enough to gestate an elephant.
So, at least for the first hour of my vacation, things completely fail to suck.
Boarding pass from Chicago to Heathrow in app? Check.
Boarding pass from Heathrow to Prague in app? Check.
Packed? Uh...sure, once this laundry is done...