There are times when what seems like a more expensive alternative proves to be the most cost effective. Let me explain – George had booked an early flight to Prague this morning. Early meaning 0825. Now, that doesn’t seem all that early to someone who has flown out of OAK at 0630 or SFO at a similar time. But both of those trips involved being dropped at the airport by a family member or being able to take a Lyft to the airport as BART doesn’t run early enough to safely make those flights.
Heidelberg is an hour south of the Frankfurt Airport on a good day whether traveling via train or car. If we had attempted to take the 0530 shuttle bus (and nothing had gone wrong) it would have left us with less than two hours to navigate a particularly large and complex airport in order to catch our flight. If anything had gone wrong? Well, cheap flights can only be re-booked so many times…. And based on our extremely recent train experience, I wasn’t willing to attempt that either. Having to be up and about at 0330 in the morning sort of takes away any advantage to the cheaper hotel now doesn’t it?
Anyway, there we were, staying at the Hilton Garden Inn. Lovely, clean and shiny and part of the long distance train complex. It was a matter of just a few minutes to head down to the main concourse, across the overpass to Terminal A and get checked in. Cheap flights don’t include checked bags, even with significant airline status – so lesson learned on that one. In most circumstances, gate-check is fine but when they contain sharp & pointy objects? Not so much.
The security lines were horrible, worse than any US airport I have had the misfortune to experience in the last decade or so. It wasn’t that the lines didn’t move; this is Germany – they are organized, efficient and have serious upgraded technology. But when you have incredible levels of passenger flow, even the best system deliver enough bins to waiting passengers. Funny to think of bins as slowing everything down – but when you want everything placed in a bin – and electronics separate from suitcases, purses, carry-ons, and clothing it means that the average person uses at least three….
So, even staying within a 15 minutes walk and leaving the hotel early, there was still less than an hour before boarding time when we managed to find each other after security and head into the lounge for some much needed coffee.
The flight itself was only 45 minutes once we finally took off. It was interesting that, inspire of being a full flight, there was less in the overhead bins than on the average Southwest Airlines flight. Germans and Czechs actually take advantage of “check bags for free” offers. Go figure!
Bags picked up, we headed out of the terminal, picked up a taxi and headed to the hotel. Also discovered that the Czech Republic doesn’t use the Euro… which is something that I should have known/checked/figured out… We are staying at the Hotel Cosmopolitan right near the river. (Here is the link just in case you were interested. It is lovely and they were able to let us check in early which was much appreciated. Apparently not needing a room with two beds made the difference (? reservations made by the travel agency based on us having different last names?).
George went for a walk in the afternoon, I took a walk and stitched for a while. There are only 31 people total in the travel group including the river cruise (on a ship which probably accommodates ~ 150 if our past experiences are any indication). The travelers are from several alumni organizations and a Smithsonian tour. There are only two others, from the LA area, who booked through CAL).
So at the end of the day, we are in Prague. The hotel is great; there might just be some interesting people in the group. The lecturer furnished through the Smithsonian is actually from The Economist currently working out of Italy and the two “tour guides” are from Ireland and Bulgaria respectively.