Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 3: Second day in Prague

The plan for today is to see the gardens on the hills next to the Prague Castle.

After breakfast, Karl, my mum and I took public transport to the new city of Prague. We got off our train at Mustek station which was at the foot of the Prague Castle hill. Karl wandered off towards the castle while my mum and I walked off to the gardens.

We couldn't see any obvious entrance to all these gardens, so we picked a path that was closest to us. This path led us through a district that had lots of cops and embassies. Anyway, we were already breathing pretty heavily by the time we got the end of that path as it was rather steep and narrow and had cars going in both directions all the time.

So, after that we went up and down on the hills for like 3 hours, and the gardens were pretty green with lots of trees and rocks. There was like a church somewhere on top of the hill, and a steel tower somewhere which you have to pay money if you want to go up to ... we didn't pay.

After we left the gardens, we had lunch at the same restaurant that we went to yesterday. Then we went to the famous bridge "Charles Bridge" which had lots of nice status on each side. The bridge was really nice, and packed with tourists like everywhere else in Prague.

Anyway, after the bridge, we went back to our hotel and I made preparations for the conference on the next day.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day 2: First visit to Prague

The plan for today is to visit the city of Prague and try to see as much as we can.

We got out of bed at about 6:30am, and had breakfast at about 8am. The dinning hall was rather packed, there was plenty of food, but the quality was so so. The table service wasn't that great either, but we didn't care that much.

The staff manning the reception this morning were much more helpful than the ones from last evening. We got a bunch of maps and good direction on how to get to the city (our hotel was in a rather new suburb of Prague).

To get to the city, we had first take a bus (No. 155 or something like that) from in front of hotel to the Chodov (spelling?) metro station, then take the subway train to the center of town.

Prague's public transport is such that you can buy a ticket during working hours for about 20 crowns from the train stations, or 25 crowns from the buses, and the ticket will be valid for 70 minutes from the first time you validate it, and you can take as many train and bus rides as you like during the 70 minutes.

We bought our tickets from the bus, or rather, we paid the sneaking bus driver 50 crowns, but he didn't give us a ticket and just waved us to sit down. I thought it was a bit strange at the time, but since I didn't know how it was supposed to work, I did as I was told. As a result of this, we had to buy 2 more tickets when we got to Chodov station.

Prague's metro was pretty good. The trains were clean and pretty frequent. We got off the train at Muzeum station. As soon as we got out of the subway, we were faced by a beautiful street with lots of nice look buildings on each side which gave us a very good first impression for Prague.



As we didn't have a plan, we just wandered around the streets of Prague, going from one interesting building to another and taking pictures as we went. Here are a few other pictures of the old town of Prague:


(this one is near the municiple hall of Prague, we got offered concert tickets here ... sounded very enticing, but we didn't buy any)



(this one is in some sort of main square, I have no idea what it's called now)




(we saw a tiger skin on a balcony)

Anyways, after walking around for like 2 hrs, we finally reached the river that separates the old town of Prague of its new town. There were a few benches along side the river, and we sat down for a while and drank some water ... it was very pleasant. Here are a few pics of the view of the new town from the river bank:


(you can see the Prague Castle in this one)



(a few men doing some stuff on the roof of another building)

After we got enough rest, we crossed the river to the new town of Prague, and set off to the Prague Castle ... it was a rather uphill walk, and after about 30 minutes, we finally got to one of the gates of the castle, and were just in time to see the changing of guards. Here are a few pics:





I felt a bit sorry for the guards -- it was a 30ish degree day and I was in t-shirts and sweated a lot, but these guards had to wear full body suits and stand motionless for hrs.

Anyway, we got into the castle, had a look around and it turned out that the highlight of the castle was a cathedral. The cathedral was Gothic style, and it had several towers. One of them was open for visitors but it had 287 steps. Well, I climbed on top of the tower, and the view was really good ... but maybe not worth the 287 steps.

Here is a pic of the cathedral (it was really impossible to get a picture of the full cathedral as it was really big and there wasn't enough space in front of it for a full picture):





Here is a pic of the view from the top of the tower:


Anyway, after the visit to the Prague castle, we slowly made our way back to the Muzeum station, but not before having lunch at a small restaurant ... where I learnt that beer in Prague was much cheaper than bottled water.

We took the train home and it started raining rather heavily after we got back to our hotel, and I met up with Karl from the office (he smsed me earlier in the morning). We had a few more beers, and watched some tennis in the casino of the hotel, then called it a day.

Day 1: From Melbourne to Prague, 19/June -- 20/June

The day didn't start according to the plan. I was gonna put my 700G harddrive into my office computer so that I wouldn't lose all my work if my home PC gets stolen.

My flight was supposed to leave at 7:30 pm, so I thought I had plenty of time to get into my office (in the city) and sort things out, well, it didn't turn out the way I hoped.

I got to uni at around 12pm, John from the tech service was very nice and agreed to help me. However, we had our first snag after we opened up my office PC (a Dell) -- there wasn't a spare SATA cable inside the PC to connect my harddrive to. After searching through the tech service, we realised that there wasn't a spare cable at all! Who would have thought that the tech service of the computer science department would not have a 50cm long SATA cable?

After exhausting all our available options, John and I decided to search around the nearby computer shops to see if I could just buy one -- turned out that no one near the uni had the cable we wanted.

Then I thought I had seen a SATA cable in my spare parts box at home, so I told John that I was gonna go home (a 30 min drive from uni) and grab it and come back at around 2pm to finish what we started.

I got back home at around 1:30, took out my spare part box, and found the cable, but it turned out to be about 40cms short than what I expected. I was starting to panic, then for the last resort, I drove to MSY in Boxhill hoping that I could buy a 50cm SATA cable there.

So, 15 minutes later, I got to MSY, after waiting in line for about 10 minutes, I told the shop attendent what I needed, and he fished out a SATA cable from his spare parts box, and to my surprise, he gave it to me for free because he recognized me as a regular cusotmer!

Things got a smoother from then on, I got back to uni at around 2:20pm, found John, connected my harddrive up to my work PC, booted the PC on, and ignored the problem that the BIOS couldn't find a driver for the harddrive, and proceeded to mount it in /home2 (I'm running Ubuntu), and everything was ok.

So, we got home at around 3pm to 3:30pm and were ready to go after a few more minutes of last minute packing. The nice eighbour came around at around 3:40 and off we went!

We got the airport at around 4:20pm, the departure terminal was pretty busy, we parked the car at a bus stop and started unloading the two suitcases. I managed to unload one when a bus came, the bus director immediately told us to go away, and I quickly closed the hatch and my neighbour started driving away, with another suitcase!! My mum chased the car down the road and finally managed to get the second suitcase out, we waved good-bye to our nice neighbour and went into the
departure terminal.

As we are flying business class, we bypassed the long waiting line for the economy class and checked in our luggage quickly, and then went to the Emirates lounge on top of the terminal building.

The lougne was extremly nice, there were plenty of really comfortable sofas, lots of computers with free internet, a shower, and a free buffet with lots of wines, beers and other beverages!

We settled down in a couple of sofas in front of the runway, and we ate lots of food from the buffet. I really wanted to stay in the lounge than getting onto the plane.

20 minutes prior to departure, we boarded the plane. The plane we flew was Boeing 777-300, and the seats of the business class was rather ordinary. The upholstery was just some ordinary looking fabric and the in-seat tv screen was as small as the economy class of other airlines I flew before. What made matter worse was that we were sitting in the first row of our cabin and I couldn't fully extend my legs!

The inflight entertainment was even more ordinary than the seat -- there was a very poor selection of movies. The games were a bit retarded too. The food was actually really nice, but neither my mum and I could eat the excellent dinner as we ate too much in the lounge!

However, we did have a cockpit camera and a downward looking camera, but since we were flying in the evening, there was not much to see ... until we started landing in the Singapore airport. It was rather cool and a bit unnerving to watch the pilots aim at the runway and make small corrections. When the plane touched down, I thought the angle of the plane was a bit too steep towards the ground and started shouting "PULL UP!!!!" in my mind, well, the pilots heard my mental scream and pulled up -- I breathed again.

We were told that we could either stay on the plane or get out to stretch our legs a bit. My mum and I decided to feel the solid ground again and left the plane. As a result, we had to go throught the security scan again and the guards told us to threw away our water which we got from the plane. When I went through the scanner with my laptop backpack, the guard, who was very dark
skinned (probably of African/Indian origin), asked me in Mandarin whether I had a computer inside my backpack. I was so caught by surprise that I didn't understand him and replied in English. I only realized what he said to me 5 minutes after I sat down.

We left Singapore about 30 minutes after I got through the security and I managed to watch Cars in the flight, it was rather rubbish. We were still not hungry when we were offered breakfast, and only ate some fruits.

The landing in Dubai was pretty similar to the one in Singapore. The first/business class lounge in Dubai was the opposite of that of Melbourne -- it's very very full, and full of people from different parts of the world. I don't think I've ever seen so many African people in my life. It really made me appreciate what a great strategical position Dubai is in -- it's at the intersection of Asia, Europe and Africa. Good for Dubai. I called my dad who was in China on my mobile, and told him that mum and I were OK.

We changed plane at Dubai, and this one is 777-300(ER), I guess "ER" stands for "Europe", and it was light years better than the 777-300. The seat upholstery was leather, there was so much leg room that I couldn't touch the seat in front of me with the tip of my feet, the TV screen was like 3 times bigger than the 777-300's, and there were soooooooo many movies and games.

I watched Wild Hogs and Shooter in the flight, Shooter was pretty good, but Wild Hogs was rubbish. We managed to finish the lunch which was pretty good. The thing that impressed me the most was the chess game -- it actually made good moves and I was challenged (not that I'm good at chess, but the chess game on the 300 was seriously retarded).

The 7.5 hrs flight from Dubai to London went much quicker than the two previous flights, and I didn't get to watch all the movies I wanted to see. The descend into Heathrow was pretty eventless -- except that we had to circle around the airport for about 30 minutes to wait for the permission to land. We landed at around 12:40pm.

Getting out of the UK immigration and collecting our bags were pretty eventless too. However, we landed in terminal 3 and our BA flight to Prague was in terminal 1. My mother and I dragged our bags through a hot and narrow tunnel which smelled like pee for about 15 minutes, and finally emerged into a very very busy terminal 1. After getting our boarding passes from the computers, we waited for about 20 minutes in line to check our bags in for our 6pm flight... only to be told that we had to wait til 3:50pm to check our bags in. So my mum and I just sat in a bench
near the check-in desk and waited. I tried to call my dad on my mobile which was accepted by the 3-UK network but couldn't figure out how to deal international numbers. I asked a shop attendent who seemed to be local, he had no clue either but told me that I could get a phone card from a nearby WH Smith store. I got a 5 pound phone card which had a scratch password. I was so careless and stupid that I smudged the first a few digits!!! Since the card had a free number, I tried to guess it using a few nearby public pay-phones ... not only did I have no luck whatsoever, I
managed to get the phone card company to block one of the pay-phones by making too many failed attempts ... oh well. After the phone card fiasco, I decided to try my mobile again, I finally figured out that I had to dial 00 first to connect to internationl lines, and called my dad and told him everything was fine.

At around 4pm, we finally checked our bags in with BA, but we still didn't know which gate to board our plane from as such information would only become available 1 hr before the plane was to take off. So we went through the immigration and security checks and settled down in a couple of seats in front of the departure info screens in the central waiting area. My mother wandered off to see the stores and I was left alone to look after our hand luggages. While I was alone, I properly checked out the departure information screens, one of them displayed the ususal information about which flight departs from which gate and what time, another screen displayed information about how long it would take to walk to which gates -- some of gates would take about 5 mins to walk to, some would take 10 mins, and the rest would take about 15 mins. Remembering that the boarding pass said the gate would close at 18:00, I started getting nervous when the clock got closer and closer to 18:00. At 17:40, there was still no gate information about our flight ... nothing changed at 17:45 ... and finally at 17:50, the gate info came up, it was at gate 43 and it was one of those 15-min-walk gates!!

My mum and I rushed to gate 43, and we were the first a few people to get there. To our delighted surprise, the gate didn't close at 18:00, in fact, it didn't close until something like 18:20. The take-off was one of the worst I've ever experienced, there was so much turbulence that I nearly threw up. Otherwise, the flight was pretty eventless. However, I was a bit surprised by how much people ignored the instructions about mobile phones. The guy sitting behind me was talking on his phone while the plane was taxiing to the runway -- 5 minutes after everyone was told to turn off their phones. The girl sitting across the aisle to me didn't even bother turning off her phone, and she got a message just before the take-off.

The take-off was one of the roughest I've had in my life, I seriously thought I was going to throw up ... but I didn't. After about 2 hrs, we landed smoothly in Prague airport. Getting our luggage and going through the immigration was pretty easy. After we exited the terminal building, we were immediately greeted by a blond girl who offered us a taxi ride, we asked her how much it would cost to get to our hotel, she replied "about 800 crowns", from the information we've been given by the conference organisors, this sounded reasonable, so we took the cab she offered.

The ride was pretty smooth and took about 40 minutes, the driver was pretty friendly but didn't speak much English. The ride ended up costing us about 850 crowns.

The checking-in of the hotel was a bit troublesome, as the staff on duty didn't seem like they wanted to be there and were extremely slow and reluctant to help. Our room was on the first floor, and the elevant was just big enough to fit 1 of us and 1 piece of luggage ... so we took 2 trips to get into our room.

The room is rather large, but there really isn't much in there. The cabinet for the fridge is locked, and the bitch at the reception said she had no idea where the key was.

Anyway, we were rather tired and fell asleep straight away. Tomorrow we will visit the city of Prague.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Prologue

My mother and I are starting our 45-day Europe tour today. My mother is pretty excited, I'm rather apprehensive as I am really afraid of flying and I'm not sure what European countries are like. We are first flying from Melbourne to London Heathrow with Emirates, then from Heathrow to Prague with British Airways.

Our Emirates flight has 3 stops: Melbourne->Singapore (7.5 hrs), Singapure->Dubai (7.5 hrs) and Dubai->London (7.5 hrs).

The trip is organised such that we leave Melbourne on 19/June and arrive in London on 20/June, then fly to Prague on the same day. We will then spend 4 nights in Prague to see the city and present a poster at SemEval, then fly to London on the 24th of June. We will then spend 3 nights in London, then leave London on the 27th of June to join a 35-day guided tour (with Insight Vacations) to travel through 13 European countries. The last stop of this tour is in Paris, where we will leave the group and spend 1 extra night in Paris, then fly back to Melbourne on the 1st
of August, and arrive back in Melbourne on the 3rd of August.

My nice neighbour is gonna give us a lift to the airport.

Keeping an online journal is a rather new idea, you will probably realise that this post is published more than 10 days after I left Melbourne.
This blog is created to record my experiences in my 2007 Europe trip. Feel free to leave comments!