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EASTERN EUROPE AND THE ELBE
25 September - 10 October 2013

Introduction. Jane and I had our eye on the 12-day Grand Circle Travel (GCT) Elbe River cruise since it was introduced a few years earlier. It included visits to places in the former East Germany that we'd never seen, most notably Dresden and Meissen, as well as others we'd not been to for many years (Prague, Berlin). When GCT improved the itinerary in 2013, we decided to take it. Since we were flexible as to dates, we also elected to book it within 60 days of the departure date when large discounts are often available. So just a few weeks in advance, we signed on for the 28 September-10 October cruise. This “cruise” was different from most of the other river cruises we'd taken in that only seven of the eleven days in Europe were on the ship. That meant unpacking and repacking three times instead of just once.

Getting There

Thursday-Friday, 26-27 September. We arranged to fly to Europe out of Liberty Airport in Newark, NJ. This gave us an opportunity to celebrate Jane's 82nd birthday with our son Larry and his family, who live in Glen Ridge. We left our home in Massanutten, VA, around 10 a.m. Thursday and got to Glen Ridge at 4:00. We spent a pleasant couple of days visiting with Larry and Mina. On Friday their lovely daughters Andria, 23, and Stephanie, 21, arrived, and the six of us celebrated Jane’s birthday at a local Italian restaurant.

Saturday, 28 September. We spent a leisurely morning with Larry’s family before packing up for the trip to Europe. Larry and Mina got us to Liberty Airport around 2:00. Our 4:40 United flight was only a few minutes late taking off. The evening meal was served about 7:00. Then we tried to sleep but, as usual, with the tightly crammed seats it was a losing battle.

Prague  


Jutta & Dina, Tour Directors
Sunday, 29 September. Breakfast was served at 5:30 a.m. CEST (11:30 P.M. EDT). We landed in Frankfurt at 7:00 a.m. where we processed through European Union immigration but, to our surprise, not through customs. Our 10:10 flight to Prague on Lufthansa was a pleasant surprise, with widely spaced seats and another breakfast meal, efficiently served and cleaned up in about half an hour. We landed in Prague about 11:00, and the GCT van took us to the Park Inn, near the railroad bridge over the Vltava River. It was about noon when we arrived. There we met Jutta, our Austrian tour director. The river ship we would be taking held two groups of about 43 persons, so there was a second tour director, Dina, for the other group. 


Sunday, 29 September. Breakfast was served at 5:30 a.m. CEST (11:30 P.M. EDT). We landed in Frankfurt at 7:00 a.m. where we processed through European Union immigration but, to our surprise, not through customs. Our 10:10 flight to Prague on Lufthansa was a pleasant surprise, with widely spaced seats and another breakfast meal, efficiently served and cleaned up in about half an hour. We landed in Prague about 11:00, and the GCT van took us to the Park Inn, near the railroad bridge over the Vltava River. It was about noon when we arrived. There we met Jutta, our Austrian tour director. The river ship we would be taking held two groups of about 43 persons, so there was a second tour director, Dina, for the other group.

We had spent four days in Prague in 1998 so we were somewhat familiar with the city. [See http://darrellpeck.com/travel/1998-east-europe/page07.htm] Prague was founded in the 9th century and was the capital of Bohemia when that was an independent country. In the 14th century the city experienced unprecedented prosperity when the King of Bohemia became Holy Roman emperor as Charles IV and chose Prague as capital of the Empire (1355-1378). In 1526 Bohemia was absorbed into the Hapsburg's Austrian Empire. In 1918 the city became the capital of newly independent Czechoslovakia. Prague suffered little damage in World War II and has retained much of its original appearance.

We got our room keys with no delay and went up to freshen up and partially unpack. The hotel was nice, but our room was a disappointment, very small with no drawers or shelves for our things and barely enough room to lay our suitcases flat so we could access them.

Jutta was conducting periodic orientation walks and I rushed down for the one at 1:00 while Jane rested. It turned out that I was the only one who showed up, but Jutta took me on the walk anyway. It was helpful in understanding where the hotel was in relation to the old town, as well as nearby bus stops, ATMs and restaurants. At the end, I got some Czech crowns (koruna) from an ATM ($1 = < 19 crowns).

At 6:15 there was a briefing by the two tour directors, following which all of us introduced ourselves. We each were given a “Whisper” radio head set so we could hear our guide throughout the tour. A buffet dinner at the hotel ran from 7:30 until 9:00. Then finally we could get to bed.

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