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Around, behind the Iron Curtain

August 05, 2004

Tim and Jan Wood

The trip plans started to gel after my wife Jan and I discussed what

areas in the world we would care to visit before the rapidly evolving

countries changed forever. We decided on the Czech Republic and

Hungary because they were going to become part of the European Union

at the end of April, with the accompanying currency of the Euro. We

felt that this was an opportunity to explore the historic areas of

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the former Ottoman Empire, while experiencing the purchasing power of

the dollar against the Czech Koruna and the Hungarian Forint.

Before leaving the U.S., I purchased about $100 each of Korunas,

Forints and Euros from Thomas Cook Foreign Exchange in South Coast

Plaza. We have always followed this little exercise prior to

traveling to a foreign destination. It saves time and trouble until

one can conveniently get to a preferred ATM, American Express office

or a bank. We also booked our rental car online from Budget Auto

Europe and reserved our arrival and departure hotels while leaving

the rest to chance, since we were driving.

We purchased several reference books to take along containing

history, hotels, restaurants and attractions. While Fodor's "Eastern

& Central Europe" was helpful with the hotels and restaurants, Rick

Steve's "Best of Eastern Europe" cut to the chase and was a real

time-saver on attractions.

We left on April 5 and arrived the morning of April 6 via Air

France while pre-arranging to have the hotel schedule a taxi to pick

us up at the Prague airport. The driver's taxi was a Scoda Octavia.

The Russian car looked a whole lot better than the old ones from

Communist times, and it was comfy to boot!

Fortunately, we had the necessary Korunas to pay for our ride,

thanks to Thomas Cook.

We were not able to book the first night in our preferred hotel,

so we opted for the Red Lion II for one night, located in the

Mala'Strana. Unable to check into our hotel until noon, we walked to

the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), and then took a nap to combat the

jet lag between California and Prague. Gathering some energy, we

walked to the embassy area and stumbled upon one of our researched

restaurants, the Blue Duckling. It was very good and very pretty, and

of course we both had the duck. The "vin ordinaire" of the country

was high in quality and a pleasant surprise.

The following days in Prague, we were able to rise fairly early

and take advantage of the typical breakfast offered by most European

hotels, "buffet" style -- juice, coffee, meats, cheese, cereal, jams

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