Prague, The 8th City Of Gold


My jollies this year had landed me 40 Points short of renewing my BA Gold Card this year, and with my renewal date fast approaching, I needed to make a quick trip somewhere to avoid losing my shiny companion.

I’m somewhat skint at the moment, so my requirements were simple. I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been before in Club Europe, and not pay a fortune for it. I wanted to be there and back in a day, but I actually wanted to visit the city, rather than just sitting in the airport waiting for a flight straight back home. Oh, and it had to go from Heathrow’s new Terminal 5.

While Paris and Amsterdam were looking very cheap, I’d been to both before. The only city that met all of the above criteria was Prague, coming in at just under £300 for the return flight in Club Europe (BA’s Business Class), with a flight out at 08:50 and back at 18:50. This gave me 7 hours in Prague which should be plenty to enjoy a beer by the river.

London Heathrow – Prague in British Airways Club Europe

Since I was looking to keep costs down, a return taxi to Heathrow wasn’t particularly appealing at £100. To drive would have cost around £50 in parking and petrol, which was better. The train connections between home and Heathrow are so bad it would have taken hours… but there was one other option.

A few months ago I took my CBT and bought a little motorbike for commuting to the train station in the mornings. It’s incredibly efficient (at 120 mpg), and best of all it’s free to park at airports! As I was going for a day trip I didn’t have to take a suit case, so it seemed perfect.

As I haven’t taken my full motorbike test I was still on L-plates, which meant avoiding the motorways. This wasn’t a problem though as I knew the back roads to Heathrow and they were generally quicker anyway.

It took 45 minutes to ride the 32 miles… and the cost? A pocket-money-friendly £1.70 in petrol! Result! The motorbike park was right outside the entrance to the terminal, so it couldn’t have worked out better.

As I took my first steps into T5, I have to say I was most impressed. It’s a stunning building with a fantastic feeling of space. Remember when you saw it on the news, swarming with people during the fiasco that was its opening week? Well this was the complete opposite. It felt like one of those films where you’re walking through an evacuated city…

I wandered over to the First Class check in area at the far right of the terminal which had plenty of desks available to check in at. I then headed over to the South Security, where I was pleased to see Fast Track was flowing smoothly. From entering the terminal it had taken me no more than 5 minutes to reach the departures area.

As I hadn’t seen the new terminal before, I thought I’d take a quick walk around to see the new lounges. I first made my way to the Club Galleries at the North end of the terminal. I think it’s fair to say I was more than a little impressed. These were by far the best Business Class lounges I’d seen anywhere on my travels. They were very stylish, had plenty of space, and offered a good selection of food.

It was a very quick visit, and before long I was on my way to the South end of the terminal where I paid a visit to the Club Galleries South. These were much the same, although it had a very cool wall near the entrance which was also a world clock.

Just below the Club Galleries South was the First Galleries, where I planned to settle with a glass of champagne. The lounge was again very impressive and much larger than I’d expected, but it wasn’t massively different from the Club Galleries.

It did however have a champagne bar which looked like an excellent first stop. Oddly enough, I was the only one in the champagne bar at nearly 7:30am – what’s wrong with everyone?

Next stop was a spot of breakie – so I went back to the main lounge area and asked one of the staff for a bacon baguette. Now, I’m very partial to bacon baguettes, so you can imagine how happy I was when I was brought a plate of three!

A glass or two of champagne later and my flight was being called. A friend was also flying out of T5 that morning, and I had time for a quick hello as I passed him at the entrance to the lounge, and I was off to my gate.

I’d nabbed seat 1A for both out and inbound flights by checking in online the day before, and fortunately there was nobody in 1C, so I had plenty of space. We were a little late in pushing back, but nothing we couldn’t make up once airborne.

It had been nearly 40 minutes since my breakfast in the T5 lounge, so when offered a cooked breakfast on the flight it seemed only right to accept, along with a bottle of champagne. The annoying thing about champagne on these early short haul flights is that it’s rarely chilled, and today was no exception.

The cabin crew were friendly and came around with frequent top ups. There were only around 10 of us in Club, so it wasn’t too busy. I settled down to read Business Traveller in case I’d been published again, and then caught up on a bit of kip.

We’d made up the initial delay as we landed in Prague, and it was a very quick disembarkation. Within a few minutes I was out by the taxi rank ready to head into town.

Out In Prague

The first thing you need to know about Prague is that the taxi drivers are generally rip-off merchants (apparently). Having spoken to others, AAA Taxis seem to be the safest bet, and the Prague Airport Website agrees. AAA had a big rank near exit D of Terminal 1, and before getting in a cab I asked what the price would be. He said it would be around 500 CZK, which seemed fair, so in I got and asked to go to the Charles Bridge on the new side of the river (as it was closer).

My blackberry has GPS and Google maps, so I was able to check that the driver was taking the most direct route, which fortunately he was. I’d only really do this in countries where dodgy taxi drivers are to be expected, but it’s nice to know I’m not being ripped off. The fare came in at under 500 CZK, so I added a tip and went in search of the sights.

Earlier that morning the BBC had forecast heavy showers all day in Prague, so I’d brought my motorcycle jacket which, while quite heavy, was thankfully completely waterproof. So it was with slight annoyance that for the entire time I was in Prague it was glorious sunshine and never dipped below 31 degrees… The jacket stayed in my rucksack until my ride home!

The Charles Bridge (Karlův Most)

The Charles Bridge is a medieval crossing right in the centre of Prague, linking the old and the new towns. Statues of saints stand tall on the bridge walls, most notably St. John Nepomuk holding the envious title of “Patron Saint of Bridges”.

The bridge was swarming with tourists who were keenly buying tat from the local traders who lined the bridge.

This being my first trip on my lonesome, I thought I’d practice taking photos of scenery with me in them (something I have to say that guest writer Alex is somewhat of a professional at). After 10 attempts of looking like a complete Billy No-mates, I managed this one:

Kampa Park Bar/Restaurant

Given such glorious sun, it would be a shame not to be enjoying it with a beer in hand while admiring the view. Following a recommendation, I stopped in at the Kampa Park bar and restaurant which has a lovely terrace on the river’s edge.

Despite the terrace being fairly empty, I couldn’t sit by the river to just have a beer, I’d need to have food too. As it was around 1pm, this didn’t pose me any problem at all.

The menu wasn’t cheap, so I just chose a salad with cheese and caramelised apples which was stunning.

The Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí)

A short walk through the streets on the old side of town and I arrived at the Old Town Square. The square was again very busy, but was enclosed by an impressive selection of old buildings, including the 15th Century Orloj (Astronomical Clock) which not only tells the time, but also the position of the sun, moon, stars and signs of the Zodiac. After about 5 minutes of staring I still had no idea what time it was… I recommend Big Ben for ease of use…

Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí)

Not so much a square, more a long pedestrianised area between two roads, but worth visiting if only for the ice cream vendors on the road side. The square slopes gently up to the National Museum, just in front of which stands the statue of Good King Wenceslas on his trusty steed.

I then walked back to the river and crossed to the new town side. However there was very little of interest here, so I’d recommend staying on the old side.

2 hours before my flight home, I hunted out an AAA taxi to take me back to the airport. Again I checked the price before hand, and was quoted around 550 CZK; slightly more, but not a huge difference. He took a slightly different route back to the airport, but it was still pretty quick and there wasn’t much in it.

Prague – London Heathrow in British Airways Club Europe

I didn’t need to visit a check in desk as they’d already given me my return boarding pass at Heathrow on the way out. There was a fast track through security for business class passengers which meant I was through in 5 minutes.

The business lounge was, in all fairness, a bit pathetic – especially compared to BA’s new T5 lounges. They had a few sofas, a TV and a fridge with a poor selection of drinks.

Fortunately I didn’t need to stay there long as the return flight was called on time.

The flight back was much quieter, with only 3 others in the Club cabin.

By the time dinner was served, I was starving. I went for the salmon which was very nice… but I was still a little peckish. I asked if there was a spare salmon going, but unfortunately the other passengers had polished them all off.

So I was extremely grateful when 5 minutes later the purser came out with another dish, salmon in breadcrumbs, that wasn‚Äôt even on the menu‚Ķ It turns out the captain fancied the chicken salad for supper, and so I got his meal! Result 🙂

The service for the whole flight was great. Two of the other passengers were an elderly couple from New Zealand and this was their first visit to London. As we circled before landing, the purser pointed out all of the sights to them as well as giving a bit of a history lesson.

As we disembarked I had a chat with the New Zealanders who were very impressed with the flight, and they said the service was the best they’d had on their current round the world holiday.

The IRIS machine in T5 was up and running (which was surprising because it doesn’t work that well in the other terminals), so I was through immigration in seconds. With no luggage to collect I was sat on my motorbike no more than 3 minutes later.

It was getting dark as I rode home, but it was still a much better way to travel than sitting in the M25 car park or forking out £50 on a taxi. 45 minutes later I was home and sat in front of Top Gear with a pint of Guinness.

The Aftermath

Prague was a lovely place to go for a day trip, but I didn’t come away feeling it was somewhere I’d love to return to. The city was full of tourists – and yes, I know I was one of them – but it just took away so much that should have been special. Given the option, I’d choose a weekend in Verona every time.

Terminal 5 was incredibly impressive. I know it got off to a shaky start less than 6 months ago, but if my experience was anything to go by, it’s improved no end. The lounges were fantastic, and I was especially impressed with the Club Galleries which were far better than the BA First lounges in any other terminal or airport.

And lastly… the experimental motorbike ride to and from Heathrow worked a treat. I’m sold. For any day or weekend trips where I can carry what I need on my back, I will definitely take the bike. After 10 more trips, the money saved in taxi fares will have paid for the bike.

Woohoo! Free bike!