The drive from Vienna to Prague started right on the Autobahn. We were headed in the direction of Bruno, which is famous for its crystal caves below the ground much like Luray Caverns in Virginia. As we all had seen Luray, Brno wasn’t going to be a stop. As we crossed the border to the Czech Republic, we stopped to fill gas. When you are in a country where the language is different, it becomes hard to figure out simple things such as what is the right type of diesel to fill up the car. With some help from the attendant and then getting a ‘toll pass’ for the Republic at 17 Euros, we were rolling by. The traffic had picked up by then. I could see the huge trucks that are reminiscent of goods transportation and invariably the Polish or Czech drivers. I had heard that the number of accidents here were way higher than the rest of the EU or Europe so my alertness was higher. I did get that wisp of impatience among drivers wanting to overtake despite a lot of traffic ahead of us. The roads by then had also changed. The surface was somewhat rougher and I could feel the noise level much more than in either Germany or Austria. There was a lot of construction going on and this meant the two lanes narrowed quite a bit and veered off to what was originally the pavement. Overtaking a slower huge truck in these situations made me nervous with the car almost brushing either of the sides. As the construction started and the signs directed the driver to the narrower lanes, the speed would decrease significantly enough that the speeds would come down. This invariably meant backups and a couple of times I had to brake hard. The S60’s collision detection system worked like a charm and I thought it even prevented a slide off the road. The braking system was so good on the car that I would come down from 150 to 80 or 60 without as much as a slight change in direction.
It was past 8 PM when we realized it would be getting too late for dinner given most of the shops in Europe close early. But some Googling revealed restaurants open till 10 PM. We were headed to the Courtyard at the Prague airport. The hotel was about 20 kilometers away from the city center and I wasn’t sure once we got to the hotel, we could head out to the city again. The GPS indicated that we would pass the city to get to the airport so we narrowed down to a restaurant in the city. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Very soon we were hitting traffic and without much more driving, I was on the narrowest and most crowded of streets that I came across on the trip. Prague city’s skyscape is a bit different from the refinement you see in Vienna. There are a lot of electrical wires going around on the top and on the road, tram tracks interspersed with lane markers. With a lot of traffic and unfamiliar street names, it was enough to get me onto the edge of the seat driving. I was afraid I would get into the heart of the city where parking is always a problem. The S60 was a wagon and this would add to the challenge. As I was considering the challenges, we saw this magnificent silhouette of a castle on the horizon across the river and some old bridges across the river. This immediately struck me as the St. Charles bridge that one of my colleagues had highly recommended walking across. As the sky was turning golden and the far off castle presented itself, I was sure we would have a great time in the city despite the challenges of driving in a 2000 year old city.
As much as I thought, the old city presented challenges first to the GPS which was losing satellite connection. With turns coming up one after the other, my fears were confirmed that what was a 15 minute drive into the city would turn out to be an hour. We got a rough idea where the restaurant was once the GPS got back its satellite connection and started driving towards it. Maybe it was destined J I drove onto this 7 feet wide road lined with old homes going by the GPS. Very soon we the road got narrower and narrower. It was evident that we would have to back up to the bigger road. With cars parked in the narrow street, it was quite a challenge. However Vikas got out and deftly guided me out of the cram. We managed to park near a restaurant despite seeing No parking signs. We took the chance and walked to our destination restaurant and asked the owner for the right parking space. This restaurant was inside a courtyard with stoned street and lined with numerous restaurants as you would imagine a old-town European setting. He suggested that I park the car in front of his restaurant. I had to drive at 5 mph through a stone archway to get there. Relieved and thankful, we however had a great dinner. The prices were incredibly inexpensive compared to Vienna and that was a bonus. The icing on the cake was there was no parking ticket to pay for or even a parking fee!
After dinner, as we walked to the car I noticed that Prague was a party town. It was also a very college town as was evident with the young men and women having finished their dinner loudly conversing with effects of alcohol showing. We drove to the Airport without any further ado. Getting to the hotel parking was another challenge we had to deal with due to unclear directions at the airport but at about 11:30 PM at night, even the police wasn’t stopping us from reversing on the roads with hardly any traffic!