Sunday : Canterbury to Prague via London Victoria

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The weekend in Canterbury had gone quickly and the four of us in Carena House waved goodbye to the landlady. It was a clean B&B (actually, it was more of a B as there was no breakfast included), although quite quirky, but the welcome was friendly enough, even when Richard changed rooms for reasons unknown. But, I don’t get involved in these matters.

We walked to Tannery Field and had a little look at the bull, designed by local artist Steven Portchmouth. There’s a double purpose to that sculpture, it marks that this was a tanning site, but also that there was a tannery rail track, so they’ve replicated the rails in the artwork.

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And there’s some more information about the bull for those who want to know even more.

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It was a similar walk to the previous day, with West Gate in the background. It was still too hot.

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Back in Wetherspoons, which I accept shows a complete lack of originality, but I didn’t have long and there was a power point here which was handy for ensuring my devices were fully charged for the day ahead. The poached egg was only just runny, they keep getting these wrong now, but that’s my fault, I probably should have gone to a local cafe.

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Back again also to Canterbury West railway station, where we set off from the day before.

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And the sizeable waiting room, with an absence of power points. I had another little debacle at this railway station, as I had stupidly used my Chase card to buy my rail ticket. The collection machine was having none of it, but this is a known fault with Chase cards on the network, as confirmed both by them and also by Great Western Railways. Chase had said the workaround was for the ticket desk to print the ticket (which isn’t really a solution to their dodgy arrangements in this area), but the man on the desk said he couldn’t do that. I wasn’t going to argue, although I’ve noted that other ticket desks have managed to, but he was helpful enough to wave me through the barriers so I could get to the platform.

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My plan was to go and speak immediately to the train guard to tell him of my little predicament, which was a good strategy. The guard said he couldn’t print the ticket either as his machine didn’t have that functionality (there’s a lot of little issues in terms of consistency within the rail network), but that it didn’t matter, he’d wave me through the barriers at London Victoria.

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Another routine complaint of mine, there isn’t space in a rail carriage for five seats across, and I am unanimous in that…. Anyway, we got about 100 metres down the track before the Southern ticket inspectors came to interrogate passengers, but fortunately, the train guard noted this and told the inspectors I had a ticket but the machine was broken at the railway station. The inspectors looked confused, as the machine wasn’t broken, just it wouldn’t print my ticket, but they didn’t pursue the matter. They came back through the train twice, with one of them forgetting they had spoken to me already, but the other was more alert.

That meant at London Victoria station I had to get through the barrier as I still didn’t have a ticket printed out. The customer in front of me told the gate guard that “the guard had forgotten to print my ticket” which was not an excuse that was accepted. For about two minutes there was an argument about this, with the gate guard saying that he didn’t believe the guard on-board had forgotten, and even if he had, the customer should have reminded him. Voices were raised and it was bloody clear that the customer didn’t have a ticket, but he was let through anyway. This is a fault with the rail network, what’s the point of this expensive set-up if people are just let through anyway? I was slightly worried that the gate guard would instead have an argument with me, but I showed him my booking reference for the ticket that I couldn’t print and I was let through without dispute. I think it’s fair to say, it’s not hard to get through those barriers without a ticket.

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It was time then to get on the Victoria Line for a couple of stops, to then board the Piccadilly Line to get to Heathrow, a moment of excitement as that meant a few days overseas, the last I’d get for several weeks. No delays here, all was going well.

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Back at Heathrow T5, which wasn’t particularly busy despite all the fears of overwhelmed airports. The flights that have been trimmed seemed to have helped operations though, with the wait at security being relatively minimal.

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The BA lounge has gone from self-service to order via app, back now to order at a counter. Here’s the menu for the lounge, a choice of meatballs, pie, vegetable curry or vegan balls.

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I opted for two steak pies with a can of Brewdog Jet Stream, living the dream…. These pies aren’t world class, but they’re moreish (as are many things with me) and sufficiently tasty for my needs, especially when I get chance to ask for extra gravy.

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These raw juices were rather delicious, although I suspect I overdosed on fruit with them. There was no fruit health warning in the area which I felt that there could have been.

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There’s the green sludge of the raw juice in the background. And another highlight, crisps have finally returned to the lounge, so what a time to be alive!

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And even more excitingly (I don’t get out much), the ice cream has returned to the freezers.

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The flight was departing from Gate A1 but I wasn’t entirely sure this was well managed, as there weren’t enough seats and there was a paucity of announcements. Standing there for thirty minutes was fine in terms of time, although the terminal in this area was quite hot.

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None of these dispensers were functioning at the airport, another one of Heathrow’s little short cuts I imagine.

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Ready to board the BA0858 flight to Prague on aircraft G-EUYT, which I’ve travelled on before when going from Heathrow T5 to Warsaw.

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The interior of the aircraft and I had an exit row seat by the window. The flight was very busy and at near capacity, so there was the usual faffing around trying to fit ridiculous numbers of arguably oversized bags into the overhead lockers.

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We took off over 30 minutes late, which is always slightly frustrating on a night flight, especially when I had plans to catch the last bus of the day in Prague. Fortunately, we landed on time as the pilots were able to make up the time during the flight. There was nothing much notable about the flight, which is always a positive as far as I’m concerned.

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The standard in-flight snack of crisps and a small bottle of water.

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At Prague airport and there was more queueing as UK travellers now need a stamp in their passport. Fortunately my fast walking had meant the queue wasn’t too long when I arrived, I think I was through border control in under ten minutes.

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Rather random, but I liked the little aircraft shaped holes they had made in the benches. I had visited Prague a few months ago and remembered where the ticket machines were to buy bus tickets, something which saved a few minutes of uncertainty.

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I caught the last 191 bus of the day, with just a couple of minutes to spare. It wouldn’t have mattered as a night service then kicked in, but this saved me over thirty minutes, so I pleased to be able to catch it.

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The bus journey takes around 40 minutes and I was fortunate with my hotel choice, as there was a bus stop just a one minute walk away. It goes direct from the airport to the city centre, or at least the west bank of the river so that people can take another bus or tram to get elsewhere in Prague.

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Off the bus and ready for my big one minute walk to the hotel. It’s rare that they’re such short treks at this time of night and I had already alerted the hotel that I’d be late. I’m not sure they care to be honest as they have 24 hour reception desks, but I like to let the hotel know of my plans in case they flog off my room to someone else and they replied promptly and politely telling me all was fine with arriving late.

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And here it is, the Ibis Praha Mala Strana, a well reviewed Accor hotel on the west side of the river which isn’t an area that I’ve much explored before in my previous visits to the city. The entrance, for reasons unknown, is tucked away on the far side of the building, but the signage was sufficiently clear for me not to get muddled up.

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Typically, someone had just checked in despite it being after midnight, so I had a little bit of a wait, but that gave me enough time to take photos of their shop area. The staff here were always friendly and welcoming, this transpired to be one of my favourite Accor hotels.

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My welcome gift was doughnuts and I was very pleased indeed with that. I just knew that this was my sort of hotel.

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And the room, the standard Ibis layout, all clean and comfortable. I’m still quite content with this sort of room layout, it’s functional, it has a desk, working wi-fi and space for storage. Given that I had such a late arrival into Prague, I was surprised that I was able to make such timely progress to be in the hotel just after midnight. That gave me enough sleep before breakfast, but more on that in the next riveting instalment of this blog as it transpired to be relatively memorable (or as memorable as a hotel breakfast can realistically be).