PRAGUE - BUDAPEST - April-May 2022
Updated: 10 hours ago
Planning for this trip was initiated in mid-December 2021 with a goal of getting to Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan before the desert heat made its debut in late Spring. The possibility of Mr Putin's war against Ukraine was not yet on the horizon. The mileage requirements for an award trip were quite high. Transportation was booked on air France from Atlanta to Paris and Moscow with continuing service to Tashkent on Aeroflot. The proposed return route was a joyride through Moscow and Los Angeles again on Aeroflot, with the final leg on Delta back to Atlanta.
Everything changed on 23 February. Delta rightly so dissipated these plans after the invasion. Getting the account replenished and the taxes refunded was a major undertaking. The hail Mary was this trip to Prague and Budapest to capture more of the post-Soviet metro systems that the Russians so eloquently built in these capitals. The revised itinerary included transportation on Delta through Frankfurt with continuing service on Lufthansa to Prague and then back from Budapest. Since no one was interested in going to Europe with the war in Ukraine, the cost of the award trip was substantially less, with a small out of pocket expense on Lufthansa and a higher class of service on Delta. The experience of Delta's Premium Select service failed to meet the expectations with a vow to never spend money on it.
My former swim team buddy Bill Lotz provided transportation to Hartsfield-Jackson against earlier protests. This turned out to be a life saver after sciatica had set in the week before the trip. Getting through security with the meds presented the same challenges experienced in February with a long wait for the physical screening.
The next trip in June had a tight connection with 1½ hours to change terminals in Frankfurt. The test to see if the connection could be made was inconclusive and later turned out to be a wasted effort when Lufthansa rescheduled the departure time of the connecting flight for the upcoming trip. Trump's unqualified Florida District judge overturned the CDC mask mandate and Delta crumpled under following her decision. Lufthansa, on the other hand, continued the mask requirement on its flights.
Getting ATM cash turned out to be a new experience in the two former communist countries. Euronet ATMs sucker the unsuspecting into accepting a rather unfavorable exchange rate. The $87 I thought was being extracted from my bank account turned out to be $103. I didn't know I had the option to decline the markup without cancelling the transaction.
The next big surprise was finding the Prague city bus from the airport to town and buying a ticket. The bus stop was located outside a distant terminal from where I arrived and required a pre-purchased ticket or contactless credit card payment on the bus. Back into the terminal to get the pre-paid ticket.
The night photography excursion that I attempted to arrange went sideways when the guide insisted on going out the night of arrival. This wasn't going to happen after fatigue from 14 hours of travel. Get Your Guide travel advisors advertised a let's drive by and see from a distance tour as a night photography package. My blood is still boiling from the wasted time and money. There were only a few good shots which included Franz Kafka's head from a light show that had already had its final display for the evening and Olbram Zoubek's monument to Czech victims of communist repression on Petrin Hill. A couple of day shots from the Strahov Monastery library were also captured. Nothing else outside the metro (subway) in Prague was captured.
Prague boasts a host of impressive metro stations heavily influenceded by Soviet architecture. The newer stations constructed after the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc bear no resemblance to the earlier Russian influenced designs.
Lines A &B employ refurbished Russian Metrowagenmash M71-81M rollingstock, the fleet on Line C consists of more modern Siemens M-1 carriages.
Budapest had the first metro on the European continent that dates back to 1896. Line M-1 rollingstock and 11 stations were refurbished to the original glory in 1970. Two other unique rollingstock carriages are used in the city's metro system. Line 2 introduced Alstom Mertropolis AM4 and AM4e rollingstock in 2014. Alstom Metropolis AM4-M4 and AM5-M2 are also used on Line M-4. Reburbished Metrowagenmash 81-714 2K and 81-716 2K units transport passengers on Line M-3.
LIne M-2 was inaugurated in 1970 and its stations were refurbished between 2004 and 2006. The current decor does bear resemblance to Soviet architectural styles, but the stations have a uniform appearance lacking diversity. Some intersesting light fixtures wee seen in the Astoria and Deák Ferenc Tér stations. Line M-3 was in disarray with 7 of its 20 stations closed for renovations. Updated architecture devoid of Soviet influence was recently completed on the northern six stations of Line M-3. Line 4 was inaugurated in 2014 with ten stations displaying futuristic designs.
Both metro systems function on the honor system where passengers are expected to validate their tickets or possess active passes. Ticket checkers were only observed on two occasions in Prague, but were an annoying manifestation in Budapest. Tourist in Budapest are often heavily fined for not understanding that single ride tickets must be validated.
Eastern European countries displayed a cavalier attitude toward the Covid pandemic while generally not wearing masks on public transportation and in public spaces. This was observed in both Prague and Budapest and this attitude is expected, as well, in Sofia and Bucharest next trip. There is a general feeling of animosity in both Hungary and the Chech Republic toward the Russians for years of repression and the recent invasion of Ukraine.
The night photography tour in Budapest was a complete success. Miklós Mayer, a local photographer and author was engaged to bring locations that no outsider would ever find. The photos from this engagement are varied and all beautiful. More information about Miklós can be found on his website https://hungaryphototours.com/ I highly recommend his services should you be planning a trip to Prague and want a similar experience.
The trip home was something of an adventure with a 3:30 am bus ride to the airport for a 6:15 flight. Of note was a large number of Hasidic Jews in long dark clothing with hair curls above each ear and the characteristic black hats. This reminds me of a five year old cousin who when he first saw these individuals couldn't understand why there were so many Santa Clauses wearing black instead of red.
Relaxation of the mask ban brought out the coughers on the flight home from Frankfurt. I was afraid of getting whiplash from turning toward them and giving the LOOK that could kill.
The sciatica dissipated during the trip and my swimming buddy, Bill Lotz retrieved me at the airport for the final leg of the adventure.