Continuing from Paul's Prague Journal
Monday, August 25, 1997
Oh Lord, I have to fill in at this point. And for how long I really don't know. You see, just moments ago Paul left for the airport to catch his flight back to Seattle. And at this junction either Lisa or Beth SHOULD have been quilling stuff about what we are now doing. So what the hell happened?
OK, late last night when I came back to my hotel room I saw that my telephone message light was flashing ominously. Fully aware of the truism "no news is good news", I mentally prepared myself for something really awful. Sure enough, something awful was in the phone line. It seems that when Jeff, Beth and Lisa showed up at FLL yesterday for their flight to Prague ... well, guess what? Yes, their flight was already in the air. Apparently Jeff didn't check the departure time on his ticket. I now KNOW I should have entrusted the tickets to Lisa, and not to Jeff. Sorry, Jeff ... you are a great abs instructor but don't give up that day job to be a tour leader.
Anyway, the luckless trio should be here tomorrow morning ... I hope.
I guess that on the long flight home Paul will type in the details of this morning's flight ... if so, my words will be redundant. But, dear reader, one just can't rattle on too much about balloons, can one? So I'll get on with it.
Room service breakfast came banging on the door at a little after 5AM. And an hour later we were in our Previa headed not to Old Town Square, but to some bucolic spot about a half an hour away in some unknown direction from the Inter-Continental. For sure, the winds just weren't right enough for a downtown lift off. Had we soared from the square, the breeze would have taken us into the airspace jealously guarded by the Prague airport authorities. Also, our balloon would not have been very happy sharing the sky with a bunch of 747s and other lesser breeds of flying machines.
And, to make certain that things don't go amiss, the Czech air traffic control people require that we carry a Czech pilot on board as an observer. This year we again were pleased to have the services of Peter as our Czech "co-pilot". Peter came to us equipped somewhat. He had his own two-way radio. Unlike our radio, which is about the size of a fat cellular phone, Peter's radio had the dimensions of a car battery. And, while our radio sported a pencil shaped aerial, the one that Peter's device required looked suspiciously like something that did double duty as an oven liner. Furthermore, this liner/aerial had to be suspended from the balloon basket by a wire. It hung a few feet below everything else. And, every time we passed over trees it had to be hoisted out of harms way. Apparently, this contraption was still mentally in the kitchen when Peter tried to press it into use. He didn't say as much, but I figured this was the case as Peter had to borrow Mike's radio whenever he had to inform air traffic control where G-BWHW was going. For the curious G-BWHW comes across over the radio as GOLF BRAVO WHISKEY HOTEL WHISKEY.
[I have just been informed by Mike that the thingy that Peter carried aboard that looked so much like a car battery with an attached oven liner was, in fact, a transponder and not a radio. However, as I like the way the above paragraph reads I don't intend to change anything.]
Today's flight was at low altitude. Rarely, if ever, did we float more than a hundred feet over the ground. We drifted over a beautifully manicured park that appeared to be in the middle of nothing. I mean, it isn't adjacent to anything. Perhaps it is just a practice park for state gardeners. Anyway, after leaving the park we picked up some aerial hitchhikers: a dozen or so swifts. The birds circled the yellow dome of the balloon for some unknown reason. Perhaps they viewed it as a huge egg.
After the flight we made a dash back to the hotel so that Paul, Sandra and Ken could pick up their luggage and head out to the airport.
Hey, has Paul told you about Taverna Toscana? It bills itself as a Pizzeria Ristorante, but it is much more. It is on the Male Namesti at # 11 ... actually, if you are on the 1 o'clock side of the square (assuming your rear side is facing the river), turn right and walk about 200 to 300 feet. The entrance will be on your left. Anyway, it is a prince of food ... at least among we who worship Italian. [STEPHANI WEAVER ... TAKE NOTE OF THIS.] This place offers a Tuscany bean dish that when joined with a carpaccio (razor sharp slices of raw beef) doused with olive oil and smothered with shaved parmesan cheese and diced celery ... well ... God would kill for it.
After lunch we went to one of our favorite antique shops and bought all sorts of totally useless stuff: corkscrews. Since our luckless trio won't be here until late tomorrow morning we invited the owner (Milo) of the shop to go ballooning with us tomorrow morning. He is originally from Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia. He moved to Prague a number of years ago.
Tonight we dined at the Blue Duck. Yes, we had duck.
After dinner we came back to the hotel for a night cap. At the bar I asked a "working girl" if she wanted to go ballooning tomorrow. She said "yes". But, I wonder if she'll show up ... .I mean, her nocturnal hours are presumably long. She is a music student who earns her tuition with night work. Very commendable that she is not depending on student loans to get her by. A good work ethic!
Tuesday, August 26, 1997
The phone rang at 5:00AM with the news that the wind was too stiff for flying. I tried to phone Milos, the antique corkscrew dealer, to tell him that the flight was off ... but, he had already left for the hotel. So, I went downstairs to inform the dealer that rain checks would be available.
The trio finally made it. They arrived at the hotel at about 11AM. After a quick shower followed by a couple beers at the lobby bar we took to the streets. Our first stop was at Milo's shop. He said he was not able to accept a rain check for this afternoon's flight as his wife had severe misgivings about the ability of our lighter than air ship to actually stay up in the air. We commiserated. Milos poured most of us a round of some very strong liquor that he made at home. Then he poured us another round. After that we left.
After browsing through the square and after having forked down loads of Italian food we crossed the Charles Bridge and entered the world of Mission Impossible. As you may know, dear reader, it is here that a good portion of the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible film was shot. Much footage was also shot in the square through which we had just passed just before lunch. Remember the scene when Cruise dashes from the restaurant with the giant fish tank (where the tank gets hit by bullets with disastrous results for the resident fish). OK, all that water and all of those fishes were splashed onto this square. However, in real life their is no such restaurant.
After looking at the "set" we followed the river back to the hotel.
At 4:30PM we boarded the Previa for the hour drive to the former home of Franz Ferdinand. By the way, his assassination at Sarajevo in 1914 started the First Nasty War.
As Mike was inflating the balloon we noticed a suspicious slice of light cutting through the yellow dome. Sure enough, there was a 2 foot tear in the fabric. We have no idea how it got there. This, of course, meant that the flight had to be scrubbed. Shit! However, while I write this the balloon is in a repair shop having a patch installed. When it gets back to France the whole panel will be replaced.
On the drive back to Prague we drank Mumm's Champagne and listened to P. J. Harvey (turned way up high).
After dinner we waved at the "working girl". Hope she had better luck than us.
Wednesday, August 27, 1997
The weather gods were against us this morning. Five thirty this morning came and went without a wake up call from Buddy.
So, we didn't get cranking until about 9:30AM. And, when we did, we cranked off in a distinctly different direction from the night before. Jeff's newly discovered religious fervor dictated that we spend the morning visiting holy places. The man never ceases to amaze me. I think it was the snafu with the missed flight that brought him into the world of faith.
After obligatorily trailing him into houses of worship I did manage to sidetrack him into the House of Pilsner. This was while our women folk were spending our hard earned money on fun things for themselves.
After lunch we spent another hour drinking beer on a privately chartered ship ... as it cruised out and about and around the Charles Bridge ... and through the locks to get us there and back. It was great fun.
As our wits flagged we did our best to make our way back to the hotel in order to catch our Previa to our balloon lift off site. We made it.
The journey from the Inter-Conti to the place where we turned on the propane took tens of thousands of seconds ... the wind was fickle as fuck and it took three locations before the wind promised to push in a proper direction.
It was a very nice flight ... but, not one that I would really want to repeat. It was a little too tame. I hope this murmur doesn't invite the Wind God to make me say "I'm sorry".
Dinner at Flambe was nice ... I would like to repeat it, sometime.
After dinner Jean and I had a drink in the hotel lobby bar. I didn't get a chance to wave to the "working girl" as she had a client blocking my view.
Thursday, August 28, 1997
The 5:30 AM wake up call came ... but, only to tell us to go back to sleep as the winds were again all wrong. We did. But, at 9:30 AM we were vaguely on the move. Again, Jeff's new born religious fervor took us on a pilgrimage to the home of the Loretto carillon. His eyes were dewy as we passed by icons and relics. I thought that he was going to buy a hair shirt to make up for past sins. The confessionals that we passed were empty of priests ... otherwise I am sure that the guide's words would have been obliterated by "Mea Culpas" from Jeff's confessional.
Again, I had to usher him into yet another Brew Cathedral for a more secular cleansing. Otherwise we would have lost him to the men of the cloth. I am worried about him ... he is buying tacky crucifixes from every shady vender on the streets ... but, all the while he is checking out all the sweet Czech chick bottoms. I guess the devil still has a little pull on this guy.
In about 20 minutes we are off for another bout of ballooning. I hope the Wind God did not pay too much attention to my mouthy meandering of yesterday.
Five hours later.
Well, now I am sort of pissed off. We spent almost two hours driving out to a take off site ... damn far from down town Prague ... only NOT to fly. We were scheduled to fly with two other balloons that are owned by the same company that is the agent for my balloon. My personal feeling is that WE did not fly this afternoon because the company decided it was not wise to take off with the other two balloons only because those two company balloons were carrying passengers who might not be pleased by even a mildly rude landing. In other words, we were going to fly at standards that were set by the lowest common denominator. In this case the lowest common denominator was the most conservative safe decision for passengers who should not be allowed to even ride in an elevator. Fuck!
We had a fabulous dinner tonight in the rooftop restaurant at the Prague Inter-Continental Hotel. Even if the meal had not been great this place has a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.
That's all for today.
Friday, August 29, 1997
It is rainy and cold. A front came through the Czech Republic last night dooming any chances of a morning flight. It is a perfect day for a good read. A lay about day. Maybe a long lunch day.
As it turned out this is about all we did ... beer ... lunch ... wine ... beer ... dinner ... beer ... sleep.
Next: Alf's Post-Prague Journal covers Austria and France!