Last week our two tiny expats and I carried out what I can only call a heroic did – we travelled to Prague and filed all the documents necessary for my UK visa application. Why do I think it was heroic? Consider this: two kids, one stroller, a bag of ‘stuff’ (food, change of clothes, water, etc etc), a bag with a ton of documents, two 1 hour train journeys, a couple of taxi rides, a case of navigating the city with Google maps in a heat wave, a lengthy (although, friendly) procedure of applying at a visa centre and one of me. I can only add that, when I stepped on the scales the next day, I released that I lost a kilo. In a day.
How did we manage to find ourselves in a such a situation? Well, first of all, once you book an appointment in a visa centre, you pay a considerable fee and you cannot change it anymore. If you cannot come, you just have to book another appointment and pay the fee once again. Plus, you can’t be certain when exactly that new appointment would be – in a week or two? Meaning further delay of our relocation. My husband is already in UK, working. Before he left, he sold our car, so I was planning to go to Prague by a train. I was going to leave the kids with the nanny, who texted me that she got bitten by a wasp, had a bad reaction, went to hospital, where she got an injection of some sort and now needed to sleep it off at home. It was time to test just how ready our tiny expats were to go on a hard core day trip to Prague.
I had a talk with our almost-six-years-old about the importance of the trip, how we needed to sort out all the papers, so we could finally join the daddy, and how much I needed her to act as an older sister, helping me out with the little one during this day. I suppose, she really took this talk seriously as she was on her bestest behaviour all day long! I have no idea what happened to the 2.5 year old, I guess, she must have felt the general vibe, but she was also an exemplary child on this trip. I felt like the luckiest mother alive (see, how I’m trying to find something positive to concentrate on? :).
Most of Europe was experiencing extreme temperatures during the last few weeks. With averages of +36C during the day, it was vital to get a train with air con. I once took a train from Prague without air con and with a broken window (which was nailed shut). I thought, I would pass out from overheating, but a friendly train attendant cheered me up with a 30 crown coupon I could use as a discount for the next ticket purchase. Yay!..
Some tips for those, who are planning to travel by train in CZ.
- Cesky Drahy is a state owned train operator. There’re lots of trains operating on all the possible routes, so you won’t have to wait long for the next train to come. You also do not have to book a seat on these trains, unless you want to. Just buy a ticket and use it on any train coming up next. Tickets are cheaper than those sold by other operators. BUT: these trains are pretty old, quite often without air con, without any extra services. Of course, it doesn’t matter, if you’re a student and travelling light. It would be a different story, if you’re a mother with two little kids and a stroller.
- Regio Jet is a privately owned company, where you’ve got to make seat reservations. We were advised to use this train, when travelling with kids, by our bank manager – a great guy, speaking good English and sharing valuable advice with expats. The seats are nice, you get a free bottle of water in economy class and it’s air conditioned. The problem for those, travelling with strollers – you still have to climb high and narrow steps to get into the train. Or rather – hoist a stroller, one kid, another kid upwards and then collect them all up there and try to navigate along the narrow passageways. Better fold the stroller beforehand, as you probably won’t be able to pass at certain places. Got a baby that can’t walk yet? Tough luck.
- Leo Express – another private train operator. We saw a Leo Express train, while we waited for our Regio Jet in Pardubice. It’s an open access train! So you can, basically, roll into it with your stroller without any steps on your way (great for those in wheel chairs!). We decided that we should buy a ticket for Leo Express in Prague. There were several problems with it: there were less of them, so we would’ve had to wait longer for the next train; the ticket office informed us that all the tickets for that day were sold out (book in advance, if you want to get on it!); I later noticed that one of the Leo trains was 110min (!) late, the next one was cancelled with a note for the passengers to use that other train that was being late. Was it a rare occasion or a usual thing? Not sure. But I was happy we didn’t buy Leo Express tickets that day.
- Pendolino – can’t say much about it, as I haven’t travelled by this train. It’s privately owned, the fastest trains operating in CZ (they’re actually international trains) and you also have to book them in advance.
If you’re travelling by train in CZ – download a train timetable application juzdniray.idnes.cz, very useful for planning your journey!
Economy or business:
On our way back from Prague, we bought tickets for business class seats in a compartment (designed for 4 people). I paid 189 crowns for our tickets in economy (1 adult, 1 child, 1 baby) and 237 crowns for the same amount of tickets in a business class compartment. Difference – less than 50 crowns. What extras do you get? Water + juice in business class, very nice comfortable seats and (oh so important for travelling with kids) plenty of space for storing your stroller! Basically, unless you’re travelling on a budget, or alone, or both – these extra 50 crowns are money well spent.
Taxi nearby the main train station (Hlavni Nadrazi) in Prague:
Do not. I repeat, DO NOT take a taxi that you will find by following a sign ‘taxi’ when you get to the main train station. Luckily, I knew the approximate distance to the place that we needed and had some idea about taxi tariffs, so, when a taxi driver showed me a price list of 600 crowns to ‘anywhere in inner city’, I thought he was either joking or crazy. Just to give you an idea: we walked that distance in less than ten minutes with the girls and later that day paid 120 crowns for a journey which was slightly longer in distance. Basically, be careful with taxi drivers at the main train station and in the main tourist areas in the old town. Check that the taxi has a phone number of a taxi company, talk about the rates – it has to have a meter, not a price list! The best option, of course, would be to ask someone to call a taxi for you, if you’re not local and have no idea about tariffs.
Most useful items to take on a journey with kids (in my experience):
- Umbrellas. Not just useful during rain – they were really great for shading kids during heat wave.
- Ipads. They’re God sent. They were especially helpful, when I had to concentrate in a visa centre – girls were occupied and didn’t demand my attention.
- Fruit purees in pouches – so easy to feed a small kid on the go.
- Water water water – don’t forget to hydrate in the heat!
In the end, we managed to make my visa application, visited our relatives, who just arrived to Prague that day for a short vacation (will write more about it later) and the girls really enjoyed the trip. We got back home at 6pm and they still didn’t want to go home and asked me to go for a walk! (I was dead tired, so we went home and crushed). Next day, first thing in the morning, I was asked by the little one to go on a train – I guess, our tiny expats are growing up with some serious case of wanderlust, just as their parents :)