20 December 2019

Tidings of great joy - well, almost

I was waiting to send you an uplifting ending to my holiday in Prague, but, sadly, the uplifting has turned into anticipated despair.

I hinted in my last post that the return flight from Prague was a problem. Too darn right. It didn't exist. When I had originally booked the flights for my daughter and me in September, I had booked online through Opodo. I had chosen return flights from Gatwick to Prague, flying out on EasyJet and coming back with Smartwings. I received an email from Opodo on the same day confirming my flights were booked and instructions on how to check-in nearer the time. I continued to receive more emails from them about taxi transfers from Prague and Gatwick airports , as well as prompts to book hotels (although I had booked my hotel through booking.com so didn't need them).

A month before departure from Gatwick to Prague, I checked-in online with Easyjet and printed boarding passes, but could not check-in for the return flight with Smartwings, as that is only possible a week before departure. So a week before departure from Prague, I checked-in to the Smartwings flight, only to discover the flight did not exist. After some digging around on the Smartwings website, I discovered Smartwings don't appear to operate any flights at all to or from Prague during the winter period of end October to end March. I had been sold a non-existent flight. Not only that but Opodo had failed to see their error and not told me. Yet, they'd been quick enough to cash my money for both flights.

In panic, I rang Opodo and told them. The telephone operator was far from sympathetic and said she would get me on an alternative Smartwings flight. Good luck with that, I thought! After a few minutes, she came back on the phone and said there was no alternative (surprise, surprise),  so she would refund me the £119 return leg of the flight. The refund would take 30-90 days to reach me and I would have to supply my High Street bank account details as she could not refund the money to the Paypal or associated Barclay credit card account I paid with. I was more than suspicious so asked to speak to her manager to which I was told there wasn't one. She kept repeating she had initiated the refund and I would just have to be patient. In reality the refund came through within two days and NOT to my bank count but the Barclaycard credit account so I am more than perplexed as to why she needed my bank details. So far so good.

Of course, that did not solve my problem of how we would get back from Prague. With only a week to go before I needed it, I set about looking up flights from Prague to Gatwick, but to my horror the prices had escalated since September and the £119 non-existent return flight was now going to cost me nearly £500 if I flew in to Gatwick or £322 if I flew to Luton at 10pm, which might as well be on the other side of the moon from where I live and certainly at that time of night, when public transport is less frequent. With little choice, I paid the £322 to Luton and organised train tickets for the last train to get me home from Luton.  All in all, because of Opodo's error in mis-selling me a non-existent flight and secondly failing to alert me to this until I was about to check-in, I paid over £230 extra to get us home.  Not to mention the nail-biting  about whether we would miss that last train home from Luton, if the flight was delayed. I have applied to Opodo for compensation as the error is theirs not mine, but, several weeks later, I am still whistling for a reply, although I shall pursue it - probably into my old age. My advice is not to use Opodo ever again. I certainly shan't.

Not glad tidings at all, bah humbug to Opodo. Nevertheless, the season of goodwill is upon us and I want to wish everyone else, who doesn't work for Opodo, a lovely Christmas and a happy, healthy start to the New year. I leave you with my Christmas Tree and Rudolph gracing our stairs.....

05 December 2019


Kay and I have come back from a wonderful extended weekend break  last week in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. It excelled all my expectations, although I almost didn't get home again (that is another story for another post to appear soon).

I knew a little about Prague......that it had been under Nazi occupation during the Second World War; that it had been under the Communist thumb for over 40 years after the war; and that it had been enjoying its freedom for the last 30 years. We arrived very late last Thursday evening to very cold temperatures and checked into our wonderful hotel near the famous Charles Bridge. I woke up the next morning on my birthday to explore the delights the city had to offer. We started with an excellent 4-hour walking tour learning all about the history and seeing the main sights. 

We retraced some of our steps in the afternoon, seeing the Jewish quarter first. The poor old Jews seem to be persecuted wherever they go and Prague was no exception. Over the centuries they were confined to one small area of Prague and not allowed to be buried anywhere else except in one tiny cemetery. Over the centuries, the plots were used up, so they put another layer of coffins over that, and another, until to date there are approximately 16 layers housing 200,000 graves. The gravestones are in disrepair and falling over one another like jagged teeth. It was amazing yet sad to see. 
A few of the 200,000 gravestones in one tiny plot of the Jewish cemetery

 We also vised the oldest synagogue in Europe -the Old-New Synagogue
The Old-New Synagogue - the oldest in Europe

The Charles Bridge near our hotel was an experience in itself. Pedestrianised, it links the main old town on one side with the castle and cathedral of St Vitus on the other.
Charles Bridge

Jazz group on Charles bridge

Statues of saints line the bridge and it is also littered with jewellery stalls, artists and musicians. A walk over the bridge to the other side of the river brought us to the castle where we saw the changing of the guard and the stunning St Vitus Cathedral with its brightly coloured stained glass windows.

Over on that far bank is also the Lennon Wall (not to be confused with Lenin) presumably as part of the Czech's hope for peace and love, after the austerity of communism, as well as to recoup their lost generation of 1960s music banned by communism.

The old town was a delight. The architecture was amazing - not a single building looked run-down, but all were brightly painted and decorated.  There were far too many to photograph but here are but a few...

The mechanical clock in Old Town Square was a delight to watch on the hour, having been putting on shows since 1490.

The best bit for me was the Church of Our Lady before Tyn  in the centre of town which was used as a model for the Wicked Witch's castle in The Sleeping Beauty. It was floodlit at night, which made it look very magical, and to my eyes was really beautiful, although, as it is Gothic, it is not to everyone's taste. 

On our second day, the Christmas market was officially opened which drew in large crowds ad the tempting smells of sausages, waffles, mulled wine and much more.

We visited the Communist Museum on our last day and it was two hours well spent experiencing what it was like to live daily under Communism, the heroes who defied it and the fate and torture they met, if they rebelled.

All in all, it was a wonderful break in a beautiful city and got me in the mood for Christmas, but our return flight was to be something else. More of that later......