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Saturday, October 8

The Czech Republic is situated between and to the south of Germany and Poland. Prague has 1.2 million people and is considered one of the best European travel destinations. I arrived in Prague the following morning on schedule. I soon found Michael Holmes in the baggage area. His flight from Louisville, KY to New York JFK to Prague arrived the same time as mine. We soon met Igor Keder and one of the Czech lady players (Alena). Igor was the local organizer who would put much work into promoting this tournament. Alena saw us to our Kanárek Hotel, which was about a 45-minute ride to the other side of Prague in the suburb of Hostivař.

The hotel was a small, quaint, bright-yellow-colored structure with two common rooms that contained the front desk and dining area. We soon met the young German contingent of Ingo Zachos, Dennis Pawlek, and Dennis’s Thai girlfriend, Phunnaporn. I had corresponded with both Dennis and Ingo, but had never met them. Michael played Dennis a few quick practice games. We also discussed the list of players that are currently expected to compete in the tournament. The favorites to contend for the top are the Americans and Rawle Allicock of England. Dave Harwood and Dennis Pawlek are also expected to provide good competition. Also, I was aware that Mustafa Durdyev of Turkmenistan was very formidable, but our paths have never crossed. I believe he has only competed in one event, the Irish Open. Dave Harwood told be before the tournament to keep an eye on the Durdyevs!

Next it was time to head into town. Thanks goodness Dennis, Phunnaporn, and Ingo were there to show us around town. I’m not sure what we would have done without these three as guides. We had no idea how transportation was going to work this week, and most everything around town has long Czech names. We walked down the hill from our hotel a couple of blocks to an end loop of a tram line known as Nádraží Hostivař (which Ingo says refers to the “loop in Hostivař”). There we boarded a double streetcar, or tram, which ran on rails and by a cable at the top. The Prague transit system is very good, once you understand the setup. There are 26 tram lines that have routes across Prague. Plus there are 3 underground subway “metro” routes. Using the trams and metros (buses too), you can pretty much travel anywhere within Prague. We soon learned that the tram driver does not sell tickets, nor do people ever speak to him. We went to the nearest Metro station to purchase a 7-day ticket for $11. There is never any cost to board a tram, Metro or bus, once you have your ticket for unlimited rides. Now, if an undercover operator (who walks up to you showing a badge) catches you without a ticket, you can be fined $40. The one quandary for a visitor is that you need to take a tram ticketless to get to the Metro station to get your first ticket, and hope you don’t get caught trying to get there. Fortunately, that situation never came up.

We exchanged money and bought and time-stamped our metro tickets. We proceeded by the Metro Subway to the “Museum” stop and emerged for the first time in the center of Prague’s New Town area (locally known as Nové Mĕsto). What an opening view! The grand National Museum was right behind us with it’s large central dome. The museum was built in the late 19th century. Extending down the hill from the Museum is Wenceslas Square (Václavské Náměstí). This is a very wide road with median surrounded by shops and restaurants on both sides. We made stops at a small grocery store and also an internet place. We checked the checker BBS forum and posted that we had arrived in Prague. This forum would be a hotbed internet site for predictions, discussions, and results for the upcoming tournament within the checker community.

The Czech language appears very difficult and is consonant-rich. (Also, it seems to take three syllables to say a word that takes only one syllable in English.) Much of the signage around town is in Czech, but some things are in English too. Also, some Czech words resemble the English equivalents. Not everyone speaks English (and some have excellent English), but we encountered enough English-speaking people to get by.

From Wenceslas Square, Dennis led us through many narrow streets. One of the best features of Prague is the old, long buildings that line every street. I never seem to get tired of taking in all the old architecture. I found all the buildings to be in restored condition. The buildings are typically 3-5 stories high and white or yellow in color with red roofs. Many buildings are ornamented with many statues. There are also numerous landmarks of distinct architecture throughout the area. I found it easy to lose your orientation walking down the many narrow, curving streets. The high buildings on both sides prevent you from seeing familiar landmarks in the distance. Many of the smaller streets in the center of town are closed to car traffic. One special thing about Prague is that the city has survived for centuries without any invader attacks, so architecture has been well preserved for some 500 years.

I noted many other observations. This whole area was bustling with people, including many tourists. There are many kinds of shops and restaurants, many of which have outdoor seating. There are some familiar fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, Subway, and KFC. Beggars here assume a very humbling position by kneeling down and bowing to the ground, almost as if in prayer. Public restrooms typically charge for use. Locals often bombarded us with fliers advertising area concerts and shows. On this day, we saw dozens of people roaming the streets in orange clothing to support their soccer team.

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