6/24/14

Czech trip - Day 1

OFF TO CZECH!
It was a tedious process but we managed to get everything we needed into 1 large suitcase ….my Oakley Women suitcase has two zipper compartments – one for me and one for Karel) AND our bike case (with has two bikes inside but only one set of wheels. It was very important that we met Delta airline weight requirements so we wouldn’t have any delays.
With this being our first trip flying international, we were extra careful to follow all guidelines from the Delta website (I also printed out everything in case I needed to show documentation that we met all restrictions at the airport. We both had a carry-on bag and a personal item (backpack) with our race day gear and sport nutrition.
Because Karel had to be extra creative with meeting the weight requirements (70 lbs without an excess weight fee) of our bike case, we only brought one set of wheels (Karel’s front wheel and disc wheel) and I will get a loaner set of race wheels from one of Karel’s friends in Czech. Karel also put his bike seat (w/ cages attached) and bike box (with his spare tire) in our large suitcase so that saved some extra weight in the bike case. Lastly, Karel had a cassette and some extra tools in our large suitcase which helped with the weight of our bike case (which Karel managed to find a way to put both our Speed Concepts inside).
Tri Bike Transport (TBT) is a great investment if you are ever traveling to a race! We used them for IM Lake Placid last year and then I used them for the IM World Championship last year – just drop off your bike at the nearest TBT pick-up bike shop (with pedals removed) and then pick up your bike at your race venue. When the race is over, turn back in your bike (pedals removed) and you are good to go. Super easy and totally worth the price!

However, the TBT fee for an international race is around $800 per bike and since I travel with my bike mechanic, the $150 one way Delta fee was totally worth it (although there is always the concern of the bike not making it to the overseas final destination).

On Sunday, after an early morning run (45 min for me, 7 miles for Karel) in Greenville, we double checked everything, said good bye to our cats and fish (a friend of ours is staying at our place while we are away and Campy is at his “camp” in Charlotte with a friend) and we were out the door at 9am for our 2.5 drive to Atlanta International airport.
When purchasing our flight to Czech/Austria, I considered the pro and cons and every single option available so that we could pay for the most affordable and practical trip. This was not easy considering that we were flying in peak season for traveling to Europe (and we purchased our tickets about 3 months out for the flight) so I went with a flight from ATL (instead of Greenville) which only had 1 layover in JFK, in route to Prague. A little less than 11 hours total of flying time (2.5 hours to JFK, 8 hours to Prague).
It was only 13 months ago when we made our first trip to Europe together, which also happened to be Karel’s first time home in over 12 years. This time around, we decided to make the trip even more exciting by combing our travels with an Ironman race. Of course, with every destination race comes unknowns when traveling so I tried to be as prepared as possible and to give ourselves lots of extra time for the what if’s and oh-no’s.
When we arrived to the international wing of the ATL airport, we parked in the hourly parking ($2 per hour) so that we could just walk our rolling bike case and suitcase to the international check-in for Delta. We arrived at 11:45am for our 3:10pm flight so we had plenty of time for any delays. Since I checked in online the night before for me and Karel (passport information) and notified Delta about our bike, we were able to bypass the short line  at check-in (although it was only a few people), pay for our bike case, receive our tickets, get the bike inspected in oversized baggage and return back to our car by 12:05pm. We get our first bag free on Delta (each of us) but a special item (ex. bike) counts as a bag so we only checked one piece of luggage for free and then used our other free luggage as the bike case without incurring extra costs. The bike fee is $150 since it is a special item.  If we each had a checked bag plus the bike we would have to pay an additional fee for another piece of luggage. Always review your airline policies before traveling to a race because the fees can add up quickly if you are not prepared.
We reserved off-site parking at Double Tree hotel (just a few miles away) for only $4/day which includes 24-hour security in a gated parking lot. This was the first time we have done off-site parking instead of economy parking with a shuttle and it worked out great to check in ahead of time so that we didn’t have to worry about feeling rushed with a hotel shuttle.
The shuttle ran at quarter past and quarter til each hour so we parked at 12:30pm and we were on the next shuttle (with our carry-ons) at 12:45pm.
It was a 15 min ride to the international wing because we were dropped off at Domestic and then had to take a bus to the international wing. We arrived around 1:15pm or so and got in line at Security. Because this was an international security section only, this entire process ran very smoothly (I also think not feeling rushed also helped with this stress-free process). By 1:40pm we were all set for our first of two flights.
I packed plenty of snacks for our travel day/night, including PB&J sandwiches, fruit (banana, nectarine, peach, grapes, apple), KIND bars, Clif bar KIT’s Organic, trail mix and chex mix w/ pretzels and trail mix. Oh and dark chocolate too for Karel and I always love to finish a meal with dark chocolate. We both also had an empty water bottle to take through security and we kept filled throughout our travels at the purified water fountains. Karel got a wrap at Mexican place for lunch in ATL and I had my packed sandwich w/ fruit and nuts. On the way to the airport I had Greek yogurt w/ fruit and cheerios for I knew that would be the only opportunity to enjoy my daily dose of yogurt (unless I bought it at the airport).
We had a smooth flight to JFK, even though our first flight had a 25 minute delay before we boarded. Thankfully, I picked a flight that had just under 2 hours of a layover in JFK in the case that we had any delays or needed to take the shuttle to the international wing in JFK. I also wanted to make sure TSA had enough time to transfer our bike case to the next plane and a short layover is very risky for moving an oversized, expensive piece of luggage.

When we arrived to JFK, the wing we were in was incredibly crowded but of course, everyone was gathering around every TV possible to watch the soccer game so that was exciting to hear the cheers. 
Luckily, we did not have to leave the wing we were in for the Prague gate was just two doors down from where we arrived. SCORE! 

The food options were a little limited in this part of the airport and since we only had about 40 minutes until we had to board the Prague flight, Karel and I decided on pizza and it was a good call – what a delicious piece of pizza! I got spinach, mushroom and olive (I gave the olives to Karel for I’m not a fan of the taste) and Karel got sausage and spinach. We didn’t need a big dinner since we were getting dinner on the airplane but it had been over 4 hours since we had a meal and we were tired of snacks.

The flight to Prague was on Delta but was operated by Czech Airlines so it was fun  to see Karel’s expression when he heard so many people talking Czech on the plane. Karel’s is very use to talking English since learning how to speak English in 2000 when he came to the US with only a back pack and the pursuit of living the American Dream. Karel’s brain worked extra hard last year when we traveled to Czech so I hope he is up to the challenge again for translating for me for 2.5 weeks.

For both of our flights, I booked aisle seats for each of us, next to each other so that we could get up as often as we wanted (to stretch and use the bathroom) and a little more leg room if needed. I am super envious of the first class seating w/ seats that can recline to beds!
Thankfully this was our last flight (8 hour flight to Prague), scheduled to leave at 7:35pm and to arrive in Prague around 10:15am. However, due to congestion on the runway we didn’t lift off until 8:40pm.
After a smooth take-off, Karel and I each watched a movie (I watched Labor Day and Karel watched Captain Philips) and ate our complimentary dinner (dairy vegetarian requested for me when I booked our flights – steamed veggies with orzo, fruit, a roll, butter and cheese) and Karel got the chicken and rice standard option (although he said it was too salty and he wished he would have had the pasta option without chicken which he had last year. I guess they serve similar food each year).
I started to get sleepy around 11pm, and with complimentary eye masks and ear plugs, I was able to get a little sleep (on and off) til around 4am. The time difference is 6 hours ahead in Czech. Karel also slept, although a bit longer than me. 

We watched a little TV while enjoying our complimentary morning snack around 8:30am which was 2:30am EST (granola bar and banana for me – it was the vegetarian option and egg and cheese on an English muffin and banana for Karel. Both with Orange Juice. I would have liked the egg and cheese sandwich but I guess the vegetarian meal didn’t include that. Oh well, we were almost to Czech and I was super excited to land!

We ended up arriving just a bit past 10:30am which wasn’t so bad considering our hour delay on the runway. Karel was really excited to see his family for it had been 13 months since he was last in Czech and this will be the 2nd time he has returned home in the past 14 years.
The best thing about this pricey, once in a lifetime  trip (in terms of saving us money) is all the connections that Karel has. If you are ever traveling international, consider any options that you have to save money for all the little things (that are really important) add up – food, rental car, lodging, plane tickets, race fee, bike shipping, luggage, etc).
Karel had a relative pick us up at the airport in Prague (which was a 2 hour drive for him) and not only was that a nice gesture but he also let us borrow his car for our time in Klagenfurt (4 hours away). This saved us a lot of money for renting a car (or van) big enough for us two + luggage + bike case would have been pricey. We could have flown into Vienna (about 1:20 away from Karel’s home town in Znojmo) but it was several hundred dollars more per ticket so again, I weighed all our options.
We made a quick stop at the market at a shopping center for some lunch and I was SO excited for the large fresh bread selection that I feel in love with last year when we were in Czech.
Just like last year, I was OUT (asleep) in the back seat of the car for a good 2 hours until we arrived at Karel’s relatives home, for a relaxing cup of coffee and of course, pastries. I am not a napper but that flight really gets to me.
Karel enjoyed his stick-shift 40K drive to his hometown from his relatives house and after getting his mom some beautiful flowers at the grocery, we finally arrived in Karel’s home town of Znojmo, Czech Republic (The Moravia area is just beautiful!).
Karel’s mom was so excited to see us and after lots of hugs and kisses, it was time to eat!

In Karel’s home, his mom never watches the clock for meal/snack time. There is always food and we NEVER go hungry. She uses local and fresh ingredients all the time. We ate our meal around 4pm which include all fresh ingredients from her garden (and the neighbors garden). I had vegetable, potato and egg soup and Karel had the same but with chicken. Karel’s mom knows I am a 22 year lacto-ovo vegetarian but many of the meals she prepares have the option to include meat or not so it is nice that she doesn’t have to go out of her way for me. I just love seeing her cook food for us, she prepares everything with love.


After our soup we had an egg, potato and onion casserole (with included ham for Karel) and then apricots for dessert (from a neighbor’s tree).


And if that wasn’t enough, by 5:30pm we were enjoying coffee with red current cake that Karel’s mom prepared for us with her own fresh red currents from her garden. Karel said that this was one of his favorite treats when he was growing up and he really enjoyed it in the summer when red currents were in season. Because so many people grow their own produce, a lot of the meals are seasonal. Fresh bread is purchased daily from the local grocery (Karel’s mom just walks there, a few blocks away).

Around 6pm, we drove a mile or so down the road to Karel’s dad’s house with our bike case still strapped to the roof of the car (Karel said that’s how “we” do it here in Czech) so that Karel could assemble our bikes in his dad’s basement “garage” (aka bike shop). Karel’s dad use to race bikes up into his late 60’s but his body is starting to wear down on him but he still loves bikes as much as Karel. His dad really enjoyed seeing Karel in action in his basement. It was really special to see those two together.
We are incredibly lucky to have family and friends here in Czech for it is so nice to have a home away from home.
Although traveling to another country (especially for a race) can be overwhelming, stressful, time consuming, expensive and exhausting, I am incredibly lucky that I can make these memories with Karel and enjoy these amazing experiences in life.
I love learning about new countries especially when I can embrace their culture, their lifestyle and their diet.

I absolutely love Czech and I am super excited to see what the rest of this trip has in store for us! One more full day in Czech before we head to Klagenfurt Austria for the Ironman!  Thanks everyone for following us along in our journey! 


Good by Greenville....