Posts Tagged ‘tour guide’

When a tour guide’s day goes bad

August 1st, 2009 Comments off

I enjoy driving friends down the Las Vegas Strip as their personal tour guide.  The Strip has such rich history, you know. Goes back years.

Ah, the Mirage, which brought Vegas into a new era of luxury hotels when it opened in 1989. Steve Wynn ordered models of the waterfalls to determine which was the best angle of the falls to generate the most white water. And if you smell pina colada, that means there’s a natural gas leak in the burners that feed the volcano.

Ah, the Luxor – which, when it opened in 1993, was the tallest hotel in Southern  Nevada. And it looks so small today compared to all the new high-rises! When designers built the model of the pyramid to determine how best to support it, the structure collapsed onto itself, so the architects decided to throw in huge support cables, anchored at the four corner bases. Must have done the trick. On opening day, we saw the talking camels and took a ride down the interior canal  that was pitched as a ride down the Nile. Man, that was cool.

Ah, the Flamingo, the place that mobster Bugsy Siegel opened way, way back in 1946. See that floral-themed entrance? In a reconstruction of the hotel, an architect – who also designed floats for Pasadena’s Rose Parade — thought it would be sharp to bring a sense of sweeping flowers to the Strip.

What great insights a good tour guide can offer, and what a command of history he must have. I can even talk to you about Las Vegas’ early history, going back nearly to the turn of the century.

Imagine, then, how smart our tour guide was in Prague, which was founded around the year 880 with the construction of a castle that, today, is the largest castle complex in the world. The castle’s centerpiece is the spectacular, Gothic-designed St. Vitus Cathedral, which dates to 1344.

So let’s see. Vegas is 100 years old, Prague is more than 1,200 years old. Man, I bet that city’s got some stories!

Our tour guide, Vlastmil, was soft spoken, reminding us of actor David Morse, with a sweet, quiet sense of humor. And he certainly looked young, considering he must have been in his 50s. He told us he’s been a Prague tour guide for 35 years.

I asked Vlastmil, who speaks Czech, English and French, what constitutes a bad day at the office?

“It’s when the tour operator says he has set you up with a bus of English speakers and, when you get on the bus, it turns out they speak Turkish, Chinese and Portuguese.”

Marvelous Prague

July 13th, 2009 Comments off

Prague may have been the single most important stop on our trip, because Czechoslovakia was home to one branch of her family. You could spend days visiting Prague and not tire of it, but given our ambitious itinerary to see as much of Europe as possible, we are not spending too much time at any one city. Imagine skipping a stone flint across a pond — skip skip skip skip before it slows down and sinks. We are skipping across Europe.

We decided, then, to take a walking/bus tour of Prague to see as much as we could. Our guide looked 40 but said he had been giving tours for 35 years, which puts him around my age, 57, I’d guess. I didn’t ask him because he was shy.

We were in a small tour van, about 15 of us. It had been billed as an English-speaking tour but there were French speakers on board, too, and our guide was trilingual — Czech, French and English.  We visited all the “towns” of Prague — New Town, Old Town, Lesser Town (on the way up to the castle) and the phenomenal Castle town, with the only functioning castle in Europe and perhaps the finest cathedral I have ever seen. I was more impressed by it than by Notre Dame, which we saw on our last trip to Europe to visit Daughter.  (Daughter is expanding our horizons, you see.)

While walking the castle grounds, I asked the guide what is the greatest frustration of his business. “It’s when I’m told I’ll have a van filled with English speakers but when I get in, I discover there’s not a single English speaker among them. They are Turkish, Chinese, Portuguese… and there is just nothing for me to do.”

I won’t go into a blow-by-blow description of our day, but rest assured we ate local food (for dinner, Jeanne had what she proclaimed as the best duck of her life, and Daughter and I had pork ribs; for lunch, the ladies had beef goulash and I had lamb). We ended the day at the ballet, “The Best of Swan Lake.” Because of ticket confusion — we wanted reserved seats and were sold general-admission seats — we were re-seated in the third row center. 

Back now at the campsite, I’ll see how many photos I can download into an album called “Prague” for you to click on if you want to see some of the sights. As time permits — maybe after we return home — I’ll add more. 

Prague is very photogenic.