Travel Tips Part 9: Prague, Czech Republic

Welcome to Praha! You are at once confronted by the monotonous Czech language, while at the same time being knocked over by the breathtaking views of the ancient city. You meet your lovely Couch Surfing host, Adela at the main train station and soon start chatting while taking the underground to her flat.

At this point, you must note that Couch Surfing is a brilliant idea; not only do you get to stay in a strangers flat for free (which is always exciting) but you also get to meet some fantastic people along the way. A short walk to Adela’s flat and you’re entering a time warp: her flat was her grandmother’s and it hasn’t changed much since communist Prague, save for the modern posters and general feeling of liberation about the place. Adela makes you a lovely brew of tea and brings out a block of chocolate – it’s already clear that you’re going to get along just fine. After sorting through possible things to do with yourself over the next few days, you realise that you’re late for dinner with a mutual Czech friend, Zuzi. You rush off, and in doing so manage to get lost on the way to the train station, which doesn’t make all that much sense seeing as it’s quite literally around the corner.

You meet Zuzi in a mild fluster, but you’re instantly comforted by her welcoming smile and understanding that you’re in a completely foreign country. She takes you to a traditional Czech pub and even orders for you an authentic Czech dish. This proves difficult when you delicately mention that you’re a vegetarian; the meal is ordered without meat, and the waitress gives you a hard, incredulous stare. Despite the lack of dead animal on the plate, the meal is absolutely delicious: dumplings with a creamy sauce, cranberry sauce and whipped cream. (i)

(i)                  Sounds weird, but it was great.

The next morning you wake up early (9am) and head off in search for yet another free walking tour of Prague. Despite the size of the city, the streets are narrow and confusing, and you find yourself in a labyrinth of cobbled streets. You miss the tour but it hardly matters, because you’re in Prague! Getting lost in Prague is almost always a blessing, as around every corner there is something more beautiful and unexpected than the last, for example, stumbling across a Hooters in the middle of the city – odd. However, across the road is a café where you order a breakfast of crunchy, organic muesli, Greek yogurt, orange juice and a gigantic mug of coffee. When you pay the bill and convert everything back to dollars, you realised you paid maybe $6 for the entire meal. Note: Eastern Europe rocks.

Feeling energised you take a walk along the river to find a museum holding an exhibition of one of your favourite photographers: David LaChappelle. You spend the next few hours in awe of his over-the-top shots of celebrities and daring religious icons, while getting a peek at some new material you had no idea about. (ii)

(ii)                I paid like $5 for the exhibition by the way = winning.

After the exhibition you have a nice cigarette while looking at the unbelievable view over the river; you make a note to move here some-day – as you’ve done in every city you’ve been in so far. You take a stroll to the Jewish cemetery, and noting that the line is too long, you stroll onwards towards the old town square. Here you find a true Christmas wonderland, with a tall Christmas tree in the centre gleaming with lights. You take a nosy peak into the local chapel and find a choir of boys singing Christmas carols; despite not being religious or overly excited about Christmas in any way, you find the songs beautiful, if not comical with their angelic voices and awkward stance. After the chapel you buy something cakey and crumbly and manage to get half of it down yourself – of course – then head on over to the free walking tour of Prague. As with every tour so far, the guides are very informative and overly enthusiastic, and you even manage to make friends with a happy Greek couple, where you proceed to make sly remarks about Greece’s current economic state. (ii)

(ii)                Which is exactly how I make friends.

After a long day you’re feeling a tad peckish, however, not wanting to eat in a restaurant alone like a total sad-arse, you by a copy of Franny and Zooey – just so you can instead look like the distinguished young writer who’s seeking some solitude after spending hours doing all those important things that she does…

You order French soup and a glass of red wine, and accompanied with your cigarette, you imagine you look very cool indeed…until you get smoke in your eye, in which case the next 2 minutes are spent in squeamish agony.  After dinner you walk over to the National Theatre where you will be meeting your flatmate Adela and her boyfriend for a night of Czech Shakespeare. Adela warned you beforehand about this play: it is a modern adaptation of King Lear using experimental directional techniques, and it also doesn’t have English subtitles. This doesn’t bother you a bit, even though you are unfamiliar with the play, you figure it’s Shakespeare, so there will be a betrayal, then everyone will die in the end.

With that in mind, the next few hours are spent with you trying to repress giggles are you attempt to figure out what the hell is going on. You feel that even if the play were in English, you’d still be struggling to follow the story: the characters are assembled about a makeshift swimming pool, and each garish line is 1) in Czech and 2) followed by a musical/operatic piece. Out of nowhere the King (or who you assume is the King) will violently yell at a fellow character, then break out into cabaret, then start weeping silently.

In all it was a great night, until you need to get your coat back from the daft woman working behind the coat check desk. There is a mild confusion over whose coat is whose followed by you having to repeat over and over; “I DON’T SPEAK CZECH.” Despite this, the woman continues to converse with you in Czech, as if you’re supposed to snap out of your mother-tongue and begin to understand what she’s trying to tell you. Eventually, you get your coat back – not without some unjustly glares from her side – and you head back home to sleep.

The next morning you have an uncontrollable craving for pancakes, and set off for town with a ravenous appetite for sugar. You find a café with pancakes and ashtrays, and enjoy your European morning in a plume of nicotine and coffee. You spend the rest of the morning doing some Christmas shopping for your nieces and nephews back in London, before you meet up with Zuzi for some lunch in the Cubist café.

After lunch and a stroll, you head back early to join Adela and her boyfriend for some drinks in her flat. The night is spent watching YouTube and eating cheese and olives, while chatting about absolute nonsense – the best kind of chatter.

The next day you take a train to a town an hour’s away from Prague, called Kutna Hora. The town is famous for its old churches and cathedrals, but more specifically a church with its interior decorated with human bones! The church is small but packed out with tourists, all who’ve come to marvel at the creepy decorations and its large chandelier made up of every bone of the human body. You read that there are estimated to be around 40,000 bodies in the church, (iii)

(iii)               Note to self: Wikipedia that later…sounds wrong.

which creeps you out enough to leave and set off back for the normality of Prague. Back in town you catch up with some favourite friends from high school, and manage to spend hours walking through hilly Prague in search for a decent pub. As expected, you get hungry, so you decide to have dinner at an authentic medieval restaurant: the crude waitresses dressed in costumes, no cutlery, and gigantic, frothing beers. After the feast, you walk back over the bridge to find a proper pub, where you manage to drink around 8 beers and yet feel only tipsy.

The next morning you wake up at 7.30 (iv)

(iv)              Adela was leaving that morning for Italy.

and the full impact of the beers hits you at once – you may not have been drunk but you’re certainly hung over. After booking your tickets to Krakow you spend the morning in search for MacDonald’s; grease and sugar being your number one concern. The walk turns out to be pleasant; the streets are quiet this early as every normal person is sleeping in, plus the sun is out – which makes a nice change! You take the advantage of the day to visit the Jewish cemetery and ghetto, and after depressing yourself for the afternoon, you meet up with Zuzi for another drink before heading to the station that night for your overnight train into Poland.

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