Gatwick airport on a mid January Tuesday evening was a quiet and spacious experience. You have to do your own check-in now and as well as printing your own boarding pass, you have to click on the screen to confirm that you’re not carrying explosives, acid or sharp nail clippers. It’s probably easier to lie to a human than it is to an electronic screen. Can they see through your eyes into your soul? And you have to attach the barcode strip to your own luggage. There’s a challenge.
Anyway, we and our luggage got to our hotel late in the evening, raided the mini-bar because it seemed too much like hard work to go out, and then we slept. The hotel’s in the old town opposite the main police station and tucked away down a quiet cobbled street. Our room looked out onto a winter strewn courtyard and we could see a life-sized wooden cutout Jesus on the cross across the way. Birds flirted and sang in the leafless climbing shrubs and a bent old man spent his time filling sacks with fallen leaves and piling them neatly in the corner. These are the days we inhabit.
On Wednesday morning we turned left at the Charles Bridge and wandered hand in hand along the banks of the Vltava, and when we passed the Dancing Building, we turned into Resslova and found the Cathedral of St Cyril and St Methodius, descending into the crypt where Gabcik, Kubis and the rest died after assassinating Heydrich. A very resonant and sad place, you can almost feel their final despair. It’s claustrophobic space, filled with echoes and memories. Then we went to the Manes building on the Slovansky island, or Ostrov as we should call it, but it was closed. There’s a concert hall nearby on the island, which is very attractive and yellow in the cold winter air. Swans and ducks and terns and dead branches on the river. Then we went to the church of our Lady of the Victories, with the Wax Infant Jesus Effigy, and it was a pretty impressive place to go, what with one thing and another. The Effigy is hardly what I would call a thing of beauty, but it is an object of devotion for many. That afternoon we spent some time mooching around the Old Town Square, and I drank some hot cherry wine.
For dinner we went to al Riso, just around the corner from the hotel and to start I had polenta with mushrooms and salami and Anita had Spinach soup, which turned out to be Garlic soup sprinkled with the odd shred of spinach. We both had roast veal with saffron risotto and vegetables, all washed down with the lovely czech red wine. All very good for 1440 ck. Thursday morning I went to breakfast alone as Anita was suffering, then I had a long walk around the city till lunchtime. Anita felt a wee bit better so we went up Petrin hill and admired the Loreto. I went off for a walk up through the woods where I saw a leaning tree trunk pockmarked along its entire length with woodpecker scars. Went up the Petrin tower. I didn’t quite make it to the top as the views were spectacular but my legs decided against going any more than three quarters of the way up. I have all the confidence in the world until you get down to my knees. That evening we crossed over to the Lesser Town up the hill past St Nicholas’ lovely huge towering church and ate at the U Certa, with a life sized acrylic Devil outside. Lots of little devils and Satans inside too. The food was good.Anita had spicy bean and sausage soup to start while I had ham and fresh grated horseradish. She then had lamb chops and I had a roast Duck leg with bread dumplings, which are my current food fetish. Beer to help it all down, then coffee, and all for 990 ck.
We went across Bohemia on Friday, to Kutna Hora. It’s an hour and a half drive across the plains and the scenery is mostly greenish, brownish, rural and flat. Quite beautiful. As is the quiet, scenic little town of Kutna Hora, which was once a bigger, busier city built on the wealth of the silver mines there. We went to the All Saint’s Church Ossuary which although decorated with the bones of 40,000 plague victims is curious rather than morbid, I think. Interesting place to see. As was the nearby St Barbara’s cathedral which we visited after a hearty traditional lunch of Broccoli Soup, Beef in cream sauce with cranberries and dumplings and then apple strudel. And lovely Czech beer. St Barbara’s was built on the wealth of local silver, and has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I’ve seen. And windows, let me tell you, I’ve seen a few. The Cathedral is also the only church I’ve ever seen to possess a triple tented roof. It draws the eye upward, but is slightly out of proportion in my eyes. But I wasn’t trained as an architect or even a roof-critic, come to that, so what do I know, who am I to have an opinion? It just looks slightly wrong, is all.
A strange observation I made. You don’t see fat girls in Prague until you reach the shabbier outer suburbs. They’re all slender and graceful in the city centre. Just something I noticed.
I don’t know why, but we went back to U Certa that evening for dinner. We really didn’t need more than a light snack, but when on holiday food becomes a slight obsession for me, and Anita just tags along, faithful yet slightly disbelieving. I forced down a plate of fried battered squid rings drenched in cold sweet raisin sauce which is far nicer to eat than it is to read about, and it’s actually nicer than it deserves to be. But if a combination which I’ve never tried before appears on a menu, then I feel duty bound to try it. For you, you understand. Anita had pasta with mushrooms, then she had a loaf filled with goulash while I, of course, had Roast wild boar in a spicy rosehip suace. Then I had blueberry pancakes with cream. We drank lots of beer. On the slow, measured stroll across town back to the hotel late that night I wondered why it is that I’m not a fat bastard. I really should be you know. But I’m really not. I must have small bones or a fast metabolism. Or something. Saturday morning was spent buying souvenirs and gifts for the family, visiting the lovely Tyn Church and wandering the Square, somewhere I never tire of wandering and strolling and standing and gazing.
We went on a river cruise with dinner that night. There was a bar. We met a lovely Irish couple. We got along famously. The bar was well stocked. Neither of us remember too much detail about the evening. We enjoyed it immensely though. Joe gave me his number. I’ve lost it. I know where he works though, and we will visit Dublin one day. We will repeat the experience. Sunday morning I went for a long walk around the old town while Anita packed. She’s so much better at it than I am. A Chinese girl thought I was a local, and asked me for directions to a couple of places around the Old Town Square. Being a gent, and also because we were less than a couple of hundred yards from where she wanted to go, I walked her there. We flew home that evening, had a last lovely night at the airport hotel and came home on Monday lunchtime. I can’t think of a better way to spend a week in January. We’re going back there for a long weekend in April because Tomas told us that Spring is a good time to visit. Tomas is a local who we met. It’s booked. I’ve just got to hope that Anita can get the time off work now.