So we went to Prague again last week. Because it’s there. Because it’s only a short flight away. Because I just have to get away sometimes.
We spent some time wandering over to Letna park and climbed the hill to the metronome, and sat around on a bench, enjoying the Spring sunshine and a cold beer. Then we crossed back over the Vltava and I had a huge kolbasa in a roll at the Old Town Square. And a drink. Then in the afternoon we went over to Wenceslas Square to do a bit of shopping. Among other things I am now the proud owner of a small kettle with a Continental plug attached. Imagine, dear reader, no longer will I have to waste a plug adapter on boiling water in her English travel kettle for one of Juanita’s interminable cups of tea when neither of us can be arsed to go down to hotel lobbies or tea stations for an in-room beverage. The luxury! The sophistication!
We sat in an open air cafe for strudel and cappuccinos, in the centre strip of Wenceslas Square and I was having eyes made at me and I was watching a street man getting threatened with a taser by a couple of young policemen. it was all happening around my little bubble of quiet and calm reserve.
When we went for dinner at the Devil’s restaurant that evening, I asked the waiter what the ‘Venison Mixture’ on the menu involved. “Oh, a little venison, a little wild boar, and a little rabbit”, he told me. So I ordered it, guessing it would be a casserole type dish swimming in rich meaty juices. After our soup starters, the main course was delivered to the table. Anita had a lovely stroganoff. On my plate was a portion sized venison steak, two slabs of tender, melting roast wild boar, and the rear quarter of a roasted rabbit. Plus a mound of roasted potatoes. “Do they want me to die huge?” I wondered, as I tucked in. I had no intention, nor even hope, of leaving an empty clean plate. Half an hour later the freshly bread wiped plate gleamed bare before me. Anita looked at me aghast. “You ate the lot. You ate the bloody lot. You bloody pig”. Strange, the terms of affection we use after a lifetime together. The bottle of Moravian Chardonnay helped it down.
On Sunday morning we took the metro out to Jiriho z Podebrad in Vinohrady. I can find it but I can’t say it in any way that a local would recognise it. I wanted to visit the church of the sacred heart there, and also to go up to the observation deck on the television tower. The church is a huge brick built cavern from the early thirties with a massive cubist clocktower in the shape of a modernist gravestone, and it was full to bursting with eager communion takers. In the most atheist country in Europe. There’s a thing. I sat a while and admired the decor and the timber bracing of the ceiling far above. I’m sensitive like that. Anita waited outside on a bench by a small stone fountain in the warm sunshine.
Then we walked together up Milesovska into Zizkov and ascended to the observation deck of the tower and spent an hour or so in the pods three hundred feet above the ground. The views are worth the journey. There’s a one-room hotel in the tower, on the next level up, along with a restaurant and bar. We had a cappuccino in the cafe, then after a stroll around the neighbourhood, took the metro back into town and had our ritual arm in arm stroll over the Charles Bridge and around Mala Strana and Hradcany. Bit of shopping, stopping for a drink, the time goes by.
That afternoon Juanita stayed in the hotel while I went for a long walk to the Palackeno bridge, crossed over to Smichov in the West and walked back along the riverside to Charles bridge and back to the hotel by a long winded route. Just to soak up the local vibes.
Back at the hotel I felt a little hungry so we decided to go to the Town Square for a chicken skewer. On the way, along Hartmanska as we passed a pub, I smelt the most wonderful smell as a waiter brought out a platter of kolbasa, bread, raw onions, gherkins and mustards and horseradish to a man sitting at an outside table.
“Do you know what I’m thinking?” I asked my wife. She sighed and shrugged. “I was watching your face when you saw that food. Have that, then we won’t need a big dinner tonight” she said more in hope than with any sense of reality. So we sat at the pavement table which was not occupied and each had the platter, laughingly listed on the menu as a “Sausage Snack” with a large delicious beer each. It’s what makes life worth living. We eventually made our way to the Town Square and spent an hour or so watching people. Then we sat outside the Bethlehem Chapel and had ice cream cones while not thinking about Jan Hus.
Five years ago on our first visit to Prague we ate at a restaurant called the Stoleti. Seven hours after our pavement snack we found ourselves in the Stoleti again. As is my habit, I’ll tell you what we had. I had a beef broth followed by pork in a pepper sauce with creamy smooth mashed potatoes, and Anita started with baked Camembert with cranberries and went on to have a steak stuffed with feta, accompanied by celeriac in cheese sauce. We had a dish of grilled vegetables to share. We had a bottle of czech wine too. Then she had a dish of straciatella ice cream with caramel sauce and nuts while I had a whipped cream cold rice pudding with chopped fruit and apricot sauce. Then coffee.
Last proper meal till Tuesday, I joked.
We flew home on Monday evening, but as the hotel was fully booked we weren’t able to keep the room on past eleven o’clock Monday morning so we lodged our suitcase in the luggage room and went for a walk up to the castle to watch the changing of the guard. There was a cafe at the castle, where I had potato pancakes topped with sauerkraut and sliced sausage. And a beer. When we got back to the hotel Anita decided she was going to sit out the rest of the day in the lobby. I went on a Cerny hunt.
I’ve now seen the Hanging Sigmund Freud and stood beneath him, the Revolving Head of Franz Kafka, and watched in awe as the light glitters and changes, seen the giant Faceless Babies, both climbing the tower and in the park by the river, where I rested my hands on the huge icy cold metal butt-ocks, and stood by the Two Naked Men Peeing into the Czech Shaped Pool. So far so good, so much still to see. David Cerny has a fascinating mind. I wouldn’t want to sleep with him though.