After writing a lot of notes I have taken an executive decision to break up my blog about Prague into two posts, I have way too much content to just fit into one. So with that.. onwards…
It’s good to be away again, although it has not been long but I look back to January in Tokyo it seems so far away both physically and mentally. Prague is one of those “must do” cities that probably goes on every European backpackers itinerary it has taken me a while to get round to it but I’m glad I went, it is really pretty and steeped in history. I choose to stay in a fairly new but well reviewed hostel called Mojo Inn, they currently (at time of writing) have an 88% rate on HostelWorld which I was a bit surprised at because I had no issues with it at all, the people behind the desk were nice, rooms were big and bright, in fact it was possibly one of the best if not the best hostel I have stayed in in Europe. Your average tourist here is well catered for and if you stick to the tourist restaurants and bars you will end up paying more than you need to. There does seem to be an overwhelming number of people here out on a stag and not just from the UK. I have heard quite a lot of German, French and Italian here too. The English people obviously register more on my brain because I can understand what they are talking about but men being men it does not take a rocket scientist to figure it out, we are such generally predicatable beasts.
I spent the evening of my arrival walking around the city just seeing what’s around and exploring. As you get into the old city you find yourself being spoken at by several black guys in succession. They ask you simple questions just to see if they get a reaction “Hey how are you?” “You okay?”. Now they may be totally innocent at what they are doing but it’s the method of their advertising that makes it feel nefarious. I was later told by the people in the hostel that these guys mostly try to get you to go into the clubs (usually containing dancing girls with optional “massage” area), some may try to sell you drugs or some substance tht might represent drugs. I feel the same as when I get asked one word questions in Brixton although it’s a bit more in your face “Weed? Skunk?”. This method of approach raises alarm bells for me but I take the approach of not talking and not reacting, it’s not what I am here for. For dinner on recommendation from the hostel I headed to the local and utterly delicious Hospoda Lucerna, which is underground in a mall. The bar itself has some wonderful decor and was 90-95% Czech I would say when I got there, especially as there was some sort of hockey game on. I think (although feel free to correct me) Ice Hockey is a big thing in the Czech Republic, the game was some sort of international and unlike any bar that I have been to in the UK when there is football on the crowd were well behaved, none of the chanting (which I find really aggressive and a little scary) just geniune excitement.
The next day (10th May 2014) I slowly meandered through the city more, the challenge to myself was to not use the map as much as possible. I see soo many people with their heads stuck in maps or physically attached to whatever electronic device is in their hand in order to go the right way or find the best restaurant. I didn’t really plan this trip, I booked the flight, booked a place to stay but that really was it, it’s a very novel and quite fun way to travel. I have found I generally have a better experience this way and this sometimes takes me on some very interesting journeys. I took a long walk across through the main tourist square standing for a while to appreciate this man playing a rather large bagpipe style instrument
I took one of the non touristy bridges over the river and then a slow then a slow walk down the river where I encountered this rather strange but alluring sculpture.
Then finally back over another bridge to take in the oddly shaped but quite beautifully made Dancing House
I headed back towards the hostel and stumbled across the Million Marijuana march totally by accident. All sorts of colourful characters were preparing in a park near my hostel to march through the city. The smell of cannabis wafted through the air as I blended in and out of the crowd having no intention on being involved in the march. My views on cannabis and its legality are really not strong enough for me to act on, it has it’s uses medically, it can be a blocker for some, an enabler for others but legalising it as a substance has a lot of repercussions. I do believe however that should you choose to use it medicinally (cancer patients etc) then it should be legal to consume for those reasons. I passed through the crowd and grabbed myself a coffee in a hostel, taking a small rest before walking a bit further up the road and into a shop called Nosferatu. Yep I found a Goth shop. I looked round, bought nothing and walked out the shop as the march was in full swing walking past me. As far as I saw it I had two choices. Wait for it to pass or walk with it and exit when I could. I chose to blend in.
Now I know that people sometimes take things out of context and/or use such marches for other political or more radical behaviour and I will tell you about something I saw. One of the campaigners, a young guy possibly in his early twenties crossed my path and up the steps towards a hotel. There was definitely something deliberate about the way he ascended the stairs, when he got to the top he lowered his head a little, I could only see his back so was not sure what he was up to, then turned around and walked back down the stairs with a look on his face as a job done. “Did he just spit on the steps of that hotel?” My brain asked. I only had to wait a moment for an answer to appear as he passed me again spitting with as much force and venom as he could on the window of the same building. I’m not shocked by this, nor do I really condone it because I have no idea about the context, spitting on something like that in some cultures is still maintained as one of the best ways to disrespect something so this guy certainly had message to send to the hotel. Remember this was one guy out of hundreds who were there to march peacefully and have fun. I managed to filter my way through the crowd and out the other side as a street full of tourists watched on. I don’t find this kind of thing interesting to watch or be involved in and so walked away as if nothing is happening. It’s at this point in my trip I was reminded of how I find the things tourists find a little odd at times. As I turned the corner I saw people taking a photo of a limo advertising Darling Cabaret and I genuinely have no idea why people want to take photos of it. Okay it’s supposedly a really famous club and I admit I have no interest in it or in the actual limo, humans confuse me.
Prague is a bit of a vegetarian nightmare as it comes to food and you can probably forget totally about gluten free too. The main dishes being hearty Eastern European style stewed meats, ribs or slow roasted pork or beef often served with dumplings and pickled vegetables. Green vegetables being a bit of an afterthought. If you do find green things they usually are prepared by chefs from the “everything is better with bacon” school of thought. It’s delicious though, but expect to put weight on while your here unless you intend to ascend the hill more than once a day. By the way that is not a typo, I did genuinely say ribs and oh boy are they good. The order that I had contained at least 10 delicious fatty little morsels that make your mouth just want more. They had been given just a simple rub as far as flavour goes from what my taste buds were telling me, also served to me with two sauces on the side. I find this approach generally better as the sauce on ribs for me is usually too sweet and I am normally looking for a little spice kick. Smoking is allowed in restaurants and bars which is a bit of a bummer if your like me and find that sort of thing horrible, however most of the time the bars are well ventilated and have high ceilings so don’t get too bad.
For the evening of the 10th I was not sure what to do. I was surprised that the shop that sold Gothic style clothing had no flyers for bars or clubs to suit their clientele but I was advised by hostel staff that there was some sort of live music thing happening at the Rock Cafe so I went there. The place was full of young people, I guess the average age around 21, I was probably one of 3 people over 30 so I felt instantly out of place and old. It cost 100Czk (~£3.00) to get in and beer was well priced so I had really nothing to loose. I loved having no idea what I was in for and figured it could be either a good or bad thing that one of the musicians setting up had a saxophone.
I want to get this straight before I dive into what the band was like. I have nothing against the saxophone or it’s players, I’m quite partial to a bit of funk and soul. Sometimes the people who play the sax are lovers of what I believe they call “free jazz” and will find any opportunity to blow a cacophony of seemingly random notes and I generally dislike this for it’s lack of rhythum.
The band were a 5 piece outfit with 3 girls taking the front of singer, bass and saxophone the other two were guys on drums and lead guitar. All was not bad as when they sang in Czech it seemed to work well and they had a nice almost L7 feel to them but I had an issue with their main singer as she did not have strong enough vocals to carry the band, the girl on sax had a better set of lungs on her. They did play a few covers and in my opinion murdered Seven Nation Army by adding more instruments and slowing it down so it lost it’s momentum, I Love Rock and Roll wwas also not great because they lacked the powerful female vocal of someone like Joan Jett and they finished on possible one of the worse renditions of the AC/DC classic TNT. All this may sound like I was having a really shitty time but actually I found the whole thing hilarious and could not help but smile. I have to give the young musicians credit because you could see them trying and the crowd seemed to enjoy it so who am I to argue.
I waited around for the next band, which again featured a saxophone player. I know that Prague has a big affinity with Jazz so maybe frustrated Jazz musicians start to perform in rock bands when they can’t do what they want. I think I stood about half of the second bands set before I had enough, the evening was disappointing musically but I was still happy. I think in my head I was secretly wanting some crazy all Czech Folk/Rock band to come on and blow me away but I was not prepared to sit through more of the rubbish I had already heard. I walked back to my hostel and was stopped on the way back by a Canadian couple who were rather shocked that I spoke English. Apparantly I look like a local? I had a map on me but didn’t need it so I gave them directions and told them where they were on the map before heading back. It was gone midnight, I had already turned 39 and I didn’t want to spend my birthday day in bed.
Part 2 coming soon…