Well, well, who’d have thought it? 2020. Time to board a plane again, at last. And it was a last-minute idea. Lockdown seemed to be easing, at least it was, if not for long. We flew out on my birthday on cheap flights with Ryan Air. Actually, we had vouchers as our trip to Puglia earlier in July had been cancelled. So, it kinda felt like it was free.
There’s a bit of a vacation debate going on at the moment. Some people take the view that holidaying is a risky venture given the pandemic. Either you’ll go abroad and catch something and, worse, bring the virus back with you. I don’t see the logic in that. The statistics lay bare the UK’s failure to respond to corvid-19. We have the highest per capita death rate in the world, and many areas of Britain are experiencing ‘spikes’ in infections. Consequently, anywhere else in Europe has to be safer than being at home. The government’s actions have been bizarre at best. If there’s a surge in Catalonia, do people returning from Tenerife, 1400 miles away from the problem, have to be quarantined? That’s just silly.
We decided that the only ‘risky’ part would be at the airport and on the flight. As far as I could determine, my research suggested that precautions in place would mean I would be as safe flying as I would be sat in my local pub. Probably safer.
Manchester Airport was pretty quiet, there were no queues at security, and Terminal Three was sparsely populated. All appropriate safety measures were clearly in place. The airport had done a good job. It was my first time back on the plane in six months, and I almost wept for joy! Most passengers wore masks and obeyed the protocols, apart from a few jerks. We landed in Prague after a 1.40 long flight, half an hour briefer than advertised.
We got to our hotel by 9.30pm and in time for a Stein of fine beer at the Hotel Cervena Sedma’s bar next door. The staff were very nice and taught us some useful Czech phrases which I instantly forgot. But it was very kind of them.
Our hotel was actually situated on Kampa Island, on the western side of the Vltava River and it was called The Golden Scissors or ‘U Zlatých nůžek’. It is named after the famous golden scissors which were made there in the 14th Century and used to trim the tresses of Princess Rapunzel, who lived up in the castle. She was quite fastidious and insisted on a brand new pair of gold scissors for every sitting. Anyway, we had a great room although the air con was broken, and the portable machine was rather noisy. It had a lovely, big bathroom with gorgeous brass fittings (yawn). It cost about £70 per night (probably reduced because of covid 19) but for a ‘luxury room’ the air con problem was an annoyance.
This was not our first visit to Prague, so we’d seen all of it before. It’s a charming city, perfect for ambling round and stopping off to be fed and watered. On the first day, we went for a walk up the hill on the west bank to the Capuchin Monastery, quite a trek in the heat, and had a lovely beer overlooking the city. We saw Prague Castle, the smart sentries, all the touristy guff. Then we had a walk across the bridge and had a gander at the Old Town. It’s pretty, check the video for pics.
There’s quite a number of good quality buskers around, especially on and near the King Charles Bridge. The musical backing on the linked video is by a string quartet called De facto. They were excellent, brought me to tears a couple of times even when sober, and we bought their CD (when less sober). If you click the link, it takes you to their web page and there’s a few videos on there to check out. Their style is to present modern music in a classical manner, it’s quite hip and cool daddio.
Prague is a venerable, ancient city with a modern veneer of hip and cool. It caters for people of all ages and tastes from the staid to the Bohemian. Bazooka Joe bubble gum seems to be very popular with the younger generation, and many of them proudly sported transfers on their arms and legs. I remember liking them, too. One young man on a skateboard had a baseball cap on… but it was the wrong way round. He looked quite a dandy.
We went for a stroll to a few bars, including the famous Hemingway’s, in the evening. Beware, you usually need to book here, as it’s very popular. It’s a mellow, shadowed place, and aims to cater for groovier people than me to be fair. I nearly ate the hand cleaner. It looked like a little soft mint. However, as we squirted sanitiser from an unpretentious pipette (ahem) onto our hands, the waiter poured water onto the ‘mint’ and it swelled up into a little towel. Well, there you go. I’m glad I didn’t eat it. The bespoke cocktails were excellent, and I’ll venture to say, unique. I had an apple one. It had a bitter sweet tasting like a sherbet flying saucer with flavours of rum, tea and a scent of basil. It was good to be fair! To give an idea of the attention to detail, here’s the three cocktails we had and their ingredients;
APPLE: Cash Only Apple brandy, cider, kombucha, fresh lime juice, grenadine, basil.
BLACK AND WHITE NEW FASHIONED: Havana Club Añejo 7 Años rum, chestnut syrup, black walnut bitters, milky foam, cocoa butter, HB chocolate.
CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES NO.3: Coconut butter infused Zacapa 23 solera rum, Frangelico, PX sherry, balsamic vinegar, coconut macaron.
You get the picture, and you can’t really make these at home. For my second drink, I had a beer, much to the waiter’s chagrin. Hemingway’s was quite pricey at almost £30 for four drinks, but they were excellent and I don’t mind paying for quality. It’s not just a bar, they can justifiably claim to offer the ‘Hemingway’s experience’. I really liked it. On the money front, generally speaking, Prague is very reasonably priced for food and drink, certainly cheaper than the UK. For lunch at our hotel one day we had soup, chips, Caesar salad and three pints of beer for £17.50.
Two of the nights we ate at an Italian restaurant near our gaff called Piknik Park. It’s an idyllic outdoor setting by a little branch of the river. It’s so picturesque that passers-by on the nearby bridge frequently stopped to photograph the diners. Live music, great food. I can recommend the pinsa pizza. The performers were good, and the owner was so hammered he joined the duet on stage to sing along. The little park nearby was very nice and had some good sculptures in it. They enabled me to celebrate my 61st birthday in a dignified and appropriate manner.
We did some more strolling around the next day, visited the Jewish Quarter and had a look in the oldest synagogue in Europe. The museum was nearby, also housed in a (ex)synagogue. I’d been before and we gave it a miss this time as it is very upsetting. I would highly recommend it if you haven’t been. They had artifacts belonging to the children of the ghetto. The names of all those sent to the concentration camps are written on the walls. It’s like a large room papered with names from a telephone directory. This shows (if possible) the scale of the murder, and it is horrifying.
That evening we ate a restaurant called ‘Porks’. As the name suggests, its menu was entirely porcine in origin. My wife and I shared a pork knuckle costing £9; we didn’t quite finish it. Our later wanderings took us to a bar called Kavarna Mylinska situated in the park near our hotel. It’s by a little river and there’s a water wheel churning away outside, a delightful location. The place is popular with the locals and it’s an inexpensive water hole. The bar top is a sight to behold. It’s made of clear plastic resin within which a wide range of artefacts have been entombed or mummified. I’m not sure how to describe it. Damien Hirst did a similar thing with sharks and formaldehyde. This place used kitsch bric-a-brac, plastic toys and… condoms! Upon inspection, they were unused. There’s a picture in the video.
On the last day, we caught a train out of Prague to see the Sedlec Ossuary in the town of Kutná Hora. It’s a little Church decorated solely with human bones. The story goes that the monks who ran the place in the 14th century were faced with an awkward problem; what to do with all the bodies from the plague? One bright spark decided to use them to decorate the chapel. Consequently, he chopped the cadavers up and tried to arrange them tastefully as montages, pyramidic buildings and a large chandelier. Like a butcher’s shop window that got out of hand. Alas, he came unstuck. Inevitably, as the flesh began to putrefy, the associated smell became unbearable for the worshipping community, who were also sorely tried by the rats and flies that gathered to feast. They were short of bums on pews for a while. Thankfully, nature, and putrefaction, took its course and, after a few squirts of Febreze, the congregation returned six months later to a place of worship decorated solely with human skellingtons.
Should you go?
If you like old, historical towns, full of fetching old buildings, with great restaurants, cool bars and all at a fair price, then Prague is worth a trip. It has a similar feel to Krakow. It has had a reputation for stag and hen parties, which is a put off. I don’t know if that is still the case, we did see a couple while we were there, but no more than you’d see in Manchester (in fact probably less). Wenceslas Square is the ‘seedier’ end of town, though it’s nice in the day time and there’s a great museum there. I guess every city has its seamy underbelly, and I wouldn’t let that put me off Prague.
With reasonably priced flights, it is a smashing short break destination.