Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Sunday, November 18, 2007

A long time between entries, a result of Prague stretching to ten days. This is a combination of Prague's charm, and - don't choke on this - I felt like I needed a holiday.

Bogged down with a cold and after a string of sleepless nights in a 10 bed Polish dorm I reversed my normal priorities and coughed up an extra 6 euro per night for a private room here. Paradise. They really had me going with a promise of Hollywood satellite TV, but its dubbed into German. Please bear in mind that the only German I picked up I learned secondhand from Claudine. What this leaves intelligible is sport, and I think for the first time I have developed a real taste for televised boxing here - especially a crazy Korean variety called K1. How's that for odd.

Its also been a place where I have chewed through 5 books and an Economist that cost the same as a restaurant meal. But costs are being shaved in the right places, and I think this is the right time to share with you a phenomenon that Claude and I have meant to mention numerous times but never gotten around to. But given the highly domestic orientation thus far, its clearly time.

The 'Juggy' is a pasta meal cooked entirely in a jug that takes Claude's superheated cooking element. Early on in this trip I would feign injury or unconsciousness to avoid this - praying that I was in a city with some form of unidentifiable one euro fast food. The icy weather of the last two weeks means my last few hundred yards back to the hotel of an afternoon/ evening - it being hard to tell them apart -  the thoughts of a juggy meal are all consuming. A small amount of large format pasta that will not stick to the element, a tomato or two, zucchini, mushrooms, lots of pepper and tomato paste combine with the spiciest cheap sliced salami that can be found combine to produce a restaurant quality meal.

Just to be sure, by way of comparison I have indulged in Czech food fairly extensively too. Its very cheap and very satisfying in the context of the weather. The first time I ordered Moravian Sparrow, a local pork dish, I was just hoping to receive something that was more pig than small bird having put my faith entirely in a local culinary guide. I ended up eating my way through most of the menu at Kolkovne - thick stews and endless dumplings accompanied by infeasible mugs of Pilsner Urquell. Never more than AUD10 either.

I think I have walked every street in Prague - much of the time just trying to work up an appetite so that I could maximise the lunchtime experience. I began to curse the slow burn energy of the muesli I had bought for breakfast, and knew that I was in for covering a lot of kilometres on every subsequent day as my low cost mentality dictated that I had bought an economy back 1kg bag.

Aside from dining - and that's a large thing to set aside - there is quite a lot to see and experience in Prague. I started early on at The Charles' Bridge - Karluv Most - and on approach a significant feeling of disappointment started to well up. That's it? That's what the tourist hordes come to see? It looks from a few hundred yards away quite insignificant. But crossing under the tower and onto its cobbled deck changes the viewpoint entirely. The row of statues and the poses struck, their ancient bearing but dominance of the modern - was amazing. Even on a drizzly day with the wind and a little snow ripping up the river and those crossing it on this most exposed bridge, it was an experience to decadently consume at length by walking slowly and seeing how the statues set off a classical background on all sides. 

One of those background elements is Prague Castle. Everything in its setting and demeanour stipulates that this has to be the home of some form of evil empire or "secret" superhero hideout. But its no let down to find that it remains the active seat of government - I seem to enjoy the national buildings in each country and this suitably impresses. My esteem for their elected representatives soared still higher when I espied a McDonalds VIP DriveThru Customer sticker on an official vehicle. Knowing the scepticism this would elicit I even risked life and limb by securing a photo. A separate volume will be issued detailing how little the security services of the world dislike having official vehicles photographed up close.

Another appetite building morning walk took me past the Museum of Communism, an effort to remind the young of what life was like "back in the day". The context in which I visited made this a particularly odd day: I had just finished a book entitled "Civilisation" by Roger Osborne where his excellently researched history of the West since Year Dot got very ragged at the end and he had a little emotional dummy spit to wrap things up. He noted that the great masacres of the world had come exclusively from Western Europe. Um, except for 50m under Stalin and 60m under Mao, Roger. News in the week's Economist noted the sweeping changes in Russian textbooks being undertaken, basically at President Putin's behest, that Stalin is rehabilitated as a democrat by choice - forced to be less representative by the aggressive forces of the West. And less than a week earlier I had been with a young Eastern Ukrainian, thus ethnically Russian, who noted that he did not speak in anything other than English anywhere in Eastern Europe as it still generated a highly emotive response from the locals if they heard Russian spoken. So seeing the footage of the Prague Spring and its end - where the Czech government promised a more people-friendly version of communism only for the Russians to inform them this was as likely a finding a cow-friendly version of beef - was an interesting capstone.

The commemoration to those who drove home the Velvet Revolution, described thus because it is the first revolution where no one died, is surprisingly absent from the downtown area - only this museum made any kind of noise about it. 

In the late 1940s into the early 1950s the local Czech government decided to get Stalin a birthday present by erecting a statue of him leading the workers on a scale that would give even Kim Jong Il pause for thought. Comically, after about 6 years of designing it and building it, Stalin died and Khrushchev came out immediately afterwards and told the world what an absolute bastard Stalin was. After a little head scratching and about a year of life as a completed structure, they decided to blow up the now embarassing structure.

Today the base of the monument still stands. Atop it, where the champions of the revolution should stand, is a fairly hideous red metronome. I can't find any reference to why its there or what it symbolises. And yet, its downright weirdness is kind of a good memorial of an entirely weird little episode. Its hideous, yet I find myself quite enjoying it each time I catch a glimpse.

As one other highlight among a sea of grand buildings, I copped the entrance fee and entered St Nicholas' Church. Its grand in an awful kind of way. I am more and more reminded of the axiom about LasVegas with each new European church I come across. "They didn't build this with the money of the vicars."

And its an awful lot of Moravian Sparrow, Pilsner Urquell and Penguin Classics they could have bought with that. 

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