Less of an adventure, more of an experience!
24.09.2008 - 27.09.2008 11 °C
One experienced traveller, one beginner and one club medder. Three females well past 40 arrive in Prague. Whatever God there is, please help us.
Even getting to the airport was not straightforward. Having never been to Luton before I conceded to using my sister Corinne’s new Satnav. She has it all programmed in, I have tried to memorise the directions to the off airport parking. Sandra sits in the front with me. Everything is fine until we hit J10 of the M1. I want to head towards the airport, the satnav wants to go to town. Sandra does not even know which county we are in. We follow the satnav and the written directions and are subsequently on our way to China.
It appears dearly beloved sister has programmed the satnav to someone’s house in Luton. I am sure they would not mind, at 0400 in the morning us dropping the car keys off and giving us a lift to the airport! Satnav abandoned, we finally find our way to the car park and set off on the bus to the airport. Isn’t Luton tiny! Corinne and Sandra whizz off to the loo. Having a bladder made of stronger stuff I wait outside, but they don’t know this and spend half an hour waiting for someone else called Claire that they have been shouting through the toilet door at. Hugely embarrassed they run off through the airport giggling like schoolchildren.
The flight is on time and I have to drag two shopaholics away from the stall selling £10 watches. ‘Ooh, should I have the light brown or the dark brown?’……’oooohh, there’s even more over ……’ They are dragged to the counter to pay and whisked off to the waiting aircraft.
On arrival in Prague two blank faces look at me after I announce that we have to get a bus, two Metros and take a short walk. ‘Ok, I will go and get the tickets’. Following the hostels directions we find it very easy to get there and my two companions are thrilled at having negotiated a foreign city’s public transport system.
We arrive at the hostel. Corinne and Sandra have never stayed in a hostel. Refusing to stay in a dorm I had booked a triple room with en suite bathroom. Luxury huh!!!?? The young chap behind reception looks at these three aging females and I wonder what is going through his mind. Our room is on the top floor and we drag our unnecessarily heavy suitcases and backpacks up two floors.
Three small wooden beds, neatly in a row. Which one was daddy bears bed we wondered! At the end of each bed was a neatly folded little towel. Little being the operative word. With the web site promising ‘linen and towels included’, my suggestion of packing sarongs had been poo poo’d. Exactly which part of our bodies were we supposed to dignify using what amounted to little more than a flannel??
There are signs everywhere threatening instant eviction if you dared to smoke in any part of the building. All three of us are smokers. I had visions of us trying to sneak a fag in the bathroom and being flung out into the street in just our flannels. We decided against it.
I go downstairs to buy some drinks and the receptionist hands me a brochure on guided tours. ‘This, I think, will be good for you’. Huh, the cheek of it! But at least I discover an outside smoking area, on the ground floor although it is only open from 8am to 10pm
Corinne, having visited Prague before, successfully takes the lead in guiding us to Wenceslas Square. We feel like we have been transported to London. Not only is it cold and wet, but all around us are Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Tesco, Spar, Kentucky and the ubiquitous McDonalds. We head for the backstreets and find a delightful little restaurant where we stuff our faces with duck with red cabbage and dumplings, masses of rye bread and huge chunks of apple strudel with whipped cream. Topped with a few beers we are all but immobile, but we manage to trudge in the cold rain back to the hostel.
The brochure said ‘fully equipped kitchen’ so we brought instant coffee. But there was no kettle and no mugs. ‘Diet coke all round then!’ Great. We head downstairs for a cigarette, waving frantically at the automatic light which only comes on after you have negotiated half of the spiralling concrete stairway, and sit, like naughty children huddled amongst the dirty laundry outside, taking in enough nicotine to last till 8am. We were exhausted though, having been up since 0230 that morning and we soon fell into our beds and slept, serenaded by Corinne’s snoring.
In the morning it became apparent why Sandra’s backpack had been so heavy. One full sized mirror, new, large sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, shaving foam and a pack of 1000, yes 1000 cotton buds. Together with an assortment of other beauty products, enough to start a small shop. Sandra has not quite grasped the concept of travelling light yet. I feel bad for bringing a hairdryer!
Breakfast is fabulous, lots of bread, cheese, sausage, cereals etc. and gallons of lovely hot, strong coffee. We have discovered that we can hire a kettle and so three mugs make their way into Corinne’s handbag. Borrowed you understand, just borrowed. Could not believe they were stamped with ‘Ikea’ on the bottoms! Is anything made in Czech Republic? Or even Poland for that matter. Corinne has convinced herself that we are in Poland for some reason. She has told all her friends she is going to Poland, so let’s hope when the postcards arrive from Prague that their geography is as bad as hers.
The rain seems to have eased so we set off in search of the vernacular railway. No idea where it is and it’s not on my map, but there is a big hill, so we head for that. On arrival at the station there are hoards of tourists, students and children, we grab tickets and squeeze our way to the front of the queue disregarding the chewing gum blowing youths. The group of small children join us in our carriage. Now Sandra has a big thing for children and she promptly ups one of them to sit on the seat next to her and starts patting his head. Oh my God, we are going to be carted off as suspected paedophiles! It’s a long way up to the top, and very, very steep. I shut my eyes and pray for well maintained brakes and inattentive teachers as Sandra coos over the little people with snotty noses.
There is a huge tower at the top so we part with cash and start the ascent up the spiral staircase. The whole bloody thing is swaying and Sandra gets seasick. Corinne is asthmatic and has forgotten her inhaler, so we make very slow progress. The view from the top is worth it though, just a shame it is such a grey day. I take a zillion photos of rooftops and castles and Sandra takes a zillion photos of….us. In her view, a scene is not interesting unless someone is standing in front of it. Sandra has to have her photo taken in front of everything. You know the sort, ‘this is me in front of…., sitting on…., eating a…’ etc. Corinne just doesn’t take a camera. Too much technology.
We then take a walk down the hill, utilising bushes for the loo rather than shell out yet another 10 or 20 CZ for public toilets that issue you with two squares of paper. The views across the city are fabulous, the little sun there is bouncing off gilded rooftops. Confirming my belief that you can never get lost in any city, we end up back in the Jewish Quarter and then on to the Old Town just in time to see the striking of the beautiful, if incorrect, astronomical clock. An American lady tells us not to blink or we will miss it. She is not wrong, five seconds later the whole parade of Apostles has passed and Death rings his (or her) last bell. ( I have just finished reading Death at Intervals by Jose Saramango who surmises that Death is indeed a woman, wears Prada and falls in love with an aging cellist – sorry, just gave away the story! But it is an interesting read.)
Now starving, we set out to find a sausage stall, after accosting an unsuspecting German tourist, one is located. Corinne and Sandra get themselves hot sausages in buns while I just take a quick photo of this…and that..and ooh look at that! On my arrival at the stall I see these lovely looking things that can only be described as an empty sausage roll. Mmmm ‘I’ll have one of those please’. I pay my money and am given an empty sausage roll. ‘But I want a sausage in it!’ The lady looks at me in dismay as she plonks a sausage in the middle and demands more money than I can buy a 3 course lunch for. In retaliation I smother the whole lot in tomato sauce and mustard. Very pleased with my big sausage in a roll I return to show it off to Sandra and Corinne. Very jealous they looked too, until I bit into the sickly sweet roll. Ah! This explains the dismay on the vendor face. What I had done was the equivalent of putting a burger inside an iced Belgian bun!!! No, I never lived that one down!
Next stop was Prague Castle and we arrive just in time for the changing of the guard. I run off half a gig on my camera then realise I did not take a spare memory card. The next half an hour was spent hitting the delete button hoping, with each and every one, that it really was crap and not a potential winner for the TP photo competition. The castle is very impressive with its black gothic towers silhouetted against the grey sky, gargoyles competing with each other for hideousness, but the crowds were a bit too much and so we left. Even Charles Bridge was heaving and there were major renovations underway, so we went off to explore the backstreets.
One thing that we noticed about the Czech Republic language is that just about everything ends in ‘y’, particularly borrowed English words. Our favourite was ‘thrillery’ books!
The heavens opened again and we sought refuge in a large clothing store and stocked up on underwear. I go all the way to Prague and buy a fluorescent pink bra and knickers with black and diamante skull and crossbones. Bloody gorgeous! Afterwards we warm ourselves with hot wine at the sausage stall. ‘Of course it’s not alcoholic’ I claim ‘its hot, it’s evaporated!’ But after half a cupful, Corinne and Sandra are hopelessly tiddly, so it’s back to the hostel for coffee in our ‘borrowed’ mugs made with our hired kettle.
We had decided the next day to take a trip to Cesky Krumlov, a small town near the Austrian border just three hours away. Described by the AA Pocket Guide ( a present from Sandra’s boyfriend as my 1989 version of ‘Lets Go Eastern Europe’ was deemed defunct) as ‘simply ravishing’! We couldn’t wait.
The receptionist advised that the bus was quickest and we could pick it up, quite simply, from IP Pavlova Metro station. No. 115. We set off early, missing breakfast and arrived at IP Pavlova. Lots of buses, no 115. No one that speaks English. Cursory enquiry with a young chap resulted in a laugh and the shaking of his head ‘No, not here’. Ok, so we must have it wrong. No matter, hot foot it to the railway station. The information desk is closed so I enquire at the ticket office. ‘What time are trains to CK?’ ‘Ask at information’. ‘But it’s closed’. ‘So?’ Great, thanks. Back to the information desk where someone is lurking behind the blind. I point to my watch and give a quizzical look. International signal for ‘What time do you open?’ I thought. She shrugged her shoulders. Great, thanks. We run around the station like demented idiots, holding our noses through piss filled tunnels until we find an information board and then to a different ticket office. A very polite gentleman prints off a timetable for us. The train leaves in an hour and arrives after lunch. Pointless. ‘Why don’t you get the bus?’ he asks. Huh? ‘Yes, it goes from IP Pavlova, leaves in 15 minutes. ‘Shit’. Race back to the Metro, back to IP Pavlova and accost a man selling papers. He directs us round the back of the station, behind a building and we find the bus station hiding behind a sign saying ‘Taxis’. I locate a ticket office only to be told the bus was full. That’s it, bugger it, I am going to the zoo. But then I find another and I am told that we can get a different bus and pay the driver. It’s the 115. We grab some croissants and chain smoke till the bus arrives, 30 minutes late. As we board I notice a sign saying smoking is strictly forbidden anywhere in the bus station. Bugger. There is also a sign on the bus forbidding eating or drinking. Three girls are now sat on the back seat, faces covered in croissant crumbs, stinking of smoke and trying desperately to look innocent. We are on our way to Simply Ravishing!
After an uneventful three hour trip, we arrive in Cesky Krumlov. An adorable little town surrounded by the Vlatva River and nestled at the foot of the Sumava hills, it came complete with multi coloured, trompe l’oeil adorned castle, guarded by doughnut munching bears. It is market day and the main square is full of craft stalls, their vendors in traditional dress. There are umpteen stalls selling hot food from big fat sausages to steaming hot garlic soup served in a hollowed out loaf. The man making empty sausage rolls cannot understand our hysterical giggling.
We were surprised that it was free to wander around the castle and its grounds, you only had to pay if you wanted to go inside. It was all truly magnificent, built into the sides of a cliff and afforded stunning views across the town and surrounding countryside. The grounds were immense with mazes, fountains, woods and a lake. Red squirrels darted between the trees, escaping the lenses of a group of Japanese tourists. It was a shame that once again, it was raining. I can imagine that in the summer, the place would be breathtaking.
We strolled around the cobbled streets, marvelling at the vast array of marionettes on sale, resisting the beautiful garnet jewellery and enjoying coffee and cakes at half the price of those in Prague. The hot garlic soup was not sufficient to warm us up so we headed for the hot wine stall where Frankenstein’s monster dished us up a huge beaker of spicy red loveliness. ‘This one is definitely not alcoholic’ I tell the girls. But two glugs and they were both decidedly squiffy and I pretended not to be with the two giggling, supposedly fully grown adults back to the bus. We slept all the way back to Prague.
On our final day the sun shone and all was wonderful. The calm river mirrored the bridges, churches glistened against the blue sky and ten million tourists poured out onto the streets. Bugger. After a last little bit of souvenir shopping we decided to have a slap up lunch and took refuge at a street café, soaking up the sun while we waited an hour and a half for dessert. Yup, tour bus turned up and spoiled everything.
Prague is lovely, but like any other big city it is probably better seen in sunny weather or with thick snow. Keeping away from the main streets where there is a McDonalds on every corner reminded you of being in Eastern Europe with its gothic architecture and evidence of a brutal communist regime.
Those that know me will know that I am not comfortable in big cities, have little interest in architecture and even less in flamboyant churches. I am glad that I have been, but I have no need to return and I was glad to be returning to Morocco a few days later. Bugger is, I developed a stinking cold which stayed with me my whole time in Morocco. Coughing and spluttering across the desert, the camels took me in as one of their own.