Prague Trip Report: Day 4 and 5 – A rude awakening, a sobering afternoon and a trip home covered in Anti-Bac gel.
by Dr Anthony D. Cliffe
Whenever I’m away travelling I still like to keep to my usual morning schedule, at least an adapted one. I don’t mind if my morning routine is disrupted or out of order, it’s just I like doing things in an order because my brain doesn’t have to think about it! It can stay in sleep mode for that little bit longer. Part of the routine is waking up, going to the loo, doing my teeth and then jumping in the shower and then having breakfast. The girls were well used to me being in the shower first by now. I’m an early riser anyway and I tend to be the first in my house to get a shower. My family constantly say I spend too long in the shower. I don’t think 10 minutes is too excessive but they both mentioned in passing that I spend ages in the shower. Hint taken but there are some things I will not budge on. My morning shower being one of them! I had reduced my shower down to about 8 which is as good as they were going to get.
Turning the shower on in the morning as I put my tooth brush away, i step into the bath and HOLY SHI-I-I-I-T my breath is ripped away from the ice cold water that had just covered my legs and nether regions. How I didn’t fall over from shock I don’t know! I try to clamber out of the bath and ended up having a fight with the shower curtain instead while ice water continued to cascade over me. Each new place on the body the water hit sending me to gasp for breath. Annoyed and now very cold, I look at the boiler which was handily in the bathroom. A red light was flashing and the temperature dial had been replaced with a flashing F22. Mother Fucker. I mutter to myself. Yesterday was a very hot day and it was a warm night so I needed a shower. A cold one it would have to be. I had PTSD flashbacks to SAS training camp in cadets, in the cold February plains of Shropshire where despite it being 1 degree, you still had to shower in ice cold water. Something about making you stronger mentally. More like abuse but we’ll let that slide. Deep breath, control the breathing and back in we go. After the initial cold water shock when it goes over your head, I had the quickest shower I had ever done!
Getting changed in a hurry to try and get warm I then exit the bathroom “well guys shit. We have no hot water!” … “I thought you were quick!” (not the first time a woman has said that to me before haha!). I was quickly onto google. F22 was a boiler fault that was due to low water pressure. I watched a Youtube video from a very cockney plumber who explained how to rectify it (he really needed a flatcap and pipe to go with his accent and look, it felt like he was about to break into song at any minute) by adding water pressure through different valves under the boiler. I explain this to both of them and then Katie notices that the pressure reading was still 1.5 Bar. So not a water pressure issue. “Get in touch with Aldo”. Out of ideas and lacking any plumbing skills I did indeed text Aldo aka Cisco. I guess if Aldo’s Central City’s doppelganger can invent new ways to stop meta humans then he should know how to fix an F22 error. I was right! His text was simple and to the point.
“Turn it off and back on again”
Unsurprisingly that worked. If in doubt always do that! Unless it’s a nuclear reactor then maybe not but hurrah we had hot water. They were both happy, I was still thawing out by time we left the apartment for the day ahead. Laura had rescheduled the walking tour for 11 a.m. in Old Town Square, which was becoming more and more like home for us now. We would walk through it on our way to and from the apartment, so much so that we knew all the streets and no longer needed to look at any maps. One building we would see in the distance each time we crossed this main road that had tram tracks that had trams running up and down almost every two minutes. It was what we thought was a church with its tower looming up as if it was stuck in the middle of this road. We decided to go check it out, it was only fair on the poor thing! Once we got closer it turned out not to be a Church or at least not an active one. Instead it was different floors of different activities, including a Whiskey cellar, a Whiskey shop with Whiskey tours and a bar/restaurant in the roof which offered views of the city. A converted church that had Whiskey in it. Now that’s a religion I can get on board with! Sadly it was closed so after a few pictures we went in search for one of Prague’s top 10 things to Instagram. Usually you won’t find many cities top 10 things involving a trip to the municipal library but here is where we were heading. In this library was a book tower, we’re all book worms to some extent, two of us have dabbled with writing books in the past and it was free! So after a short walk we arrived. It was really odd but incredibly cool!
From there it was time for our first coffee of the trip. I am truly surprised it took us this long to have one! I used to drink coffee occasionally, usually to get me through an assignment or a long day of coding. I was certainly not a massive coffee drinker (I still do prefer naps for a caffeine boost!) however since hanging out with these guys who are big coffee drinkers and doing the PhD my coffee intake has rapidly increased! So much so that I’ve even developed a taste for black Americano’s now thanks to Laura. Once we got to Old Town Square we sat outside this very fancy café called the White Horse and ordered our coffees. That was a very lovely coffee and there is something very fitting about drinking a good coffee in mainland Europe, outside in the warmth, people watching. It’s very tranquil indeed. Until the bastard of the insect world appeared. Why do Wasps insist on being annoying bastards? They’re like the Go Compare man. Hangs around for ages with an annoying whine and just when you think its gone, It comes back. I don’t know if its my aftershave or their perfume but he was not budging from flying around us three!
Before we could get stung it was nearly 11 a.m and the start of our tour. Turns out plenty of tours start here in the square and they all have umbrellas to identify themselves too. Not very helpful! We were on NextCity tours free tour. An odd concept for me but one that works very well. The tour is free. There is no catch. A man, in this case, James a young lad from Chicago who went travelling after graduating University and fell in love with Prague, takes you on a three hour tour of the city for free. All he asks is that if you want, that you can tip him. Of course everyone is going to tip him (although I bet some right arseholes don’t!) but it’s a good concept, pay what you feel its worth. Seriously though, it was well worth 200 czk tip! I cannot recommend that tour enough!
Before James took us on a delightful tour of the city, explaining many of the features, historical figures and the history of the place, for which Prague is steeped in. I won’t go into too much detail of the tour as I really wouldn’t want to spoil it for you as you have to come here and go do it! Some of the things we had seen on our walks before but it felt good to finally add some historical context to them. Little things like Defenestration which is the legal act of throwing someone out of a window in Prague. Totally legal thing to do! (I did get worried in case I’d end up being thrown out of a sky light now!). Although some of the things we hadn’t seen before…like a decaying arm of a thief hanging from the ceiling of a church! Yep. No bullshit!
So before we went on the walking tour he introduced himself and made the rest of us introduce ourselves too, our names, where we come from, what takes our interest (i.e world war 2 history, architecture etc.) and if we were an interesting person or not. There were two other Brits, a lot of Americans, a few other European countries and two giant German people. They were a couple but they were absolutely huge! See below. James is the same height as me so around 6 foot. They make him look small!
Many people introduced themselves and bar a Scottish guy who told us he burns very easily as his interesting fact (yep I feel your pain brother!) one girl and I quote for her interesting fact “For my interesting fact I’m a Vegan”. Euuuugh you’re the worst I inwardly moan in my head as I try to supress a laugh. Way to quash your Vegan stereotypes of “How can you recognise a Vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!”
The walking tour was amazing, lunch was delicious and for me two bits of information stood out for me on that tour. One was I love World War 2 history so a walk around the Jewish Quarter is a must do and seeing the Church the two Czech soldiers hid out in after fatally wounding Hitler’s right hand man the horrific person who designed and came up with the gas chambers, was very interesting to see. Crazy how in this spot that happened due to two guys and if they didn’t pull off that mission, to which wasn’t easy (the gun jammed and they had to throw a grenade instead) if they didn’t pull it off the war could have been very very different indeed!
The second was the story of the Prague Gollum which is apparently sealed in this loft since the 17th century. From this story came the word for Robot and Superman is in fact based on this old tale of the Prague Gollum. Truly fascinating!
After we paid James and thanked him for his service (we worked out from the amount he got that he’s on £36 an hour. No wonder he stayed!) we went to buy a ticket for the Jewish Quarter museum which gets you into the various Synagogues and exhibitions which were all museum pieces. James couldn’t recommend this enough on his tour so we all agreed it was a must thing to do. I cannot recommend the Jewish Quarter enough. You seriously have to go visit this collection of buildings and museum pieces.
Two places I still get a lump in my throat thinking about now. In one of the catacombs of a Synagogue is every name of every Jewish person from Prague and the surrounding area who was taken during the Holocaust. Their names were painted on the walls and ceilings of these vast four rooms. Listed was their family name, their first name, when they were taken, when they died and what age they were. To see their names covering this vast area was truly sobering. There were too many names to take in. I saw one child’s name who was 5 when he was killed. I wonder what he would have become if he was allowed to live. These names where shadows of a future that was brutally taken away in one of History’s darkest pasts. I was moved far more than I thought I would be at this. The sheer scale of it all really threw me. Hearing vast amount of numbers killed in this case 80,000 you can still distance yourself from that but when you see those 80,000 names inscribed in front of you for as far as you can see, was just a very sobering experience. Especially as there was a mournful Jewish soundtrack playing which just added to the feel of the place. I don’t think any of us barely said a word to each other for the entire time in there. I think we were all lost in our own thoughts and contemplation’s.
The bit that I really want you to go and see is the Freidl Dicker-Brandeis exhibition. In the labour camps this was the first instance of using drawings with kids to help them get over trauma. Freidl did this in secret with the kids to help them and hid the drawings in cases under floorboards. Freidl knew they were being shipped off to the next camp to sadly perish. On display were the original drawings and paintings from some of these seven suit cases that the children had drawn. That really struck a chord with me emotionally. Some of the children had drew pictures and paintings of happier times, a life before all of this. Happy family meals, Passover, playing with friends. That gave me hope that in the darkest of times for these kids that they could hold onto the thought of positivity and happier times. Yet many showed the true horror of what they had seen and what they were going through at that time. One picture vividly sticks out in my head. Its drawing of himself bearing in mind this kid was 6 years old, he’s standing outside a burning house (which I assume was his childhood home), his mum and dad are outside with skull and crossbones over their faces, while a German soldier in the most horrific gas mask over his head, with a rifle pointing towards his parents on the ground. He drew himself to the side looking on with tears coming from his eyes. I could actually feel my eyes well up a little as I looked at it. 6 years old. Having to go through that and relive it every day just because he believed in a different religion. It made me so sad and so angry at the same time. I can only imagine what he must have felt like being in one of those camps alone with only his thoughts. He never made it past the age of 6. Another life needlessly taken.
As emotional as it was that afternoon I am so glad we decided to go and do it. It’s a must see thing and to learn about the Jewish culture and WW2 history is something I fully recommend.
After visiting there we headed back to the apartment to get changed before heading out for our last night in Prague. Laura since the first day had wanted a slice of pizza from this little Pizza place on the corner that we kept passing, she finally got her wish! It did look good and certainly smelt good too! For the evening we decided to head back to the White Horse café where we had had coffee that morning. It was a beautiful warm summer evening as we watched day turn into night and watched the hustle of Prague’s old town square transform as night fell. I had another Czech sausage which apparently doesn’t come with sides!? So I literally just had a sausage for tea. Well bar Katie very kindly offloading some of her chips to me as I agreed when she said “Tony…that’s pretty much just a starter for you isn’t it?”. She wasn’t wrong haha!
I tried to drink in the atmosphere, the warmth, the noise and the conversation and commit it to memory. It’s so very rare in the UK that you can sit out in such a place like this and in this temperature, the whole feel about it was amazing. A busker had appeared and began playing some beautiful music on his piano as the night grew darker and the buildings grew lighter in that soft Prague street light glow. What an evening. Even the return of the bastard Wasp didn’t dampen our spirits as even he got bored before our meal arrived and buggered off to let us three enjoy our final night in Prague together. On the way back to our apartment we decided to go souvenir shopping. You’re certainly not short on places to get stuff from that’s for sure and at the end of the day it really is all tat but still, you do have to buy it! Loaded up on goodies to take home we headed back to the apartment. Some more cards were played along with a music quiz of British children’s TV shows. Damn those shows have some catchy themes! From Raggy Dolls to Poddington Peas! Although I can still never get the opening of Rosie and Jim out of my head. “JIIIIIMMM”. Oh god.
Our last morning arrived and after tidying up the apartment we said one last goodbye to what had been our home for the past few nights. On leaving we bumped into Aldo and said our goodbyes as we headed back out into the warm sunshine for one final time. One final coffee was the order of the day for breakfast. We found a nice little café in Wenceslas square and sat outside people watching as the time ticked closer to 11 a.m. I decided to skip coffee this morning and instead have some peppermint tea which is one of my favourite drinks! It came with honey and lemon too. Honey in fresh mint tea tastes amazing, lemon….not so much. Lesson learnt!
That’s not before learning how to use a cafeteria. I think four days of not having my required 8 hours sleep had turned my brain to mush. Much to their amusement! I eventually mastered this simple technique but my brain continued to fade throughout the day! So much so that in the airport Katie says “I think we broke Tony”. I think they did!
After paying up and popping to the loo which had a world map where you could place where you had come from, we headed to Albert supermarket (a place we had visited every night to get supplies) and then we jumped on the Metro and then the 119 Bus to the airport. I notice that absinth is a popular drink here, I think the driver had a bit too much as it was one crazy ride! As the bus snaked its way passed the perimeter fence of the airport I turn to Katie and say “At least I’ve learnt one word on this trip” …”Oh yeah?” … “Yeah! Prezni!” I exclaim proudly, my linguistical tongue bound to impress with my perfect Czech accent. She gave me a very confused look “Prezni? What’s that?” she enquired. “It means please…doesn’t it?” at this point my confidence wavered for the meaning of this word. She gave me that smile which I knew would lead into a laugh “Please is Prosim Tony!” … “Oh great! The one word I learnt and it’s not even the correct one!” both of them found this very amusing indeed. I still have no idea what Prezni means! I did learn another word though which is Thank You but it sounds very much like Dick Weed, so I elected to not commit that to memory or use it on the trip!
Prague airport is very odd. Who has shops before security and that security being at your gate? I finally admit defeat that Priority boarding is a complete waste of time. Something I found very difficult to admit to Katie who had the smugness of the cat who just got the cream. It seemed we weren’t the only ones trying to get home. Air traffic congestion over Germany meant we had to wait an extra 45 minutes before we took off into the late European summer blue sky. This extra 45 minutes didn’t do much good for my bladder. Katie needed the loo too but the service trolley was blocking our way and plus she had the aisle seat so had all the power. Evil woman! Finally the trolley went passed us!
On my return I asked her if I could borrow her hand gel, something I always use after using a public loo because humans are dirty buggers and people don’t wash their hands! “Of course!” naaw isn’t she nice I thought as I held my hands out. That grin appeared before it was too late to react. She proceeded to pour a shit load (technical term of measurement) of hand gel all over my hands while laughing! I tried to rub it in but there was just too much. I found it very funny…especially as its something i’d deffo do to her but she got there first so probably Katie 3 me 0 now. It was good to know that my hands will be clean for the next 10 years now anyway! Plus, I’m sure the rest of the aircraft enjoyed the slightly peachy scent of Anti-Bac gel. Before long the blue skies of Europe had been replaced by the dull grey heavy clouds of North West England and we touched down. Our holiday was over and we were back home.
We said our goodbyes in the airport and exchanged hugs and the amazing five days in Prague with two awesome people was sadly over. What a trip it had been and above all such a funny one. I would definitely travel with these two again and I know we’ll have many more adventures together! So there we have it, one excellent trip to Prague. Holiday blues are replaced by the thought of my next trip, the biggest solo trip of the year to Iceland and Canada at the end of the month!