Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Travel: 18/10/06 - Prague


Schiphol is an airport overreaching itself. You can tell this when instead of strolling out of the shopping area and along a gantry to the plane, you have to walk five miles along ever narrowing corridors until you leave the airport and walk for three minutes to your plane.

The plane for Prague leaves from gate D06, not so far to walk to, but it seems 13 other flights also leave from gate D06 and so it is divided into sub-gates A to M. As it happens, gate D06 is not really a gate but a bus terminal.

The busses that run from Bus Terminal D06 to the various aircraft are run by Connexxion who were the bane of my life in Leiden until I got a bike there. Now all I have to do is avoid the buses, but that’s easy as they don’t run all that often. Our bus took us all round the D06 building; it barged in front of a minor traffic hold-up, riding over the kerb as it did; it drove past a large part of the terminal, past the works area where they store the bits needed for extending the airport to make it even more complex, past the carpark for contractors, past the container depot complete with horse boxes; finally, it drove round a junction near the perimeter and into the KLM overflow airpark. There we were herded onto a Fokker.

Air travel used to be glamorous; then it became easy; now it’s just cheap.
It’s nice to know Fokkers are still being made and flown. They have a great comedy name that far surpasses even Heinkel, Boing, Hawker-Siddeley. Plus the original Mr Fokker was a Dutch designer, albeit one who made his name designing aircraft used by the Germans in Wold War I.

A Fokker almost like the one we flew on.

Prague is one of those cities you assume everyone has been to except you. People always seem to have tales of its beauty, its romanticism, its pocket pilferers. So it’s good to finally go. It’s a city preserved by communism and now mobbed by tourists. It was the home of Kafka and is dominated by a huge castle. I couldn’t help but wonder how often people do turn into cockroaches there.


Living in the Netherlands it’s easy to forget that countries aren’t naturally flat. All natural countries are very uneven and the Czech Republic has a great, varied landscape.

Coming into land, I was surprised by one thing: the number of pools I saw in people’s back gardens. I don’t know why I was surprised. I guess it didn’t fit into my notion of what I expected the place to be like. yet, people are people and many of them will want pools, thus if those people have the money for a house in the green bits around a city, they can afford a couple of chaps to dig a hole, paint it blue and fill it with water. I guess it comes from the assumption that even in former communist countries, luxuries are frowned upon. I was also vaguely surprised at the brightness of the colours as if I had expected everything to be dulled, or even only in black and white.

Prague airport doesn’t suffer from being overextended. It has the feeling that it has room to grow. In fact it was positively quiet that day. I don’t know to what gate we arrived, but it certainly wasn’t T406-K part 2/B (behind the coke machine). We had a tunnel from our plane to the terminal just like in the old days.

There are plenty of taxis at the airport, of course, but when you can sample the local public transport all the way to the centre for 80 cents, there's no point in paying a vast multiple of that to a criminal in a car. And the local transport is amazingly tourist friendly, even down to the helpful people in the ticket office whose time spent on showing us what we have to do must have cost more than 80 cents.

The bus wound its way from the airport carrying a few newly arrived travellers (and pretty much no tourists except us). It picked up considerably more people travelling home from work and school, but the bus never got jam packed. The display had both Czech and English and announcements for tourist stops are announced in English, which on ours was only the end of the line (and the start of metro line B) where we were efficiently told by the voice to “please leave the bus.”

The start/end of the metro B line is very convenient for Ikea and Tesco. Tesco is quite established here, but it seems to sell everything rather than just concentrating on food as it does in the UK.

The metro is modern and the stations airy and new. We had barely a few minutes wait for one. It was not very crowded for most of the trip and the relatively simple announcements and clear metro station signs made navigation easy. It also helps that the station names are all very different. Zlicín, Luka, Cerný most - they all have different letters and lengths so even if you had no idea about European languages, you can know when you are not at the right stop. I guess I had been dreading a metro system where stations read like: Gwar, Gwor, Gwor, Gwur, Gwr, Gwãr (Nub), Gwãr (Nib), Gwãr (Neb), Gwaar (end of line, please change here).
Ornate Façade


We had gone for an apartment as it was cheaper than the hotel’s Mr Michelin had recommended. Ours was very close to the old square and you certainly get a lot more room than in a hotel room, which would be great for a longer stay. After regaining strength, we wandered the streets in search of food. We walked past shops selling Versace, Louis Futons, etc. It seems Prague is a great place to go for designer clothing. One shop we did not recognise was New Yorker. New Yorker is the place to go to get your bling and especially your clothes and accessories that already have a lot of bling on them. I wasn’t sure exactly who shopped there, but there seemed to be a couple more people in there than in the Versace shop. I.e. a couple.

We picked up a copy of The Prague Post, probably the largest and best-written expat newspaper I have ever seen. Far better than Amsterdam’s fledgling efforts.

After a good wander, we found the place we were looking for, Novometský Pivovar (or První Novometský Restauracní Pivovar to be fully accurate or Newtown Brewery), but alas it was full.

Czech wait staff make Dutch wait staff seem helpful and attentive. it makes you realise that the Dutch look meaning, “What? Can’t you see I’m on my cigarette break?” is actually a lot closer to the American “Hi, my name is Candy and I’ll be sexually energized to take your order” than you think.

Our second choice was packed full due to a concert by an oompah band. Could we have found a place to stand, we would have stood out for not knowing the words.

Eventually we found a suitable location and the barman reluctantly admitted there may be some spaces downstairs. Whether we came in and increased the prosperity of his establishment he didn’t care. In fact I think he’d rather we didn’t. We went downstairs and found a darkish corner in a reasonably full, bright cellar.

Czech food is big on meat. They like to fry big lumps of it and wash it down with ample beer. Even breakfast can be like this. This is why Czech men are so big and hearty. It doesn’t explain why Czech women seem to wear Versace and Louis’ Futons.

At U Zeleného Stromm, we had big meat dishes, mine with both red and white sauerkraut, which was actually the first sauerkraut I’ve ever had that tasted good. I had always assumed it can only be horrible or at best, just about bearable. It was all washed down with a couple of steins of local favourite Pilsner Urquell, a solid tasty beer with more body than most lagers.

After such a huge meal, we had to do more walking to ease it through our systems. We passed what appeared to be Prague’s red light district. In fact it may not have been all of it as it was just two women leaning up against a post wearing New Yorker outfits. Now I know who shops there.

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