Thursday

Prague - it's not all about beer.

The first steps in exploring any new town are exciting, and for us it was made even better by the cool air, something we were enjoying immensely. So cool in fact that I had to wear a jacket.

This all probably sounds a little mundane, but after having survived most of the summer in Abu Dhabi, and it's 46C+ heat, we couldn't get enough of it.

An aside:
We get quizzed all the time about the heat, and how we are coping with it. It seems that there is a common misconception that simply because we are Australian we automatically have nerve endings that are supposed to be quite adept at dealing with living in a sandy blast furnace.

For the record: We're not.

Yes it gets hot in Melbourne, bloody hot if you'll excuse the expression (a milder turn of phrase than I usually use), but Melbourne, even at 46 degrees, is do-able... kinda.

Sure, the airconditioning situation is laughable. I mean who really wants an evaporative cooling solution that reduces the ambient temperature by 8 degrees.. but INCREASES the humidity so much you could grow orchids in the carpet of the lounge room? Oh, and the issue of the train lines buckling because of the extreme heat, thereby ruining any chance of train travel that doesn't involve getting stranded for hours in a steel box with 200 new found friends...

What's do-able about it then? At least in Melbourne you know that in the next week there will be a cool day, not polar-ice-shelf cool.. but significantly cooler than 46. Unlike Abu Dhabi, where summer was 4 months of 40+ degrees with at least 2 of those months 44+.

Every day. With 80-90% humidity.

Brutal.

So finding ourselves on a beautiful old street below the castle in the cool afternoon air was almost worth the price of the plane ticket alone - and we were literally only 4 hours out of the plane.

Staying on the Castle side of the river had a few unexpected benefits, one of which was the need to cross the magnificent Charles bridge any time we needed to go anywhere other than the castle itself. A need I am grateful for, as just visiting it once wouldn't do it justice. We probably crossed it a couple of times a day during our stay - each visit bringing something new.

A new art vendor, or another busker or a different view across the Vltava River. Maybe something missed on one of the famous statues on previous crossings picked up.

We saw a water colour we liked at one of the stalls, and rather purchasing it right then and carting it around on our adventures, we vowed to take a closer look on our return.

On we wandered, with and through the throng of tourists meandering through the streets. The entire time marvelling at the beauty and the architecture of the place while adopting the Billy Connelly attitude of hyper vigilence against pickpockets.

Mr Connelly once did a stand up show about travelling in Australia. Before arriving he had been told that everything would kill you, snakes spiders, bugs, hookers, whatever - it's all deadly. On arrival he was heading to the beach when he saw a warning sign informing the reader to "Beware of Stingers". He spent the rest of the day concerned about where the stingers would come from, expecting them to be so prolific that they would drop from trees.

Billy's stingers were my pickpockets - expecting that they would hunt in packs and fall upon us like semi-homeless piranha. The way the guide books make it out, you can't walk to the front door from the bedroom in your own apartment without losing your watch, your passport and at least one kidney.

So in honour of the bearded funny-man, I too was being ware.

All roads seemed to lead toward to the old town square, so that's where we headed... and in the town square we got the first of many glimpses of the clock, or more importantly the astronomical clock, I'll get into more detail on this beasty later - it's at once a super cool object, and pretty lame overall.

Most of the lameness is derived from the hourly stand and wait show that goes on, on the hour, 12 hours a day.
This is also the hourly event on which our friends the pickpockets work the most of their trade - a bread and butter gig for them if you will. For when the hourly thing happens, the crowd as one raises both their arms in order to get the photo of the clock doing it's thing, thus rendering them as vulnerable to pickpockets as a seal to a fur trader's club.

I was so obsessed by the potential for a sea of street thieves getting about that I missed the entire thing - well you do have to be quick, it only lasts a minute or two.

We peeled off from the crowd afterward, and in the opposite direction to where the 500 or so clockers were headed, with a desire to find a beer in a back street somewhere rather than paying the extortionate fees for a beer, simply because it is on the town square AND right next door to a Starbucks.

A plan that worked swimmingly.

Maybe 150 metres away from the old town centre, with it's clock, alleged pick-pockety denizens and over priced American chain 'coffee', there was a sign for beer at a cheap price. A sign that pointed toward a small street and past a jaunty collection of reeking wheely bins all milling around a small dumpster.

While it looked a little a little sinister, it didn't have the stink of dread or dead cat - so we followed it's suggestion. It was late afternoon after all, and we hadn't had a beer yet.

Not far along the alley we found the establishment we were looking for, suitably lit (dim) and having only 3 patrons, 2 of whom were chatting and 1 quietly nursing beer.

We picked one of the chatters as soon as we entered, his broad accent immediately a smile to our faces.

It turns out that Mitch was nearing the end of his world trip, at this point taking in the sights and sounds of Europe before he headed back to Western Australia, and his life as a farmer. His farm stocks wheat and sheep, is 400 kilometres from Perth, and an entire world away from a back street bar in Prague.

Mitch's family has farmed the same piece of land for generations - and while he didn't say as much, simply by the way his shoulders squared along with the smile that played on his face while he told us about it leads me to think that he is quite proud of continuing the work of his forebears. He said "It can be a hard life, but also a good one, and I wouldn't swap it for anything". Then turned and ordered another round.

His only spot of regret on the 'Mitch World Odyssey' was that his local football team, the team he plays for, picked up a premiership a couple of weeks prior to our impromptu meeting. He summed it up though by saying "I'm happy for the boys, they deserve it, ther'll be other finals.... and just look where I am, and what I've seen".

There was more talk, and we managed to cram a couple of beers in with Mitch before it was time for him to head off and find the tour group he was supposed to be part of - (he'd left them to it because he was thirsty), and it was time for us to waddle homeward as we hadn't eaten for hours (and were a tad drunk).

We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, he striding purposefully toward the road to the town square, we staggering pie eyed back past the wheely bin...

... toward and across the bridge - taking care to stop at the art vendor on the way through.

I jovially told him that I was too drunk AND too tired to make a purchase. He responded with a demeanour that suggested that I was probably too drunk/tired to even speak to him.

He was probably right.

On we pushed and began the assault on our hill. Half way up we agreed that food might be in order.

I'd like to say our choice of restaurant was at least some kind of process of elimination, that we weighed up the pro's and con's of the establishments on offer.

Nope.

Our choice was based purely on the fact that it was about as far up our hill as we felt like walking a that point, and it's door was open.

We launched ourselves at the food of choice of most travellers in our delicate state - "the mixed grill" (and another beer)

Ate our fill of delicious meat and related dishes, drank another fine beer, and staggered out onto the hill again.

We found our place, and its house sign (a bird perched over the doorway) in short order - but not before stopping at the convenience store for yet more beer.

Now, I don't want to come off as some kind of lush here, but the beer in Prague is so damn cheap it's almost offensive NOT to drink it. It's half the price of coca-cola and cheaper than water...

What were we to do?

Don't want to offend the locals by not partaking of their local product...

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Andrew Webber is a writer, living in Abu Dhabi with his wife, two cats and two dogs.

His first book "Erasure" was published in June 2012 and was followed in 2013 by the Prequel to Erasure, "Broken".

In 2016 Erasure was a prize winner in the Montegrappa Writing Prize - part of the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature.

For more information click the "Erasure" book cover on the left side of this site, or simply go to www.athwebber.com

Thanks for visiting.