Saturday, July 17, 2004

Prague: getting the "Kafka" into "Kafka-esque" 
Prague did not start so well. My hostel, on first encounter, had an institutional grimness defying the more immediate forms of description. At check in there was a computer and bank-card payment facilities, but everything important was done on loose paper and in large, dog eared ledgers with grid paper.
The buildings are clean to a lawyer's scruple, lino-floored and were repainted cream and brown in recent decade. I would like to say the effect is "post-Soviet", but the prefix would be misleading.
My room, booked as a single, is a twin. One bed mattress is three large lounge cushions pushed together, the other (I discovered on my second night) is foam, but all of one piece. The bedding consists of a translucent polyester bottom sheet that almost covers the "mattress", pillows offering no actual resistence to a head placed on them, and a duvet in several shades of pastel hideousness.
The towel provided is of the type I normally prefix with the word "tea". Very glad to have travelled with my own full-grown towel in the backpack. The toilet on my landing has a window opening onto a space within the walls facing another window for what might once have been another WC, but which is now full of snaking wires. (Very "The Matrix"). On inspection, the space between the walls is a five floor drop into darkness at one end, and open to the sky at the other.
That said, it is cheap and relatively central. (Even if I was informed with bland, bored pragmatism on my first morning that "breakfast included" only referred to groups.)
Prague itself is beautiful, and the food and beer is amazingly cheap. It's proved very easy to meet English-speaking travellers, especially through the plentiful walking tours. That said, six days on the ground may have been excessive. After three days of heavy walking, the sudden return to seasonably warm weather today has made me very sleepy. Sent most of the day napping or reading the international edition of the Guardian in the gorgeous parks surrounding the 1:5 scale replica of the Eiffel tower that overlooks the city.
Can't decide between going home and changing for a jazz club this evening, or just wandering back to the film festival at Sharpshooter Island and watching Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" over a beer. Should go and check out the rather ghoulish-sounding ossuary (chapel made of human bones) in a nearby town tomorrow, but the busses on a Sunday will be difficult and infrequent (it's closed Monday and I'm gone before it opens Tuesday).
Can also see why some are already claiming tourism has ruined Prague: depressingly large strips of poor-quality souvenir shops everywhere.
Still, love the Jewish Quarter and Paris Street. There is an amusing metronome on top of one hill where a 30 metre statue of Stalin once stood. Michael Jackson then put a 30 metre statue of himself up there before one of his concerts, and booked out the hotel facing the hill from across the river. Hysterical. Now the metronome symbolises the ebb and flow of history here at the crossroads of Europe. Apparently, during the EU referendum, it's long red pointer swung between signs reading "yes" and "no".

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