Monday, 7 May 2012

Prague




Recently I began jogging again.  Not because I liked it.  Rather to tone up, lose weight and get fitter.  To date I look no different.  Nor has any weight been lost.  However, fitness might be up a notch.  This was put to the test last Thursday when Mr V and I caught a plane to Prague.

Following Easyjet’s advice, we arrived at Stansted Airport two hours prior to take-off.  Checking in the luggage promptly, we congratulated ourselves on having plenty of time to twiddle our thumbs.  Sitting down with cappuccinos, we set about putting the world to rights.  And lost track of time.  Stupidly we hadn’t gone through the X-Ray bit and, as luck would have it, there was a queue a mile long.  A lady swathed from head to toe in flowing garb was repeatedly setting the alarms off and flatly refusing to co-operate. The queue ground to a standstill.  Chuntering broke out.  Staff looked harassed.  Twenty minutes later it was finally our turn.  I didn’t get through.  Boots, belt and wristwatch had been removed.  A stern woman with a huge metal detector scanned me.  More demented bleeping.  Next thing I was being thoroughly frisked by hand.  I was finally waved through when the queue was at boiling point and airport staff determined the numerous decorative studs on the backside of my jeans were to blame.  We now had ten minutes to catch our flight.  Even worse, the monorail wasn’t working.  At various points notices proclaimed: If you are late, we won’t wait.  And thus began our run through Stansted Airport as we searched for Boarding Gate 2.  We belted along corridors, skirted trolleys, bypassed dawdlers, leapt two stairs at a time up escalators, flew round corners and finally found Gate 2.  The area was devoid of people and the gate was locked.  At that moment there was an announcement.  ‘Last call for Prague, please go to Gate 13.’  Not Gate 2?  We turned and thundered off in the opposite direction.  We were the last to board the plane.  Mr V’s heart was hammering so hard his shirt was visibly pumping.  Whereas I was puffing but not about to have a coronary.  So the good news is:  jogging works.  Oh, and we got to Prague.

The following morning we set off to explore.  Like all good tourists I’d downloaded a map of Prague the day before using all my printer cartridges in the process along with an entire roll of cellotape to stick hundreds of A4 sheets together.  Whereupon the receptionist gave us a dinky map all neatly folded up.  ‘Catch the Number 22 tram to the river,’ I read from my tourist guide.  As if on cue, a tram rattled to a standstill by our side and we hopped on.  And off we went.  In the wrong direction.  An hour later we still hadn’t found the river but we’d checked out some diverse market stalls where you could buy fresh flowers.  And cannabis.

Totally lost, we came across a church.  ‘Let’s go in,’ said Mr V.  Inside a few religious diehards sat in pews, heads bowed in prayer.  The silence was so profound it was literally deafening.  As I’m a firm believer that God is everywhere and not just in a church, I didn’t imitate Mr V who was frantically crossing himself and clearly muttering apologies for not having been inside a holy place since heaven knew when.  The interior was a Godly version of Madame Tussauds.  Eerie giant-sized statues of saints and a dying Jesus jostled for space here, there and everywhere.  A padre glided silently out of an elaborate confessional box and greeted us.  Mr V did lots of bowing and scraping and reversed towards an exit.  The padre put up a hand to halt us.  Terrified that he was going to be hauled into a confessional box, Mr V made a break for it.  Whereupon the real reason for the padre’s attempt to stop us became apparent.  Only God would know when that particular door had last been opened.  It groaned back on its hinges, creaks and cracks splintering the air, shattering the silence and shocking the occupants within.

Finding the underground, we disappeared into the bowels of the earth.  More by luck than design we ended up in a place that was totally unpronounceable but began with S and was near the river.  And thus our exploring of the Old Town properly began.

Prague is a beautiful city with a plethora of cobbled streets and quaint buildings steeped in history.  However, so many have been marred by prolific graffiti, indeed I have never seen so much of the stuff in my life.  And any ideas to do a bit of frivolous shopping and buy yet another handbag went out the window when I saw the number of tramps, beggars and lost souls on the streets.  These were people who needed a meal.  And although we gave a few some money, I doubt they fed themselves.  To say it made you sad is an understatement.  Likewise when I saw a beautiful young girl offering her services to a bunch of drunk stags.  All I kept thinking was, ‘That’s somebody’s precious daughter,’ and I wanted to shove the leering louts away.  But all cities have their dark side.  Prague was probably no different.

Putting the seedier bit to one side, it was nice to visit another patch of the world and explore that country’s culture and history.  Would I go back?  Possibly.  But next time I’ll be paying closer attention to departure gate changes – and have on my trainers...

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