Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Any excuse, as they say, will do for a holiday. Last weekend Meredith and I conjured up a variety of excuses, from me being deadly quiet at work, to Meredith having recently finished a second-last round of exams and Easyjet having a sale on flights to central Europe. The result: a delightful weekend in Praha (aka Prague), capital of the equally delightful Czech Republic. Planning for the trip involved a close study of Jetsetting Joyce's excellent travel blog, a tribute to which I now present below in the form of "Praha: HOT or NOT?"

The Czech Inn - HOT

The Czech Inn (maybe not the most original of names, but still cute) is an amazingly well designed and constructed youth hostel situated close to central Prague (only a short trip on the number 22 tram from the centre of town). Set in a beautiful old building, the hostel is a modernistic marvel, with beautifully preserved period features and vaulted ceilings mixed with polished cement floors, blinding white walls and streamlined design. The service was amazingly friendly and helpful. Our room was large, clean and beautiful. The highlight though was an awesome bar / cafe, which proved to be a great venue for long breakfasts at the cheap buffet and a couple of bouts of chess over cheap Czech beer. Highly recommended.

The Triton Restaurant - HOT

"Is this hell?" I asked Meredith on arrival in the basement restaurant of the Triton hotel. Well, we were about 20 meters below ground, a world away from the very-commercial and slightly-trashy Wenceslas Square near which the Triton is located and a three-headed Cerberus-like dog was peering over us along with a man dressed in a toga, grasping a book with one hand out-stretched and his mouth open in a scream. Actually, it was far from hellish down there. In fact, it was amazing and the setting of our favourite meal in Prague. Apparently the Triton has been a stalactite-filled cave since 1912. What was it before then I wonder? I'm not convinced the stalactites were real, but that didn't detract from the charm of the place. The strange statues and wall-sized aquarium added to the ambience and the service and food could hardly be faulted. The atmosphere was refined and elegant, though Mez and I did our best to lighten the mood by perfecting our signature handshake. After dinner, the cognac-trolley laden with VSOPs and XOs was calling to me. But we had to scram because we had a date at a jazz club ...

U Maleho Glena Jazz Bar - HOT

For some reason, Prague is well-known as a jazz hotspot. The old town and Jewish quarter are full of smokey little underground cafes pumping out trumpets, saxophones and jazzy electric piano. However, we decided to head over the Charles bridge to the other side of the river to sample the delights of the well known U Maleho Glena. Down a steep set of stairs and past one of the coolest bars I saw in Prague, was a tiny smoke-filled room that sees live jazz seven nights a week, all year long. On the night we were there the band didn't get going until past 11pm, but when they did they busted out some of the best jazz I've heard ... although I haven't heard much. Mez, a much more experienced aficionado than me, concurred that it was excellent, particularly the bald-headed guitar player, who gave a virtuoso performance. The atmosphere of the place couldn't be beaten and we enjoyed the performance from our wobbly bar stools, drinking long pints of pilsner and excellent bloody marys, with muchos gusto.

The Franz Kafka Museum - HOT

I'd heard about Kafka before going to Prague, but have never read any of his books. I had a vague idea that he was like Proust, Tolstoy and Joyce in the sense that everyone agrees that he's a giant of literature without ever having the guts or patience to try reading any of his work. Anyway, young Franz was obviously a troubled character, but sufficiently brilliant to justify his own museum in his loved and hated home-town. The museum itself was wonderfully moody and disconcerting, with floating images, strange sounds and eerily dark lighting. Even though I didn't get a clear narrative of Kafka's life, I picked up enough of the themes of alienation, frustration and existential crisis to get a sense of his work. And I could associate with Kafka's sense of displacement and his uneasy relationship with office bureaucracy. Even though I've yet to read any of his books, I do intend to give them ago. In particular, I was intrigued by the sound of The Trial and The Castle. I think I might also hang a Kafka poster on my office wall - just in case my employers haven't yet identified my growing loss of motivation at work ...

The Orient Cafe - HOT

The citizens of Prague love a bit of cubism, not only on their walls but in their architecture too. Apparently, Prague is the only place in the world where you can find cubist architecture. With good reason too, I suspect, for why would you want all the windows on one wall, all the doors on the ceiling and carpet on the walls? Anyway, the Cafe Orient is situated on the first floor of The House of the Black Madonna (which for some reason reminded me of Allo Allo and the painting of the Madonna with the Big Boobies, but that's probably explained my lack of maturity), which apparently the finest cubist building in town and also home to a cubist gallery and art shop. It's a very pretty little spot and our meals were nice and simple - smoked salmon and a cheese and ham gallette. To top it off, we found seats on the balcony and were serenaded by a group of guitar-wielding buskers on the street below. We were having a great time, although the people walking below us may not have been having as much fun, as a prolonged moment of clumsiness on my part led to a shower of lettuce falling over the balcony.

So that's the end of a short list that could be much much longer. A lot of HOTs on that list you say? Well, that's true, but it was hard to find too many NOTs in Prague and we were throwing strikes all weekend. Loved it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Better than never

OK, so this post is a little late, but please refer to the title before getting too critical. Anyway, as regular readers of this blog would know (there must be a few out there), I love life in London. The last year has been one of the best in my life, though it seems to have raced by. When I first arrived in London I was too excited to feel homesick, though I expected that would soon wear off and I would start to miss my home town a lot. Wrong. I have to confess that I generally haven't missed Melbourne that much at all, despite starting most of my stories at work with "Well, that's OK I guess, but in Melbourne we do things much better". I miss my friends and family of course, but I address issue that by encouraging them to come over and visit me here. So, well, come on, where the bloody hell are you?! Anyway, given the lack of strings tugging at my heart, I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed my two week break in Melbourne back in September. I headed back primarily to attend the wedding of Brian and Dilshani, two of my best friends. The bucks night on the first Saturday (which I won't blog about for fear of doing harm to what is still a very new marriage) and the wedding on the second Saturday were the only events I planned ahead of time. So I had heaps and heaps of spare time on my hands to just hang out and enjoy Melbourne. As it turns out, I managed to fill pretty much every day with visits to see old friends and rediscover old haunts. I caught up with a bunch of people from high school and was happy to see them all doing well. I went into town to catch up with some work mates and was happy to find that we didn't waste much time talking about work. I cruised around the south-eastern suburbs and bought a milkshake from Donut King in Dandenong Plaza and lunch at the food court at Knox City. I saw lots of babies, and one toddler with a great memory for dinosaur names. I did some bar hopping in China town and ate salt and pepper fried squid and stuffed tofu at the Supper Inn. Basically, I just had an awesome time. And the weather cooperated too - we had a series of glorious sunny days. Melbourne in spring time is a sight to behold. Driving down St Kilda road, in the middle of the city but surrounded by trees - brilliant. Oh, and I dropped by the Ian Potter gallery in Federation Square too - the collection of aboriginal art on the ground floor is stunning and a must-do if you're in Melbourne. So, yeah, this is turning into a pointless post. Or, technically, it was a pointless post from the start and hasn't gotten any better since then. I promise to finish soon. And I'll finish with the wedding. A truly picture perfect day as far as the weather was concerned, the ceremony and reception were both held up at Tatra Hut in the Dandenongs, in a stunning garden setting. The ceremony was fantastic and memorable, with an amusing speech by the pastor "If your wife is hungry, you must feed her." (I should have taken notes), tears shed by the groom (I pocketed 10 bucks as a result) and two long and sober vows that made a realistic forecast of what married life would be like (it won't be a fairy tale and bad words may be used). A magnificent day all round. It certainly reminded me what an awesome place Melbourne is ... but it wasn't quite enough to make me want to return. Not just yet anyway.