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.

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