Friday 31st July
It was a late afternoon by the time we arrived in Brno and had checked in to our hotel apartment style room which it has to be said was a bargain expertly chosen by Marc. After changing in to something more suitable for the warm evening we went in search of a place in the main square to get a beer.
As we headed to Náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square) we came upon St James Church where we eventually sat down at a bar with some available seating outside. It seemed a very popular but pleasant location to relax with a beer and there was a pianist nearby which added to the atmosphere.
After leaving that bar we found the Freedom Square where the highlight was a clock which looked like an egg timer and not really in keeping with the style of architecture in the square. There was no seating in the bars within the square so continued to the Church of St Peters and St Pauls via the Vegetable Market Square where I had booked a labyrinth tour for us for the following morning.
St Peters and St Pauls church was high up on a hill and I imagine the view from the Tower would have been quite spectacular but it was closed so we wondered back in to town. Whilst we were starting to get hungry we found another pub first so that we could assess our options, play some more ‘s-head’ and have another refreshing Czech beer.
Leaving the bar Chas had identified two options. The first was an American style dinner but like a bar in Wernigerode that I’d been to, it had a model railway to carry the beers. The one in Brno was however even more spectacular as it had model bridges that raised automatically to let people through and the trains seemed to run using sensors. The food didn’t look overly ‘traditional Czech’ so we walked across to another pub which it turned out was.
We each ordered some traditional Czech bar snacks including deep fried bread and dips and a marinated cheese. We also ordered a main course and so when it all came out we had far more food than we needed and yet it was so cheap (compared to the UK). It was in my opinion the best meal we’d had up until that point and the beer was also award winning.
After a couple of drinks we returned to the earlier bar with the model railway and played some more s-head and drank more beer. Even though there were only 4 or us it felt like we were generating quite a bit of noise without being overly boisterous. The main conversation being as follows: Hamish “is it my go?”, me, “No it’s M Mans”, Chas “C’mon Martin”, Marc “Guys why can’t we have a civilised conversation whilst we play?” At one stage I inadvertently took a paparazzi style picture of Hamish as he watched Marc joyfully remove his scotches from the little wagon.
We made our way home and after watching a bit of the only tv channel available and sitting on the balcony I decided to go to bed because we had a fairly early start due to two underground tours that had been pre booked. Marc followed at some point later but not before he effectively declared war on Chas and Hamish by sneaking into their room in the style of Uncle Monty (from the film Withnail and I) and waking them up. In preparation for a retaliation he locked the balcony door, barricaded our bedroom door and once asleep declared a snoring competition on me which he subsequently won. I resorted to listening to relaxing music for much of the night.
Saturday 1st August
I was vaguely aware of Hamish saying “How’s my boys eh?” and I was so dead to the world it wasn’t until later in the morning it was confirmed this exchange had occurred. It did however mean I had at least fallen asleep at some stage. We left and checked out of the hotel later than planned which meant yet again we were in a rush though this time the sirens were wailing and the lights were flashing red. Hamish led the way with a fast pace with Chas and I on his wheel but at 9.29 he announced he should receive a court martial for failing to get us there on time. Instead as we turned the corner on to the Vegetable Market I immediately saw the sign for the labyrinth and we collected our tickets with seconds to spare.
The tour was all in Czech however we were given English audio guides. The Labyrinth had a number of different underground displays which represented how the underground stores in Brno had been used. This included as a cellar for the Moravia region’s famous wines, a alchemist laboratory, a tavern and even a prison/torture chamber. Whilst the tour was guided our female guide only spoke Czech and whilst we were given audio guides the whole experience felt less personal.
Leaving the Labyrinth we probably relaxed a bit to much as we wondered around the market and dawdled however fortunately our entry time to the Ossuary under the Church of St James was more flexible and unguided. I hadn’t really known what to expect and the English description of the history didn’t fully prepare me. It appears that although 50,000 people had been buried there from around the 1800s it was forgotten and not re-discovered until 2001. The vault was on the verge of collapse so had to be preserved and it was at this point that all the skulls (cleaned) were used to decorate the room and even appeared to he used to build a pillars.
Whilst it is clearly a quite significant place it is not surprising that some find the various displays disturbing and Marc in particular found it an unpleasant experience. Personally I felt it was done in a similar way to the Capuchin Crypt I visited in Rome, perhaps in an attempt to almost imortalise the skulls however as they weren’t whole skeletons it certainly felt more creepy and sinister. The sheer numbers also meant it was difficult to forget these weren’t the remains of those that didn’t fear death (as was the case with the Capuchin Monks) but were victims of frequent plague and war that probably did.
We walked back to the main square where we found a restaurant that was serving even though it wasn’t lunch. Having skipped breakfast Chas and Hamish needed an “OJ” which is known as a coffee to you and me. An orange juice is of course also an OJ however confusion never arose about the beverage Marc and I knew they wanted. OJ gradually developed in to an OJB a coffee and a beer. I only occasionally drink coffee on holiday however even I thought the OJB seemed a great idea as I was tired from the night before.
For much of the trip Marcs rucksack strap had been holding together by a miraculous thread. As we wondered through town and towards Spilberk Castle I tried to encourage him to buy a new bag in the city centre where prices were likely to be cheap compared to home. As he announced the bag was completely fine it dropped to the floor in a ‘you had to be there moment’. Fortunately for him it hadn’t actually broken and the strap had just unattached so we carried on though another thread must surely have broken in the process.
We arrived at the bottom of the hill to the castle and made our way up. There were some pleasant views of the countryside and it was evident that the Czech Republics city was as small as it felt. Eventually we arrived at the gate to the castle and I used my camera as an excuse to have a brief race before I watched Marc bound up the steps and disappear. I wasn’t far away and a few seconds later I heard Hamish shout followed by laughter. I guessed what had happened so ran up the steps to see Marc holding his broken bag. “It’s oh kay” he said as he tied the strap together and pretended nothing was wrong.
My laughter didn’t last long and karma came back to bite. My phone hadn’t been happy all morning, heating up and restarting, not turning off correctly and the GPS wasn’t working. I turned off flight mode and I realised it was something serious when it failed to pick up a signal and merely told me to “insert sim card” which was already inserted. Whilst the others grabbed a quick OJ (coffee) I went to fetch Axel and after returning to the coffee shop we ended up having another dash to get the train.
I wasn’t quite sure why or how for the second day we’d left ourselves short of time but we made it to the platform with a bit of time to space but we were overheating. The air conditioning wasn’t working and seeing the guy in the corner was wearing a T Rex shirt Marc tried to start a conversation with a fellow fan of his favourite band. Despite the lack understanding in terms of language both understood the others pointing and the general message. The bottom line was that the window was locked but when the guard came the guy in the corner asked for it to be unlocked for us.
Hamish and Chas had gone to the buffet car for beer and when they returned I went on a similar adventure. It seemed I had to walk (sway) through the entire train before I was stopped from entering first class by ‘Maria’ who explained I’d walked past the buffet car. It transpired the restaurant car selling area was a cupboard which I’d mistaken for well a store cupboard. I returned back taking care not to wake a Czech soldier before Axel finally proved his worth and became a S-Head table. Hasmish failed to find a “Ace in the Hole” despite declaring otherwise every other go and after not losing once on the previous days lost 3 in a row.
The train was slightly delayed and whilst I’ve been on longer (4 days) than the 2 hours it took, I admit it did drag. It didn’t help I had a headache either caused by sleep deprivation, dehydration, to much coffee, or to much beer or a combination of the above. After downing a bottle of water we caught the underground to the hostel where we seemed to spend an age checking in. I noticed there was beer tasting and I hoped we would have time to take part after we had found somewhere to get dinner.
We headed towards the river and eventually found a fancy looking place selling authentic Czech food at a price where we could eat like kings. Sure it wasn’t the 15p a drink I remembered from 10 gears ago when I went with my dad but a roast duck dumpling feast and a beer for under £5 wasn’t bad at all. For a third time in a day we had to have another brisk walk to get to the beer tasting. Initially the group was quite small, us, 2 Americans and 1 Australian however within about 15 minutes the group had expanded so an extra table was required.
The beer tasting was interesting and also a great way to meet some of the other people in the hostel. Apparently the average Czech drink 148.6 liters per capita making them number one in the world and due to the water content you can remain hydrated after 5 pint (or the equivalent of). This didn’t surprise me and there have been times in history when drinking was healthier than drinking water but there was another ‘fact’ that I thought was quite amazing. In the UK we tilt our glasses when pouring pints and I noticed that our expert beer taster wasn’t and it was almost like she read my mind when she explained why. Basically German and Czech beer is different and the glasses are designed to allow plenty of room for head which let’s the gas out. By the time we had the shot Becherovka which tasted like Christmas we were a chatty social group.
Marc had opted to skip the beer tasting and after finding him at a small bar we crossed over the bridge where we found a nice place with a table. As we sat chatting Hamish enchanted us with Calibans famous soliloquy from Tempest and some other famous poems and speeches he’d memorised. I was utterly impressed he’d learnt them all as a hobby and was unaware of his hidden talent.
After leaving the pub we wondered through the small old narrow streets of Prague in search of a traditional beer hall which Chas had located on the map. It was further away than initially anticipated but when we arrived we sat down on a table with a friendly local. Hand gestures, and one or two words were all we really needed to communicate though because he didn’t speak much English and we spoke no Czech besides “na zdraví” (cheers) so got a friend on another table to join us as an interpreter. The beer which had come out of a ancient looking tap rather than a modern fancy pump seemed to taste even better than the previous pints but we were thwarted in having another as the bar had closed.
As I had only had a radler at the first bar I was probably a bit too sober considering I was quite tired and not in the best state of mind because of my phone. I just wanted to get home but had I been a bit more merry I’d have been happier to go along with the flow on the journey home. Marc had already disappeared so I was dependent on Chas and Hamish and all the above caused a bit of a silly squabble when they wanted to have one more pint in a Reggae bar.
As it was when we did get to the hostel (having randomly bumped in to Marc in a kebab house) all the lights in my room (the others were in a different room) were on and it was clear sleep was the last thing happening. Everyone in the room seemed quite friendly and it was much better than discovering everyone was asleep. I wasn’t as chatty as perhaps I usually am because I knew my holiday was nearly over and when gradually people started to turn out their lights I followed suit and probably fell straight sleep.
Sunday 2nd August
There was a bit of confusion as to where we were meeting in the morning for breakfast and without a working phone I awaited in reception. Eventually assuming the others were still in bed I went to their room where I discovered them waiting in the hall waiting for me to come out of my room. Re-united we went in search of a cafe still serving breakfast in the old town so we could combine the walk with seeing some of Prague’s historic old town.
After we had eaten breakfast we continued to explore the old town and inadvertently stumbled upon the famous Old Town Square just before 11:00. We therefore decided to wait a few minutes so that we could see the famous Orloj (Prague Astronomical Clock) display. We then did a loop and returned back to the bridge near the hostel so we could hire a rowing boat along the Vltava.
Whilst the others each had a go I didn’t want to risk my camera so merely took pictures to record the event. The ‘highlights’ were getting a bit close to one of the bigger boats, Chas and Marc trying to swap positions which caused the boat to tilt dangerously to one side and Chas nearly crashing the boat in to the bank. It was despite those hilarious mishaps quite relaxing for me (perhaps not the others) and very pleasant to see a different view if Prague.
After rowing, Marc and I went for a refreshing fruit drink whilst Hamish and Chas checked out some markets on the Island. On our way I got a doughnut style roll with nutella spread inside. After a few days of rushing around even I was grateful to have a bit of down time before meeting Marc’s friend Ruth. Marc went to find her, Chas and Hamish whilst I paid and after they returned to find me we all went to an American style diner for food. On the way to the restaurant we introduced Ruth to Marc goading by them hiding in a shop doorway and jumping out on him in unison. We also introduced her to S-Head and for a while it looked like Hamish would lose again but he somehow saved himself and Ruth lost much to the disappointment of Chas, Marc and I
Hamish and I had to prepare to go home but still had to get a few gifts. Earlier I’d seen some wafer biscuits (edit: which went down very well at work) but Ruth encouraged me to get them from Tesco as they were cheaper. So it was that Tesco became the last place I saw in Prague before collecting Axel and making my way to the airport. On our way it started raining, which I said was Prague crying tears of sadness at us leaving. It had been an intense holiday but ultimately a lot of fun and by the end I was already thinking where the next Coldening adventure could be.
After getting the underground and a bus Hamish and I arrived at the airport. Even though we were early the check in desk was open and we were one of the first inline. After 15 minutes, perhaps more, it dawned on us the family being served were still there and when they did finally move and it was our turn we discovered the flight was delayed by 3 hours. We used our free food compensation vouchers to get some goulash soup, a bagel and a beer. This ate up some time before we went on a walk around the different gift shops where I brought myself some Becherovka In a little gift set which came with a glass. We also spent time playing a game called “Which Bin does my Rubbish go In”, which reached fever pitch when I discovered a forgotten receipt. When we did finally go to the lounge we were joined by groups on stag dos and when one poor girl smashed her bottle of vodka it seemed everyone even children looked to see her helplessly watching the contents spill over the floor. We got to Victoria at 1am by which point all the trains to Balham had gone to bed, which is where we wanted to be. If my phone had been working I would have tried to get a hotel but instead I had to get a taxi, telling the driver sadly “I’ll be back here in just over 7 hours!” It had been pretty horrendous but Hamish and I stayed strong, kept each others spirits up and it didn’t affect the great time we had experienced.