Travels with Clare. Impressions of Central Europe Part 1

Stansted Airport, James Martin and Proper British Food. proper-brtish-food
It’s holiday time! We decided to get to Stansted early because that’s the type of people we are but, also because I love to indulge myself on significant occasions, with a full English breakfast. Unfortunately, we hadn’t allowed for the tighter security measures these days, so by the time we’d queued, taken belts and shoes off, waited for the trays the other side of the x-ray machines, had our shower gel confiscated and put belts and shoes back on, time was eking away.
We rushed in the direction of the gates, through the maze of endless stalls populated by driven people trying to swipe your wrists with the latest offerings from Chanel, Lancôme and Paco Rabanne and others insisting you sample their whisky at 7.00 in the bloody morning. I use the word stalls because these tiled airport halls resemble nothing more than a posh scented market place.

Finally, the restaurant section and the first in line looked just the ticket. James Martin’s café with Proper British Food brandished in huge letters across the wall. He knows what he’s doing and appreciates the value of using the finest ingredients, he’s said it often enough on the tele. So let’s see, croissants, pain au chocolat. Must be the French section, over here, oh…giant pretzel. Hardly proper British, where’s the proper British? We had a choice, sausage or bacon bap. Now, I know Yorkshire men like their bacon streaky but, this stuff could have taught Erica Roe something about streaking. I had the sausage, a cup of Italian coffee and huge disappointment at missing out on my full English, including black pudding and mushrooms.
Thanks James, I will have to check out some of your other restaurants.

Impressions of Prague

img_0549 Statues
On arriving in Prague we headed for Wenceslas Square. A little confusing in that it is not square but a long wide thoroughfare. As you emerge from the metro station, the first thing that greets you is an impressive statue of King Wenceslas himself on a giant horse, atop a huge plinth. My immediate reaction was to start singing, Good king Wenceslas looked out on the feast of… Oh, not what I’d hoped, he looks out on a feast of McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC and Burger King. The proliferation of these companies is insidious but, business is business and the way the homogenised world is nowadays. (At least when KFC says southern fried chicken that is what you get, James Martin.)

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Prague is full of beautiful buildings, like the food big and hearty, which I can appreciate, but my particular preference is for a good statue and the Czechs are brilliant at them. They are everywhere. A friend had warned us that Prague is a city best toured looking up and it’s true, some of the best architecture is up there, adorned by incredible statues, carvings and mouldings.

img_0579Prague was Kafka’s home, an author I haven’t read since my student days but, the statue to his memory saw me reaching for Metamorphosis once more.

Somehow, Prague is the ideal setting for his surreal work complemented as it is by my favourite statue anecdote heard whilst there. Four of the best statues are of composers who adorn the roof of the Concert Hall. One of them is of Wagner, who the Nazis revered another is of Mendelssohn. During the Nazi occupation, Heydrich ordered the removal of the statue of Mendelssohn, a Jew by birth. The soldiers he sent up on the roof had no idea which one was Mendelssohn. They fell back on their anti-Semite lessons and the only thing they thought they knew about Jews; they have big noses. So they removed the statue with the largest nose, Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer.

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Museums
Prague seems to have a museum dedicated to everything some of them strange and macabre, like the several to different forms of torture and one to sex machines. We didn’t go in any of these, although from the vestibule it appeared the sex machines of Prague’s past were large mechanical, Heath Robinson affairs, driven by cogs and chains. The one that piqued my interest was the KGB museum. I was interested in hearing about the cold war schemes and practices and specific instances. Whilst there were plenty of gadgets on display, miniature cameras, recording devices and some of the weirdest weapons, our guide, a Russian who obviously lamented the breakup of the Soviet Union, gave more than a little cause for concern.

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He practically stood to attention whilst watching a Red Square parade, whispering to himself “Beautiful, beautiful.” The more he related the story of the Second World War in particular, the more he revealed himself as a warmonger. Suspicions were confirmed when, holding up a knife, he explained it had been used to kill several Nazis and there were still traces of blood where the blade met the hilt. Raising it to his nose, he took a long and exaggerated sniff whilst uttering with closed eyes, “Aah, Nazi blood.” We left with raised eyebrows and disappointment that we hadn’t heard about the cleverness and subtle intrigue of Cold War spying and the comfort that we hadn’t been lone with the guy.

Quirky Prague.
As most old cities, Prague has its fine buildings, cafes and an area for the tourist, the Charles Bridge where musicians play, you can buy watercolour landscapes, enamel and leather trinkets or have your caricature drawn. It has a fabulous river for cruising on, enjoying a drink or dinner and a castle, but there is also a very quirky side which I would recommend hunting out if you’re there.

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There is the John Lennon pub and just up from it, the John Lennon Wall where over the years people have written messages inspired by their love of the Beatles and in particular, John Lennon. It is graffiti on graffiti; continually being added to so the wall evolves and is different to the last time you visited.

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Prague seems to have a museum for everything and round every corner, besides those already mentioned, there are the serious, Jewish, Communism and the fun, Beer, Toy, Railway, Lego and Gingerbread. As well s these, every famous son of Prague seems to have a museum, Kafka included.

Finally, for some unaccountable reason, the Czech passion for Russian dolls has resulted in at least two shops, stacked to the ceiling with dolls representing football teams. Every English premier and championship team was there, as well as others from the lower divisions, I would imagine. img_0630

I can’t imagine myself buying one but, there must be a market for them, I suppose. And now we take the 11.54 train to Budapest, passing through Slovakia on the way.

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