Tuesday 8th September 1998
We had a lie in today - well, 9 o'clock. Still we managed to make it downstairs in time for breakfast to experience Czech bread - brown in colour and spongy in texture. Nice - not!
Muzeum - Wenceslas Square
Walking south from the hotel towards Vltavska, we saw a grimier side of the city. A number of guide books had mentioned the décor inside the tube stations and, well, we had to see it at least, so we hopped on to the Metro. After a few stops we arrived at our proposed destination, 'Muzeum'. Not sure what's at this stop, other than a museum of some sort (lightning quick, me), should be interesting. Our destination gave us the first example of the unusual décor - the curved walls were plated with bubbled steel and dipped in vivid coloured paint. Imagine lots of daleks' 'skirts' unwrapped and then pasted end-to-end along the station.
Stepping outside of the station we walked around a big, traffic fume and graffiti tarnished building (basically, it looked like it was condemned) with some boarded up windows. We concluded that we were very much in the centre now. It didn't look like that good an area - but we carried on walking around the building, as it didn't appear that we'd quite reached the front yet. Might as well see what it is. As we came round the front, Manda pointed out that we had actually arrived at Wenceslas Square. There in front of us was the statue of Charles IV on horseback overlooking the square, and the drab-looking museum was in fact the national museum. Obviously the back end of this building is never going to make it in to the guide books!
In the middle of the square is a shrine dedicated to the victims of communist rule - and there have been enough of them in Prague's time. We carried on along the street and took a look in a new shopping centre. It was very modern, with a very plush little café/restaurant in the basement, but the shops weren't really up to much - good packaging but the content lacked spice.
Hunger took over so we tried a hot dog from one of the street vendors. Basically a hot dog in Prague consists of an oversized and overcoloured, bent sausage and a piece of greasy, brown bread. Thank the lord for the cup of Staropramen (first class Czech beer) which I had to wash it down.
The weather took a turn for the worst as it started to drizzle so we stopped in at a coffee shop (Kavarna) overlooking the river. The coffee was good but the strongest memory I'll have of the place is the techno toilets downstairs. The entrance hall was black walled and shiny, the toilets themselves gleaming white. Of course, that's when the lights are on and these were automatically triggered when you walked in. But even more impressive was the auto flush in the gents. Infrared sensors were placed on the walls just above the urinal. When you approached they knew you were there; the moment you walked away, the urinal flushed. In a former Communist country that is supposed to be struggling financially after years of suppression, here were these little gadgets that I'd never seen the like of back home. Or maybe I'm just easily impressed.
Next stop - the Loretto Church a few tram stops away in the North of the city. We found it difficult to get that many useful pictures here - we couldn't stand back far enough to fit it all in. The building facing the church was something of a mystery too - it was heaving with black cars with flag poles on the wings, evidently diplomatic cars. There were also a fair few people on the lookout, presumably with headsets and such like. I was careful not to point my zoom in their direction in case they thought I had ulterior motives!
After taking our fill of photies, we clambered back up a hill to the nearest tram stop and headed back to Malostranska and the Lesser Town. Just a few yards' walk from our stop we found our restaurant for the evening, Pashas. It was a Mediterranean restaurant with a stunning décor inside - very rich colours and loads of interesting things hanging off the walls. The waiters were seemingly of many different nationalities - Bengali, French and I suspect Czech also. Manda had a conversation with one of them in French but we all resorted to English in the end!