That morning we ended on the train to Prague. An amazing amount of graffiti with a surprise appearance of a figure very much resembling my beloved Saladfingers.
Saw a man sitting on a chair in the middle of a field, another with a spade contemplating a large mound of dirt, many run down decrepit dwellings. Crossing into the Czech Republic was like the old east/west difference; abruptly the buildings were less formulaic and better maintained.
A couple of women, possibly teachers, got on with a group of young girls and the two adults sat in our compartment. In a very low voice, the one woman started talking to the other in Czech and she spoke at a steady unbroken pace for about 15 minutes without any variation in intonation or sense of sentence breaks like a teletype machine clattering away. The other just listened and then at one point, she started talking but the other did not stop and they both chattered at the same time for a couple of minutes until the second woman stopped and the first continued on for a while like a bus after disgorging a passenger. (I was to hear this contemporaneous speech one more time on the trip later in Barcelona when two Spanish women redefined conversation into something where no one listens and everyone speaks; non confrontationally I might add).
We made our way by cab to the place to pick up our keys for the apartment we were renting, promptly got on the right bus but going in the wrong direction (a pattern that would become all too common in that city) but eventually found our place in Mala Strana.
We went through a large old wooden door beside a busy loud restaurant/bar, through a locked iron gate and up four floors to a large spacious and dead quiet apartment with a kitchen. A little Scandinavian in feel with the only down note being the lack of hot water in the shower. Bathroom and kitchen sinks had hot water aplenty but the shower was never better than cool.
We dropped out stuff and headed down to explore the nearby streets and after a bit of that chanced on a restaurant and had our first but not our last Czech goulash. Fabulous. Realized that this was something I would have to learn how to make (and did). The only thing was, and as good as the goulash consistently was, the dumplings were as uniformly bad. But even if they little more than round packets of mucilage and flour (or so it seemed; they looked like hockey pucks crossed with soggy English muffins) we ate every one just to mop up the glorious rich brown gravy.
The picture is fairly representative though the meat and gravy were more of a rich brown and had finely cut strips of fresh white onion and red pepper to complement the meat.
Finished off the meal and tried some absinthe which caused me to think that perhaps Jager was not the foulest drink on the planet (and this from a man who likes the taste of Buckley’s). No relation to Pernod which we had expected. Later I found out that the Czech version, most often called “absinth”, did not have the famous licorice flavouring. This was just bad stuff. I was also later to buy a very expensive little bottle to smuggle back. Described in in a quiet but exuberant broken English by the guy who showed it to me as “you drink this, they will not let you back in your hotel”. How could I resist? So the demon drink was bought and just made it through the various checkpoints (it being illegal everywhere except India) and found it on homecoming to be a disappointment….70% alcohol and bitter and vile. Mixed with sugar and then a little Pernod and still ended up pouring it out. Still have half of it left and might take another run at it someday.
However the little shot glasses we got them in were very nice. C offered to buy them from the waiter and he just gave them to her. We left him a good tip.
First impression of Prague was beautiful women and beautiful architecture. T had suggested that I buy a pair of sunglasses to hide the reaction to the eye candy and thus avoid being unduly pummeled by C. T, who had lived in Prague for a couple of years, always railed on about the failings of Edmonton and it was only now that I saw that she had a point. Walking through these streets made E-town look sad indeed.