14 January - 31 January
PART 1: THE END
"Every exit is an entry somewhere else."
- Tom Stoppard
* * * * *
In the Beginning there was the End: the End of our stay in Krakow, Poland's cultural capital and the "City of the Pretty". Our last two days there were pretty uneventful; probably the only thing worth mentioning was our tour of Wawel, conducted by a guy who I swear to God spoke just like Borat but looked like George Konstanza with Down Syndrome. He seemed pretty desperate to get some business so I accepted his offer to show us around, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake: as seems to be a habit with tour guides, he focused on really boring, insignificant details and didn't give us a chance to absorb the general atmosphere of the place -- and, to top it off, spoke in heavily Slavicized English and cracked obviously scripted jokes (you know the sort: like, when we descended the steps to the Royal Crypts, he gives us a wry smile and goes "I hope you will not have the nightmare....")
Anyway, on the morning of our departure we got up at 5:30 in the morning; a serious shock to the system considering we'd been waking up normally at around 11. In spite of this I felt curiously fresh, and felt even better after a quick boiling-hot shower and some patented coffee-with-chocolate. However, things rapidly deteriorated before we'd even left the building: the main door to the building was locked. Paul looked like he'd just been slapped in the face when he pulled the doorhandle, but I simply laughed at his expression and said, "No big deal. I'll get the keys."
I hurried back to our flat and realized then why Paul had looked so shocked: we were locked out of the apartment as well. As the owner had instructed us, Paul had left the keys inside the apartment, so we were literally stuck inside our own building with a train to catch in less than 45 minutes.
There was nothing to do except ring someone's doorbell and plea for help: not an easy thing to do at 5:30 in the morning, coz you know it's gonna seriously pis off the person in question. We had to ring the first doorbell three times before some woman moaned "What is it!" in Polish. I asked her in the most polite, apologetic tone I could muster if she could give us her keys to the building, but she immediately replied no, and simply kept exclaiming "To ring, at this hour!"
So, we rang the doorbell opposite. This time we didn't even get an answer, but thankfully, about half a minute later some guy came down the stairs and opened the door for us without a word. Thank Allah, we were free.
PART 2: THE GREAT TRAIN ADVENTURE
"Embrace the detours."
- Kevin Charbonneau
* * * * *
To our own amazement, we got to the station half-an-hour early: we'd been so convinced we were running late that we'd marched there at some unnatural, adrenaline-fuelled speed, luggage and all, which probably explains the numerous uneasy stares we got along the way. We dragged our sorry, sleepy arses to Platform 2 and plonked ourselves down on the benches, completely exhausted but happy to have made it. Twenty minutes later we were on the train to Katowice, snowflakes falling outside, and everything seemed to be going right: I got some chocolate milk out of my bag, made a pillow out of my day-pack and lay down over the seat with a deep sigh. It seemed that, bad luck out of the way, we could finally relax, sit back and enjoy the ride.....
....but oh, how wrong we were.
Upon arriving at Katowice one-and-a-half-hours later, we got off the train and looked for another train going to "Ostrava", which the lady at the ticket office had instructed us to change over to. After hurrying from one platform to another, it became painfully obvious that there was no such train present: either we'd been wrong about its arrival time, or the train had departed before we'd even got to Katowice. Paul glanced at the schedule we'd been given (he carries everything for both of us, since I'm too prone to losing stuff), and declared that the train to Ostrava was due at 10:30, which meant we had roughly two hours to kill.
I'd always wanted to spend a bit of time in Katowice -- arguably Poland's ugliest, most industrial city -- and it seems that now I had my chance. We left the monstrously ugly train station and walked down one of the main streets, where I spotted a KFC and decided it was exactly what I needed. The KFC was pretty disappointing as it turned out, but I was in a really peppy mood; bordering on hyperactive in fact. Paul, in contrast, looked absolutely dismal, like he'd just been to a dozen funerals and contracted a life-threatening illness. The stress of travelling seemed to be taking its toll on the boy, and, as we were soon to find out, it hadn't dealt its final blow yet.
When we got back to the station, I thought it might be worth confirming that the train to Ostrava DOES in fact leave at 10:30, since both me and Paul were concerned that we were misreading the cryptic train schedule we'd been given. The woman behind the Information Desk -- a massive, vicious-looking beast who looked like she ate men for breakfast -- told me that the train to Ostrava didn't leave until 2:30 PM. "Are you sure?" I asked. "It says here that...."
"Yes, it's right here," she snapped, pointing to one of the yellow Odjazdy (Departures) posters that were plastered all over the station, and which had first hinted to Paul and myself that there was a serious glitch in the matrix....
Somehow -- maybe it was my sheer tiredness -- I still didn't feel the slightest bit worried, and broke the bad news to Paul the way I might tell someone I'd just stepped on some chewing gum. Paul immediately groaned and put his head in his hands: the gravity of the situation hit him a lot harder than it did me, and for a moment I thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown or something. I'd been giggling stupidly and talking shit like a 5-year-old all morning, and even now I felt that this was just some kind of demented comedy: it seemed too surreal, too unfair to be real; we'd already copped so much bad luck in previous cities (which generally I haven't bothered mentioning). However, Paul's miserable reaction woke me up to the unfortunate reality of the situation and, all of a sudden, all I could come out with was a glum "We'll look back on this and laugh, you know."
The next few hours aren't really worth writing about: we just bummed around the station, had McDonalds for lunch, and went for a bit of a walk inside the city's main department store. For all of its sooty ugliness, Katowice's female inhabitants completely blew me and Paul away: even here, at the very end of our stay in Poland, in this industrial shithole of a city, we continued to be astounded by the abundance of pretty faces around. The McDonalds where we had lunch was downright amazing: like most people, I tend to associate McDonalds with obesity and acne, tracksuit pants and greasy hair, but here, in Katowice, me and Paul spent over an hour just sitting there, telling each other, "Ey, look behind you." "Look to your left." "Check out the one over there." What was even more amazing was how many of these women (most of them in their mid/late-20s) were eating by themselves: I felt like walking up to them and yelling, "What the f*** are you doing?? Look at you! You should have guys massaging your feet while you eat that cheeseburger!!" Lol.
At the same time, Katowice definitely has its ugly side: being a relatively poor, working-class city, the station was positively teeming with buskers and beggars, and within two hours me and Paul were completely strapped of coins, having rationed them out to all sorts of down-and-outs, including Gypsy children and a guy whose face looked like he'd tried to make out with a blender. "I got attacked by thugs here yesterday," he explained, "They took everything and sliced up my face."
Not a great tourist advertisement for Katowice, I have to say.....
At 2:30 we were back on the train again - direct to Prague, so we didn't have to stop over at Ostrava - and curiously, I started hearing really retarded-sounding Polish from certain couchettes. It took me a few seconds to realize that what I was hearing was Czech, which to a Pole sounds like a distinctly childish, Russified version of Polish, with the odd German word thrown in here and there. Many of the basic phrases - such as "Good day" and "Thankyou" - are more or less identical to the untrained ear, which meant that me and Paul could order a beer and spaghetti in the restaraunt without having to revert to English.
The train to Prague was full of random people, the highlight being two Polish women who got absolutely smashed at the bar and acted as if they were at a hen's night. They even had a crack at me and Paul, despite being a good 10 or 20 years older than us, but we made a quick escape back to our couchette when this started happening. Our couchette itself was pretty quiet, containing a Czech girl reading some book, and an Asian (South Korean, as it turned out) guy doing nothing in particular. I was feeling pretty peckish after our beer, so I got out some chocolate and offered it to the girl and the Asian. The girl reacted like I'd just asked her for sex, mumbling an embarrassed "Ne" ("no"), blushing furiously and keeping her eyes glued to her book. The Asian guy was much cooler: he helped himself to a block then offered me some white chocolate in return -- which I turned down, since I don't like white chocolate. We got talking while chewing on the chocolate; the sort of random conversation that always seems to take place on long inter-city train trips.....
South Korean: "So what do you study?"
South Korean: "Media?"
Me: "Yeah. TV, radio, that kinda stuff."
South Korean: "Ahhh, media. So, what you do after media?"
Me: "I don't know.... to be honest I don't really care. All I know is that I wanna be a film director."
South Korean: "Ahhh. Like Bruce Lee."
Me: "Yeah, but Bruce Lee was an actor."
South Korean: "But he direct too."
Me: "Mmmm, that's true."
South Korean: "You know, you LOOK like Bruce Lee."
Me: (laughing) "You think so? No-one's ever told me that before."
....and so on.
For all the random people on board, the train trip seemed to take forever -- Hell, I am now convinced, is a state of eternal transit: being stuck in a PKP (Polish National Railways) couchette for the rest of time, sitting on seats that were designed for people with camel humps on their backs and no necks. By the time we arrived at Prague's main station that evening, me and Paul both agreed that the next time we did a trip like this, plane or hired car would be the way to go.
PART 3: "HAVE YOU HEARD THE ONE ABOUT THE POLE,
THE RUSSIAN & THE AUSTRALIAN?"
"What a beautiful day!!!
Just the usual dilemma: should I get drunk now, or, should I get VERY drunk now?? OR, am I drunk already???" - Eddie, Hooligan's Island
It's been four crazy nights since that evening now, and I'm still unsure as to what I think about Prague, this city on the border between eastern and western Europe. It's what Krakow might have been had it remained Poland's capital city: a lot more sprawled out, glitzier, sleazier, full of tourists (and I do mean FULL; English and American accents can be heard almost everywhere you go). In some ways it's more reminiscent of Vienna and Budapest than Krakow (the city it's usually compared to), because of its sheer size and modernity -- but, at the same time, it lacks Vienna's super-efficient, tourist-friendly public transport system, although thankfully Paul has a decent recollection of how to get to the city's most important destinations (i.e. clubs, Tescos and Internet cafe).
Nevertheless, Prague is undeniably a beautiful city: I'm certainly not disappointed with the quality of its architecture, which is very similar to Krakow's and often on a grander scale. However, where Prague falls rather short is in its women: I've heard several people rave about Czech girls but so far, I have to say that Czech girls aren't anywhere near as pretty as Polacks, and perhaps not even Magyars. Sash agreed with me on this, philosophizing that the further east you go, the more beautiful the women get (his conclusion being, unsurprisingly, that Russian women are the finest. Lol.)
On the subject of Sash, our last four days with him were a Hell of a lot of fun. For those who don't know who I'm talking about, Sash is a Russian friend of ours who joined us for our first four nights in Prague, the result being that our first four nights were an unrestrained, vodka-fuelled stupor of drinking, dancing, acting like complete idiots and scaring the Czech public. Our behaviour was complimented in a bizarre way by the fact that Prague's night life is unusually, well.... unusual. Already I've lost count of how many times I've been approached by pimps asking me if I'd like a blow job, or if I'd like to check out "a very nice strip club just down this alley...." I've learnt that the best response is just to tell them I'm gay, although I gotta say they usually don't take this seriously.
PART 4: FEAR & LOATHING IN PRAGUE
"I hadn't slept for something like eighty hours, and that fearful ordeal with the drug had left me completely exhausted...."
- Raoul Duke, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas
I don't have much time left here, so I'm going to quickly describe what was probably our most pointless (but highly surreal) first night out -- I'll describe the others in all of their spastic glory some other time.
If I had to sum up the night in one word, that word would be "Weird". The first three hours passed by without much incident: we started off in a bar/restaraunt where we tilted back a few Becherovkas and got ourselves "in the mood". Then we moved on to Lacerna, a massive 80s-music dance club, which is where the Randomness began....
Having drunk enough to feel comfortable about looking like dickheads in front of a crowd, me and Paul headed for the stage where we danced (together with a few other people) in front of a massive screen playing 80s video clips. About a minute after we got up, a bunch of drunken Poms tried to get up and join us, but they were so pissed they couldn't even make it onto the stage -- so, I walked over to the edge of the stage and offered them a hand. The first guy gave me his hand, soaking and slippery with sweat, and immediately put all of his weight onto it, making both of us fall off onto the dancefloor below. (Understandably, I didn't give any guys a hand for the rest of the night.)
About an hour later, this same guy was lying in the middle of the stage, completely saturated in sweat, eyes glazed over, froth pouring out of his mouth as if he was a human beer tap. The people around him started moving the way cyborgs would move if their batteries started to run out: all slow and awkward, staring nervously at the guy but unwilling to do anything. I didn't see any point in just staring at the dumb bastard -- he could've been dying, for all I knew -- so I jumped off the stage, located his friend (another Pommy dipshit dancing nearby) and offered to get security for his mate, who by now was reminding me of Linda Blair's performance in The Exorcist.
Without even a second's hesitation, the guy replied "Nah."
"Well, he doesn't look well," I said, annoyed at his complete lack of interest.
"No he's not. Have a look at him."
"Look," the guy said, already weary and half-turned away from me, "he's fine. He'll be right in ten minutes."
I wasn't going to stand there and argue with the guy, so I gave in and headed over to the bar for another Curacao shot. As it turned out, the guy didn't die or anything: just sat on the edge of the stage for the rest of the night, mumbling the words to whatever song was playing, his wet, alcohol-drugged face lit up every ten seconds or so by the disco lights madly sweeping the dancefloor.....
About half an hour after this happened, some random Czech girl came up to me with a pretend microphone in her hand: she spoke into it then pointed her little fist at my mouth. I looked down at her hand, wondering if she was insane, and asked "What?" She then repeated some word, that sounded a bit like "Swedish". "Swedish? You mean am I Swedish?"
At this point she started to falter; I have no idea what the fuck she was doing but obviously things weren't going to plan. She mumbled something, but seemed to realize that I didn't speak Czech: the pretend microphone was no longer and she walked away like a wounded animal. She bothered me a couple more times but I couldn't understand a word she was saying, and her behaviour suggested a slightly unwell state of mind that I didn't want to tamper with.....
The night started to take a serious downturn at about 2:30. By this time the edge of the stage was littered with broken glass, thanks to drunken Pommy tourists taking their drinks with them then knocking them over and stepping on them while dancing. This explained why people were no longer clambering up onto the stage, but I didn't give this any thought and cut my hands while lifting myself up. Cursing, I walked back to the bar to pick the broken glass out of my hand, gingerly putting the pieces into an ashtray, just in time to see some chubby woman ask Sash if he'd like to dance with her.....
We ended the night sitting on the upstairs balcony, watching a guy throw up all over a table then rinse his mouth out with more beer. The whole night had been pretty crude, I have to say, and the crudeness continued even after we left. Upon exiting the joint -- now a den of broken glass, puddles of alcohol and wankers lingering in the shadows, hoping for a last-minute snog with some drunk slut -- some black dude shoved a card with a topless woman on it into my hand, and before I'd even said anything began reciting prices for blow jobs, hand jobs, private lap dances etc.
"That's great," I interrupted him, "but we're not interested", and shoved the card back into his hand. At this point a guy just a couple of metres away stepped over, grinning, and asked me "Are you from Australia?", triggering yet another random conversation on the tram back home, where he showed me photos from his stay in Sweden and explained that the ladies here aren't as good as they are in Scandanavia....
Anyway, as much as I'd like to keep going and describe our more recent nights out (including Sash getting absolutely smashed at the Karlovy nightclub), this e-mail has gone way too far and I can't even think anymore: we only had three hours of sleep last night, since we got back from a bar at 3:30 AM and Sash had a plane to catch at 9 o'clock this morning. I hope you're all enjoying the January heat and Australian Open -- I have to say, watching it on the TV back at our flat DOES make me miss Melbourne a bit, as nice as it is over here.... Stay well and thanks for all the e-mails!
Me and Paul have just been walking along Charles Bridge and spotted an extremely cheap Internet joint, so I figured we may as well take a break from all the sight-seeing and type out some more shit for your amusement.....
PART 1: SASH GETS SMASHED
On Sunday night, Sash got smashed. We were all pretty light-headed before we even left our apartment, having polished off a bottle of Russian vodka (Sash had thought ahead and stolen it from his uncle's house in St Petersburg), and by the time we got to the tram stop we were all feeling about as mature as Tom Green. About two minutes after we got to the tram stop, this GUY -- possibly the most random-looking guy I've seen in all of eastern Europe -- steps over to us and informs us in broken English that he's John Lennon. LOL! Just at that point the tram arrived, so I flashed him a peace sign, Paul goes "Peace to you, man" (I don't even know why; it all made sense at the time) and the three of us stepped on board, giggling like complete idiots.
But the Randomness didn't stop there, oh no.... About three stops down the road, a bunch of Czech guys, all dressed very smartly in black suits, boarded the tram with a friend so utterly inebriated he may as well have been dead. They tried to sit him up in a seat but he just fell off and sprawled all over the floor like a corpse, and no matter how hard they tried he just kept falling off the chair like a sack of jelly. I had to cover my mouth to stop myself from laughing out loud, which meant that everyone on the tram, who until now had been staring at this bunch of hooligans in shock, now turned their attention to me, amazed that I could find so much mirth in their idiocy. It was honestly funnier than any slapstick comedy I've seen, watching these dickheads try to get their floppy, completely helpless friend onto the seat.... and the fact that they were all dressed in suits didn't exactly help either. Lol!
The club itself was pretty crap that night: it was supposed to be a multi-level "super-club" but only two of the levels were open, as the place was almost entirely devoid of people (not surprising considering it was Sunday night). Sash, however, was not going to let this dampen his night, and proceeded to get hammered as fast as he could, in true eastern European fashion. I watched him make his way to the bar and knew, just KNEW, that he'd do something stupid -- and sure enough, I was right. He walks up to the bar (for those who don't know Sash, just imagine a tall, lanky Russian wearing a basketball shirt) and, after ordering a Red Bull and vodka in his thick Russian accent, demands to know where "the people" are. "There's usually people here later" the barmaid explained, but Sash wasn't going to take this for an answer: raising his voice, he demanded "Yes but where are they NOW??", physically bending over the bar in exasperation. I started to laugh at this point but knew I'd better get him away from the barmaid, who by now was looking slightly intimidated and wary of how much he'd had to drink....
The one plus about being in a dead club is that, with so few people around, it was very easy to make conversation with those few boys & girls that were there. We talked to two Estonian girls, two girls from Melbourne (who were overjoyed to hear Australian accents, but left reluctantly after one of them started to feel sick), two German guys and, to top it off, a big rowdy bunch of Irish lads, almost (but not quite) as plastered as Sash. (Who, incidentally, was pretty much scaring everyone around him by this point in time.) Unfortunately, none of these people interested me in the slightest, although Paul came extremely close to picking up an Irish guy at one point.... On the whole, watching Sash dance like a maniac on an empty dancefloor (and falling off the stage at one point) was probably the highlight of the night.
PART 2: THE DARK SIDE OF PRAGUE
On the way to the taxi ramp (this is still Sunday night, by the way) I was lagging a bit behind Paw and Sash: the alcohol was wearing off, I was feeling a bit reflective and just ambled along slowly, taking in the atmosphere of Prague in twilight. My silent sight-seeing was suddenly interrupted by a short dark-haired woman, her face completely plastered in make-up, asking me for a cigarette. "Sorry, I don't smoke," I replied, but she started walking alongside me and asked, "Do you want sex?"
Somehow, at 3 o'clock in the morning, I wasn't that surprised to hear this, and simply replied "No". "Come on, you don't want sex?" she repeated, pressing against me as I'm trying to walk. I shook my head and repeated my answer, but she asked yet again, then grabbed my arse. Now THIS pissed me off: I grabbed her arm quick as lightning and said, "Listen, I AM NOT INTERESTED." Even THEN the stupid bitch didn't let up, and tried to put her arm through mine, but naturally I wouldn't let her and she finally got the message.
So yeah. If there's one thing I really dislike about this city, it's this blatant sleaziness. I think the problem is largely the product of tourism: the sluts, prostitutes and pimps in Prague seem to assume that every male foreigner here is here simply to "cop a root" -- and the problem is, as often as not they're right. Too many times I've talked to other English-speaking tourists and it's obvious that all they're after in Prague is loose women: either completely inebriated sluts or, failing that, cheap eastern European prostitutes. For example, the Aussie I talked to on the way back from Lacerna told me that he's been there three or four times now, but still hasn't seen a single one of Prague's historical sites. It's thanks to people like this that there's black pimps hanging around outside clubs, handing out pornographic cards, or that for every five bars, pubs or clubs there's a strip-club or whorehouse. Of course, there's nothing wrong with admiring the view, as me and Paul (and any normal guy would) do, but many if not most of these tourists seem to cross the line to being downright perverts and wankers. I even got warning signs about this back in Hungary, when me and Paul got talking to three Brits at a bar: at one point we were talking about eastern European ladies, but I realized ten minutes into the conversation that the "ladies" these Poms were referring to were quite different to those me and Paul had in mind. The clincher came when one of these guys (who looked like a fucken Rottweiler, I might add) goes, "Yeah, they're beautiful those Prague women.... fuck, I got a blow job off one for three quid. THREE QUID!!"
For me, the conversation was over.
I guess that's the great paradox of Prague: architecturally beautiful but morally degenerate, the way Berlin and Vienna were meant to have been during the interwar years. It surprises me mainly because I haven't seen anything like it anywhere else in Europe: the only remotely comparable thing was in Warsaw, where guys went around putting pornographic cards under parked cars' windscreen wipers. Until five days ago though, I have NEVER been asked in public if I'd like a blow job or sex, and since then, I've been asked at least seven or eight times -- and not just by men. The one positive thing I can say about it is that it's very sobering, getting a blunt question like that when all you're expecting is a request for some coins or a lighter.....
Anyway, enough about all that. As always, there's so much more to describe but I may as well accept the fact that an e-mail will never come close to relating everything that we've been up to.... I guess it'll all just have to wait until we catch up over drinks at the G.P.!! (And I have to say, I'm really starting to miss you guys and our outings in Melbourne!) Just one more thing before I go -- after using all these public computers I've become paranoid that people might be able to access my MSN, so if anyone gets anything strange or un-Mateusz from my account please let me know, and I'll change my password or something.
I actually wrote a Mass-Email to everyone a few days ago, but was typing so fast (I was in a race against time, coz Paul was back at the flat preparing dinner) that I accidentally pounded that useless little Windows key and shut down the whole fucken computer by accident. Which meant, of course, that I lost everything I'd written, and had to leave the Internet cafe having sent out sweet shit-all.
Anyway, the thought of typing the whole thing out again is a bit too much for me at the moment, and at any rate I'm back in Oz in just 7 days, so I can tell you all then about the many weird & wonderful things we've been up to (because believe me, these e-mails are just a start). SO, what I'll do for the moment is just make a few general observations about Prague, and see where it takes me from there.....
Now that I've been in the Czech capital for over a week, I would agree that it is, indeed, "the Paris of Central Europe" (as one guide book put it). Like Paris, Prague has some very original and spectacular sights (it even has a scaled-down replica of the Eiffel Tower, as a matter of fact) but, beyond these attractions, it's over-touristy, over-glitzy and generally over-rated; a once-charming city that's sold its soul to the West and to Western tourism. Walking along Wenceslas Square (one of the main drags near the Old Town), I may as well be walking along Bourke St in Melbourne's CBD: every 100 metres or so there's a Ronald McDonald or Colonel smiling back at me, and, if it's after dark, barely a minute passes by that I'm not being urged to check out some grotty strip bar or take up an offer of sex (and for some goddamn reason, they always seem to pick ME out: is there something about me that screams "sex-starved wanker" or what??)
On Saturday night, on the way to Karlovy Lazne (that five-level "superclub" where Sash Got Smashed), I was getting approached by so many black guys (cheap beers this, private lap dance that) that I started laughing; it was downright comical, the way I was getting inundated with pornographic pamphlets and offers of cheap sex: they simply wouldn't take "No" for an answer. "Fuck man, I can't even carry this much paper around!" I exclaimed at one point, and the blacks themselves started grinning and actually backed off -- I guess they realized that I wasn't even going to take their material seriously. Less comical, I have to say, are the young women lurking under streetlamps, asking you casually if you'd like to have sex.... but even this has become commonplace to me now; something you come to expect every time you turn a corner or walk down a shady laneway.....
As I said in my latest e-mail, the responsibility for this degeneration lies mainly on the shoulders of tourists; in particular Poms and Americans. I've often wondered if my dislike of Americans hasn't been a bit misguided -- the result of a few bad eggs, an unflattering stereotype and too many Michael Moore books -- but no, I can honestly say that Americans are, in general, the most ignorant, obnoxious and physically slobbish people on the planet: the fact that this Nation of Imbeciles has turned itself into the world's sole superpower is shining evidence that miracles CAN actually happen.
In the queue to Karlovy Lazne, Paul tried talking to a small herd of dumpy, loud-mouthed girls: obviously American, although somehow he didn't realize that. He mistakenly assumed that they were Czechs and tried talking to them in Czech -- no easy task for Paul, considering his knowledge of Czech is about as extensive as his knowledge of Jurassic-era plant life. Eventually, one of the girls turns to her friend and goes "What is this guy on about?"; the "They Speak English!" light bulb in Paul's head lit up and he finally got across what he'd been trying to explain in Czech for the last five minutes: that "I'm Australian."
To his surprise they laughed (he'd obviously given them the wrong first impression) and one of them countered, "No you're not. You're just some Czech or Polack re-TARD."
I'd barely been listening to the conversation until now -- I was feeling a bit embarrassed for Paul, who was trying to speak Czech like someone recovering from a stroke -- and it took me about five seconds to register what that piece of prime beef had said. When I did I felt my blood boil; I turned around to glare at the bitch and wished for her mouth to open again, so that I could bag whatever came out and tell her what I think about AMERICAN retards. What nerve, I thought, to take a holiday in Prague, then talk about "Czech and Polack retards".... only an American could be that hypocritical and offensive, not to mention arrogant: probably the main reason they're "retards" in her mind is because they don't speak the same language she does.
As it was, though, me and Paul got whisked through and the piglets were left behind, probably trying to squeeze their fat arses through the turnstile. I hadn't been in much of a clubbing mood to start with, and now I was just plain pissed off -- and the fact that Karlovy Lazne is probably the most commercial, tourist-infested club in all of central Europe didn't help. As I handed my coat over to the cloakroom lady, I heard "Surfin' U.S.A." start up on the bottom-level dancefloor, and groaned. Things weren't getting off to a good start.
In such a commercial joint, I thought my situation was hopeless: a choice between the Beach Boys, Kylie Minogue and Destiny's Child, which to my musical taste equates to "What would you like, sir: the Roadkill on Toast, Dogshit Omelette or Compost Bagette?" So I just kept walking up the stairs, level after level, until suddenly, to my complete surprise, I got to the top and stepped into near-total darkness, the space thundering with the kind of bass that pounds your bowels and wrenches your brain. There were far fewer people on this top floor, but there was a sense of connection between those who had assembled here: these were the true techno dedicates -- ravers rather than clubbers -- interested solely in the music. They danced facing the DJ, many of them wearing sunglasses (to counter the laser lights), and drinking bottled water or Red Bull instead of alcohol. "Now THIS is the kinda shit I'm after," I thought, and joined them, losing myself in the booming rhythms of the Drum Machine and stopping every now and then to refuel on energy drinks.....
As it was, Paul wasn't in the mood for clubbing either, and came to find me at around midnight, anxiously navigating the tripped-out dancers like they were man-eating fly-traps. He agreed that the rest of the place was worthless -- a soul-less, pop-music hellhole that made the clubs back in Melbourne seem stylish -- so we left; one of our earliest outings since arriving in Europe.
As a matter of fact, we haven't been out since. The problem is, there's an exhaustion creeping into us now that wasn't there before; an all-consuming, irredeemable exhaustion that was bound to hit us sooner or later, after so much travelling and partying. I now feel very much like I did back in Vienna, but for completely different reasons: in Vienna I felt like shit because of an almost complete absence of sleep, combined with the effects of jetlag and a body clock still running on Australian time (it wasn't until Warsaw that I stopped becoming sleepy at 4 in the afternoon, which in Australian time = bedtime). Now, in our own quiet apartment in Prague, I'm getting at least a reasonable amount of sleep ("reasonable" meaning 6-8 hours, with at least four interruptions and strange dreams), but I feel peculiarly deflated, both physically and spiritually. Wonderful as it's been, Europe seems to have thrown up all it has to offer for the time being, and with only six days to go before D-Day (Departure Day), there doesn't seem like a hell of a lot left to do, except see what's left to see, take it easy (something I haven't done in a LONG time) and, as always, contemplate. I've been doing a lot of contemplation recently, and I have to say that this trip's helped me figure out a few things -- nothing major, just a few little things that I've wondered about for months, even years, and which could prove to be quite helpful in the future.....
I guess I also miss Melbourne: modern, sunny, multicultural Melbourne. Even though I'm still loving the snow here (it finally started snowing again, a few days ago), I really miss the Australian summer: especially those blistering hot days on the beach, when you can feel the sun burning into your skin, when the water glistens so intensely you can hardly look at it, and you can SMELL the salt and seaweed in the dry hot air. In particular I miss the sight of a bright blue sky, lined with those brilliantly white clouds that look like they're made in Heaven.... fuck, I haven't even seen the HORIZON in God knows how long.
Another thing I miss is Asian food. I knew I'd miss this before I even left home; I eat Asian so regularly it's amazing that I haven't turned into one. A couple of days ago I saw a south-east Asian restaraunt advertized in the newspaper, and immediately informed Paul that that's where we're going for dinner.... and, my God, I don't think anything's ever tasted so good! My mouth started watering the moment we stepped inside, and I hoed down the fried rice, and satay sauce, and curried chicken, like I hadn't eaten in weeks.... which in the case of Asian is quite literally true.
I think most of all I miss doing stuff. Sleeping, eating, drinking and shopping might seem like a dream lifestyle for a while, but it's not: ultimately you get sick of it, you WANT to do something with yourself, and that's exactly the way I feel now. It's especially frustrating for someone like me, who constantly needs to be CREATING something: there's nothing here to channel my creative energies into; I can't even work on my music-making (one of my daily past-times back home), except to listen to what I've already done and take notes on what to change when I get back.
I even miss something as simple as being able to communicate with people without seeming dyslexic. In Poland that was easy for at least one of us (guess which one) but now, we're back in a country where neither of us speaks the lingo -- and the Czechs aren't up to Austrian standards when it comes to speaking English, even though there's definitely more tourists here. I'm actually a bit disheartened at how little of Czech I can understand: I can still make sense of most written Czech (billboard advertizements, product names in the supermarket, etc) but I can hardly decipher anything of spoken Czech: it's just too hard and garbled for my Polish ears. This morning, actually, I had to decipher Russian, and found it no harder than having to decipher Czech.....
It all began when I heard the doorbell rang: the fifth or sixth time I'd been stirred out of my slumber that morning. I just rolled over, since I knew Paul was already up (I'd heard his morning coughing ritual an hour or so earlier) so he'd answer it. Twenty seconds later, the doorbell rang again. "What the fuck's he doing??" I thought, and then realized I could hear the sound of running water. The boy was in the shower.
I got out of bed, only to realize that I had Morning Glory; all too obvious through the tracksuit pants I was wearing. The doorbell rang again. "Coming!" I yelled, as I quickly exchanged my tracksuit pants for some Jeans and pulled on my bright red "Polska" shirt. I ran for the door, only to find that Paul had locked it -- so I yelled "Hang on!" again and rushed into the kitchen to fumble around for the keys. When I finally opened the door, I looked down to see a short Russian cleaning lady, pretty much incapable of communicating in English....
After a thoroughly useless exchange of words, she handed over her mobile, so that I could talk to our landlord directly over the phone. I couldn't be bothered with this -- I'd just woken up, for fuck's sake -- so I go "Czy Pani rozumie po Polsku?", and we spent the next two minutes talking "Slavic": her talking in Russian and me replying in Polish, with pauses so that we could digest and try to decipher what the other had said. I quickly hammered out what was going on: she was coming back in half-an-hour to clean our apartment, on instructions from "Mike" (our landlord), and would we still be around?
We did a quick clean-up of the apartment and left. It was reasonably tidy anyway: the only bad thing was that Sash had left a bloodstain on his bed from the night he got drunk and cut his knee open -- which was no problem in itself, except that it was only a small bloodstain, right in the centre of the bed.... a bit suspicious-looking, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, I can't be bothered writing anymore..... As always, there's so much more to write about -- like the funny old guy at the tram stop, who offered to introduce us to two random (non-English-speaking) girls standing nearby -- but these things will have to wait until I get back. I'm certainly looking forward to getting back to all of our usual juvenile, life-threatening antics.... so don't any of you die on me now, will you? I want you all alive and healthy when I get back!
As usual, bad luck has struck again: I went to Deutschbank today to withdraw some more money, and when I pushed my card into the slot it cracked and nearly snapped in half. To make matters worse, the main section of the bank was closed for some reason, so we walked to another bank and discovered that manual withdrawals are not possible from foreign accounts. So, I'll just have to borrow money from Paul then pay him back when we're back in Australia.... at any rate, I won't be needing much more between now and then; just $100 or so for shopping and Matylda's present.
Otherwise everything's good, I'm getting really sick of the cold though and can't wait for some hot weather.
Well boys & girls, the time has come for my Final Mass E-mail from Europe.... so sit back, take a deep breath, and savour the following text slowly -- because there won't be any more to follow!
* * * * *
So. It's Saturday evening here; me and Paul have only TWO DAYS LEFT in Europe before boarding that plane back to Melbourne, back to sweltering-hot weather and sweaty, short-sleeved T-shirts.... and all of this -- the snow, the absinth, the foreign-language announcements on public transport -- will seem like a distant, wonderful dream.
To be honest, it's hard to cover what we've been up to the last couple of days, because at this point in time, it seems a lot more appropriate to reflect on this trip in its entirety: an impossible thing to do sitting at an Internet cafe, with an impatient stomach already rumbling for dinner. It doesn't help that I'VE ALREADY WRITTEN THIS F***EN E-MAIL, but accidentally pressed that ridiculous little key again and shut the whole bloody computer down.... but, what can you do! (I guess, being blonde, I should be used to this kind of stuff.)
As a matter of fact we haven't been up to much anyway: all those nights of sleeping in my underpants in -10 degrees has finally caught up to me, and I've been hit with the flu: my head feels like it's on fire, my throat feels like it's full of gravel, and my nose feels like someone's shoved half-a-kilo's worth of Play-Do up there. Already there's a hill of used tissues piled up in front of me, and it looks like after this I'll have to go to the supermarket to buy some more -- for the third time in two days. How ironic that I left Australia sick, went through all of Europe completely healthy (despite the freezing-cold weather) and now, on the eve of going back, I've fallen sick again. Maybe I'm allergic to Australia.....
All we did today (to get back on topic) is a bit of sight-seeing around Malostranka; most notably Prague Castle and Prague Cathedral (the Czechs' very impressive version of Krakow's Wawel complex). For me, personally, the highlight was the Church of Saint Cyril Methodius, where two gunmen (one Czech and one Slovak) held out against the Nazis for six hours during a gun battle. These two were responsible for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich -- a typical Nazi arsehole, who crowned himself "King of Prague" -- and who hid out in the church for two weeks, before their whereabouts were disclosed to the Germans by a Czech traitor. Implementing their usual cowardly but efficient tactics, the Germans ordered the fire brigade to fill the crypt full of water in the hope of flushing the gunmen out; when this didn't work, they poured tear gas down the crypt, then grenades. Finally, with the gunmen still returning fire, hundreds of SS men swarmed into the church in a sort of mini-Blitzkreig, but failed to take the gunmen alive (realizing that their situation was hopeless, they'd shot themselves in the head). But the story doesn't end there, mind you.... in retaliation for Heydrich's "murder", the Nazis razed several Czech villages to the ground, executing hundreds of innocent men and sending their wives and children off to concentration camps.....
....and they say that Man was made in the image of an Angel.
It's funny, but no matter how many times you go to a WW2 museum, you never get desensitized to the atrocities that they record. The crypt, with its somber atmosphere and stained, bullet-riddled walls, was no exception, and I left the place feeling sad, disgusted and angry -- but also uplifted in a bitter-sweet way, by the heroic and noble-minded few who were willing to put their lives on the line in the name of a better future. It really brings to mind that Winston Churchill quote, proclaimed during the darkest days of World War 2, that
"In the field of human conflict, never has so much been owed by so many to so few."
Those two brave gunmen were among those few.....
Anyway, I'm honestly feeling too sick to write anymore; the brightness of this screen is only encouraging the demons inside my head. A few of you asked what's happening with catch-up drinks when I get back: the answer is I have no fucken idea, I haven't got anything in mind and all that will be organized after I get back and catch up on two months of No Sleep. Probably we'll go to the G.P. on Saturday night or something, with dinner in Chinatown beforehand.... I'll let the Elite among you know :-P
Stay sober until then,
P.S. If you'd like to see a picture of the church of Saint Cyril, go to http://www.nevozhay.com/pictures/ba/prague/003.jpg (my camera ran out of batteries when we were there). Incidentally, this photo is off a Website by a Russian guy who undertook an adventure very similar to me and Paul's, so if you'd like some alternative (but obviously not as intelligent, refined and witty) commentary on central Europe, check out the main page.
Kiitos. Thank you for the photos, again. You have visited so many interesting places and written fascinating stories... I do enjoy every bit you tell me about "your Europe". All the time I wish that once again my earthly possessions would be crammed in a bag and I would have a ticket and pocket full of money... and in my left hand I would have a cone of Italian ice-cream, preferably tiramisu...
[ . . . . . ]
Somehow it seems so unbelievable that you are about leave Europe. I never really realized it when we were in Vienna or talking via the Internet, that there is a time for everything. And now it is your time to go home. You have so many friends, Pipi (a cute name, also has Finnish meaning), Happy, family... waiting for you; you must miss them. But you shouldn't forget Europe and all the "interesting" people you've met (the statue girl, the prostitutes, the man with the cape...) Have you heard that you should leave some places just for the joy of return?
"You've won a newwwww car!!" Paul showing off in a quaint laneway during our uphill hike to Prague Castle.
In such dark and dramatic weather, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn looked like a villain's citadel out of Lord of the Rings. That afternoon saw the heaviest snowfall I've experienced in Europe, and my fingers were virtually snap-frozen when I took this photo.
Front facade of Our Lady Before Tyn, photographed on a much milder afternoon.
Paul looking rather grim on Wenceslas Square, one of the busiest and most commercialized sectors in Prague.
One of the oldest chapels in Europe, located right near Vysehrad, Prague's medieval fortifications.
Prague's architecture is predominantly Baroque, and spires like these can be seen all over the city.