Europe | Czech Republic | Prague – The Vampire’s Pad
“Cow! – Lucy notices the taxidermy.
Do you want to look? I ask my 1 1/2 year old daughter.
I take her around to show her the stuffed calf from the front.
How many heads does it have? I ask cautiously.
Two! she exclaims, delighted with her new counting abilities.
No problem there. Maybe Lucy now thinks all cows have 2 heads.
We are staying with a friend of a friend, who is known as the Vampire. We were told in advance his flat was full of foetuses in jars and an electric chair. So we were pleasantly surprised to find a light, airy, high-ceilinged room overlooking the Old Town Square, with only one monkey foetus that we can see. The electric chair is either a 1920s wheelchair or a Kafka-esque sculpture. I am from Ohio I know what an electric chair looks like. Ive been inside the penitentiary after it shut down. There is certainly no such prop for execution here.
However, the Vampire does have a glass case with a human skeleton (An ex girlfriend, he says when we ask), several animal and human skulls, and a real human hand with the skin still on it, also in a glass case. An ex-girlfriend thought she was into witchcraft and got these hands from a grave…
Real human skeletons, skulls, monkey foetuses in jars and a severed hand the only thing in the flat that upsets Lucy is a tiny puppet skeleton hanging from a staircase.
The Vampire is English, like the 16th-century alchemist John Dee who allegedly also stayed in this building. His living in the most prime area of Old Prague is a mystery that has something to do with yet another ex-girlfriend in real estate. People pay hundreds of dollars a night to stay in the 5 star hotel underneath. Every time we go up to the flat we have to walk through the hotel lobby and over its plush black carpets, right past the rooms and to another staircase that leads up to where we spend our evenings. We sit in the window, gazing at the square, clouds rushing behind steeples, the clock calling tourists to stand to attention. And every morning, Lucy shouts cock! cock! until we hold her tight in the window where she can see the giant clock face.
Prague has inevitably changed in the last 10 years. The night we arrived, John Heck and I went out in search of a shop that sold Becherovka, a potent Czech liquor. I somehow needed to first connect with my previous visit in 1996, before I could let go and have a new experience. Hence meeting John for dinner at Chez Marcel, the same place where Id pulled up on my bike covered in Polish mud. But now as we raced through the streets at 10:30 pm, it could have been anywhere any European city with narrow, medieval cobblestone streets, that is. On larger, wider, newer streets, kiosks sold kebabs and African men whispered hashish from the shadows. Or from beneath neon lights there werent really any shadows here now. The beautiful buildings are crammed with souvenir shops; by day you hardly notice the citys stunning architecture for your eyes are flooded with badly painted matruskas, glittering crystal and tack you could find almost anywhere in Europe. John, a resident of 15 years, said, Lets go into that crystal shop and ask for milk or juice just to prove there is nothing left of Prague town centre for the Czechs or residents. Its all for tourists now. Its all geared towards the kind of people who pay hundreds of dollars a night to stay at the hotel beneath us.
Our second day in Prague, we get away from tourists, finally, under the Charles Bridge they all walk over it, but no one thinks to go under the bridge. We find a local playground, where a couple of Czech mothers and toddlers are playing in a rather small sand pit. Lucy makes friends with two boys. Then a boat goes by, blaring the theme tune from The Titanic. It starts to rain, so we go in search of food.
You have to watch it in Prague its easy to pay too much for bad food. You cant just stumble in somewhere as we did you get cardboard pizza, bad croissants, and even worse piped in disco music. We would learn, though, and eventually get used to paying almost Western prices for at least decent food. The bakery off Old Town Square is good. And the Savoy Café, across the river. Not cheap, but at least good. The scrambled egg we got Lucy was primo stuff, not like our local greasy spoon in London.
We were with some German friends who were on the Kafka trail, and also wanted to check out Prague Castle. Last time Id been site seeing 10 years ago, it was with a bottle of Becherovka and I swear this was an entirely different castle.
The cathedral was like Piccadilly Circus. I didnt know you could fit that many people into one house of worship. The pissing rain outside didnt help. Everyone was talking loudly; there was no atmosphere at all. Although pushing the buggy on cobblestone in pouring rain was no fun, we didnt want to stay in Grand Central Church, so went out in search of the toy museum.
Our German friends had also been commenting on changes. You now have to buy tickets to everything. To see the Jewish Cemetery you have to buy one big ticket to all the Jewish sites you cant just buy a cemetery ticket. The last straw was when we got to Golden Lane, the centuries old street where Alchemists once lived admittedly touristy even 10 years ago, but now you had to buy a ticket just to walk down the street! It was all walled off, like the men-only sex street in Hamburg. I stormed off in a huff, and Sexton wanted to go back to the flat to sleep. But I insisted on finding the toy museum and it was worth it. At ?1.50 entry it was reasonably priced. Lucy loved looking at the old trains and dolls, and the 1000s of Barbie in a special exhibit. She ran around pointing and saying doll! Car! occolli! (octopus) and pubby (pillow).
To be continued….