Prague to St Petersburg

A good friend of mine lived in Prague for several years, somewhat selfishly she left the city before I had chance to visit her there (honestly, some people, always just thinking about themselves). She’s a very cosmopolitan lady, cultured, intelligent, vivacious, a bonne vivante, no wonder we are friends! Her many talents include a gift for turning every day meetings into an opportunity to create a celebration of good food, good wine, and good company.
I can imagine her living in Prague with such ease, stylishly kitted out, head up and navigating the streets of Prague, beautiful buildings and river views as her background scenery, heading towards a merry rendezvous set in one of the scores of elegant cafes or dimly lit, dungeon bars. In my head she has her own theme tune too, something contemporary and jazzy, but with a hint of accordion. I’m not sure what my theme tune would be. I’d like it to be a bluesy number with a wicked New Orleans band, but I suspect it’s a slightly fumbling composition, heavy on cymbal clashes and triangle chimes.
In Czech the city is called Praha which is far lighter sounding than the blunt anglicised Prague, and better suits this flirty capital. Things twinkle here at night, the theatre, the astronomical clock, even the sex machine museum – full of interesting devices from years gone by, some for pleasure, some for the distinct prevention of pleasure – seem to have a sprinkle of fairy dust over them. Favourite sight was the Charles Bridge. With its panoramic views of the city, the palace and the river stretching to either side, it is straight out of a Brothers Grimm fable.. without the gruesome bits where people get eaten.
(Obviously I explored Prague for the first time at night. It feels like 75% of the cities I have been through, I have seen in the dark. I don’t time it this way on purpose. Doing things when you’re a tourist takes a long time, not sure why, and it does get dark early at this time of year. It’s five twenty in mid Western Russia and I’m already watching the sun go down.)
Despite the cold, bakeries keep their fronts open to welcome in the public wanting to buy huge pastries that they fill with soft gooey chocolate for you. There are other fillings available, but you know… they don’t count. If the aroma of warm dough and chocolate doesn’t get you, then the smell of hot wine wafting from a street stand will. Again, other beverages were on sale, but they don’t spring to mind.
After spending the night in a hostel that had its very own dungeon, it is the kitchen now, and trying goulash, which I suspect I tried in the wrong place since it tasted like it came out of a can, I got a night train to Brussels which was uneventful other than me freaking out in the middle of the night like a cat getting thrown in the bath, because someone in the upper bunks kicked a plastic bag which floated down and landed on my face. “Yaaaargh!wuvvafuh…wuhwaohhohhh ugh,” is what I yelled out, whilst waking the other five people in the compartment.
Oh wow, Russian sunset is killing it right now: a picture perfect band of orange graduating into pale yellow, before meeting a vast expanse of lilac grey sky. The horizon of trees, factories and smoking columns is all perfectly silhouetted. You know, they should do art trips on trains during the quiet months, you could hitch up an extra wagon containing an art studio. Granted, trains are a tad bumpy for art work, but wasn’t that why impressionism was invented? Surely I read that in a history book somewhere.
With 24 hours to kill in Brussels before a flight to St Petersburg, I went window shopping and found a gem of a book store that had vintage copies of Tin Tin comics; discovered a street full of art galleries and arrived just in time to get a glass of free champagne from one of them – sense of timing having a good day.
Lastly I spent the night at Brussels airport waiting for my flight. What you should know if you’re ever planning on doing this is: the airport is clean, dry, warm, has big toilets, has places to sit, although not many comfy places to sleep, got occasional plugs for recharging, but will only give you an hour’s free wifi. If your flight is super early (I think the first one is out at 5 )and you go through passport control the night before, there are soft, leather couches in two places where you can curl up for a snooze, but no coffee shops are open 24 hours on that side. You can also get an early breakfast there.
There was a dodgy moment –only one you say in disbelief – while I was boarding, when the woman in front of me was told her carry on luggage was too big and would have to go into the hold. Her case, although packed to bursting point, was a good six inches shorter than mine, so I was understandably concerned that mine would be deemed unacceptable also. Fortunately, the guy checking my line in was so pissed off with the woman holding up the line shouting at him, that he waved me through without even a cursory glance at my bag. Having made an enemy for life of bursting bag lady, who was puce in the face when she saw my luggage had been given the all clear, I scurried away and sank low into my seat contemplating how badly I was going to freeze in St Petersburg.

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