Writing this header we could have used a variety of puns: Czech out my melody, Czechmate, Czechkyll and Hyde, Czech-In, the list goes on…
Heading to Prague for Tam’s attempt a the marathon there was a bit of apprehension. Tam had committed to quite a bit more training and already had some stiff experienced competition in her personal trainer sister Anna, ultra-marathon running cousin Lexi and recent sexagenarian father, Rich.
With seemingly no passport control at Prague Airport we passed straight into the awaiting taxi. The driver was a bit grumpy after Tam’s harsh bargaining skills and at 150km/h sped down the motorway, a Czech cover version of Chris Isaaks’ Wicked Game droning in the background. Our apartment was a large empty studio south of the city centre with the others staying in a more exclusive establishment to the east.
Waking early, we met the jet-lagged others at their apartment to take a walking tour around the Old Town – just to get the muscles ready. Prague is known as the city of a thousand spires. A free (implied donation as always) walking tour with Leonardo, our enthusiastic guide. e took us to the statue of King Wenceslas (of Christmas carol fame) upon his horse. In this square the protests of the 1989 Velvet Revolution against the Soviet Union ended a long occupation by Soviet forces. Following WWII Communist parties were actually voted into power, but as the the parliament became more liberal in the late 60’s, the Soviets were quick to move in and restore control of the Western frontier. One student, Jan Palach, protested his nations’ inability to stand up to the oppressors by dousing himself in gasoline in this square. This kindled a series of similar martyr/suicides and it wasn’t until twenty years later that the Czech Republic had it’s freedom. We also got to see the mechanically complex and hyped Astronomical clock. The clock not only tells the time, but positions of the sun, moon and zodiac – much like your apps on a phone, but built in the 15th Century. Prague is also home to many synagogues, many of these buildings were both destroyed and preserved by anti-semitic rulers like the Nazi’s. Hitler had intentions of turning the Prague Jewish Quarter into “an open air museum for an extinct race” – chilling thought. The Jewish cemetery we saw was stacked high, with little real estate available.
After a small comedy of errors buying about 2 kilo’s of spit roast ham, we traveled by tram across the river to pick up the Marathon race packs at the exhibition centre. Following, we managed to find probably the best pub view in Prague (shameless plug for T-Anker Bar), 5 stories up and overlooking the skyline. A beer, or pivo, costs about £1 (NZ$2) from the bar and is really good quality. Tam even managed a few drinks to steady the nerves.
Marathon morning. Mitch and Tom got up at 4.30am to watch the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight before meeting the nervous running crew outside the McDonalds on the main street. We found that in the wee hours, this place sees a lot of comatose and staggering British and Irish stag parties. The sight inside was of one man face down, with his hair in a pool of his own vomit, being watched over by a bald man with about half of his skin tattooed…and the Czech police.
The Prague Marathon has a reputation as being the most scenic marathon, taking runners throughout all the squares, bridges and cobbled streets. It was also the easiest to support, being able to walk around and see the runners six times along their journey. The supporters wore rabbit ears making them easier to spot for the runners in the crowds – most of the time it was the runners who saw the supporters first!
Tam managed to complete her first marathon, coming in a few minutes after her older sister to just get in under four hours. With low blood pressure, she felt faint lying on the ground with her legs in the air supported by Lexi. Meanwhile, Rich also came down faint and had to be helped along to the medic tent to be hooked up to the saline drip. Lexi did her best amongst all this commotion to find the rest of us and bring us to the near unconscious participants. Tam was finding it difficult to walk and the blood had completely gone to her legs with her lips going blue, she had clearly overdone it, but of course…in style. We taxied back to the flat for a decent rest.
Anna: 3:42:36, Tamson: 3:59:10, Lexi: 3:59:42 and Rich: 4:06:15.
After a few hours recovery and hydration, we went about finding a meal. A small restaurant with inviting sheepskins was good for a stein of beer, but the main event was the one across the road. Tom managed to get a 1.2kg pork knuckle at about the price of a London salad and the beers were of course, ridiculously cheap.
The following day Tom and Lexi left back to London. The remaining boys Mitch, Tim and Rich went up the Prague Clocktower while while Marg, Anna and Tam went shopping. Rich had managed to master the digital camera and was getting all kinds of pics. He was still feeling a bit little bit crook; in part from the marathon, but also from a bit of gluten. Being coeliac is difficult in a country that eats a lot of bread and drinks the most beer per capita in the world – 150 litres each per year!
Tam also means Push in Czech…
Back over the river to Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral, we explored the alleyways and gardens. Eventually we came across an underground medieval tavern, full of skulls and period bar staff, dressed in rags, slamming food and beer down on the table. The gothic cathedral was full of people taking wedding photos. With another feed of borscht and pork knuckle in the stomach and across Charles Bridge we managed to scrounge a night on Rich and Margs couch.
Anna and Tim departed the next morning to Croatia for the rest of their travels, while we picked up another trusty little Fiat 500L from the rail station to drive south with Rich and Marg. It was beginning to feel like we had walked around this city so many times! We were becoming more and more familiar with the surrounds.
The spires of Prague gave way to sprawling industrial estates, then to rape filled fields and finally the rolling countryside of southern Bohemia, full of chateaus of the Renaissance. We stopped off for a good look at the Hluboká nad Vltavou Chateau. It looked in good condition, almost brand new perched over the brown lakes.
Český Krumlov was the most elegant of the Czech towns we came across. We made the mistake of driving our little Fiat right through the middle of the crowded streets, past tourists who were more concerned with their ice cream than their own personal safety. Eventually we made it through the narrow passes to find a reasonable park, walking back into town. The Český Krumlov Castle had three live bears in the moat under the drawbridge. Although we don’t think these acted as much of a deterrent to any particular sieges, bears have been kept in the moat for centuries like pets.
As the day wore on we made our way over the Bohemian hills and into the mountains of Austria. The Czech Republic is such a different place to it’s neighbors Germany and Austria. Its people and culture, although influenced is quite distinct. A must to visit and full of charm.