Saturday, 31 December 2016

Make the Most of Things

As we hurl towards another new year, it's typically a time to reflect on the previous one. I can be as nostalgic as the next person, and while I love to look back on my memories, photos, and posts I try to be grounded in the now, rather than the past and the future.

2016 has been an exceptional year for me. After returning to Prague in October 2015 following a six month absence, I enjoyed another seven months living in the city and I don't remember being more content and generally thrilled with my life. Even though I'm back in the UK now, my work is still Prague based and I get to return for at least a week most months. I pretty much have the best of both worlds - living at home but still with strong ties and connections to my second home.

It could have worked out so differently...

Although I loved my first stay in Prague from October 2014 through to April 2015 it wasn't the easiest of times for me, and looking back, although I tried to make the best of a difficult situation, I don't think I was able to fully appreciate where I was and how to truly embrace what was happening to me. So much so, that when I was offered the chance to return I initially turned it down.

If I had continued to stubbornly reject that opportunity because of a set of circumstances that were no longer relevant, I would have missed out on what has become the most satisfying period of my life. I would not have made the new friends and connections I made in Prague. I would never have truly understood the peace and freedom that I now feel in the city. And I most certainly would not have felt the sense of belonging that I now have whenever I'm back.

You can rub the plaque on the statue of John of Nepomuk on Karluv Most as many times as you like, but there comes a time when you just know that Prague is truly in your blood and that wherever you are, you'll never really have left.

So, next time you're in Prague, whether as a tourist or as an expat, leave your emotional baggage at home and make the most of your time there. I got a second chance - not everyone will be so fortunate.

"Užijte si tento den, jako by byl ten poslední, a od zítra bude vše ještě lepší! Krásný Nový rok a ještě lepší celý rok 2017!"

[Enjoy this day as if it was the last one, and starting tomorrow all will be even better! I wish you a beautiful New Year's Day and even better the whole of 2017! - Thanks to Czech Word A Day on Facebook from where I shamelessly stole this!]

Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Tale of Two Drinking Cultures

As I've mentioned before in these blog posts, Prague is a city of contrasts, even extremes, and that's illustrated perfectly in the drinking cultures in the centre of town. Prague has a very old tradition of social drinking typified in the hospodida which is much like the traditional English pub. These are still the best places to aim for if you wish to experience classic Prague.

To many people, especially in the UK, Prague is synonymous with the worst excesses of Stag parties. Cheap beer, tolerance of ‘reacreational’ drugs, and a fairly open sex trade are the perfect ingredients for a lad’s weekend away. It’s not just the Brits (thank goodness); over the past few months I’ve come across German, French, Italian and numerous Eastern European stags.

Many of these stag parties and other large group of males are attracted to music clubs that have sprung up around the centre of town. The biggest of these is Karlovy Lazne - with five floors of different music types. The noise from the club itself is almost non-existent. The problems come when it’s closing time at five in the morning. Extremely drunk (and generally) young men gather on the embankment outside the club and treat the neighbouring residents and hotel guests to loud and poor renditions of classic club songs - the favourite seemingly is "No Limits”.

The singing is generally accompanied by clapping, shouting, renditions of football anthems, and women shrieking. And because of the numbers of people tipping out over the road, honking of horns from angry drivers doing their level best to not run over the idiots dancing in the street.

In the summer months, especially July, when temperatures are still around 20-24C at night, I found it impossible to sleep much more than 5 hours a night, even with the windows closed. Prague’s narrow streets and relatively tall buildings act as perfect echo chambers, amplifying every noise 10 times or more.

There’s a strange irony that concert venues are subject to strict curfew laws - live gigs are almost always over by 10:30pm - but the clubs are exempt and the police show a blind eye to the appalling behaviour of the clubbers. Maybe there simply aren’t enough cells in Prague.

I'm the first to admit that I like a few drinks and occasionally it's easy to get a bit carried away. But I'd like to think that, along with all my ex-pat friends, regardless of their nationality, we respect the fact that the majority of people in the city, just like us, live and work there and behave accordingly.

And I like to remember that on two or three occasions, when the Tartan Army has been in town, everyone I later speak to comments on how well the Scots conduct themselves (regardless of the outcome of the game!). No matter how tanked up you are, there's no excuse for ignoring the fact that you're still a guest in someone else's country...

Slàinte mhath / na zdraví!