I was reminded yesterday of a particularly random trip to Prague a few years ago. I have had the pleasure of visiting Prague many times since my first visit in 1994, and it is one of those places that seems to attract the more random of occurrences.
The trip in question was about five years ago. I was going there to meet up with two friends, Colin & Steve, for the weekend. Steve and I have been to Prague several times together, and this, like many of the trips we have shared, could best be described as “random”.
I arrived on Friday evening and headed for our hotel in the old city. Steve & Colin’s flight, which should have arrived before mine, was delayed by a couple of hours. By chance, I had another friend visiting Prague that weekend, so I was able to meet up with him. I got a message to say the others had arrived, and we met up. We visited a couple of bars, and eventually ended up in an establishment that we knew Steve liked. It was a bit too trendy for us, to be honest, but we stayed. There was a downstairs, underground section too, but we had never been there before. We asked Steve if he wanted to go down to the basement bar. No. We asked why not. He declined to comment. After another couple of beers, he gave in to our questions, and said “it’s full of vampires down there”. We were confused. Was this a slang term with which we were not familiar, or a local gang? Surely he did not mean those mythical members of the undead like Dracula or Nosferatu? “it’s their eyes”, he explained. “They look vacant. Just staring. It’s full of odd people. I went there once. Never again”.
Colin and I passed each other knowing glances. People with staring, dead eyes in a club in 2008 were unlikely to be vampires and more likely to be on some sort of illegal recreational substance. We convinced Steve – it was hard work – to come to the basement. Eventually he did. Although not everyone had a vacant look, there were plenty who did. It was actually a much nicer bar than the one upstairs, with rock music rather than dance, and a bit more space. Steve was uncomfortable.
There was a table football area, and the three of us decided to play. We were joined by a local called Vaclav. Although he was jolly and affable, and his eyes were very alive – big, and staring – Steve nodded at him and gave us a “he’s one of them” look. We thought “table football with the vampire” seems less dramatic than “interview with the vampire”, so we will give it a go. It was a jolly, fun evening, and between Vaclav’s very limited English and our even more limited Czech, we had a god evening. He taught us local football chants, and introduced us to some of his friends. After a couple of good natured hours, we left, without succumbing to the undead. “That was close”, said Steve, relieved.
We had a very pleasant Saturday, including a rather nice afternoon tea, and strolled around the city. If you have not been, Prague is simply stunning. It is really hard to describe just how beautiful it is. I remember my first trip there. We had driven from Chemnitz, in eastern Germany, where I lived at the time, one Friday evening. I had not travelled much at the time, and I was stunned. I could not believe that a city could be so beautiful. It was a few years before I had gone back, and on my next trip, I expected my memories to have recalled Prague as a more beautiful city than it was. It looked exactly as I remembered it, every bit as stunning.
We met up with a larger group of friends on Saturday evening, many of whom were on their first trip to Prague. We went to a traditional Czech restaurant, then found ourselves in a rather bland international style sports bar. We could have been anywhere in the world. We passed comment that, as we were in Prague, we should go somewhere more local. The extended group asked how we could find such a place. We took them back to the bar from the previous evening. Steve rolled his eyes.
As we walked down the stairs, we were hailed like returning regulars. The locals hugged us with warm embraces, and welcomed us back. We explained that we had brought some friends. This delighted our hosts. “Wow”, whispered one of our friends to me, “you really do come to Prague all the time”. “Yesterday was our first time in this bar”, I smiled back. He laughed, thinking I was joking. Steve frowned.
Among the people greeting us was Vaclav, and he introduced us to some other people. It did feel very odd to be so warmly welcomed by so many people on only our second visit there. I suspect it was among the warmest of welcomes I have experienced in any bar.
The barman came to chat. He pointed out that we had an entourage of friends, we explained that they wanted a more typical night out, so we brought them there. He laughed. He asked if we wanted a more private area, and we shrugged. He explained that there was another bar, even deeper underground, that we could have for the evening. He led us down a set of stairs to a very securely locked door, which he opened, and set up the bar in this otherwise deserted cellar. Steve was far from comfortable in our new location. It was, though, a remarkably nice gesture to offer us our own bar for the evening, so we stayed and had a few drinks. Eventually, some of the chaps with us wanted to go to one of the more exotic nightspots in Prague. After avoiding the downstairs bar for years, Steve found himself in the odd position of arguing that we should stay where we were. We were outvoted, and the group headed off to find other adventures.
As we walked through the tourist parts of the city, various touts, spotting a group of fifteen males, approached us to entice us into one particular club or other. We told them all that Steve was deciding where to go next. At one stage, he had ten of them around him saying “Steve, Steve, come to my bar. Big discount!”. He was unimpressed. When we eventually found one that met the requirements of our friends, we waited outside as they went in. “Are you not coming in too”, one asked. “We’re just making sure that everyone gets in”, I replied. Once the last one went in, we ran around the corner to a more normal bar.
We saw our friends again for breakfast the next morning. “Where did you go”, they asked. “We didn’t see you after we went into that club”. “We lost you in there”, was the reply. “It was a big place, we must have got separated”. We asked if they had a good night. Consensus of opinion was that it was ok. “it’s really weird”, one said. “I seem to have spent much more money than I expected. Or remembered”. Others agreed. We nodded. It certainly confirmed one thing. There are things to be much more wary of during a night out in Prague than the vampires.
When we got home, I took the handful of photos off my camera phone. This was an old, low res phone, but took basic pictures. It struck me that, in all my pictures, Vaclav’s face had not come out. He was just a blur. I showed Steve. He was not surprised. “Vampires”, he said knowingly.