Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Czech Please!


After my brewery adventure I decided I should get on the road and get into Prague. The delay in Frankfurt cost me a day and I was starting to feel rushed. Not to mention the fact that after a hard days ride I could barely walk until I had at least 3 liters of beer. The only problem with that pain prescription is that one of the side effects of drinking that much beer is that it reduces your ability to walk. It's a bit of a catch-22 situation but the alternative is worse. I would rather stumble around in a drunken stupor than feel the pain induced by 600 kilometers in the 'Pike' position while enduring road induced vibration at 180km/h.

It was the afternoon and the weather was beautiful. I figured I would stay off the Autobahn for the short ride to Prague.
Staying off the highway was a great idea! The road was very scenic and there were enough places to stop and have a drink along the way. This beautiful church doubled well as a road side oasis for drinking good Czech beer.

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I arrived in Prague around 15:00 and experienced my first ride through a larger European city. What a shock! Nothing you learn riding in North America actually helps you stay alive on these streets... or what passes for streets in this part of the world. I made it down to the old city center and stopped to call my friend Anna, a regular contributor of sarcasm and wit to this blog. Oh, and did I mention she's single?

As it turns out, she's also gainfully employed and couldn't come meet me right away. As a matter of fact she seemed a little annoyed at the fact that I thought she should drop everything and come have beers with me. Did I mention she's single... and grumpy?

I killed some time riding around in circles looking for a good place to park the bike where I could just leave the bag on without fear of it being stolen. I found out that Czech Republic was completely crime free until the Russians were allowed in. As a matter of fact the lady at the hotel where I stayed in Plzen told me that Czech people aren't even capable of committing a crime but I would have to lock my motorbike up in the gated compound in case the Russians or the Ukrainians took a liking to my bike. So armed with that useful piece of knowledge I figured I could park my bike anywhere there was a large gathering of Czech people around. As it turned out this wasn't as easy to do as one would think being in the capital city of the Czech Republic. As well, without an understanding of the local roads I found myself returning to the same place over and over again. After an hour and a half of getting nowhere (at least nowhere new) I took action and made a turn down a one way street and another turn on a street I hadn't been on before. When I mentioned earlier about North American driving skills not preparing you for riding here it was this moment more than any that illustrates that fact. As I made the turn down the street I realized there were train tracks below me. How odd?

I mention again that driving in North America doesn't prepare you for driving here. Fortunately, I have other skills that do. For instance, 20 years of playing video games have helped me develop fast enough reflexes to dodge the train that is coming straight for me. That was a very useful skill indeed. That coupled with an intense fear of death and pain allowed me to survive the train that was coming from behind me. As it turns out video games are good for you. After avoiding certain death, well maybe not certain death, certain pain at the minimum I find myself in the custody of a van full of local police officers. Between the four of them they come up with enough English to ask me for 4000 Crowns. I have no idea how much that is, but I do know a beer costs about 10 Crowns. So my math kicks in to tell me these guys really want 100 beers each. Not a bad goal, but what they don't realize is that when it comes to a Canadian and beer you would have more luck trying to wrestle a freshly caught salmon from a grizzly bear. Yet again I draw upon my video gaming to help me in this situation. Many hours playing Grand Theft Auto has taught me not to give cops money. The verbal melee goes back and forth and I start to realize that they are confusing the fact that when I tell them I don't have any cash that I'm really just negotiating. The original 4000 crown fine has been reduced to 1000 crowns. I convert this amount again... 25 beers each. I wonder if they will share some with me? Maybe they need them for the policeman's ball? Oh right! Policemen don't have balls! I agree to the amount of 1000 crowns and they seem happy and quite a bit less tense. The guy scribbles something down on a piece of paper and shows it to me. I don't recognize much but I do see the number 1000. I reach into my wallet and I see the guys eyes widen like a kid getting candy from a stranger (bad metaphor I know, but as a kid I was never picky about where my candy came from). I start fingering through my wallet and I hand the officer my Visa card. I thought he was going to cry.

"We don't take credit cards", he says in his thick accent.

"I don't have any money", I reply.

The negotiations begin again. He points at all the banks I could go to to get money. I respond with, "They're not my banks." Fortunately for me I have time to kill before Anna gets off work otherwise my impatience would have cost me some money. I'm thinking about two things while this is happening. First, this is going to make a great blog posting and second... "Is that Pilsner Urquell on tap at that cafe?" Video games have also taken away my ability to focus for any period of time.

Playing dumb has never been easy for me but the language barrier and my twisted sense of humor has turned me into an Oscar award winner. A saying keeps going through my mind that would help out this cop tremendously. "Never argue with an idiot. They will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience."

The cops finally have their own epiphany and like a newly baptized sinner they all climb into their van and speed off to spread the word. I'm sure that the description of my bike was given out on the radio because when I got into my bike I completely disregarded all traffic signs and rules and no one bothered me again. I went down a one way street on the sidewalk passed a policeman with my helmet tied to the back of my bike and he didn't even look at me. I feel like I'm above the law. I drive wherever I want and do whatever I want and no one cares. It then dawns on me that that's the way everyone drives here. It's with this epiphany of my own that I receive complete enlightenment and my fear of driving goes away. It's also at this moment that I see a nice cafe serving cold beer with a good parking spot in front of it. There's also lots of landmarks around to make it easy for me to describe where I am to Anna.

I sit down and order and sure enough Anna calls me to ask where I am. I explain and she makes her way over. She gets to the cafe quickly and I see her grumpiness disappear as quickly as the beer in front of her. I explain that I won't be spending the night here so she insists on giving me the $10 tour of Prague. We start walking. Anna is quite tall so the pace is quick. Did I mention that she's single? Here's some pictures:

"Anna and the King"
"Astrological Clock."
"Some bridge another king once strode upon."
"Drinking beers in some Serbian owned Grotto with Johnny Cash playing."

We didn't walk very long but Anna Longstrider and myself covered a lot of territory. A number of beers later at the Serbian joint, the St. Nicholas Cafe, I mention that I should probably get on the road. She won't let me leave without a meal so we hightail it to a restaurant against my will. The service is terrible. The beer is good but I don't think customer service actually translates well into the Czech language. Fortunately the lack of enthusiasm by the waiting staff is completely forgiven with the quality of the meal. My God! This is by far the greatest meal I have had in years. If I were sentenced to death row this would be the meal I would request as my last one. Mainly because of how it tastes but as well there is a good chance that this meal could save you from the gas chamber by giving you a heart attack. It's called a roasted Pork Hock and they serve it with horse radish, Dijon mustard, and green onions.
After the paramedics revived me from my pork induced coma we grabbed the bill. The following picture shows you how much money I left Prague with:
The funny thing is these three coins are enough to buy three beers in most places. We decided to take a street car back to the bike to save time and to keep my meal in my stomach. Anna gave me the name of a village on the Austrian border where her cousin had a cafe. As well she tried to find me a place to stay when I got there. A hug and a kiss later and a warning to look out for some old fat DJ in Bratislava and I was back on the road. The sun was setting and I was eager to put Prague in my mirrors. Thanks for all the beers Anna!

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Anna Barton said...

Oh my gawd, I am still splitting my guts after that poetic description of your Prague encounter with the police, the meal and ME!
Oh, and you forgot to mention I'm single! Thanks, though for at least posting decent-looking pictures
By the way, I'm not grumpy... I'm just busy! :)))
Can't wait to find out about the next leg of your trip.


P.S. The name of the town, not village, is Mikulov. The name of the "serbian joint" is St Nicholas Cafe.
And I hope to god the the DJ never reads this :)

Malcolm 'Mack' McColl said...

You're a wild man, dude. A fucking wildman, and ya spin a mean yarn, too.

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