Malá Strana

Weekday again - in Prague too. We follow Národni and cross the bridge Most Legií to the district Malá Strana. It is rush hour, and traffic on the bridge seems almost one way - a long line of cars going into the city centre and only a few going the other way.

We set course for the Charles Bridge. At first the neighbourhood near the river is village-like and idyllic, but later it becomes more fashionable with mansions housing embassies and exclusive restaurants and hotels. It seems very quiet. Four containers in different colours invite you to sort your garbage.

Water level in Prague 2002

A small plaque on a wall shows the water level during the flood in August 2002. It is just above my eyes and I am 1.85 m.

Like in the old town, Staré Mesto, the breeze occasionally carries a whiff of sewers. On the Charles Bridge Asians are busy staging pictures of themselves with statues and scenery in the background.

The road takes us back to the hotel district. We have a coke and rest our backs at a modern café. Here (like in most bigger places) they have an area for smokers and one for non-smokers. The urinals at the gents have plastic wire netting that hold the pink smell-balls and prevent inconsiderate cigarette butts from blocking the drains.

Containers in Prague Street in Malá Strana Gate in Malá Strana

Museum of Communism

"One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic." (Stalin)

Ticket and link to the Museum of Communism

The Museum of Communism lies in an old palace in Na Prikope 10 near the Václav Square and the Powder Tower. There is a casino next door, but that is probably coincidental.

From the gateway you ascend a broad staircase to the first floor. It is pompous with a soft carpet and ceiling frescoes. Admission is 180 CZK for adults.

There are many sculptures and busts from the communist era. Plates in several languages tell about the time from the communist coup in 1948 to the velvet revolution in 1989. There is even an interrogation room, where a phone rings ghostlike from time to time.

The exhibition and videos give an interesting insight in society. The picture is primed with grey bitterness. An American businessman started the museum. With Czech assistants he found the effects at markets, antique shops and bookstores.

I don't think there are many Czech visitors. Maybe memories are still too fresh, or maybe people feel that it is now finally in the past.

It is snowing lightly, when we exit. Home for siesta! The room has not been cleaned yet, but that doesn't make the bed less inviting. When you sit on the bed with your back against the wall, the bed slides on the wooden floor. How annoying. We solve the problem by putting rubber bands under the bed's skates. Always bring rubber bands when on holiday!

Blizzard and relaxation

The snow turns into a blizzard and there is thunder and lightning, but it stops just as suddenly as it started.

Again we have a hotdog lunch with pigeons as a vigilant audience. Half past one is definitely not too early for an Urquell at Cafe Galerie u Vavrysu. Today we haven't got the energy to walk about aimlessly, and the weather is bleak with big wet snowflakes.

Evening in Vinohrady

I have seen on the Internet that chess is played every Tuesday at Café Noel, Anny Letenské 18 near The National Museum. Other evenings they play music, but Tuesday it is chess.

Hotdog stand at the Václav Square

The Václav Square is teeming with people. The hotdog stands make good business, and later it may be the casinos' turn.

We pass The National Museum and find a pizzeria, "Red Flower", in Vinohradska 29 very close to Anny Letenské. The pizzeria is in the basement, and we descend towards a warm garlic smell.

When I ask the waiter if he speaks English, he measures a millimetre with his thumb and index finger, but we have no difficulties communicating. Helle has spaghetti and a coke, and I have an enormous pizza and a pint of Staropramen. All the other guests are Czechs.

The whole treat costs a mere 295 CZK (about 12 euro), and then my beer was cheaper than Helle's small coke.

The chess club at Noel's

As mentioned Tuesday is "games night" at Noel's, and the guests are expats: Americans, Brits, Aussies and others who for some reason live in Prague.

Two young men are playing chess as we enter. We don't intrude. Instead we borrow a board by the bar. Just playing usually does the trick, and it works again tonight. As we set up the pieces after two fast games, curiosity prevails: where do we come from?

The question comes from a man with very long grey hair and beard. He presents himself as Paul. He is not nearly as reserved as we are, but of course this is his home turf. He talks a lot and think it is fantastic that I have found this place with a Google search.

Before long we know that he is 63, comes from Newfoundland, has lived in Iceland and Greece and the last 15 years in Prague. Maybe I missed a detour to Ukraine. He's a genuine old hippie. He doesn't play chess, but comes every Tuesday and soon he has arranged a match between me and a youngster - from Peru I think.

The kid apologizes and says that he is a beginner. "I am not", I say cruelly, but we all have to start at some point. I easily win two games, and when I "rewind" to the beginning of the games to show him where he went wrong, he is flabbergasted that I can remember all the moves. I am not immune to flattery and fail to tell him that most capable chess players remember the moves of a game just played.

I withdraw to the company of Helle and Paul. Paul is delighted to have us as a new audience and talks a lot. Soon I'm challenged by a young Brit and therefore miss Paul's conspiracy theories.

Later Helle explains that Paul saw conspiracies everywhere. Of course the Kennedy brothers were murdered "from within", and Marilyn Monroe et al knew to much and had to be silenced too. Mozart was murdered too, and Stalin and Hitler were in fact cousins of the Rothschild family. Of course that was why Stalin was in such a hurry to conquer Berlin - the evidence had to be removed. The fact that Hitler's body has never been found is ample proof.

It is a mixed bunch. Occasionally one of the Brits takes a discrete and supplementary pull at a small bottle from his inside pocket. My opponent speaks boarding school English and plays an unsound game setting up traps instead of playing the position. The Australian tells about his work for the UN in Kosovo and about his time in Ireland, where he ran out of money. It is difficult for my opponent to concentrate. Now and then I have to tell him that it is his turn to move, and I am rewarded by a beautifully pronounced "Oh, so sorry!"

At half past 10 Helle has had her fill of conspiracies, and we leave with many goodbyes and goodnights.