Kiri and


I love Prague

July 8th, 2014 (by Steve)

One of the things we love about travelling is observing people; especially when we’re in places that don’t see many motorhomes. As we were preparing to leave Svitavy, a couple of young guys were washing their car at the motorhome service point. Now I don’t speak much Czech, but from the pitch of their words and the accompanying body language, this is what I assess went on:

Frank, keep cool, but one of the people from the weird van is coming this way with a box. Smile and keep washing the Škoda. What do you think the box is, Frank? He’s unscrewing a lid and now he’s… OH FRANK, HE’S EMPTYING A TOILET DOWN THE CAR WASH.

Needless to say, they moved on pretty swiftly.

After a brief overnight stop outside Hradec Králové (where the most eventful moment was Kiri expertly capturing a centipede in a glass, only to find out that it was part of my watch strap), Prague was our next destination. Well, actually a campsite just to the south of the city. Our first quest was to get a load of our clothes into the wash. I say “our”, but actually, it was Kiri’s job, as the washing machine was in the ladies’ shower room. The mind boggles as to how any single male campers wash their clothes.

And then to Prague. With no fixed agenda, we chose to amble around this beautiful city, managing to arrive at the Old Town Square just in time to join the other 2498 tourists for the 12pm clock chiming. We know that the Old Square is a bit of a tourist magnet and we hate being tourists… but it’s also the place with some of the best buskers. We therefore stayed in the area for a good hour or so, appreciating the musical offerings of talented individuals and groups; particularly enjoying the Bohemian Bards. The music in Prague really is cracking; which is probably the reason that my school chose to go there on a concert tour just before the turn of the century. Our jazz band and barbershop group were particularly well received, as were half of the instruments which were stolen from the coach one night… but that was a long time ago! Back in the present, this first day was all about the music, so once we’d had a bite to eat, a little bit more of a wander and had cooled down with an icecream, we armed ourselves with a dark beer each and sat down in the shade to appreciate some more buskers.


One of the most striking memories of that first visit to Prague was the beauty and tranquillity of Charles Bridge (if you could ignore the rest of the school party). Roll the clock forward 10 years to my next visit and that peace had gone, buried by tour groups and stalls everywhere. I was determined to dig it up again though on this visit. The first train from the station by our campsite left at 4:32am the following morning and we were on it. The streets were surprisingly busy at that time; the hour seeming to belong to joggers, travellers with early connections and photographers. But the tranquillity was there; in that golden morning light the early start was worth it. Surprisingly, the quietest time on Charles Bridge wasn’t at 5:30 when we arrived, but around 6:30.


But I was interested in more than just the tranquillity; I wanted to see the transition from the stillness to the bustle, so we chose a spot on the bridge a little out of the way, set up the tripod and camera and got a time lapse going. Now you never quite know what to expect within the course of a time lapse; we certainly didn’t expect a photographer and model to turn up and start doing a photo shoot at 6am, especially not a photo shoot of that flavour. We’re not sure what the nuns who followed soon after would have made of it all. Add in a bride and groom, someone dressed up as a medieval king and people randomly lying on the ground and we think we’ve seen it all! The stalls were all set up and the crowds had reached their mean daytime density by 10:15am, at which point we stopped the camera.


And here’s the resulting timelapse:

Rather unsurprisingly we didn’t have much energy for exploring Prague after all of that, so after a bit of a wander we gave in around lunchtime. As we made our way towards some shade, we were handed free samples of iced coffee… how did they recognise our need? After a quick hot dog, we did a bit of a grocery shop, then returned to the cool of Bertha to collapse before an early night.

It was painful getting up the following morning and we weren’t sure whether we’d have the energy to make the most of another day around the city. However, we’re pleased we pushed ourselves to get on the train as it was another cracking day. Our first stop was at the John Lennon wall; Prague’s equivalent of the Berlin wall in terms of street art. In the 80s, an image of Lennon on this wall became a sign of hope and was joined by other messages of hope, peace and love. Now, as with the Berlin Wall, it seems to be a place where visitors just want to make their mark. As I watched a tourist write “#GETABSOLUTELY******”, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the obsession with making a mark on the the world has overtaken the desire to observe and learn from the marks that others make.


Avoiding the plague of Segways that roam the streets of Prague, we climbed up the hill into Petrin Park where we had a little picnic with a wonderful view. From there it was a short walk to Prague Castle where memories of the school performances there came flooding back… as well as memories of lugging a bass drum down a narrow staircase! We joined the crowds of tourists marvelling at the stained glass windows inside the cathedral and made our way towards the Golden Lane… only to find our way blocked by turnstiles… were they there before? This led to a long discussion where we considered the merits and tolls of tourism for both travellers and the communities they visit.


We stopped for a refreshing half of St. Norbert’s in the brew pub next to the Strahov monastery (we’ve learned on this trip that monks certainly know a thing or two about brewing!) before venturing up to the observatory in Petrin Park. After a pleasant amble, we descended into the city once more, getting on the train mere minutes before the torrential rain started.

Our final day in Prague fell on a Sunday. Well, actually, we engineered it to be a Sunday as we thought it would be a good city to find a place of worship. And it was. We were given a very warm welcome at Prague Christian Fellowship, where we joined with others in a relaxed and grounded gathering. For a lot of this trip, Kiri and I have been pondering, discussing and praying on the concept of church being one body across denominations, cultures and borders and we’re sure that it’s no co-incidence that the message at the service was on being part of one body. We’re not finished with our ponderings though, so watch this space! There’s a strong emphasis on relationship within the Christian Fellowship, so once the service was over, church continued as we decamped to a local Czech restaurant to share food together. There’s something really special about sharing food with new friends (as well as old friends), but I’ve got three words. So. Much. Meat. Replete, we rolled around Prague for a while before saying goodbye to the city (in English with a Czech accent, as I can never remember “Nashledanou”). We’ll be back.

Our time in eastern Europe has come to an end, so filled with cheap Czech fuel, Bertha once again eyed up the autobahns of Germany. Fly Bertha, fly!

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Party time in the Czech Republic

June 30th, 2014 (by Steve)

Whilst we both like a good party, we appreciate them most in moderation as we’ve only got limited energy for that kind of thing. This trip for us certainly isn’t about finding the best parties and “living it large”, however since we’ve crossed into the Czech Republic, we’ve been unable to avoid them. Maybe it’s just the season, or maybe the Czechs are just really into parties; after all, if figures from 2012 are still relevant, they “led all other nations in per-capita beer consumption for the 20th consecutive year”.

I’ve been to Prague a couple of times before and whilst it’s on our list of places to visit in the Czech Republic, we were keen to see a bit more of the country than just the typical tourist haunts. After turning down a couple of hitch-hikers at a service station outside Brno (they wanted to go to Prague), we headed to our planned campsite a little to the north of the city. Upon arrival though, we were to be disappointed. Our plan was to stay for two nights, however we were informed that due to a weekend death metal festival there, we’d only be able to stay for one and, even more disappointingly, the festival was sold out too. Plan B was put into action (we’re used to having to have multiple plans by now!) and we ended up at a lovely family-run campsite, with a huge (but very young) dog who insisted on playing with us. Ideal.


The following morning we headed into Brno, still not quite sure how to pronounce it (apparently it’s more like “brrr no” than “bruno”), where we found a very pretty old town. After visiting the tourist information office and wandering around for half an hour, we came to the conclusion that aside from architecture, the main thing to do there is sit outside one of countless bars in the sunshine, sipping on cheap beer. In Freedom Square the local radio station had a stage with live music acts, but the visiting American singer wasn’t quite our cup of tea, so we resumed our wandering. Finding a random piano in a corner of a side street being played by a teenager with his arm is a cast was slightly more to our taste, especially when we twigged that the piece of music he was skilfully playing with beautiful arpeggios was in fact “Smells like teen spirit”. Genius. We were just coming to the end of our exploring when we heard an altogether more interesting sound from the live stage… we would probably categorise it as Folk Metal, but the band themselves use the term “Folk Rock”. Their captivating style (a fuse of metal vocals, folk violin, rock drumming and the happiest bass player in the universe) was enough to keep us in the square until the end of their set. We’ll forgive the fact that the lead singer was a former X Factor winner… now if only we can work out how to buy a CD from their website


With our ears rejoicing from the great sounds, we caught the tram and bus back to our quiet campsite… which appeared to have been invaded by 30-40 inebriated teenagers. The cooking and eating of our dinner was accompanied by quite an entertaining show of typical teenage party melodrama, complete with clichés such as beer pong and throwing each other into the pool. It slowly dawned on us though that we were sitting ducks in the middle of it all, so in a quieter moment, we moved Bertha out of the way… or so we thought. In fact the space behind our new position served as great cover for a heartbroken teen with his phone glued to his ear, others running away from a close encounter with shaving foam and a couple of girls who decided to change out of their wet clothes. All oblivious to the fact that this inanimate object (sorry Bertha) might actually have people living in it. Now we don’t know what the story behind this teenage party was, but when we came to pay the following morning, the campsite owner was incredibly apologetic and sheepish, explaining the events of the previous night as “a catastrophe” and charging us for one night only. We guess it might have been a case of “Mum, can I have a few friends over please?”. We’d certainly recommend this campsite though.

From Brno, our ideal option would have been to explore the Moravian Karst region; rural Czech Republic at its best with exciting caves, gorges and the like. However, once we started researching it properly, we read that to go to the caves you have to book weeks in advance as they’re so popular… it’s not really that kind of trip for us. We’re lucky if we know what we’re doing 5 days in advance. Instead we took a very scenic route to Svitavy where there was the promise of a free aire, complete with motorhome facilities. Ideal – a place where we could catch up on some sleep.


Upon arrival, the car park was heaving and it was obvious from the placement of parked cars and vans that there was little regard for spaces reserved for motorhomes. We squeezed into a space and pondered our next move as we munched on some lunch. It soon became apparent that there was some sort of 5-a-side football tournament going on at the nearby stadium, so we decided to sit it out, wait until some of the cars cleared, then move into one of the motorhome spots where we could use the free electric hookup on offer. When it got to 7pm and there was no sign of movement we realised that our plan might not happen and soon our ears were ringing with a loud, repetitive “doof, doof, doof” (that’s meant to be a heavy bass beat). We had two options, either move on to… well, who knows or…

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Techno beats and football crowds aren’t normally a combination that attract us, but we actually quite enjoyed the evening at the stadium where there was a disco, a bucking bronco ride and World Cup games being shown on the big screen. The beer wasn’t bad either and at 20 CZK for half a litre it was both cheap and tasty. We were slightly bemused when we were handed little cans of promotional “Carling British Cider” (cherry flavoured – it tasted like cherryade) and if I were the letter-writing type, I would write to the British Embassy to ask them to rectify the situation. I come from Somerset. Enough said. Anyway, we retired at 11pm, expecting the revelry to finish imminently, but it wasn’t until 2am or 3am that it finally went quiet.


The football team who had camped next to us in the car park woke us up a mere 4 or 5 hours later, at 7am with another heavy bass beat and we realised that this would be a two day tournament. With no prospects of getting Bertha into the motorhome space any time soon, we instead chose to watch a few matches and cheer on our noisy neighbours.


And then it was all over. The car park was silent. We hopped into the motorhome space. And exhaled. Peace. If there’s one down side of this type of motorhoming, it’s the unfamiliarity of your surroundings. There’s a certain vulnerability about turning up somewhere and not knowing whether it will be noisy or quiet, whether you will feel safe or uncomfortable… whether you’ll even be able to stop there for the night. When your motorhome is your only sanctuary, it can be a bit tough. The last few nights have been, well, a little challenging we’ll admit (I think more so for Kiri). But for now, it’s so quiet. I think we’ve got a little bit of stillness. We’ll treasure it.

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