Monday, December 26, 2005

Czech Republic: An American Square in Prague

It was Christmas, and with the long weekend, I decided to hop up to the Czech Republic for a look-see.

My flight took a few hours, and then I caught a bus from the airport into town. Actually, the bus only stopped on the edge of town, and I transferred to the subway for the rest of the way. The temperature was hovering around freezing, and the wind was biting.

When I reached my stop on the subway, it was a little after noon. Still, as I walked to my hostel, there were very few people on the streets.

I was staying in a place that was recommended in my Lonely Planet, and it was easy enough to find.

The bottom floor of the hostel was spacious. There was a bar in one corner, a reception desk in the adjacent corner, and table and chairs throughout the rest. The walls were entirely covered with graffiti from floor to ceiling.

Over the next 4 days, I would read most of this graffiti. Some was creative; some was lame; and a lot smacked of effort (which also meant it was lame).

When I checked in, none of the other guests were around, but I made the acquaintance of four of the employees. A young Brit named Alex was working the reception desk. If he were portrayed as a talking cartoon animal, I thought to myself that he would definitely be a mouse.

An Aussie named Chris was behind the bar. When he heard that I was from Tennessee, he walked over.

"So you're from Tennessee? You play the guitar?" he asked.

"A little," I responded.

"Uh-huh. And do you ever write your own songs?" he continued.

"Sometimes," I answered.

At this, he loudly clapped his hands together. "I thought so," he exclaimed. "It never fails!"

I pointed out that, while I was a Tennessean, I didn't actually take up guitar until I lived in Pakistan and also that I sucked at it. Chris wouldn't hear any of it, though. He broke into some mock country singing. It was somewhat entertaining.

Another Brit named Tim was hanging around the bar. He was a stocky guy with a shaved head. A pub was definitely his natural habitat.

Rounding out the welcoming committee was Eva, a Slovak woman who was typing away on the computer that had complimentary internet access. I would soon learn, however, that there were two women from Slovakia named Eva who worked at the hostel. Epithets were once again necessary. The woman on the computer became Average Eva, and her countrywoman whom I would later meet, Eva the Skanky.

I opted for the cheapest bed in the house which was a bunk in a massive dormitory on the top floor of the building. It probably had space for at least 50 people.

There was no elevator, so I walked up several flights of stairs. All of the corridors and stairwells were covered in graffiti and drawings, just like the lobby. The hostel only occupied part of the building, so there were signs everywhere imploring the hostellers to keep the noise down for the sake of the permanent residents.

With one flight of stairs to go, something caught my eye. There was a sticker on the wall that featured a likeness of Condoleezza Rice dressed like Aunt Jemima and holding a plate of pancakes. The caption read, "Aunt Rice – serving you old fashion bullsh*t". Someone wasn't a fan of my boss, evidently.

I walked up the remaining stairs and entered the dorm. Now past 1:00, there were still plenty of people snoring away. With towels and clothes strewn about the bunk beds, the place had that nice refugee camp look to it.

I sat on my assigned bunk and divided my belongings into the things that I would leave in my locker and the things that I would carry with me. As I was doing this, the young woman in the bunk next to mine rolled over.

"What time is it?" she asked.

I didn't have a watch, so I gave her a ballpark figure.

After that, conversation was unavoidable.

The lass’s name was Rita. She was a Canadian living in Switzerland. She was quite proud of her Switzerland connection and mentioned it often.

At one point, Rita told me that her Canadian home was in Montreal.

I was like, "Is that near the Great Lakes?"

This was the wrong thing to say.

Rita had a fit. "Are you kidding me? Near the Great Lakes? You work for the Foreign Office and you don't know where Montreal is? Hello? Canada borders the U.S. There's more to the continent than America, you know. Blah, blah, blah."

This girl had issues, and her yap was instantly annoying.

I told her, "What I don't know could fill a library, and I'm sure the same is true for you."

Then I asked her where Montreal is.

As it turns out, it's just north of the Vermont/New York border, less than 200 miles from Lake Ontario. If you ask me, someone way overreacted. It's not like I asked if Montreal was near the Pacific Ocean.

We talked a little longer, and Rita asked what my plans were for Christmas. I told her that I intended to go to Christmas Mass, but had no plans beyond that. She was also interested in Christmas Mass, and she told me that she knew of a place we could go. She didn't have the information handy, though, so she headed off to the showers, and I went touring.

Before I left, I crammed a lot of my things into my locker. On the locker door, there was yet another sticker. This one featured a likeness of George Bush and the words "We still prey at night." This was a take on W's comment to the press once, "Laura and I still pray at night." Someone evidently wasn't a fan of my other boss either.

From the hostel, I started walking toward the city center. After maybe 20 minutes, I saw a sign for Carrefour, the French Wal-Mart. I asked a local woman how to get to the Carrefour, and she couldn't understand English. In a few moments, though, I guess that she did understand because she started waving for me to get on a bus that had just stopped.

If the place was far enough that I would need a bus, I wasn't interested. I walked on, leaving the helpful woman a bit confused.

A few minutes later, I came to a mall. I stopped for a bite to eat, more to escape the cold than to satisfy a hunger.

Then I continued on to Charles Bridge. It was built in 1357 and features 30 statues, most if not all of which are religious. I was partial to the statue of St. Christopher.

I spent a good while looking at the statues and listening to the two jazz bands that were performing. Then I crossed into the old quarter of the city.

One thing on my to-do list was to see the Infant of Prague, a famous statue of the infant Jesus, to which many miracles have been attributed. I made my way to the Church of Our Lady Victorious. There was a large mob of people outside the doors of the church because there was a special Christmas program in progress. It was packed inside. I waited around, and after maybe half an hour, the crowd started breaking up.

I got in line and filed inside with everyone else.

The statue was cool. It dates back to the 1600s and stands 47 cm (about 18 inches) high. It is made of wax, and is dressed in several layers of clothing – from a white undershirt base layer to a frilly gown and gold crown. The Carmelite Sisters change the Infant’s clothes, and its wardrobe includes over 80 dresses and multiple crowns. Many of the dresses were donated by royals and other big-wigs, and, of course, they feature the finest materials and workmanship.

After I had seen the Infant, I wandered around for a few hours, making my way toward the old town square.

It was dark by now, so the near freezing temperature plunged a little more. I made frequent stops in souvenir shops to temporarily escape the cold.

The old square was completely decorated with lights, and in the center, there was a big Christmas tree with yellow lights (the one in Wenceslas Square had blue lights). At the base of the tree was a large wooden nativity set.

The square also had a Christmas market, and there were dozens of little wooden kiosks with vendors selling souvenirs, food, and drink. There was a blacksmith delighting a gaggle of tourists with his ironworking.

The blacksmith didn’t do much for me. Neither did the gift kiosks. No, what captured my attention was all the pork. There were several kiosks each offering half a dozen varieties of sausages. There was a stall selling roasted pork – cut from a whole roasted pig. There was another stand with a shredded pork dish. Forgive the lame pun, but I was in hog heaven. I went from booth to booth eating nothing but pork. The second best thing for sale in the square was hot spiced wine, which I naturally used to wash down the pork.

After I had eaten quite a lot, I had some desserts from the bakery kiosks. Then I had another sausage to get the sweet taste out of my mouth.

By the time I caught the subway back to the hostel, it was already pushing 10:00.

As I entered the hostel, I saw everyone that I had met earlier sidled up to the bar. Average Eva, Tim, Alex, Rita, and Chris were all there. They were joined by Eva the Skanky; a trio of freshly graduated doctors from Australia, Laura, Mike, and Kat; another Aussie named Tony; a Brit named Toby; and a guy from North Carolina named Jeff.

I hiked up the stairs, ditched my things in my locker, and joined the homies downstairs.

Everyone had a story.

Tim, Alex, and Chris were all former guests at the hostel who had been enticed into staying on as employees.

Toby was fresh out of high school, and had come to Prague on his friend Alex’s recommendation.

Average Eva was a college student of some sort.

Rita, of course, was a Canadian. Oh, yeah, and she lived in Switzerland.

I don’t know what Eva the Skanky’s story was, but you couldn’t miss her with her bleach-blond hair and painted-on jeans. She spent her time hanging on various men and offering herself up for body shots.

Laura, Mike, and Kat were the three freshly minted Aussie doctors. They were passing through Prague on a goodwill mission. Their mission was to bring a chest of drugs to poor people in South America. Mike and Kat were a couple. Laura had strained her voice, and it had a raspy quality. Some of the others had taken to calling her Joplin.

Aussie Tony was a long-term backpacker who found himself spending more time in Prague than he had anticipated. He was traveling with a substantial amount of camera gear, portable hard drives, and so forth. He was hoping to sell his photographs and movies once he finished traveling.

Last, but not least, was North Carolina Jeff. He had a thick accent, and the others, especially Aussie Chris, would put on ridiculously exaggerated (although not completely inaccurate) accents whenever they would talk to him. Jeff was perhaps the truest backpacker of the lot, in my opinion. He traveled only with a small knapsack, which was in sharp contrast to the others who all had massive trekking backpacks as well as smaller auxiliary bags. As a result, Jeff didn’t change clothes nearly as much as the others.

So, these were the people that I would be spending the next few days with.

The Czech Republic is the birthplace of pilsners, so the beer was cheap and good. We all swigged away.

As we were drinking, it didn’t take long for me to realize why these people loved Prague so much. They were all recreational drug enthusiasts, and Prague was a user’s playground.

I didn’t see any powders or syringes, but there were joints, pipes, acid, ‘shrooms, and pills a-plenty. All of my companions seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I stuck to beer, and no one much cared. Peer pressure is for teenagers, not 28-year-olds.

“But what about the doctors?” you might be asking.

Well, let me tell you about the doctors. Up to this point, they were the worst druggies of the lot, especially Mike and Kat. At one point in the evening, the good doctors went upstairs and returned with their pharmacy kit – the very same kit they were supposed to be taking to South America.

Upon their return to the bar, they stood on the top of the stairs. The rest of the partiers immediately gathered at the base of the stairs, like zoo animals at feeding time. This clearly wasn’t the first time that the pharmacy kit had made an appearance.

The people on the ground started barking out requests. Some ordered by name (“I wanna Valium!”), while others could only muster descriptions (“You got any more of the small red ones?!”).

Some opted to be surprised.

The good doctors for their parts gave everyone what they asked for. (If that pharmacy kit made it to South America with anything in it, I’d be very surprised.)

As they passed out the meds, the docs did offer some half-assed advice like, “I’m giving you three of these, but don’t take them all at once.”

I would later mention this to some of my Australian friends in Tel Aviv, and they all cracked up. “Yup – that sounds like Australians!” was the general consensus. Apparently access to drugs was one of the main reasons for becoming a doctor. Who knew?

Besides the drugs, there was also a bit of a buzz in Prague over absinthe. This is the green spirit that contains wormwood extract and supposedly causes hallucinations. It’s the stuff that some credit with Vincent van Gogh’s madness, although there are many other theories out there. It is debatable whether absinthe ever did cause hallucinations, though, even in the old days when the percentage of wormwood extract was greater. Now days, absinthe doesn’t seem to be anything more than a strong alcoholic novelty.

I still gave it a try, though.

Aussie Chris was manning the bar, and he poured me a shot. As instructed, I put a sugar cube in a little spoon, dipped it in the absinthe, lit the alcohol-moistened sugar on fire, stirred the melted and burning sugar back into the absinthe, and then took the shot.

It wasn’t bad, but since that shot cost about ten times as much as a beer, it wasn’t something on which I was prepared to waste any more money.

It was 4:00 AM before the party broke up, and we all dispersed.

I crept into the dorm, unsuccessfully trying to keep the door from creaking as I entered. It didn’t matter, though. There were so many merciless snorers in there, I could have kicked the door open SWAT team-style and no one would have heard it.

The snoring didn’t bother me, though.

I hit the bed, and when I woke up it was 1:00 in the afternoon.

I showered and hit the town by 1:30. When I left, the dorm was still half full of sleeping people.

I walked back toward the old town square in the bitter cold.

In the square, I checked out the Astronomical Clock, one of Prague’s top attractions. The clock was built in the 1400s, and every hour on the hour, it puts on a little show. Wooden statues of the 12 apostles pass by some windows while a skeleton rings a bell. Once all of the apostles have made their appearances, a golden cock crows. It’s cooler than it sounds, and I watched it a few different times.

Between clock performances, I wandered the streets, did some shopping, and ate more pork.

It got dark soon enough, and I made my way back to Charles Bridge to see how it looked at night. I poked around the bridge for a while and admired Prague Castle from afar. It was lit up and towering over the city.

On one side of the bridge, there were several men dressed in sailor suits. They were there to round up tourists for Vltava River cruises.

Every time that I passed through the area, I saw them trying to round up customers. None of them ever tried to sell me a cruise, though. I figured that it would be even colder on the river than it was in the city, so I had no interest in taking a cruise. Still, I didn’t understand why no one bothered trying to hound me. Maybe they didn’t ask me because I was alone, or maybe I just looked cheap.

It was Christmas Eve, so I made my way back to the square to catch Christmas Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Tyn. Besides just being a cool gothic church, Tyn is also the burial place of astronomer Tycho Brahe.

I caught the 7:00 PM service, and it seemed to drag on forever. This was due in large part to the fact that it was completely in Czech and I couldn’t understand anything. The cadence of things was familiar enough, though, and in actuality, the service was only about an hour and a half.

After mass, I walked back toward the hostel, stopping for pork and wine as needed.

On the walk, it was impossible not to notice all of the gentlemen’s clubs around the old square. Most of these establishments had a bouncer outside the door along with a closed-circuit television feed so that potential customers could check out the floorshow.

When I got back to the hostel it was around 10:00 PM. My fellow hostellers were all seated around a few large tables, having just finished a big Christmas dinner. Featuring dishes like tofu chili and zucchini casserole, the fare wasn’t exactly traditional.

As I walked in, the others were like, “Where have you been? You’ve nearly missed everything.”

Funny thing, that.

Maybe if someone had told me that they were having a communal meal then I would have participated. Then again, maybe not.

I hiked up to the dorm to toss my things in my locker. When I got in the room, I spied a note on my bunk. It was from none other than Rita.

The note read:

“Hi! I found a
place with midnight
mass. It is in the center.

Sv. Havel church
Staré Mĕsto

It said Choraini, so I
think there might be a choir.
I’d like to go for sure, maybe we
can walk in together?

Rita :)

Having just come from church, I was definitely leaning toward not going again. I didn’t rule it out, though.

I locked up my things and returned to the bar.

Downstairs, I skipped the dregs of the tofu chili and the other now crusty dishes and went for a plate of Christmas cookies. I also ordered up a brewski.

Rita made her way over to where I was sitting and asked if I’d seen her note.

We discussed things a bit, and I decided that I definitely wouldn’t be joining her. There were a few reasons for this. First, the mass she had found was in Czech, just like the one I had just attended. I would have been more likely to have gone if it had been in English.

Second, she had picked a church a good distance from the hostel, for, in my opinion, no good reason. There were dozens of churches in Prague, including one that was less than a block from the hostel. They were all having midnight mass.

Beyond that, it was windy and zero degrees outside.

Undeterred, Rita went upstairs to get ready to go to midnight mass alone.

The rest of us continued shooting the breeze at the bar.

The scene was basically the same as the previous night. The cast was the same as before except for the addition of two new characters. There was Lisa, a tidy-looking Asian-American woman, and Nils, a Swedish junkie. Nils was a minor celebrity in the hostel for his freewheeling approach to drug use. He was the guy who would take anything and everything. He had actually been at the hostel the whole time that I had been there, but I had not seen him earlier because he had just woken up from 3 days of sleeping. Walking around with permanent bed-head and oozing eyes, he looked like a wreck.

As we all sat around talking, Aussie Chris started mimicking North Carolina Jeff’s accent again. Jeff was laughing along, acting like it didn’t bother him a bit. I could tell, though, that he was getting royally annoyed.

The night wore on, and the ribbing continued. Then Jeff lost his cool.

In a total Andy Griffith accent, he was like, “I don’t know why you keep talking like that to me. I’m not even from North Carolina. I’m from Arizona.”

Arizona? Right...

Meanwhile, at the moment that Jeff was denying his Southern-ness, somewhere off in the distance a Carolina fighting gamecock crowed three times.

For my money, “Arizona” Jeff’s outburst was the funniest moment of the night and one of the best of the weekend.

It did the trick, though. The mocking stopped from then on.

Before long, the drugs materialized again, and my companions all picked their poisons.

It wasn’t long before they were all feeling good. Someone suggested that we should go out, and we were all game.

There was a skanky dance club that was 4 or 5 blocks from the hostel and a dive bar that was just around the corner. Mostly owing to the temperature, we decided to go to the bar.

Our group of maybe a dozen people fractured into 2 groups as we walked to the bar. I was in the first group.

When we got to bar, it was hard to tell that there was a bar. There was no sign. There was no music coming out. The windows were all covered.

We stood behind a gate and pushed a buzzer. No one immediately came out, so we pushed the buzzer a few more times.

As we waited, we started talking again. It was cold, late, and dark, and we were talking quietly.

After a few minutes, a little short, stocky guy came bounding out to the gate. He wasn’t very happy to see us.

This guy happened to be the owner of the bar, and he launched into a tirade in a low, fuming growl. “Shut your f**king mouths, you f**king a**holes! If I hear another peep, I’m gonna snap someone’s f**king neck! DO NOT TALK AT THE GATE, you f**k-heads! How many times do I have to tell you?!! I already lost my license because of you f**ks, and so help me, if the police come here again, I’m coming after every one of you motherf**kers! This is not a f**king game! Christ, I don’t even know why I still serve you little sh*ts!”

And that was my introduction to the bar known as the Blind Eye.

The little tirade was way more than I was expecting, and I found the episode quite amusing. I wondered to myself, “Who is this surly dwarf, and what’s his problem?” The whole situation was like the part in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and friends reach the Emerald City and the rude Munchkin at the gate gives them a sour welcome.

Of course, along with my amusement at the spectacle, I was also a bit put-off. This guy was worried about his illegal bar getting shut down, and he took it out on us, his customers. That’s some chutzpah!

Amused or not, as a matter of pride, I was ready to move on to a place that was less hostile to its customers. Aussie Chris was of the same mind. The others in our group, however, were willing to give the Blind Eye another chance.

They all whispered their apologies to our delightful host who was in dire need of a rage-aholics support group, and the gate was opened before us. Chris and I followed the others inside like lemmings off a cliff.

Inside the Blind Eye, there was a bar and several well-worn booths and tables. There was already a small crowd of people drinking and drugging by the time we arrived. Our party got a booth that surrounded a large round table, and we pulled up several extra chairs.

We ordered some beers, did a few shots, and settled into some conversations. There were two large dogs and a few cats roaming around the bar all the while. As it turned out, there was also a mouse.

As we sat in our booth, one of the women screamed when she noticed a mouse coming out of the cushions. It was no ordinary mouse, though. It was actually a white pet mouse – and it happened to have been Toby’s. He used to carry his mouse everywhere he went in the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt. A few weeks earlier, he had taken the mouse to the Blind Eye, and it had escaped. Because of the cats that roamed the bar, he thought that the mouse had surely perished.

When it came out of the cushions in our booth, Toby ran over and reclaimed his friend. He was as happy as a clam in chowder.

Toby let the mouse run all around his clothes and hair. Eva the Skanky took a turn. She was kissing the mouse and letting it run all over her. Then Toby put it back in his pocket for safe-keeping.

I talked with my group for a while and then peeled off to talk with some of the other people in the bar.

I met this young drug tourist from Arkansas named Andy. What a loser! We talked briefly about Memphis, the Tennessee-Arkansas nexus, and then I got to hear about his exploits in drug experimentation. He had this whole I’m-so-naïve-and-innocent-but-these-drugs-are-really-opening-my-eyes-to-the-world thing going, and it got old real quick for me. I much preferred my other companions who were more seasoned druggies. They were much more chill and had long since dropped the wonderment crap.

After about 5 minutes of talking with Andy, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I didn’t go, though. Instead, I walked to the other side of the bar to talk to different people.

I chatted with several interesting people at the bar that night, but most of them didn’t make enough of an impression on me for me to remember them a year later as I write this. The exception was this Chinese-American young woman named Amy. She was all gothed out, but she was totally cool. We talked for an hour or so, and then her group moved on to a different bar.

By the time the bar cleared out, it was probably 4:00 AM.

As we made our way to the door, the owner of the Blind Eye, who had become a bit more relaxed since he had let us in the gate, invited us back for Christmas dinner later that night. We agreed to come, and as it was already the 25th, we wished him Merry Christmas.

Then we walked the two or three minutes back to the hostel in the freezing air.

I slept like a baby again, despite being in the snore chamber.

I also woke up late again. I was showered and ready to go by 1:00, though, so that wasn’t so bad.

Before my trip, I had debated coming to Prague over Christmas. Some of my friends had done Christmas the year before in Eastern Europe (Poland, I think), and they told me how everything had closed on Christmas Day and how boring it was for them. They, at least, were traveling in a group, so they had each other for amusement. I was traveling alone, so the potential for greater boredom was there. In the end, though, I obviously decided to go to Prague, whether or not everything was closed.

As I set out from the hostel, I thought about this and wondered if anything would be open.

I started by wandering around the streets as usual. Many of the shops and restaurants were in fact closed, but there were plenty of things that were open.

I came upon a space-aged looking tower that was a welcome center or something. It was closed, but it had a very cool architectural feature. There were big, metal statues of a crawling baby attached to this building. It looked like these giant babies were crawling up and down the walls.

I again made my way to the old town square, and it looked like business as usual.

The Christmas market was still bustling; there were large crowds of tourists; and most of the souvenir shops were open.

I had a sausage for breakfast and watched the Astronomical Clock again. I wanted to spot some pick-pocketers in action (robbing someone else, of course), but I didn’t see any. Maybe they were on their best behavior for Christmas or maybe the police circulating in the square had deterred them.

Marionettes are big in the Czech Republic, and there were many marionette theaters and shops. There were all sorts of characters in a variety sizes. They had everything from Harry Potter to Mickey Mouse to traditional goblins and devils. Everywhere you looked there was Pinocchio. Pinocchio, however, is an Italian puppet. I ended up buying a small marionette of Kasper, the Czech clown.

They had some good t-shirts in Prague with sayings like “Czech me out”, “Czech, please”, “Czech mate”, and so forth. These shared the selves with the ubiquitous soccer jerseys and t-shirts of the My-parents-went-to-Prague-and-all-I-got-was-this-lousy-t-shirt” variety that seem to be in every gift shop in Europe.

Prague is famous for glass and crystal, so the shops were also full of these fragile crafts. With the amount of people that were crammed into some of these shops, you could hear things breaking with a disturbing regularity.

The crystal and glass pieces were a bit rich for my blood, so I bought my puppet and a shirt and moved on.

I worked my way back toward Wenceslas Square. I had been there in the preceding days, and it had been full of activity. Now it was pretty dead. While the casinos were still working, most of the stores were closed.

I walked through the square, photographed the Wenceslas Monument and the National Museum, and then looped back to the river.

I watched the sun setting over the river while it was still early in the evening, and then I went for dinner. In some random restaurant, I ordered a beer and told the waiter that I wanted something traditional to eat. The dish he recommended was pork. What a surprise! Specifically, it was roasted pork served with sautéed cabbage and onions.

I ordered the pork, and it appeared about 20 minutes later. The piece of pork was about the size of a baseball. It was covered by a substantial rind of fat that was at least an inch thick. The pork fat was soft and jellylike, and I saw that other patrons were eating it either by itself or with the pork or with bread. I wasn’t down with that, though. I separated the kilo of fat from the pork and left it on the side of my plate in a huge pile.

The food was good, though. And the beer was perfect as it always was in Prague.

Fat and happy, I walked back to the hostel to meet up with everyone before Christmas dinner at the Blind Eye.

When I arrived to the hostel, there were still a few hours left before dinner. We whiled away the time over beer and, for some, drugs.

At one point, the trio of wasted Aussie doctors joined us at the bar. Kat had had a bad trip and was looking rather groggy. Mike, meanwhile, had decided to cut off his beard, and for his efforts he had a razor slice of an inch or two running along his jaw line.

As we were all hanging around talking, Mike ran out of cigarettes. It was snowing outside, but he left for the store – a good 10-minute walk – wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. He was barefoot and without a jacket.

This was all par for the course, though. Some of the others laughed at him, and a few were impressed. No one seemed too concerned, though.

Before Mike returned, the majority of us left for the Blind Eye. On the way out the door, someone remarked that we couldn’t show up to Christmas dinner empty-handed.

And so Aussie Chris went behind the bar at the hostel and grabbed a few bottles of booze for us to take. I think he was probably overstepping his bartending authority, although in his defense, he did grab the cheapest bottles of booze known to man. He grabbed two bottles of whisky and one bottle of vodka, and they were all no-name house liquors.

At the Blind Eye, we rang the buzzer and didn’t say a word. Then the owner came out and let us inside. He didn’t threaten to kill us this time. It was a Christmas miracle.

Inside, there was a big crowd of people like the night before. The bar was set up like a buffet. There was a turkey, a ham, mashed potatoes, and several other vegetable dishes. Off to the side, there were pies and cookies.

As it turned out, the owner of the place had cooked almost all of the food himself, with the exception of a few plates of cookies, and he did a fine job.

Everyone gathered around while the owner made a toast, and then dinner was served. People quickly queued up and started filling their plates. Some of these people were absolute pigs. If you are toward the front of the line and there are 30 people behind you, you shouldn’t take half of the bowl of mashed potatoes for yourself. That’s common courtesy. Still, people kept walking away with monster servings as if they had never heard of sharing.

I was toward the back of the line, and by the time I got to the bar, many of the dishes were empty. I wasn’t starving or anything, so I didn’t care that much. Others, though, were pissed-off.

By the time I got up to the food, the plates and forks had also run out. Some of the first people in line had finished by that point, though, so we used their plates.

The food was first-rate, and I thought that the owner should consider closing the Blind Eye and opening a restaurant in its place. Of course, I’m sure that he probably pulls in a good bit of money from the bar, with less hassle than a restaurant.

Amy wasn’t at the bar for Christmas, but Arkansas Andy was there. He came up to me, so I was forced to talk with him again.

As we were talking, a man came up and offered to hook us up with some pot. With his longish curly hair and fat ass, this guy totally fit the aging hippie stereotype that I had in my head. I told him that I wasn’t interested, but Andy left with him. No loss there.

I rejoined my hostel friends.

I was sitting near Tim, and he told me some story about how he had gotten hopped up on flashers a few weeks back. Whatever that meant…

Alex was sitting on my other side, listening to his iPod. He was listening to the Oasis album, Don’t Believe the Truth, which had been released earlier that year. He was a huge fan. I had a few Oasis albums myself, but I hadn’t purchased any of their recent music.

Alex kept raving about the album, and before long, he insisted that I listen to it. I borrowed the iPod and listened to a few songs. They were pretty good, and I actually bought the album when I got back to Tel Aviv.

When I gave the iPod back to Alex, he replayed the songs to himself. As he listened, he sang along. Tim, also a huge fan, sang along with Alex, although Tim couldn’t hear the music.

Eventually, they ended up each taking one earphone so that they could both enjoy it.

As they rocked out, Tim kept saying that Oasis was “bollocks balls!” Sensing that I wasn’t up on my British vulgar slang, he explained this to me. Both bollocks and balls mean the same thing – testicles. Either one when used alone means that something is bad. When used together, however, a sort of double-negative thing happens, and “bollocks balls” means that something is great. So, in short, Tim thought Oasis was ducky.

For some reason, the bottles of whisky that we had brought as gifts never left our table. And since a free drink is always better than a purchased drink, we cracked open the stash and helped ourselves. The whisky was disgusting, just like I knew it would be.

While we drank, Tim deftly rolled joints. Cigarette taxes were so high in Britain that he had been rolling his own cigarettes for years. His years of practice and his resulting expertise did not go unnoticed. Many people requested that he roll joints for them.

So there we were. We were all drinking. Several people were toking. Toby was complaining about how he was getting fatter every day.

Then Eva the Skanky popped over. She had a wild look in her eyes, like she should have left the party a few hours earlier.

She walked over to the table, picked up one of the bottles of cheap whisky which was still three-quarters full, and started drinking it like it was water. She didn’t so much as flinch, and the bottle was drained in a few seconds.

It was absolutely disturbing to watch. A collective, “Holy Sh*t!” rose from the table.

Having tasted this whisky, I was feeling a bit nauseous from the whole display.

Eva the Skanky smiled and laughed like a woman possessed as she slammed the empty bottle down on the table. While she was drinking, I had moved the second bottle under the table. Had I not, she would have probably gone for it as well.

People were asking her if she was OK, but she clearly wasn’t. She said that she was fine, though, and left us.

Eva the Skanky looked like she only weighed 100 pounds wet, and within 5 minutes, she had passed out in a corner of the room.

It was quite late, so her collapse pretty much ushered in the end of the party.

We carried her back to the hostel, and her room was thankfully on the ground floor.

The next day was my last. I woke up and checked out a few hours after the official check out time. No one cared, though, just like I expected.

I left my things in the left luggage area, and headed off to see Prague Castle.

For the first time, it was really snowing. Big, fat flakes were coating everything, and the city looked even better than normal.

The Prague Castle complex has a palace or two, some churches, some towers, and a few museums. There were various ticket options that included different things. I opted for none of them, content just to walk the grounds without entering any buildings. I didn’t regret my decision.

I watched the changing of the guard at the complex entrance and then looked at the buildings. The best was St. Vitus Cathedral. It had an army of gargoyles which I thought were much better than the famed gargoyles of Notre Dame. I left the Castle by way of Golden Lane. Here there was a series of tiny houses that had originally provided accommodation for tradesmen at the Castle. Now the tiny houses of Golden Lane were tiny souvenir shops. I had to duck to get through the small doors, and inside there was hardly any room to move. It was all a bit too cramped, and I didn’t spend much time there. I did manage to find a few gifts there, however.

I walked back toward town and fed the swans on the Vltava. Then I listened to jazz on Charles Bridge. I came away with a CD from both bands.

With my time drawing to a close, I walked through the old town and Wenceslas Square one last time.

As I picked up my bag from the hostel, only a few of my new friends were around to see me off. The rest were no doubt off dealing with cases of the munchies.