Not strictly a part of the fellowship, but it did form part of my time away. I took advantage of the facts that:
to book a "birthday surprise long weekend" for Rachel in Prague.
Prague is a beautiful city. Many would claim that it's the most beautiful in the world. Having been to very few of the contenders, I can't comment beyond the fact that if you haven't seen it yet, do so soon, before the creeping Westernisation finally tarmacs over the cobbled streets.
Prague is famous for its architecture, and rightly so. Almost every other building is adorned in some way or other with a mural, some relief statues, ornate metalwork (including the copper that gave the city its "golden city" epithet - before it all corroded green, of course) or decorative stone/brickwork. There are so many examples of brilliant architecture that you can almost find yourself admiring the examples of "Czech functionalism" and "Communist Pragmatism" by mistake. Even the theatre extension that is scorned by the locals ("a streak of frozen piss" is a literal translation, apparently) would make many UK cities look better.
With its wide river, almost impenetrable local dialect, cars that don't stop for zebra crossings and complete absence of hills within the main city, you could almost be in Hull. Apart from the cobbled/blockwork streets and pavements that is. The pavements are made from approximately 2" squares - the marble ones (I presume that's what they are) being especially slippery in the wet. They're not just a throwback to Communist rule and work creation, either - we saw several in states of repair. We also saw several roads in states of repair (i.e. dug up) but no-one working on them, too.
Prague has suffered a lot with the recent flooding, although it's not that obvious - the Metro is closed (and the smell of damp coming from the stairwells suggests you wouldn't want to go down there anyway) and some old buildings still smell like they haven't yet dried out (although that may have nothing to do with the floods, of course). The one underground supermarket we visited was business as usual, though.
Food is interesting in Prague. For the unadventurous (or overly advertising-seduced) there is KFC and McDonald's. For the adventurous there is genuine Czech cuisine (or so the restaurants claim) which seems to consist mainly of bread and something to soak up with it. Nice bread, and nice stuff to douse it in. Just no butter (oil, usually, or balsamic vinegar). Come to that, usually no milk for tea/coffee, either. Clearly the cow is not such an integral part of Czech cuisine as it is of ours. For those part-way between McD & a diet of bread with extra bread (actually quite tasty & very very filling) there's a selection of Pizzerias (you have to ask to mozzarella rather than Czech Edam), Chinese and suchlike: Prague, whilst maintaining much of its roots, is gaining cosmopolitanism. Blame it on the Internet, if you like - there's enough Internet cafes here for a school trip to have one per pupil (i.e. 2 per child) - but I suspect the tourists (that's us) are more likely culpable.
We did and saw a lot in Prague. Everything we did Iíd recommend - although it might be better to take the railway up the hill & walk down to the Castle, rather than walk up all those steps to it (like we did).
All too soon, though, the weekend came to a close. It had proved prohibitively expensive to send Rachel back to the UK on Sunday and seemed unfair to leave her there alone, so we left (on separate planes) on Monday morning. My plan had been for me to put her on a plane instead of vice versa (so I could claim that she was leaving me for seven weeks) but Lufthansa had other ideas. Lufthansa also have the idea that when there's only four seats across the plane, they're coded A, C, D & F. I feel sorry for anyone who always sits in seat B because it's their lucky letter. Still, it's bad luck to be superstitious (as my brother's fond of saying and I am fond of quoting).
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On to Erlangen