Last week I was in Prague. It was cold and snowy when I arrived yet my taxi took me straight to the Crown Plaza Castle Hotel without hindrance. The Crown Plaza appears to be a refurbished monastery. All the monks have been thrown out and replaced with smart and efficient concierges and barmen. As I entered there was a reception desk to my left and a bar to my right. A difficult decision following a cramped flight.
The hotel is low rise so the view from my room is somewhat limited but if one wanders around in the snow for a bit one approaches the Bella Vista Restaurant with a fantastic view over Prague.
My favourite aspect of the hotel is the lift with two separate versions of each floor. On arrival I mistakenly pressed the button for the “wrong” 1st floor where I wandered around in what appeared to be a perfectly normal hotel corridor though it felt eerie and disturbing and I could not find my room.
I retreated to the lift and pressed the “other” 1st floor button. Though I had the sensation of movement, I can’t be sure whether it was up or down. Indeed I am not sure that we moved in any physical plane at all and I fleetingly imagined that perhaps three dimensional space had somehow become twisted like a Mobius strip.
The doors opened and I was presented with a doppelgänger version of the same floor only this time it felt warm and welcoming and I quickly found my room. As I pressed the door closed behind me it produced a loud resonant thud as if someone else had simultaneously slammed a similar door on the other side of the hotel. As I glanced out the window I thought I saw the curtains moved in the room of the opposite. I did not go out again that evening.
The next day, in the office, I connected to my email to find my inbox stuffed full with messages of doom from the personnel department in the UK. It seems that it had snowed in England. On Tuesday my colleagues in England had left the office in the middle of the afternoon due to “exceptional weather conditions” and on Wednesday they all pissed off after lunch. By Thursday nobody was even trying to go to work.
Meanwhile, in Prague, it began snowing on Tuesday and snowed heavily and persistently all day Wednesday. Yet the traffic continues to move freely and I was forced to remain at my desk. Damn these efficient Europeans.
On Tuesday evening I ate at a traditional Czech restaurant. By traditional I mean that we ate traditional pork with dumplings and an excellent Czech lager. Very good. I am not certain whether the jovial and sarcastic waitress was traditional or that the constant greetings in numerous European languages was in any way a feature of Prague life. The meal over, we hit upon the idea of sampling a selection of Czech spirits. Plum, Apricot and Grape were the last I recall before staggering off up the hill back to the Castle to meander the disturbing “other” floors.
The temperature in the mornings was down to a mere -8. I say “mere” as I am aware of the appalling “exceptional weather conditions” being suffered by my colleagues in the UK. I had been warned of the cold and so had wrapped myself in several layers finished off with a thick woollen scarf and heavy overcoat. As I emerged from the warmth of the Castle I felt the tang of the cold hit me for up to a second before I was enclosed in the warmth of the taxi. As the taxi rumbled toward my destination I noted that the driver wore jeans and a light shirt and had the heating on full. I became aware that, were I completely naked, the temperature in the car would still be extremely hot and stifling and I speculated weather the driver might be some kind of masochistic sauna fanatic. The driver, unaware of my distress, muttered continually into either his radio amidst burst of static. He seemed unsure of the location of my destination and, I dare say deliberately, missed the location at least twice as he drove back and forth along Bavorska. By the time we arrived I was glad to emerge into the cold air and threw him a bundle of notes. As he left I thought I heard manic laughter above the slow heavy roar of the wind and wondered if the driver might be from one of the mysterious “other” floors.
I should not have complained of the heat. Wednesday evening I climbed into a taxi which joined the long queues of snowbound traffic and headed for the Crown Plaza. An hour later I realised we were heading for the “wrong” Crown Plaza and I instructed the operative to alter his course. As the vehicle laboured up the steep and slippery inclines we encountered more and more traffic. After remaining stationary for 10 minutes while watching a rabble of urchins pushing and shoving at the cars in front I realised that these Europeans would achieve nothing and what was needed was English pragmatism.
Leaving my laptop in the taxi I trudged up the street and helped push first one and then a second car out into the road. The third spun it’s wheels wildly and skewed back and forth across the road before careering out into the slow moving traffic.
My driver skidded to a stop beside me, I fell into the taxi and we continued our journey. After another half an hour the driver declared that he could go no further. I handed over far too much money, buttoned my overcoat and left the comparative safety of the taxi. The snow was heavy and continuous and I was swiftly caked with the stuff. “Carry on to the end and then turn right and follow the tram” the driver had said. I turned right and walked hoping that this was not some sick European humour.
After perhaps half an hour I was becoming disorientated and did not know whether I was walking toward the hotel or away from it. I considered whether to press on or turn back. But turn back to where? I continued on the path set by the taxi driver and wondered whether I would be found the next morning curled up beneath a bush, stiff as a board. It would not be the first time though this time presumably would be the last.
Gradually the parkland surrounding me gave way to buildings and in a flash of recognition I realised that I had reached the corner of Keplerova and Pohorelec; I was almost back at the hotel. There is a little shop on Pohorelec so I stopped and bought a carton of chocolate milk and some paprika crisps and continued to the Crown Plaza Castle where I changed and went down to dinner, wading through a sea of Japanese tourists on my way. Before I returned to my room I stepped outside for a moment. The snow still fell heavily and the cold was becoming intense. The forecast for the next day was -22C.
On Thursday evening I ate at a little bar and restaurant down the hill from the hotel on Diskařská as it joins Dlabacov. One thing about Europeans is there bar food is good. A sausage with a little cabbage and some bread went down very well with a glass of red wine.
Arriving back at Heathrow on Friday afternoon I was prepared for the worst but on reaching my car I found it had approximately two centimetres of snow covering it. The M25 was clear of snow and traffic and I my journey was quicker than usual probably because the whole of England had remained in bed on Friday.