It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re taken for a mug by some scammer. When you pride yourself on being careful and not falling for their tricksy ways, it’s not just bitter but about the size of a horse tablet. I relate the following experience as a lesson for anyone else who may find themselves in a similar situation.
Last night we were at an ATM – there were at least two together (lesson number one) – and I withdrew some cash. I was vaguely aware of a guy at the next ATM but, being a good little ATM user I ignored him (lesson number two). Having taken out 3,000CK (about £100) I turned away and was talking to Mirinda when this guy offered to swap a 2,000CK note for four 500s (lesson number three).
Stupidly, I did it. I ended up with four notes which, in the cold light of our hotel room, seem to be Russian. The Czech Republic hasn’t been under Russian rule since the fall of communism in the 1990s.
Here is my defence: It was dark, I am not familiar with the money, I am on holiday, I was clearly not thinking. I accept the fact that I have successfully been taken for a patsy and will now be on my guard even more than usual. For anyone else in a similar situation, here’s my lessons:
- If you use an ATM, it’s best to use one on it’s own and, preferably during the day rather than in the dark.
- If it’s unavoidable and you have to use one of multiple ATMs at night and someone uses one next to you, be aware of what they’re actually doing.
- NEVER swap big notes for small ones with a complete stranger. I still have no idea why I did that.
Anyway, enough metaphorical butt kicking, there’s far nicer things to talk about.
Today was our first full day in Prague. We decided to spend most of it wandering around. The weather was lovely (cold with blue skies) so we walked down to the River Vitava.
The river divides the city in half and there’s quite a few bridges that cross it. The most famous crossing is the Charles Bridge. We decided to walk across the Manestiv Bridge, which is the next one up, and then walk back across the Charles.
We wandered through the back streets that sit beneath the massive castle walls, feeling as lowly as the peasants were meant to feel by such an overbearing structure. Very clever of the castle builders to make the people working feel so far beneath them. And it still works.
Our first site was the very Baroque church of St Nicholas, who was, supposedly the original Father Christmas. It is impressive but ugly and the whole symbolism is about subjugation of those silly enough to believe in supernatural things.
The best thing about the church is how you can climb a spiral staircase to a second level (where the organ lives) and look down into the church. To prove that Mirinda and I have some sort of mystical link, she looked up at me when I willed her to do so. As evidenced by this photograph.
She even managed to walk up the stairs and look down at me.
Afterwards it was time for a Starbucks and then a lovely stroll across the Charles Bridge. It’s a lovely bridge, with various statues of, mostly, religious people, sticking up out of it. The best thing about it is the fact that it is pedestrianised.
Along the bridge are various stalls selling jewellery, artistic skills and the such-like. All very arty and Mirinda picked up a few bits of jewellery for friends.
On the other side of the bridge we wandered around, finding various odd things, like an art installation by David Cerny which consisted of four gigantic guns all pointed at each other across a courtyard. Not sure what he’s saying with it but it sure looked amazing.
We managed to get to the famous astronomical clock a few minutes before the hour and saw the action. People crowd the small area in front of the church just to see it. It’s world famous. It’s better than the Munich clock.
There’s a skeleton that rings a bell, a Jew who has had a shave, a Narcissist complete with mirror and a turbanned Turk. On each hour, the skeleton starts ringing and the Turk starts shaking his head as two big windows open and a procession of saints appear. This goes on for a bit and, finally, there’s supposed to be a chicken flapping it’s wings to indicate the end. We watched the whole thing twice and didn’t see any flapping chicken.
We didn’t hang around in the square for an hour in order to see it twice. We had a very late lunch at a cafe opposite the clock. Mirinda had goulash and I had pig cheeks. While I had a necessary beer, Mirinda bravely tried the hot wine, which she said was lovely…it would have to be better than the hot mead I had last night!
And now, for the highlight of the day. Earlier we’d been admiring a marionette shop and noticed a poster, advertising a marionette show of the Mozart Opera Don Giovanni. It had two performances today. We went for the 5pm performance.
To start with, the theatre is in someone’s attic, up two flights of increasingly shrinking stairs. This wasn’t a problem for us but it did prove rather difficult for the woman in the wheelchair who took about half an hour to drag herself up there.
There was a reasonably sized audience of about 25 for the matinee performance. In a theatre which probably holds about 50, that’s not bad. There seemed to be a majority of Asians (Chinese, Japanese, North Koreans out celebrating) and a smattering of others though I’m fairly certain we were the only Australians.
It’s important to note that neither of us knew the story of Don Giovanni. Generally, with an opera, I’ll look up the story before seeing it and the surtitles generally help a lot. I think humans can convey a lot of the story as well, even when the audience doesn’t understand the language. All of this goes out the window when it’s marionettes performing. The opera plays and the puppets act out the story.
Apart from the slapstick (which we’re pretty certain was made up by the puppets) the entire thing was seriously surreal. Of course, their mouths don’t move so they aren’t even miming to the songs. It runs for an hour and 15 minutes and for the entire time I was sat there, stunned.
The reason for choosing Don Giovanni rather than any number of easier to understand operas, is because Mozart premiered the opera in Prague back in 1787. People around these parts call it their opera because of this. Also Mozart had a bit of a thing for Prague.
While I thought the entire evening was somewhat bizarre, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. Tomorrow we might go and see a piece on Alice in Wonderland after she grows up which isn’t about her in Wonderland. I’m hoping that will be equally as weird.