Outward bound

Well, that didn’t take long.

Usually it takes a little time to encounter some of the quirkier folks out there once I’ve left the house, but in this case things got interesting the moment we summoned a vehicle to take us to the airport.

Our driver was a smallish Sri Lankan fellow with some very eager conversational habits: almost immediately he wanted to know all sorts of things about the neighbourhood and comparing property values here in Toronto to those in Sri Lanka. (There was something here about how the Chinese are buying everything and investing just isn’t safe.)

Eventually he got round to asking us where we were heading. Telling him our flight was headed to Prague launched an extraordinary flurry of banter on everything from the deep corruption of the Balkans to the general scariness of Russia.

“I’m an expert on Russian history!” he told us. “They have the finest collection of art in all the world there.”

“You mean at the Hermitage?”

I can only describe the sound he made as a cackle. “Ha! That’s the place!” And he set about explaining how all the art is fake there, and how the REAL art is underground. (“You even get near it, they kill you! Hehehe!”)

Somewhere around this point he asked if we spoke Russian, and apparently he assumed I did. (I don’t THINK I look especially Russian, really…) I said no, but that I had a little German, and he went on to talk about training in Germany to cut diamonds before attempting to teach us a few words of Russian while simultaneously warning us not to use them, as it would make everyone hate us where we were going.

Er…noted, I suppose.

Some time later…

Layover time, in Poland. This is the Frederic Chopin international airport, so I guess it’s appropriate that there was someone playing the piano live as we made our way through the maze of glass and corrugated steel that will probably make up most of my memories of Warsaw for the foreseeable future.

The flight over was rather bumpier than I would have liked, but fortunately otherwise rather uneventful; Mark and I took in our first Hungarian film before attempting (more or less unsuccessfully) to get a tiny bit of sleep to help stave off the worst of the jet lag.

The movie in question was “The Fox-Fairy,” an unexpectedly charming and very weird little film about a lonely nurse who longs for nothing more than true love. Her problem: the ghost of a Japanese pop star (no, really) who haunts her apartment and appears to be mighty jealous if anyone else seems to be spending too much time with her. It was a really interesting mix of sweetness and humour that ranged from the absurd to the pitch-black, and apparently did well in Hungary not long ago.

While I am thinking of it, allow me to introduce our small travel companion:

The little fellow to the left of the sandwich is affectionately known as “Catbun” due to his resemblance to an Asian-style steamed bun. On our last international voyage he came along and appeared in a number of photographs, so we thought he’d come along this time too. Here he is pictured next to…well, the meal we ate most recently before getting off the plane. Breakfast, sort of, though as we landed it was lunchtime here in Poland, and this looked like a bit more of a lunch to me.

Still more time later

Whew! Okay, we have made it to Prague at last. Our hotel sent a driver to collect us; he spoke more Czech and German than English, but was a very pleasant gentleman who told us he’d been driving for the hotel for 25 years (!).

And it is a rather lovely hotel. Here’s our room, up at the top:

Undaunted, we set out to do an orientation walk during the Golden Hour…which means I have about a million photos to share, but for now we will need to be content with this one:

…ok, I lied, have a few more:

Dinner was at a place recommended in our Foodie Guide to Prague – “Next Door,” attached to a swank local hotel. I had wild boar tenderloin ragout with dark chocolate, cranberries and gnocchi (which might not sound like a combo that works but guys. GUYS. Holy shit) and Mark had braised beef in a creamy sauce with “bread dumplings,” something I shall have to try to reverse engineer sometime. (I will also have to try and reverse engineer the “Ham and cheese pate” because again. Holy shit. The waiter was kind enough to pass on that somehow egg and pickles (?) are involved…wonder if we could serve it at something.)

Today, the mission is straightforward: Get out there and see as much shit as possible. Currently fortifying myself at the hotel’s breakfast room. Here goes!

Mark says “you should post that picture from the restaurant at the end!” So here I am looking a bit skeptical about having my photo taken: