Ewan McDonald digs into cardiac-convulsing concoctions in Prague.
Love is as simple as the automobile, Kafka wrote. "The only problems are the driver, the passenger and the streets."
I am in his home town, Prague, looking for the appropriately Bohemian statue to a favourite writer. It is supposed to be a few paces off the well-signposted and sneakered tourist trail from the Old Town Square to the Charles Bridge. But here in Josefov, commonly called the Jewish Quarter, the lanes are narrow, turn back on themselves and are not well-signposted.
It's the ideal nursery for a writer whose works evoked surreal situations which an individual could not make sense of, could only feel disoriented and helpless, could only dream of waking up from the nightmare. I have seen that tobacconist three times in half an hour; I swear that mannequin giggled last time she saw me.
And then there is the statue, outside a church. It was worth the walk. It was worth the chill. On the opposite corner of the square, I shall reward myself.
V Kolkovne has a bit of a reputation around town and, thanks to TripAdvisor, around the world. The building started life as a stamp-printing works in the 1920s. Bad timing: the local who wrote thousands of letters sealed his last envelope around then.
Around the turn of this century Pilsner Urquell - which is to the Czech Republic as Steinlager is to us, though of infinitely better taste - bought and refurbished the building, which has become the flagship in a chain of cafe-bar-restaurants dedicated to "good honest Czech food" and their beers. No, not as Mac's Bars are to us.
Eager to get out of the cold and more eager for a liquid and solid lunch, I push open the double-doors. A waiter approaches: "Ahoj," I say, the Czech word for hello which works in many languages including yachting. It is as far as my knowledge of the lingo goes; I can never get my head around European tongues with far too low a ratio of vowels to consonants. I hold up one finger, to indicate a table for one, a gesture common to many cultures. Fortunately the waiter takes it the right way.
"Smoking or non?" he asks, a question which feels as old-school as his full-length apron. I say "non" and he points me downstairs with the children and other second-class citizens. Smokers own street-level, the view of the square and statue.
Another waiter wants my drink order. Pilsner Urquell, of course; this is one of few establishments in the city to sell tank beer delivered fresh from the brewery. For a change after several days of pilsner, I go for the mixture of light and dark. "Small, medium or large?" he asks, and since it's been a bit of a walk ... it's only when he brings the cool, heady beer that I realise that "large", in Prague, means a litre. Oh well. There'll be another few hours of walking this afternoon and I am taking Kafka's advice about automobiles, on a number of levels.
Perched at a high stool, amid historical photos and advertisements and brewing paraphernalia, I "read" the menu (it has photos and translations) and learn that good honest Czech food starts with a rib-sticking soup - sour lentils with grilled sausage and gherkins; pork shoulder and dumplings - before kicking on to cardiac-convulsing concoctions involving most if not all organs and attributes of animals large and larger. In case anyone is still worried about going hungry all are served with traditional side dishes like dumplings and red or white cabbage. Like the beer, portions are large. Two weeks before Christmas and I'm in Central Europe so goose leg is appropriate. With "shoulet", which I see is "beans and hails flavoured with garlic and marjorams" served with cabbage salad. Yes, hails. No, I don't either, but they might have been lentils.
Of the meat, it's been a while since my leg was goosed and I'm not sure when or if either experience will be repeated. The beer was superb. Or better than.
Stuffed, I paid and headed for the river and castle. Around the corner I passed the Kafka Snob Food Cafe - eggs benedict, chocolate croissants, hipster decor. I don't think it would have been his cup of tea. But then ... "So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being."
Getting there: Emirates flies from Auckland to Prague via its Dubai hub.
Details: V Kolkovne is at V Kolkovne 8, Praha 1.
The writer travelled with assistance from Uniworld and Emirates.