It’s Thursday, which means leaving Budapest for my next destination. But before that, let us pause to consider one of a traveller’s greatest challenges. Having successfully booked a load of hotels and secured a decent rate for bed and breakfast, the mornings bring about a puzzle that the world’s greates brains have so far failed to resolve.
I’m referring, of course, to the roller toaster. Found in countless hotel breakfast rooms around the world, these devices bring a whole new meaning to the word useless. Two dials, one for heat and one for speed, and a rolling metal conveyor that gets hotter than the sun. In almost no other setting would you allow general members of the public near such a contraption. It’s a health and safety disaster waiting to happen. And all of this for an end product which is either slightly warm bread or volcanic ash. There’s no middle ground.
My departure from Budapest is from Nyugati station, a different one from my arrival – but once again the city’s efficient public transport system gets me there from the hotel within 20 minutes, and this in in the middle of the morning rush hour. Nyugati has a grand enough exterior, but on the inside it’s basic and functional.
Today’s First Class experience to Prague will take around seven hours, and for the first time in several days it’s an open coach layout rather than compartments. The carriages are from Slovakia – and indication that we will be passing through Bratislava. There’s no Wi-Fi, but there is plenty of luggage space and legroom.
So here’s the thing – an American, a Slovakian and and an Irishman walk onto a train. But instead of a poorly constructed and slightly racist joke, a conversation ensues. The Slovak woman is from what was Czechoslovakia, but her family were effectively exiled for a number of years. She marked Michael, from Kildare in Ireland, a few years ago. And the Americans? Well, they’re from Miami but her family is originally from Nicaragua.
And then there’s Kendrick, another American from California. He now lives in Budapest and evidently designs bars and restaurants. And today he has a two companions, Bandit and Rex.
I didn’t ask too many questions. But Kendrick insisted on telling their history to the other Americans. Both were rescue dogs, each with a heartwarming back story that I’m certain gets told to anyone who will listen. I can hardly judge, since I’m not even travelling with a real animal. And although Bandit and Rex are well behaved, a grumpy conductor announces – some way through the lengthy journey – that dogs are not allowed in First Class. What’s even more bizarre is that the mutts are “safely dispatched” elsewhere while Kendrick continues the rest of the day in the posh seats.
And so to Prague, I only have one evening here which is not nearly enough to sample its many attractions. But I’ve been here a few times before so I’m happy with my whistle stop. Easter is a week away, and in the main town square there’s a festive market, complete with the most frightening rabbit you may ever see.
The whole place is buzzing with visitors, many taking selfies by he famous Astronomical Clock, or gazing at the stunning architecture all around. To be frank, it’s all a little overwhelming. These are the biggest crowds I’ve seen on my trip so far, and I long for the the little backstreet cafe bars I’ve experienced elsewhere. But you can’t argue with the photo opportunities.
You’re never too far away from a good beer in Prague. But with only limited time, and an unfortunate heavy downpour, actually finding a decent bar proves more challenging than it should be. At Sip U – described as one of the best craft beer places in the Old Town – I take a seat at the bar only to be completely ignored by all of the staff. Nobody seems interested in offering a lone traveller a menu when they can upsale to groups of six or eight.
It doesn’t get much better at the Dubliner. Usually an Irish pub is a safe bet for a quick and cheerful pint. Here, the experience costs me close to €7, which includes a hefty tip that I wasn’t planning on giving. Eventually the Fat Cat provides a convivial setting, a good slection of beers and generally much friendlier astmosphere. With the rain still pounding outside, it’s literally any port in a storm. Or rather, any Pils in a shower.
On my previous visits to Prague, I’ve been fortunate to find a wider selection of drinking holes – but many of them away from the tourist trap of the Old Town, The other side of the river, below Prague Castle, was one of my favourite neighbourhoods. On this trip I’ve failed to build in enough time to revisit them. But as far as beer goes, it’s the next place on the itinerary that really interests me.
In the meantime the rain has stopped, and a stroll back to my hotel allows me to capture some of the sights at night, inlcuding the Powder Gate.