Travels, not trevails!

I think it’s about time for a cheerful depiction of my life in recent months as the last few posts have been a bit morose and perhaps gave an inaccurate depiction of a miserable miser moping around and whining about pain and professional healthcare (both the giving and receiving).

I have actually been on an array of amazing holidays and I am going to summarise each one even though some of them were actually a while ago. Hell, I’m spending all my money funding this insatiable drive for exploration, so I might as well celebrate it.

Back in May Jim and I visited his friend from Cambridge, whom he hadn’t seen for years, in BASEL for five days . His friend had forewarned us that Basel is not the most raging of cities, and as he and his girlfriend had taken some time off from their stressful jobs, it was probably going to be a recharging break rather than a rampage. That was fine with us as London provides its fair share of rampages. We actually felt as though we had the city to ourselves as it was a Swiss public holiday and as the culture is generally family-focused, people who work in town usually go ‘home’ to the rural parts of Switzerland on the weekends. London was wet and gloomy in May and it was glorious to bask in the sunshine and feel your skin getting warmed. The Rhine roars and cascades through the city giving it an energy that the lazy Thames just can’t provide. I may be wrong, but Basel is not known for its culinary delights and as it was the most expensive city I have ever been to (bar Reykjavik), I was grateful that Jim’s friends cooked for us most nights and would not hear any talk of us cooking for them, nor compensating them. They are vegan and initially Jim and I were a bit anxious that we wouldn’t be satiated, but the meals (particularly a spicy chickpea curry), were delicious. A highlight of Basel for me was our visit to the Cartoon Museum, which contained some excellent satirical drawings and a very dark main exhibition by Swiss painter and cartoonist Martial Leiter. We wandered during the day and were in bed at a reasonable time, with the lowest amount of alcohol ever consumed on holiday by either of us. This was mostly due to us adopting the lifstyle of our hosts as per houseguest etiquette. For Jim who used to party hard with said friend who apparently used to be a bit of a ‘lad’ , it was difficult to adjust his expectations to fit the new reality. We had long conversations about the nature of friendship and essentially came to the conclusion that long-lasting friendships are those in which the two people allow each other to change, or not change as the case may be, without giving each other unncessary shit. Not being judgemental in other words. If they join a Kool-Aid cult or start building a shrine out of toenail clippings or something, then intervene. Otherwise, it’s generally best to let people explore themselves and live their lives as they choose. If you can no longer find common ground, then maybe the friendship has come to a natural end. Luckily, that wasn’t the case in Basel and there was still plenty of common ground for those two. We returned refreshed!

Around 15 Euros worth of sausage
Strolling along the Rhine
Martial Leiter’s work


 Next up for me was a four day holiday to VIENNA and PRAGUE at the start of July with my very good friends from home, Matt and Matt. I have known one of them (Matt1) since I was born as our Mums were best friends. I feel very lucky to have a friend in my life who has always known, accepted and loved me and about whom I feel the same. His partner (Matt2) is absolutely great and as the holiday approached I grew more and more excited. I met the boys on a Friday night in a Vienna hotel, our enthusiastic reunion witnessed by both the bemused concierge and the hotel’s resident tortoise. We immediately went out for a drink and found a cool outdoor wine bar, catching up over a chilled bottle of white wine, surrounded by Vienna’s hipsters. We explored the city by foot the next day, strolling around in the sun and laughing continuously (possibly due to heat stroke or an overdose of XL schnitzel). Our attempts to listen to live classical music in a traditional Viennese bar (as opposed to attending a full concert), were thwarted by the intense heat, so we only managed to listen to a couple of pieces before escaping outside into the breeze. On Sunday morning we managed to leave Vienna in the boys’ hire car after experiencing some drama with the GPS, our exit aptly accompanied by one of Mozart’s epic symphonies. We drove from Vienna to Prague, stopping off at a small picturesque village near the border of the Czech Republic called Mikulov.We had to check in to our hotel in Prague and be at the top end of Wenceslas Square by 4pm, so our initially relaxed lunch in Mikulov grew more and more fraught as time slipped on. As Matt2 so beautifully put it – “From now on, whenever I hear this I will always be reminded of fleeing Vienna sans GPS and shortly thereafter, fleeing the Mikulov town square on foot carrying a hastily purchased rosé and a napkin full of almonds”. We managed to hot-foot it to the meeting point for our tour after the most hasty check-in of all time that somehow involved The Matthews getting upgraded to the best room in the hotel, overlooking the Old Town Square! I think the guy at reception had a bit of a crush.

Goodbye Turtey!
Mikulov town square, pre-panic
On the road
The 6-person tour we went on was called Taste of Prague, run by a young beautiful Czech couple called Zuzi and Jan (pronounced Yan). I’m going to be very lazy and copy some of the information from the follow-up email they sent after the tour to sum up everything we ate and drank:


Milk-style tank beer

1. We had home-made Slivovitz (plum brandy) made by Zuzi’s father in front of the National Museum at the top of the Wenceslas Square.

2. We went to the Cestr steak house in the old Communist Federal Parliament building. We had beer shots (dark Master lager – Pilsner Urquell head – malt biscuit), Pilsner Urquell “tank” beer (regular and milk-style tank beer), Czech sourdough bread with butter and radishes, Czech steak tartare with quail egg, toasted bread and garlic, beef flank first smoked and then boiled in its own juices for 16 hours, beef flat slow-grilled on rosemary with truffle sauce, spare ribs marinated in red wine for 24 hours and then slow-cooked under the lid for 16 hours, grilled Prestice pig pork belly with smoked pork tenderloin on celeriac salad with walnuts, Czech trout on butter with fresh thyme and vegetables, “Olomoucke tvaruzky” – aged cheese wrapped in bacon and deep fried in breadcrumbs with home-made mayonnaise, escargots boiled with root vegetables and baked in mushrooms with Sabayonne mousse, roasted farm-raised chicken with truffle stuffing and chicken juice with truffle butter, potato dumplings, potatoes with curd cheese, green bean sprouts with pork cracklings, tomato salad, and beer ice cream.
Czech steak tartare with quail egg

3. Then we had “chlebicky”, the open-faced sandwiches, at the “Svetozor” deli (baguette – potato salad spread – smoked ham – Czech pickle – hard-boiled egg).

4. We followed with Becherovka shots and “horicke trubicky” rolls with whipped cream and hot chocolate in Choco Café at Liliova street. In addition, we had a sampling of Czech pastries – the Vetrnik (Windmill – puff pastry with vanilla and caramel cream and caramel glazing).
5. We finished with wines at the Vinograf wine bar at Misenska Street (2008 Alibernet red by Mr Manak). 
Needless to say, I didn’t lose any weight on this holiday! I was in food heaven… my mouth is watering as I read back over our meal at Cestr, where the philosophy is ‘nose to tail eating’. As well as being about the food, the tour had an emphasis on covering the recent sociopolitical history of the Czech Republic and the wider Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their candid, matter-of-fact accounts of communism were in turns hilarious and troubling. It was nice to understand Prague’s background in a contemporary rather than medievil sense. Sunday night was spent drinking the Czech wine we had bought under extreme time constraints in Mikulov. On Monday we did some more sightseeing, wandering around the Wallenstein Garden and ducking into small cafes and pubs to stay refreshed. The other resounding memory from this trip was visiting the Pinkas Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery, both of which are part of the Jewish Museum. The walls of the Pinkas Synagogue are lined with the names of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust and it is truly horrifying and deeply moving to walk through the rooms. Even when you think there can’t possibly be any more, you walk through another doorway into another hall covered with actual people’s identities. It had never been brought home to me in such a personalising way. On Monday afternoon I flew back to London and both Matt1 and I felt physically ill as we had to say goodbye. At least it’s not too long until December.
I think that’s about enough for this post! I wish I hadn’t waited so long to write about my travels, but I don’t think I was able to relax enough to write about them until I had been offered at least one work contract. So now they’ll be coming in a steady stream over the next week. 
Wallenstein Garden
A remnant of Communist times


Long live whimsy

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