Rich is recently back from serving in Afghanistan, now posted to that romantic holiday destination… Bavaria. What great adventures will he get up to this time?
I am happy to report that things have improved somewhat since the previous chapter, most likely due to the fact that the camp guards were getting bored of constantly rounding up attempted escapees and were keen to get back to their usual jobs. Malnutrition levels are on the decline as the standard of food has rocketed from the depths of what a hungry Labrador might consider significantly sub-standard to, in most cases anyway, real food fit for human consumption. We have also been granted some time off which came as a bit of a surprise as the concept of working for 5 days and having 2 days off, thus allowing for a ‘weekend’, seemed completely alien to those in charge out here. However, the painfully obvious presence of a complete morale vacuum tends to pose a risk to soldiers sanity, which, when there are 200 of them, is a precarious situation to be in- it was time to get out.
Trams- Prague’s biggest killer
Our first break for freedom came in the form of a generous 24 hours off, midday Saturday to midday Sunday, during which 11 of us decided, after some deliberation, that in order to make the most of our short-lived freedom, a 3 hour drive to Prague was easily the best option. We hired a mini bus and a bizarrely small car and set off for the “cultural” capital of Europe with the same excited feeling you get aged 7 on the school bus when going on a trip to the zoo. We arrived at our hostel in one piece, despite the trams’ best efforts to wipe us all out (note for visitors- trams in Prague don’t stop for cars, or mini buses for that matter, so try not to turn in front of them through oncoming traffic, it can only end in a narrow escape from certain death or certain death). Our hostel, complete with crisp white bed linen and comfy mattresses, was a far cry from camp Aachen and thankfully further still from the standard, gap year backpackers complete with bed bugs, peeling wallpaper and some dreadlocked chap in the corner doing heroine. Things were off to a good start so we huddled around a tourist map of the city, resulting in the obvious disagreement that comes with 11 Officers thinking they know best, and set out into central Prague, no better off than we were before, in search of a long, boozy lunch.
Now, I can’t be sure, but I imagine that the sight of 11 preppy looking Brits, all in our matching uniform of jeans, some form of blue shirt and brown loafers, doing our best Reservoir Dogs impression through the streets of Prague, impressed the locals no end. So much so in fact, that we managed to get our own mezzanine level in what must be Prague’s finest restaurant, on the 7th floor of an amazing riverside building, overlooking the entire city and with a menu to make even Heston Blumenthal salivate. It was perfect. The tone for the afternoon was set on arrival when 11 espresso martinis were ordered and the waitress looked on in amazement as the ‘Chinless Wonder Convention 2013’ kicked off in full force. We spent the full afternoon eating like Kings and drinking like Queens (espresso martinis are just divine darling), ridding ourselves of the barbaric conditions we had left only a few hours earlier. It’s incredible how imposing a large group of blokes can become after an indiscreet amount of wine and port with some girlie cocktails thrown in for good measure, but suffice to say that it wasn’t long before the restaurant was filled with the overtly boisterous sound of relentless guffawing, assertive table thumping, heart-felt harrumphing and cries of “Good form!” and “A wager! A wager!” Yes indeed, the Officers mess had arrived and we were, rather brashly, making ourselves known.
We left the restaurant in high spirits to say the least, ready to take on whatever Prague had in store for us. Sadly however, as it was now only about 6pm, Prague wasn’t quite ready for 11 inebriated, obnoxious Brits trying to impress themselves on the local hotspots. As a result we proceeded to get thrown out of every single bar, pub and restaurant we could find in central Prague, which is no mean feat I can assure you. One bar took particular exception to our behavior when we started tucking in to the, seemingly free, giant pretzels they had on each table, helping ourselves from different tables as we weaved our way through the bar to find a table of our own. When the somewhat irate barman tracked us down to throw us out for “stealing” said pretzels, which we apparently should have paid for, we decided the best course of action was to deny all knowledge of the offending snacks in order to buy enough time to finish our beers before inevitably being thrown out.
“Lishen mate, we haven’t touched any pretschuls. I don’t even like pretschuls”, said Luke in full drunken confidence in our argument, while gently brushing pretzel crumbs off his chin.
“You no touch Pretzels?! You no touch PRETZELS?! Then what the hell are these?!” As he said this the barman, with visible steam coming out of his ears at this point, reached forward with both hands, either side of Lukes head and removed two giant ‘Pretschuls’ that had been hanging from his ears. Perhaps he wasn’t the best spokesman for our case.
“Oh” said Luke with a knowing wry grin, “Well, those are Pretschuls, how much do we owe you?”
By that point he didn’t want our money and we were assertively asked to leave, without our half full beers, which required a slightly more foolproof plan in order to be finished. Another highlight was following a moment or two behind a couple of group members into a restaurant, in search of somewhere to serve us a drink, only to be met by them, before I had even reached the entrance to the restaurant, being physically removed by the waiting staff, one with a bloody nose, grinning and saying “Nope, I’m not sure they like us in there either”. Apparently in a moment of extreme thirst he had helped himself to a glass of wine belonging to one of the diners enjoying a previously quiet meal, before the waiter, without hesitation or warning, waded in and punched him clean in the nose. Good Czech diplomacy at its most effective.
By some miracle the night continued in a similar, yet increasingly drunken, vein without any arrests or further injury to anyone in the group and we somehow all made it back to our crisp white sheets for a few hours rest.
The following day we crawled back to camp in time for our midday curfew, looking and feeling like shadows of our former selves and feeling fully conversant in the cultural delicacies of the Czech capital. All in all it was a fantastic and very welcome 24 hour break and I would thoroughly recommend Prague to anyone- just remember a few key survival tips: watch out for trams, don’t annoy the waiters and even if they look it, the pretzels are not free.
By Rich Glover