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Prague: Hockey, man.

The rumour was that Prague is horribly overrun with tourists, so I was preparing to be knocking about shoulder to shoulder with idiot Europeans wandering in packs following a guide with a raised umbrella like sheep following, well, another sheep. It´s funny on this trip the impact that expectations have had on my experiences. And I guess that´s something that relates to all aspects of life, not just travelling.

Imagine planning to rob a bank (c´mon, I know you´ve all done it) and expecting to walk out with 50,000 bucks, but instead you stumble across a cool 500,000 in cold hard cash. You´d be suitably stoked. Now imagine robbing the same bank and expecting to find 5 million, but all you can find is a lousy 500,000. And not only that but it´s all cold and hard; you can´t even throw it around in the back of the getaway car in celebratory style. You´d be shattered. See, expectations.

And so on that first day in the beautiful city of Prague, as Bec and I strolled around, the streets were refreshingly quiet. Narrow pedestrian-only streets curved around, and linked with wider streets that curved further still, leaving our bearings horribly tangled. Even the famed old town square was mostly empty, although this may have been due to the main tourists drawcard, the Astronomical Clock, undergoing repairs and thus being out of action. But I was certainly willing to forego seeing some fancy clock if it meant I didn´t have to walk through the square like some fiery-haired matador, twirling out of the way of burly tour guides and their trail of followers. Charles Bridge, the most famous of Prague´s numerous crossings over the Vltava river that bisects the city, was the exception to this. Here, it required a fleet-of-foot that Fred Astaire would´ve applauded to make it through the crowds.

Having navigated our way across the bridge, we stopped in at a jazz bar for a few quiet beers, before a group of drunken guys from Northern England put a stop to that. They shouted to each other across the bar, oblivious to the other folks trying to maintain conversations. But nothing was quite as loud as their ridiculous haircuts. David Beckham mohawwks dyed pink?! Short little mullets, with the bottom of the mullet dyed blonde!? as though it was done by a blind midget. Don´t they have mirrors in England?

We retreated back to our hostel, and awaited the arrival of our friends Gab and Marr, who were flying in from Manchester, and Penny, another of Bec´s friends from back home who was flying in from Dublin. The three of them, plus Gab´s sister Simone, due to arrive the following day, were on town just for the weekend, before returning to work on Tuesday. Poor bastards.

And so for the next few days, the six of us explored the city, from the Jewish quarter, through the old town, around the splendid Prague Castle, and down to the Fred and Ginger dancing building. No, it´s not a building that dances to music, as cool as that would be, but rather a brilliantly designed structure that resembles a dancing couple. Marr and I, both structural engineers, looked at the building for a good 40 minutes, admiring it as one would a Rembrandt or a Leonardo. A cylindrical glass facade swept down one section, and flared out at the base like 70s pants, resembling a twirling dress; a concrete balcony jutted out halfway up the building – the gentle touch of a supporting arm. Quite stunning, it was.

After a day admiring the city, we found a restaurant to grab some dinner in. Recognising us as out-of-towners, the waitress handed us each an English menu, and after ordering some wonderfully cheap beers, we began perusing the list of foods on offer. It wasn´t all in English, however. Towards the end of the menu were some rather cheap items, maybe 50 cents each, cheap even by Czech standards.

“What do you think this is?” Gab asked the table.

“Not sure,” answered Bec, “Just order it though, I´ll eat it of it turns out you don´t want it.” Since ordering blind and surviving in Slovakia, Bec´s confidence with foreign foods had soared, and it was pretty high to begin with.

“You sure?”

“Yeah yeah, just order it.”

The waitress approached and we each gave our orders, then the question came, “…and, uh, what is this?” Marr pointed to the item in question. The waitress gave a chuckle, “That,” she said with a smile, “is box for you to take home food.”

Right then. Good luck eating that.

Both Bec and Marr had been to Prague previously, and so were acting as sort of psuedo-guides. “When I was here last, I went to a hockey game,” Marr noted on Sunday morning. We all agreed this would be a great way to spend a Sunday evening; watching grown men skate around on ice beating each other with sticks, and a few hours later found ourselves outside a deserted arena waiting for the ticket office to open. For about 7 bucks each, we got great seats, near mid-ice and close to the action.

With the tickets stashed safely in our pockets, we went into town for a few afternoon beers, just to get ourselves into the mood, and returned around 6pm to see the game. The previously empty place was now buzzing. People were being padded down by security before being let in, but, sticking out as tourists like a white man in a 100 metre sprint final, we were waved through with no such trouble, and immediately grabbed a bucket of beer each. Back hom in Australia, and I´m sure similarly in Canada, the US, and the UK, the prices of beer and food at sporting events are jacked up ridiculously. 5 bucks for some chips, are you kidding me. Not so in the Czech Republic though. Here was a country with it´s priorities clearly in order. 500ml of beer, and not just some shitty mid-strength beer, but genuine Budweiser Budvar, for about a buck. Awesome.

We settled in on our wooden bench seat, behind a couple of nazi-looking skinheads, and watched the warm-ups. At the end of the arena to our left was the cheer squad for the home team, Sparta Praha. Singing, chanting, and beating drums; they made a fair racket. At the end to our right, perhaps numbering twice as many as Sparta Praha, with more voices, and more drums, and surrounded by security guards to isolate them from the locals, stood the away team supporters.

The game began, the drums were constant, the puck whizzed around the ice. Midway through the first period, and the home side conceded a goal. Second period, and they went down 2-0. The away fans were crazy loud. One of the skinheads in front of us, he looked like he´d just stepped off the set of Romper Stomper, jumped up and turned to the stand of seats behind him, arms out wide, shouting, emploring the people to make some noise. Or threatening to beat them all around the head, I couldn´t exactly understand what he was saying.

Into the third period. And this seems like the right time to note that, for those unfamiliar with the playing of hockey on ice, the game is played in three 20 minute periods, with five minutes of extra time should the teams be level at the end of three periods. That´s right, three periods. Can be quite confusing if you´re not aware of it, as Marr noted last time he went, “Me and my mate were all excited at the end of the 2nd half, thinking that was the end of the game. Then they went into a third, so we figured they played 4 quarters. Near the end of the 3rd it was pretty close, but we weren´t getting too excited, then all of a sudden it was over and everyone started leaving.”

So midway through the third and final period, and still trainling 2-0, Sparta Praha managed to slap in a shot from beyond half-way. A Hail Mary that was answered. Back in it now at 2-1, the pace of the game picked up considerably, but with just a minute remaining, they still trailed. After a few beers during the game, I was busting to go to the toilet by this stage. With 15 seconds left, and the home side still down a goal, I ran to the top of the aisle to beat the crowd, but turned to watch the last few seconds. With 5 seconds left, Sparta Praha scored! The crowd went nuts. I jumped up and down in the aisle, arms in the air, drunk on the atmosphere (and maybe the beer, but hey, lets not get caught up on technicalities here). I ran back down the aisle to celebrate with the others, forgetting all about the toilet.

The game went into extra time. 5 minutes, golden goal. If a team scored, they won. If it was still tied at the end of 5, they called it a draw and shared the points. The crowd noise was deafening. 25 seconds left, and Sparta Praha scored again. Game over. The noise was engulfing now. Our nazi friend jumped up and ran towards the away team supporters yelling, right arm stretched out, middle finger raised defiantly. Security guards quickly ushered him back towards his seat. he ran back up the aisle, stopped at our seat, where Simone was at the end, grabbed her in a great big bear hug and planted a wet kiss on her cheek, then continued running excitedly up the aisle cheering.

Hockez, Czech style. I love it.

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One Response to “Prague: Hockey, man.”

  1. Gab&Marr Says:

    Hi Dave, Thanks for the recap! I must say though your first comments grabbed me – you snob! What is wrong with overrun with “tourists” all having a look around a marvellous city and trying to learn about its history and culture! I always thought it was a good idea for those people to carry around umbrellas to make sure you don’t lose them when it is busy! Perhaps a little naive, crowds can be frustrating but at least it is good for the families of all those Prague tour guides!

  2. admin Says:

    Yeah, fair comment Gab. Don’t worry, the irony isn’t lost on me in the fact that whilst I complain about all the tourists, I am in fact one of them. And as Bec says, when a place is touristy there’s an obvious reason for it, and so it’s normally worth going.

    Except Australia, man that place sucks, anyone reading this not from Australia, yeah, don’t bother going, it’s shit. As Cian, an Irish mate of mine, said the other day, it’s full of English and Irish anyway.

  3. Posted from Czech Republic Czech Republic

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