Malý/Velký

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I stumbled across this week’s bar of choice, the excellently websited Malý/Velký, completely by chance. I’d run out of change for the bus and, already familiar with Czechia’s punitive public transport authorities, was trying to make it from Náměstí Míru, in the east of the city, back to the centre on foot.

build builder construction equipment
Honest worker or committed trickster?

Unfortunately for me, my path was obstructed by squadrons of men in high-viz jackets tearing up the road with diggers. They seemed to be building a new tram line – but, thinking back on it now, they could have just been taking a practical joke well too far.

Stymied, I ducked down a side street and, using my very poor internal compass, headed in what I reckoned was the right direction. It’ll probably surprise no one that, when I checked my map later, I’d chosen the wrong turning at every crossroads.

Anyway, I was lost, grumpy, and not at all drunk. I wanted to be found, cheerful, and tipsy – this was not an ideal situation.

As I wandered down a nondescript Prague alleyway, I happened to glance up and notice this sign:

I'm not a talented photographer.

“Falcon Independent Brewery,” I read aloud. “Decent.”

I went through the door: a long corridor that made me think of hotels led through to a courtyard. It was partly covered, and in place of regular bar furniture it had low, bright-coloured armchairs in a style I consider typically Czech. The beer garden was empty except for two women.

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“Are you open?” I asked in my bad Czech.

“Yes,” replied one of the women. There was an awkward pause. “The bar is downstairs,” she prompted.

I went downstairs; after the eclectic ambience of the beer garden, I was surprised by how minimalist everything was here. The woman I’d spoken to had followed me down. “What’ll you have?” she asked.

The selection of beer on draught was great: they had eight taps and had chosen a range of unusual brews – at the bartender’s recommendation, I went for an 11% ABV wheat beer.

I drank the beer in a comfortable armchair upstairs in the garden, covertly trying to eavesdrop on the women’s conversation – my poor grasp of Czech protected their privacy.

Overall, I was chuffed by the whole experience: although it was pretty dead (in fairness, this was a Tuesday afternoon), the atmosphere was decent, and it was the best beer I’ve had in Prague so far.

I will award Malý/Velký six pint glasses and a crisp coaster. A very respectable score – I’ll be back.

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Haiku of the Week

Tipsy proposal:

A dizzy game of Twister.

High-stakes clumsiness.

Essential Czech

When I lived outside the UK last year, I was a student on her semester abroad. I was an Erasmus participant, and, as such, contributed to the Russian/Czech economy mostly by spending tonnes of money on beer and Ubers for when I overslept and needed to get to class in a hurry.

Everything is different now. I live in Prague, not as a student, but as a worker. I’m no longer a mere observer of Czech culture, but rather an active participant – and, as such, I contribute to the Czech economy mostly by buying litres of beer and paying for taxis when I wake up hungover and need to get to work.

It’s a whole new world, let me tell you.

Now that I’m living here on a more long-term basis (read: until I run out of money or Brexit forces me to flee back to the UK), my friends and family are faced with the prospect of visiting me in Czechia.

Prague has a lot to offer international tourists: incredible architecture, cheap beer, leafy parks, low-cost alcohol, fascinating museums and galleries, inexpensive pints, ancient churches and monasteries, and the highest pub:person ratio in Central Europe.

Unfortunately, as I’m no longer a student with no obligations, but a serious English teacher-cum-grumpy waitress with bills to pay, I can’t show visitors around the city with the same freedom before.

Whilst central Prague can easily be navigated without a single word of Czech, in suburbs and other towns, English is more rarely spoken. As such, I’m gonna start posting a couple of words of Czech a week here, so if you’re related to me, get out your notebooks. I will be unsympathetic to your cries that you don’t speak the language as I abandon you in Hlavní Nádraží.

I was going to start off with the alphabet, since it’s full of weird letters, but I thought this first lesson should be somewhat more fundamental.

Commit this to your memory:

Dám si jednou pivo.

I’ll have a beer.

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Dám si velké pivo.

I’ll have a big beer.

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Dám si mockrát pivo.

I’ll have many beers.

 

Stay tuned for other essential Czech phrases, like, “Where’s the toilet?” and “We demand independence from the Austro-Hungarian oppressors.”

Ro Daniels: Who Are You?

I’ve been writing this blog regularly for a few months now, and an attentive reader has probably built up some kind of picture of the girl behind the keyboard.

For those who don’t take careful notes every time I post anything, I thought I’d try and sum myself up. Give you a bit of context and that. However, as anyone who’s ever tried to write a CV knows, describing yourself in a couple of paragraphs is a pretty colossal task.

Where do you even begin?

Then, in bed last night, I remembered something – an event which, I think, tells you absolutely everything you need to know about Ro Daniels (ie yours truly).

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Artist’s depiction of me.

It was March. I was living with a Russian host family in St Petersburg, and the weather was testing my physical endurance: it was -25 out with wind chill. The streets were slathered in sheet ice; walking to the bus was treacherous; standing outside was suicidal.

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I let myself into the flat, frozen stiff from the two minute walk from the bus stop, draped in piles of clothes, eyeballs feeling more solid than normal. I felt like my legs, covered in a mere two pairs of trousers, had been skinned with a blunt knife.

The flat was mercifully warm and there was a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. My host mum, an angel constantly concerned that I didn’t eat enough, offered me a bowl of soup.

We sat at the kitchen table together, she drinking a cup of coffee, me hunched over my soup so the steam melted my frozen eyebrows. We chatted about the weather, about politics (a delicate topic that I always tried to avoid), about Russian books she thought I should read. I felt perfectly at home, and the soup and conversation warmed my heart and tummy.

Then, I saw it. In the soup. A spider. Quite a big spider, meaty. Legs curled up like a fist. And, dear reader, here comes the part of the story that tells you about me.

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Reader, I ate the spider.

Not only did I eat the spider, I didn’t even think for a second about what I could do to avoid it. Like, I could have politely said, “Zoya, there’s a spider in my soup.” Or I could have just, I don’t know, not eaten the fucking spider. I could’ve left it in the bowl, or delicately picked it out when Zoya, my host mum, was looking at her phone.

No, it never occured to me for a second that there was another option; as soon as I saw the spider I accepted my fate, and my fate was to dine on insects rather than experience a, at the very worst, slightly embarrassing situation.

I hope you feel like you know me better now. I am Ro, eater of spiders.

– This list will make you uncomfortable

 

  • Stains on library books

 

  • Sitting down on a warm tram seat

 

  • Crusty matter stuck between the tines of a fork

 

  • A tissue that’s gone through the washing machine

 

  • Other people’s feet

 

  • Bird poo

 

  • When people put speech marks instead of apostrophes

 

  • When the landline rings

 

  • Gunk in the plughole

eeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuurrrghhhh

Milestone

To celebrate this, my 100th post on the Bland Blog, I’d like to share a video with you.

This is genuine footage of me going down an escalator.

Footage.

#realjokes

Haiku of the Week

Huge TVs on wheels,

Copying out of textbooks.

Substitute teachers.

Gastropub 20 Pip

The first stop on what is sure to be a long journey to find a pub I can call home was Gastropub 20 Pip, a narrow bar on Náměstí Míru boasting an impressive twenty beers on draught.

The word “gastropub” fills me with terror, as does the idea of having to choose between too many similar-sounding options, but, not having had a single pint in the 24 hours I’d been in Czechia, I swallowed my fear and headed in. After all, being sober in Prague after 6pm is practically a criminal offence.

The bar decor is inspired by typical Czech pubs – green walls, dark paneling and furniture – but updated to make the space bright and airy; plus, though the pub is narrow, it’s set over two levels and giant windows stop the place from feeling as stuffy as archetypal Czech beer halls.

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This beer was acceptably tasty.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that my exploration of Czech pubs is as much motivated by a desire to practise my language skills as it by a dependency on alcohol, so I’m keen to avoid places that seem too touristy or where English is spoken more than Czech.

With that in mind, I headed to the bar and attempted to engage in cheerful banter with the bartender.

In her defence, she humoured me as much as she could: when it was obvious from my accented Czech that I was a foreigner, she asked if I’d rather speak English. I clumsily declined, saying I needed to work on my Czech, and, to her credit, she continued to deal with me in Czech, despite the fact that she clearly spoke my language better than I spoke hers.

She also helped me navigate the frankly excessively long menu, picking out a couple of dark beers she recommended and giving me a taste of each. Once I’d paid, I felt too awkward to sit at the tiny bar so I took my pint upstairs and sat down by the window to mull things over.

The beer itself, Albrecht-Marion, a 5.9% ABV Irish Stout, was decent. I’d describe it as “fine” or “alright.”

The setup of tables was definitely more gastro- than -pub, and, perhaps for this reason, there wasn’t a great sense of camaraderie in the bar; it definitely wasn’t the sort of place you’d strike up a conversation with your neighbour.

As you might have noticed, I’m quite firmly set against the concept of gastropubs. It’s not that I think they should be wiped from the face of the earth; I just find the idea of them a little troublesome. I like my pubs to be beer-focused, maybe with some light snacks thrown in as an afterthought. Introducing cutlery into the mix doesn’t help anyone.

Overall, whilst I left 20 Pip feeling that I’d found a slightly-better-than-average place to take visiting relatives, I knew in my bones that this first pub in my Prague Saga was decidedly not a place I could call my own. Impressive beer mat collection aside, it was actually pretty nondescript – it felt pretty mainstream, offensively inoffensive, and definitely not a local.

I award Gastropub 20 Pip two sodden beer mats and a fork with crusty bits on the tines.

The hunt continues…

Another Cautionary Tale

This story takes place in Blinders, a bar in St Petersburg that I wrote an incredibly soppy blog about yesterday.

The month was April; the canals had just thawed and I had swapped my thick winter jacket for my very slightly thinner spring fleece. I was, predictably, in the pub, tasting the newest pint they had on draught. It was called Raskolnikov, and it was the second best beer I’d ever tasted.

“Oof,” I said.

I was keen to make conversation with Lyosha, the barman, and to practise my Russian, so I wasn’t content to leave it at that. “That’s really nice.” I realised I could stretch my Russian a little further, so I added, “That’s very tasty.”

“Yeah,” he said. He and I were the only people in the bar. I fiddled with my receipt and started folding a crane. Lyosha rearranged some glasses.

“It really is very… nice,” I said, failing to think of a third synonym. I decided to draw on this native Russian’s experience: “Lyosha,” I said, “what do you call it when something is, really, just very, very tasty?”

“Oh,” he said, “we can say it’s ахуенно [akh-oo-yen-a]. If it’s really good.”

“Cool!” I said. “Well, this beer is ахуенно!”

Lyosha laughed heartily; I was thrilled: making Russians laugh was a personal goal of mine, and not one that I achieved that often – with the exception of at my expense, when my accent crossed the line from bad to egregious. Another customer came in; they spoke in Russian too quickly for me to understand, but soon after a friend joined me and we got to talking.

“How’s the beer?” he asked.

“Ахуенно!”

I kept describing my pint as such, and my enthusiasm was met by smiles every time. This is a great word, I thought to myself. People love it.

I went to university in high spirits the next day: yesterday had been so unexpectedly full of smiles and people asking how much I liked my beer that my spirits were soaring. My teacher, seeing my uncharacteristically bright expression, asked me how my evening was. I was keen to use this fabulous word, to replicate the great reception it’d received the night before.

I replied cheerily, “Well, it was simply ахуенно!”

My teacher’s face dropped. “…Rosie,” she said, “where did you hear that word?”

“In a bar,” I replied, bemused. This wasn’t the response I was used to.

“Rosie, please, don’t talk that way,” she said.

Later, in Blinders, I told Lyosha what had happened, tone full of confusion and wide-eyed with innocence. He burst out laughing, called his friend over and had me repeat the story.

“You told me it meant good!!” I said, watching both men wipe tears from their eyes.

“It does,” he said, “but it’s not the kind of thing you say to your teacher.”

[After careful etymological study, my friends and I have concluded that the closest English translation to ахуенно is the rather charming cuntastic. Remembering saying that to my seventy year old Russian teacher will stay with me to my death bed.]

From that moment until the day I left Russia in June, Lyosha introduced me to friends, and, indeed, strangers, as the girl who said ахуенно to her teacher. The story was met with singular hilarity and disbelief.

Anyway, this is a cautionary tale to anyone who, like me, is stupid enough not to attach context to the words you learn in bars.

Have an ахуенный day, dear readers!

Other Ways To End Emails

Use with caution.

 

  • Unkind regards,

 

  • [Sent from my Nintendo 3DS]

 

  • Good luck with that,

 

  • Forever yours,

 

  • Humbly,

 

  • Yours frankly, (after a brutal message)

 

  • Don’t feel pressured to stay in touch,

 

  • Not yours,

 

  • All’s well that ends well,

 

  • Stay distant,

Rosie