Bland Stuff

Reasons I’ve Got Coffee in My Shoes

There are a lot of unexplained mysteries in the world: the Bermuda Triangle, crop circles, tofu, and the Mary Celeste, to name but a few. Sure, everyone’s got their own pet theories – and some confident souls clutching scientific equations, previously undiscovered historical documents, or curds made from coagulated soy milk might insist they’ve stumbled across the answer – but we’re still all basically in the dark about these intriguing enigmas.

Not that anyone minds too much: there’s something delightful about an enigma. It’s just human nature to be drawn in by riddles – how else can you explain the popularity of murder mystery parties, or those shit jokes in Christmas crackers?

silhouette of a man during sunset
This is a stock photo I found by searching for “mystery”

To add to the expected head-scratchers, something both mysterious and inexplicable happened to me when I got home from work yesterday.

Let me set the scene: it was half past eleven, GMT+1. It was a crisp night, and I’d just navigated my way across a Prague heaving with the usual Saturday night crowd (ie mostly stag and hen does intoxicated by a mixture of a excitement, b cheap beer, c cheap absinthe, and d a little bit more beer). I was exhausted from a dramatic and challenging shift at the hostel.

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This is the only picture of myself at work I have. Note the impressive 8.3 rating.
(The boiler had broken down and, as the closest thing to a Czech speaker on shift at the time, I’d been dispatched to the heating room to be remotely guided through the resetting process by the maintenance guy. (Phone conversations are so stressful that it took me a good five minutes to understand he was telling me to push the giant red button.) Also, a group of lads had been caught smoking out the window, and I’d accidentally given someone $50 worth of change rather than 50€ (ie grossly shortchanging them). But I digress.)

I got home, so exhausted from boiler/currency exchange drama that I could barely find the strength to put the kettle on. Little did I know that I was wearing this generation’s Loch Ness Monster on my feet (in terms of mysteriousness, not smell and/or plausible imaginariness); and yet – when I took my shoes off, there it was: a whole bunch of ground coffee.

How can I be sure it was coffee grounds and not, say, dirt or generic brown dust? Because, thanks, I think, to my extreme tiredness, I didn’t hesitate to smell the mysterious stuff, and recognised the aroma of everyone’s favourite socially acceptable addictive substance.

What the actual (sorry, Mum) fuck? Sure, I drink a lot of coffee and I’m pretty clumsy, but I’ve never spilt a drink so badly that it’s ended up in powder form in my shoe. This was something else.

Invigorated by the mystery (and, maybe, by the delayed effect of caffeine entering my bloodstream via the ankle), I fixed myself a steaming mug of Horlicks, installed myself at the kitchen table and, equipped with pencil and extra large receipt, made the following list of theories.

Perhaps I

  • jostled someone transporting stolen coffee on the metro;
  • fell victim to a good-natured prank at work;
  • developed the ability to secrete coffee powder through the heel;
  • unknowingly walked through a coffee spillage somewhere between the tram stop and my home;
  • was on the receiving end of the mild revenge of the customer I short-changed;
  • unknowingly had my shoe stolen by some looters to use as a receptacle for their liberated coffee – on completing the job, they returned the shoe, plus some spare grounds, to my flat via the cat flap;
  • fell victim to a mean-spirited prank at work;
  • or, and this is a long shot, spilt coffee grounds when I was making a coffee this morning.

We’ll never know what really happened, of course. Surely heads will be scratched over this particular mystery for years to come.

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Pubs

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…