Monday 10 January 2011

Prague, Czech Republic - Trip Report

I didn't know much about Prague, or the country of Czech Republic, but travelled there on the advice of my friend Eric who thought it would be an awesome place to celebrate the new year.

I arrived on 30th of December with my brother Dean, staying at the Hilton in the old town. I'm guessing that the hotel staff are big fans of mine because not only did they check us in 4 hours early, but they upgraded us to an executive room as well, nice! Here's a quick tour of the hotel room:

Arriving in town so early in the morning gave us a whole day to mess about in the snow and check out the city. Since it was -18c, the messing around in the snow part didn't last too long! After getting over the shock of the blisteringly cold weather, the first thing that hit me was how old and well preserved everything was. Beautiful buildings dating back centuries have been well maintained and preserved, and look amazing. How they all survived the US bombings during the second world war intact I have no idea.

I noticed how there were an abnormally large number of casinos everywhere that I went. Walking the length of one long main street I noticed at least 10 casinos. I guess the Czechs love to gamble, or maybe they are there for the tourists of which there are plenty. Even at the coldest time of year scores of tourists from all over Europe come to visit Prague during the new year period.

We spend a lot of time just looking around this amazing city, diving back to our warm hotel room every so often to thaw out. At night we visited the old town square where there was a large market, perfect for a bit of roasted pig and hot wine, yum!

The city is very lively in the evening, with many restaurants and bars lining every street. Nothing is done on a grand scale, almost every restaurant and bar is small and cosy, but there's plenty of them. When going out to drink we would often have 1 or 2 drinks in one bar then move onto another, which was a great idea and we didn't even feel the cold after we got a few drinks in us.

However, what is a beautiful and pleasant city during the day and early evening time does become a lot more shady at night. After about 9pm all the main streets in the old town are lined with African guys trying to get tourists into the many lap-dancing clubs that exist and also selling drugs on the side. Being offered drugs everywhere you go doesn't make you feel like you're in a safe city.

As we left our hotel on the first night to go drinking there was a guy just standing against a wall. As we walked passed him he approached us and asked us if we wanted some weed, which we declined and were then offered “some Charlie then?” (slang for Cocaine), because sure, if we weren't into smoking weed we'd sure as hell be into coke right?

After brushing that guy off, we walked another 25 meters and were approached by another guy and were this time offered free entry into a strip-club, and then when we declined we were offered drugs. Another 25 meters walking and a third guy with the same offer.

This became a theme of the trip. It was impossible to walk down a busy street at night without being hassled many times to go to a tittie bar or buy drugs. It kind of reminds me of my travels to Egypt when in the tourist areas the local shopkeepers are like flies around shit hassling you to come into their shop. At first you are polite and just say “no thanks” and keep walking, then the more you walk and the more you are hassled, sometimes aggressively, you just end up point blank ignoring these bastards, which just annoys them and they shout or make rude remarks. In my opinion, if you are going to make a career out of standing on the street hassling people then be prepared to get ignored, a lot!

One late evening my brother had to use an ATM machine and 2 of these sketchy guys were in-front of us using the machine. One turns around and offers us drugs, “no thanks”, then a strip-club pass, “no thanks”, then a prostitute, “no thanks”, then asks if there's anything else we might need? I reckon if I needed anything shady at all this guy could probably get it for me, including a gun. His friend was talking ages using the ATM so I kept talking to him. I asked him where he was from and he said Nigeria, he came over to Prague to work. When I asked if he meant “to hustle” rather than “to work” he took great offence for some reason and turned round to help his friend use the ATM machine. Then I figured out what they were doing, they had a German bank card and were trying different PIN numbers at the machines. Clearly they had watched some unfortunate tourist enter his pin number earlier and then arranged for him to be pick-pocketed or robbed.

I've no idea why the police don't just arrest all these guys and deport them. When they are dealing drugs so openly they should be very easy to catch. It feels very much like organised crime is behind it, with bribes being given to the police, how else could such criminal activity occur so blatantly?

On our first night we ended up visiting KARLOVY LÁZNE which is the largest nightclub in Europe. It has 5 floors with different styles of music. The venue and music was solid but unfortunately it was a complete sausage-fest inside, and for that reason I rate it as a 1 star club [*---].

The next afternoon, on new years eve, we spent the afternoon doing a panoramic tour of Prague using Segways. This turned out to be a great idea. The Segways are really easy to ride. Neither myself or Dean fell off once, which is more than can be said for the French girl that was part of our tour group, who skidded on some ice and hilariously fell arse-over-tits on the ground. I was right behind her when it happened, her boyfriend and the tour guide looked shocked and worried, my brother just laughed, and I just stood there and said dead pan “In Soviet Russia, Segway rides YOU”. We got to see about 9 hours worth or walking around in about 3 hours worth of Segway riding, so it was well worthwhile.

That night my buddy Eric from Miami flew into town and we had a few drinks in the hotel, before heading out to celebrate new years eve. We hadn't planned what we were doing yet, so I suggested we start of with some cocktails and a meal at my favourite restaurant chain, Hard Rock Cafe - love those fajitas! We then drank in some bars until it was close to midnight, before drinking in the streets and enjoying the awesome fireworks. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

On our way back to the hotel, two prostitutes approached myself, my brother and my friend. They got very close to us like leaches and just kept saying “sex, sex”. I walked away pretty fast but Dean and Eric stood talking to them. I waited a minute for them but they wouldn't move and I was bursting for the toilet so I walked the final 100 meters to the hotel on my own. My brother didn't get back to the hotel for another half hour at which point he told me that one of the whores had stolen his wallet, they had gone looking for her and ended up fighting with some German guys. Sigh.

Unfortunately, lying in bed on new years day, my video card on my DELL XPS laptop died, which was a huge, huge beat. It's impossible to replace without getting a direct replacement from DELL shipped for something scandalous like $600, and since I'm travelling it's pretty tough to get something shipped to me anyway. I did go looking for replacement laptops that day, and went to the biggest IT store in the Czech republic. My only requirements for a laptop is that it has a 17" screen and 1920x1200 resolution, but they only 2 laptops with that spec, and the cheapest was $2500 and came with a Czech keyboard and OS. So I did not buy.

How do I get over a beat like that? A trip to Hooters of course :-) Delicious food and hot waitresses, a perfect combination. My buddy Eric was having the time of his life.

With no chance to play online poker, I decided to spend a night playing live poker. I went to the Banco casino. After registering at the front desk with the rudest little girl ever to work in a customer facing job, I headed upstairs and played in the only game that they had running, 25/50 crowns NLHE. The "poker room" was hilarious, everyone looked like they were a regular there, they all chatted with the dealers, played online poker on laptops while at the table, eating their dinner at the table etc. Including one massive guy who sat and ate a whole massive pizza like it was a snack.

The first hand I played I picked up JJ. One of the regs raised UTG, the whole table called, and I 3-bet in late position. Initial raiser called, I flopped top set on the flop, all the monies went in, and I hold against whatever hand he had. Why can't poker be this easy all the time? The guy I doubled up through was the same glutton that was omnomnoming the pizza at the table, and just looked like he spends his whole life sitting in the casino making a modest living playing marginally better poker than the other guys who frequent the joint.

Across the table was some guy 10-tabling MTTs on PokerStars on his laptop while he played about 2 hands per hour live. This guy was such a noob that he didn't even have his tables resized or anything, they were just all over the place, so tilting!

I ended up getting stacked later on and decided to call it a night. I got stacked by someone who worked there, who took off his tie, sat down to my left, started playing and within about 5 minutes stacked me in a cooler hand. So I wasn't exactly thrilled about that. I didn't see anything physically to suggest that I was set up, but having a dealer there that is dealing to his friend/colleague..... it just puts that suspicion in my mind. So I didn't reload, I just left. Better safe than sorry.

It wasn't exactly a warm and welcoming place for a foreigner to go play anyway, even though the game was definitely soft. I surely could have picked a better casino to play poker in. Oh well.

I left Prague on January 4th in search of some warmer weather, and took a flight to Beirut. Be sure to check out the upcoming trip report.

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