My neighbour Simon Callow is currently appearing in ‘A Christmas Carol’, which is quite alarming as I see him heading off to the theatre in the evenings in character. So it’s hardly surprising that I’ve been feeling a bit Scrooge-ish about Christmas in London this year, which was the reason for heading to the Czech Republic – they do Christmas very well. They’re also famous for the outstanding quality of their Christmas tree ornaments.
It was hitting minus ten degrees, so regular bouts of eating were required, although I avoided one menu’s main dish, described as ‘Flatulent Pork’, and went for reindeer and dumplings, here, in a restaurant situated in a belfry, sitting underneath a gigantic bell forged in 1503; the waiters obligingly cleared the floor above to let us ring it. Favourite snacks included pig knee, rolled toffee-vanilla bread cooked over coals in spirals and plenty of hot spiced wine.
Up at Prague’s immense dominating castle, even the forbidding soldiers were softened by Christmas trees. I caught this one suspiciously eyeing the tree baubles as if he was about to shoot them.
After the hot chocolate in the opera house cafe (an understated word for a venue with a palm court orchestra, groaning cake trolleys and a dozen huge chandeliers) we emerged to find the weekend’s missing ingredient – heavily falling snow. You tend to forget this was also the home of Alfonse Mucha and some stunning art deco hotels – the last time I came here I saw too many museums, which can deaden one’s view of a city. This time we tried to avoid the tourist kettling spots, especially the red light area that attracts drunk stag parties.
If you go there and ‘do’ Kafka, avoid the exposition, which consists of Wikipedia grabs and an out-of-track VHS presentation, and visit the Kafka Museum. I got a bit distracted and failed to take many shop windows this time – there were plenty of cluttered, baroque nativity scenes, although I quite like this busy little bookshop that also sold a nice line in boxed manager sets.
Having put some real Christmas in my system, I can now finish ‘Bryant & May In The Field’, a Christmas short story for the Crime Writers Association Diamond Jubilee. Back in London, it’s clear and comparatively summery at +9 degrees. I’ll be here through the season, but back in Barcelona for New Year’s Eve.