Friday, November 30, 2018

Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone:

Day 2 Without Running Water in the 21st Century.

I had just coughed, sneezed, hacked, hawked and spit my way through Day 5 of my Yearly Common Cold when the water went out in the building. I desperately wanted to wash every trace of rhinovirus from my fetid skin, so I turned on the shower. Drip, drip, fffsssssst. Nothing. Fuh. Kin. Ell. Suddenly the need to shower felt dire. My clammy skin started feeling itchier, and I imagined my rhinovirus reinvigorated and running rampant on my entire epidermis, teeming and multiplying and bashing into each other with tiny, infectious horns.

The wife had just called on her way home from work and she was hungry. I never know if she's going to come home hungry or grab something on the way home. Such is the mystery of my life. But I do know this: if She Who Must Be Obeyed gets hungry, She gets MEAN. So I managed to drizzle leftover water from the morning coffee pot into a cooking pot, add rice, and begin the boiling process. Fortunately I had some frozen, microwaveable Iceland Indian curries in the freezer, or I don't know what the fuck I would have done.

The Long Line For Water 

Nothing screams communism like a long line waiting for allotments of rare commodities. When a water pipe bursts somewhere down the road at 9 pm on a subzero night, the substance that covers two thirds of the Earth suddenly becomes as rare as a brain in a Republican White House. “Get some containers to fill with water! We're going out to get fresh drinking water!” She commanded. Apparently, She had done this before. We were not the only ones without water. The entire block was down at the end of the street gathered around a tanker truck with the words PITNÁ VODA (drinking water) painted on the side. We gathered a bunch of plastic containers and proceeded out into the cold, after a brief debate on whether or not the containers were clean. I saw drops of stagnant water on the bottom and squelched.

“I don't know...this doesn't look clean. Could be old bacteria,” squeaked my germ-addled brain.

“This ain't MEXICO! Let's go!” She prodded. No, I thought, it's Praha-Libeň, the rusty-dusty, moldy-oldy industrial suburb. What could be cleaner?

So we left. Halfway out the door she whirled around on me: “Go back and get a bucket!” She ordered. “Why?” I questioned, “Duh! Toilet!” She barked. Oh yeah. Even the toilets won't flush. How do people live like this? We dropped our plastic payload on the wet cobblestones and waited. There were people milling about the water tanker in desperate clusters. How can people in a European city run out of water in the 21st century? It was like we were suddenly thrust into an African village, with a UN aid truck dispensing water in the sub-Saharan desert. Only we were much colder. And much whiter. A woman in front of me fumbled with tiny glass jars until one of them hit the ground in an explosion of shards. She immediately started picking up the pieces of glass with her bare hands. I stifled the warning forming on my tongue. Maybe I wanted to see blood running on the cobblestones; the usual arcane thoughts crossing the mind of a bio-bag made up of flesh and 98% water.

My turn to fumble. There were two taps on the truck to serve about 20 or so people. The line was growing, but my turn came. I was trying to bend over and stand up the 5-liter plastic drinking water container while maneuvering the large black hose from the truck into position. I needed another hand. Suddenly the valve turned above me and the precious, life-giving, waste-removing water began to flow. All over my shoes and up my legs. I yelped and wrestled the hose into the container. I looked up and saw a grinning Czech man with his helpful hand on the water valve. The passive-aggressive fuck. Děkuji! I thanked him, pronouncing it more like dickweed. The wife asked the water truck driver about the situation and returned with the news: no water until the next morning. Maybe. He couldn't be sure. He was just the driver.

A Rude Awakening

8 am this morning, pounding and thumping on my ceiling. Great. Some more of that ubiquitous renovation that begins exactly at 8 am (7 am in East Berlin), continues for 30 minutes, then stops. I like to call it the Communist Rooster, the swaggering, proletarian cock which crows to announce the beginning of the dark new day, and the bane of my existence as a freelancer who craves sleep.

I threw the sheets off and splashed the drinking water from the 5-liter container into the coffee pot. The water was still off. After my coffee I ventured into the water closet to check on the toilet situation. The wife had already left to work before I woke up, and I wondered if she had any trouble hoisting that water bucket over the toilet to flush it in the morning. I opened the WC door. Mother of all creatures, great and small! It was like someone had slaughtered a water buffalo in there. Water all over the floor, pieces of TP everywhere, bucket half empty. I sympathize with you ladies. Y'all have to wrap your arms in TP every time y'all go to the loo. And hoisting a heavy bucket? Motherfuckit. I mopped up a bit and took my turn.

Libeň La Vida Loca

The drinking water should last for a few more hours, and the toilet bucket for one more flush. Before I went to bed, I managed to find a package of wet wipes in the bathroom, and that was my 'shower.' Since those little soapy baby wipes are about the size of a 20 dollar bill, and I am 6 foot five, 280 pounds, I had to use half the package just to clean my priority regions.

Day 2 of no running water, piles of dishes in the sink, wads of used baby wipes on the bathroom floor, mop, bucket, and a dead water buffalo in the WC. Yes, folks, we are indeed Libeň La Vida Loca over here. And paying cheaper rent always has its price. I just found out that the water won't be repaired until late in the afternoon. There's only one thing for me to do in these type of apocalyptic scenarios: go to the pub for pivo and smažený sýr.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

We Don't Need No Stinking Bridges!

Cruising On 7 Prague Ferry Boats on the Vltava River

A thousand bursts of sunlight reflect off the Vltava's waves like paparazzi flashes amid the smooth gliding of swan starlets. I'm on the river with a beer in my hand and I'm reminded of my river hometown. There, millionaire douchebags sail up to the overpriced river bars. Here in Prague, a solitary ferry boat chugs up to the landing and I climb aboard.

There are 17 bridges spanning the Vltava River in Prague, but other than Chuck (Charles Bridge to the tourists), bridges are like. So boring. Fortunately, Prague also runs ferry boats across the river all throughout the city for those who don't feel like braving the tourist hordes on the Charles Bridge or risking their lives on the many decrepit and crumbling bridges in Prague.

I've lived in Prague off and on for more than 10 years and I'd never even heard of the river ferries. They don't seem to be mentioned in any guidebooks I've ever read, nor do they strive to be noticed in any way at all. Since I spend too much time on my pc and rarely get out like I used to, I decided to ride all 7 ferries in Prague over the last month. Because that's how I roll. Um, float.

So don your most ridiculous sailing attire, get your map app humming, and look for the word přívoz. Don't worry, there's also a nice blue square icon with a white slash through it. This is apparently the symbol for ferry.

P7: Pražská tržnice - Rohanský ostrov: Maiden Voyage

Prague river ferries are part of the Prague Integrated Transport (PIT). The acronym is much better in Czech. The same 32 CZK tram/metro/bus ticket you normally use works on the ferries. If you have a month ticket or daily pass, you can also use the ferries for free. If you don't, just buy a normal ticket on the boat. On certain ferries, the ride is free. You can also take your bike, your kids, your dog and your baggage. But don't do that shit, you selfish fuck. Choose only one of those things. My wide body needs to sit somewhere.

While waiting for the ferry to arrive at the dock, I wondered how a Prague ferryman would behave. Prague transport operators run the gamut from screaming mulletheads (buses) to homicidal maniacs (trams). I was half expecting either a morose Stygian ferryman or a pleasantly-soused rummy. I was surprised to find a jovial man with a blue-and-white striped shirt, 80s shades and beard stubble. He pointed to the rear of the small boat to a white, fake leather couch seat. He threw the stick forward and my wide ass plunked down on the seat. Zappa and Clapton songs cranked out of a solitary speaker as the cool breeze whipped off of the water. I almost expected to be offered a Mojito.

The P7 ferry crosses over to Karlín, with a third mystery stop at Štvanice Island. I have no idea how to get there. That's ok. There's not much there. Instead, disembark and carry out your orders on Rohanský Ostrov. Walk up the steps and veer to the right. Walk a few minutes until you arrive at a bunch of concrete slabs crafted into benches. Sidle up to the bar shack and order a craft beer. Another shack serves burgers and fries. Swing your head from left to right. If the coast is clear of hipsters, sip your beer and munch your burger in peace and relax. There are also plenty of places for the chilluns to run and swing around the place.

P1: Sedlec - Zámky and P2: Podhoří - V Podbabě

The farthest ferry boat trip from Central Prague is also the most fun: P1 from Sedlec to Zámky. The fastest way to Sedlec is an hourly train running from Nádraží Libeň to Sedlec. The trip only takes 10-15 minutes to cross the entire city. Screw trams and the Metro. That shit takes 40 minutes. Hop on the Sedlec train at Nádraží Holešovice as well, or start at Nádraží Libeň if you happen to be Libeň la vida loca like me. The best part is that both the train and ferry are included in your PIT ticket.

A brief walk from the Sedlec station down to the ferry landing affords an idyllic view of country life just outside of the city. While you wait for the ferry, you can already see people on the opposite shore biking, rollerblading, and sitting drinking beer in a little beer garden. You may begin salivating while dreaming of the tasty beer awaiting your river crossing.

Once on the opposite shore (Zámky), you are immediately greeted by a beer shack serving the Golden Stuff of Life in a nice garden setting. You can also grab a snack there or visit a nearby dog shelter. Or you can just take my advice and walk down the bike/blade/foot path along the river back in the direction of Prague. It's only a couple of km's back to another ferry port, with 3 or 4 nice little shacky-wackies along the way for you to stop in and slake your thirst and fill your belly with junk food, all with a nice river view. And if you thought I was just in this for the short boat ride and the walk, you're on the wrong page, Bubba.

Stop at U Sluníčka to cop a squat on a nice terrace with a radio playing Czech country music. The friendly old timer serves two kinds of beer: country AND western. A short walk past U Sluníčka is a smaller shack named Modrá Kotva, which sells ice cream and beer. There is also a little kiddie playground. Now that your beer tank is filled, you're ready for the longer part of the walk. Keep on dodging those cyclists and bladers until you round the bend in the river to the last two stops on the tour. Hit up Stánek u Vody for a great variety of beer, homemade sodas and grilled snacks. They've got a barrel grill with a smokestack on it, yo. And on the hot days of summer, a cool mist from an elevated water hose helps you chill. You can also bounce yer chilluns on a trampoline to keep them away from your beer. Kids have a collective genetic memory stored from medieval times when the water was so bad that they gave beer to chilluns to keep them from dying of thirst. That's why they keep trying to steal your beer to this day. You're welcome.

If you still need to stop for a beer again before you leave (and I would be personally disappointed if you didn't), yet another beer garden awaits a few steps down the path. Kolonial serves the popular Únětické pivo in several varieties, along with food, like my personal favorite gut buster: Smažený fucking sýr. Oh yeah. After your beer and sýr, board the P2 at the Podhoří ferry landing nearby and take it back across the river to V Podbabě. A short bus ride later and you're at Podbaba, where you can take a train or a tram home.

P5: Císařská louka - Výtoň - Náplavka Smíchov

This ferry line gives you more bang for the buck. Three different ferry landings deliver a longer ride than most of the other ferries. Start from Výtoň tram stop, walk down Náplavka toward the rail bridge crossing the river. Right below the bridge is the ferry landing. Depending on which ferry you catch, you'll either be ferried to the opposite side of the river (Náplavka Smíchov) or Císařská louka, a long island with an amazing view of Vyšehrad Castle on its rocky perch. There's also a shack renting boats and selling beer.

The ferry to Náplavka Smíchov is best for taking in the dual farmer's markets operating on opposite sides of the Vltava on Saturdays. It's 90% overpriced hipster bollox and vegan bait, but the beer is tasty. Also, the P5 is one of the only free ferries on the river. Which means it delivers more bang for no buck.

P3: Lihovar - Veslařský ostrov

Another ferry ride with a decent duration is the P3. Most of the ferries plow the river in a beeline for the opposite shore, but this one navigates a diagonal course between Lihovar and Veslařský ostrov, which lets you enjoy the cool river breeze and the hypnotic hum of the motor even longer. It's not the most popular ferry route, so you might even get to ride alone and pretend you are some kind of low rent gangsta with his own boat and captain. Hey, my delusions have no grandeur. Once you reach the island, there's really not much to do there but walk across a bridge to the shore and board a botel moored on the Vltava. That way you can still get your beer/boat combo to make the trip worth it. After a pleasant buzz, I walked back across the bridge to the island and took the ferry back to Lihovar and the tram stop nearby.

P6: Lahovičky - Nádraží Modřany: Goatpocalypse Now!

The P6 ferry drops you off on a desolate shore; scrub brush and tall grass and nothing else. Resist the urge to go straight ahead down the dirt path. That leads to absolutely nothing but a highway you can't cross. Trust me. I walked that bastard in search of a microbrewery called Kail. Never got there. Veer to the right immediately upon leaving the ferry and walk down the river path for several minutes until you see signs of civilization. Here I use the word 'civilization' very loosely. You'll come upon a very bizarre scene: dozens of dilapidated campers, vans, caravans, and old trucks in a junkyard setting. And goats. Dozens of goats staring at you with those evil little devil eyes.

Fortunately there's a beer shack (Stánek u Alexe a Irči) in the middle of the goat apocalypse. After you step over the little clusters of goatshit, have a seat on some very worn plastic furniture and sip your beer. Hey! Look at that! It's Kail beer. Sipping a microbrew in the middle of a herd of goats has got to be one of the most bizarre things I have ever done. This just proves that Czechs will put a beer tap ANYWHERE. But don't you worry about those goats. By this time they'll be back to happily chewing on caravan furniture and bleating merrily. Too bad they didn't serve Kozel beer.

P8: Troja - Císařský ostrov

Last and certainly least, the P8 ferry is just a replacement for the collapsed bike/foot bridge that used to connect the island to Troja. There is nothing to do on that little island except step over heaping mounds of horse doovers and dog piles from the stables and kennels. You can safely skip this ferry unless you enjoy all dogs and horses and no beer. And with that, my ferry guide to Prague is complete.

Waitaminit, Big Sir! You said 7 ferries and I see P8!

You can count. I'm so proud of you! You may have also noticed that I omitted P4. Not because I enjoy messing with you (though it's tempting), but because P4 is so far out of Prague that it hardly seems worth the trip. Also, only one leg of the ferry journey is connected with Prague public transit. You could easily get sucked into sailing out of Prague for 150 crowns down the Beroun River toward Karlstejn...which sounds pretty good actually. But it's not in the scope of this particular blog post. Maybe next time...

This Indian Summer (Babí léto, or granny summer in CZ) is done for, but there are a few sunny days left. You've got until the end of October to get yer butt out there, take these ferries, and enjoy those beer shacks. The ferries stop running and the shacks slam shut (many are open only on weekends now). Then there's nothing left to do but go home and burrow in for the long winter and dream of Spring.