Travel Diary: Prague, Pivo, and Pork

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The Travel Diary is a retrospective blog about our 3-month long wedding trip in 2003. We’re sharing stories about our honeymoon across 11 countries, including accommodation details, recipes, travel stories, and the story of how 2 people started a lifelong adventure together.

Prague - Praha Castle

This 3-month long trip to Europe was really my first big travel adventure. I’d been around Canada and a bit of the United States before – which is quite easy when you live so close to the border, as many Canadians do. Now that we were ready to step out of Amsterdam and into Central Europe (to Prague, Czech Republic, actually) where we would be taking more trains & busses instead of hopping countries by plane, the adventure was becoming more real.

We arrived in Prague (Praha) in the early evening, navigated the traveler-friendly metro system through the city, and got to our hostel. It was a university dorm that had been shut down some years ago, and we felt like the only people in the entire complex. The halls echoed as we went down the hall to the shared bathroom and shower. Our room was spartan – two tiny beds on either side of the 8 x 10 room. It was cheap, it was close to the metro, and apart from the fact that we were certain the place was haunted, we had a very relaxing stay. Prague is full of places like this, especially outside the main rings of the city centre.

Prague - Charles Bridge

The following day we went in to the heart of Prague, visiting the Old Town Square, seeing the absolutely stunning Astrological Clock on the Old Town Hall, and burning through our memory cards with photos of the gothic churches, the scenery and people along the Charles Bridge overlooking the Vltava River, and of course the imposing and picturesque Prague Castle.

Prague Clock

That evening, I made a huge mistake.

Being out on your feet in a city like Prague all day can make you very hungry.

Travellers have long experienced the kind of hunger that only comes from taking tens of thousands of steps each day, climbing bell towers, ramparts, and temple hills. When the hunger gets you, it’s the perfect time to experience some local cuisine! …Right?
We chose a little restaurant where we had stopped for a beer previously. Beer (pivo) is often cheaper than water in many countries, and in Czech you will find some of the best (and oldest) beer producers in the world. When we stopped in previously, we had a few pints and a cheese plate, which didn’t cost much. We had unknowingly left such a large tip for the waiter that when we returned to the restaurant for dinner, he treated us like family (and refused another tip at the end of the evening). We took this as a great sign.

Hoping to try some local fare, Stephen ordered roasted rabbit in a fragrant peppercorn sauce, with local veg and rice on the side. It looked amazing, and exactly like it was described in the menu.

Before we go on, I must point out that ordering food in other countries is not as simple as it is at home. Some places – like Czech, for instance – often display the weight of the food you are ordering where you would normally expect to see a price. For example, when I ordered my “roasted pork with side vegetables”, I glanced at the numbers in the column on the right hand side of the menu, assumed I was paying a certain amount of money for this dish, and thought – well, it looks like a lot in Czech Krona, but that’s not really much in Canadian dollars, so why not? When I smiled and pointed at the item I wanted, stumbling in Czech to say “I’d like this, please”, the waiter looked at me, puzzled. He said something that I couldn’t quite catch, but luckily I surmised that he was concerned I couldn’t eat it all. I assured him that I was very hungry.

My first clue that I had made a mistake was when they brought to the table a large wooden cutting board, a carving knife, and a separate plate of horseradish, sauerkraut, and pickled carrots. Stephen glanced up from his delicate plate of rabbit, slowly put down his fork, and whispered, “What have you done?”

Two – not one, but two – waiters came out of the swinging kitchen doors with a large black roasting pan in their hands. They placed the massive cauldron down on the table with an impressive thud, both smiling proudly at what was clearly the restaurant’s feature menu item.

It was an entire leg of pork. Not a hock, not a knuckle – a full leg, filling the pan in which it had been presented in front of my wide eyes. It sizzled and crackled in it’s roasting pan, almost daring me to eat it. I had ordered a dish intended for a table full of people. This being my first language-barrier-induced-travel-mishap, I was determined to retain my dignity. I picked up my knife and fork, and that night in Prague, to the amazement of the people around me, I ate for Canada.

(Author’s Note: It being 2003, we didn’t do things like take pictures of our food just yet. The limited Gb’s we had to take 3 months worth of pictures with were most certainly not wasted on the one picture that I really wish I had to share with you right now. The image of the waiters giggling behind me as I sat in front of a massive leg of pork with fear in my eyes.)

I did my best. I took small bites, chewed well, and didn’t waste too much stomach space on the sauerkraut, although it went wonderfully with the sweet & salty pork. After about 45 minutes I was beginning to sweat a slightly bacon-flavoured liquid, and I was getting dizzy. Stephen just laughed in between delicate, reasonable bites of his dish, while I sat like a viking in a tavern, carving up a leg of fire-roasted beast with a knife that looked like it had seen – and defeated – fools like me before.

Just when I thought I had done a great job, attempting to finish the massive amount of food I had mistakenly ordered, one of my friendly (if not somewhat bewildered) waiters appeared with a large set of tongs and what looked like a pitchfork. He reached over the table, and flipped over my leg of pork, revealing a completely untouched side, and crushing any hope I had of finishing my dinner like a polite guest.

It was over.

By the time Stephen had rolled me off the metro and back into our hostel room, I was convinced that I had gone beyond all medically safe levels of pork consumption. I was becoming pork itself.

A night of meat-sweats and dreams of spit roasting in a medieval brick oven lead to the worst food hangover I have ever experienced. My sheets smelled like a BBQ pit. I didn’t want to look at food for at least 24 hours after that, although beer seemed to be a fine meal replacement while I recovered. We now refer to waking up in a pool of your own gravy as a “pork nap”.

The lesson here, folks? Be clear, ask more questions, learn more about the language, and above all – laugh at yourself when things like this happen, because they will (Author’s Note: coming soon – ‘the chicken nap’ and ‘the nine dollar slice’). Travel is an often unpredictable adventure, and that’s why Stephen and I thought traveling together would be such a great wedding ritual. It symbolizes everything we wanted our marriage to be about – adventure, curiosity, overcoming adversity, trust, love, laughter, and an absence of fear with every step forward.

Next up: We continue on to

The Bone Church!

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