Prague – Czech Republic and my favourite city

I think one of my earliest memories of “The News and Politics” involves the uprising in Prague and tanks in Wencelas Square, but what I didn’t expect was to visit this most beautiful of cities.  We first visited Prague in October 1991 as part of the development of a three-way research collaboration with Russia, The Czech republic and The UK.  It rained really heavily and all I remember was rushing across town in what seemed a maze of streets to a wonderful cheap bar, where we spent all afternoon drinking and eating with a Russian colleague.  The bill came to £10, which made me reaslise this city was going to something special for me, haha!

The funding for the collaboration with The Czech Republic was successful, as were several other grants, and I was able to visit Prague almost every year between 1991 and 2009.  I fell in love with this city and I must remember I am writing a Blog and not a book!  So, where do I start?  I suppose my first thing must be to thank everyone who I met and who made my viisits so pleasent.  I better apologise to all those who attended my seminars and didn’t quite follow my Geordie accent, or my arm waving approach to lecturing!  If you recognise yourself in the picture thanks for attending!

The city of Prague came through the second world war almost unscathed, despite an American bombing campaign and has something in common with Paris in that respect; although, I think it is more beautiful!  It sits on the Vltava river, which provides a beautiful centrepiece for the city, with the castle sitting at the top of the hill over-looking the whole of the city.  In turn, the centrepiece to the river is Charles Bridge, which dates back to the 14th Century and is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever walked across.  However, this also provides a rapid introoduction to the biggest problem that Prague faces – its own popularity!  Charles Bridge is always a river of tourists, with local artists and sovenier sellers lining the edges of the bridge, it has lost some of its early appeal during that first visit in 1991.  But every visitor must stroll across Charles Bridge (early in the morning is a good idea) and into Malá Strana (“the Lesser Quarter”), which is full of bars and good restaurants.  A challenge is to find the restaurant with two hearts on the door, worth a visit for good Czech food if it is still there – they got badly damaged during the floods of 2002, but I believe it is still there.  Sadly the bar we ate in during our first visit has long disappeared, but there are so many other places to visit for good food.  My own preference is to try some the hospodas as these simple bar/restaurants are much more authentic.  The Institute, where I gave my seminars, is lucky enough to have two close by (the “Green House” and “The Black Swan”), but in the city centre near the Old Town Square there is “Futball”, which serves good food and genuine Czech cuisine.

I remember the first few times we walked around the city we soon became aware that an important part of “seeing” Prague is to look up at the buildings, the architecture is always magnificent, but also varied and is also accompanied by beautiful paintings and illustrations.  Hidden away from the city across one of the bridges near the island is one of the most beautiful café/restaurants, which is typical of the type of architecture that is common in Prague.

I could write about so many places around the city, but this will become boring eventually, so, instead a few thoughts about what makes the city special for me (apart from the architecture).  I think the first point is that you can sit in The Old Time Square (either at a bar, or just around the statue) and people watch – the city is always busy, there are jazz bands coming and going, or just the variety in people from all nations.  I have spent many a day sketching out a scientific paper while also people watching!  Tram hoping is one of my favourite ways to see a city and Prague is very good for this.  You can buy a ticket that lasts all week, which allows travel throughout the city and just swap from tram to tram.  You can occasionally jump off to visit the castle or some other passing landmark, but if you do this outside of the rush hour you really get a feel for the Hotel Europalayout of the city.  Live music is the other thing I really like in Prague – usually this means visits to various jazz clubs, but also other types of music are played all over the city.  One example I liked from early visits was The Hotel Europa, which has a very Bohemian bar/restaurant at the front entrance, and we used to sit listening to a violin and piano entertaining the restaurant clientele – very pleasant!

If you have never been to Prague you must go, avoid the weekend if you don’t like crowds and hen/batchelor-parties, but visit the traditional Czech bars and restaurants.

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The Sebo Automatic X1.1 – a new vacuum cleaner

For the past few years we have had a Panasonic vacuum cleaner (bagged upright, white, 1700w), which was reasonable, light, but a little top-heavy.  Earlier this year the plastic hook, onto which the hose attached, broke off and was irrepairable.  Last weekend, whilst vacuum cleaning, there was a large click from the Panasonic, a lot of noise and a burning smell: the device for locking the machine into an upright position had broken (and disappeared) renedering the vacuum cleaner unusable!

We did a lot of research over the weekend for a replacement and eventually, went for the Sebo automatic X1.1, based on reviews indicating good reliability and the ease of replacing the parts (there are several videos on Youtube showing how to do this).  The next question was then a quick delivery, as we needed the cleaner to do the housework – the Panasonic no longer looked usable!  Surprisingly, well at least to me, the Co-op offered next day delivery and the cheapest price, at just under £200 (free delivery).  We ordered it very early Wednesday morning (near 1am).  The machine arrived promptly, as they said it would, on Thursday around noon and I had it assembled and ready to use within 15 mins!  Very impressive!

When I opened the box containing this machine, it was immediately  clear how easy this would be to repair, should the need arise, as all of the parts were separate, but easy to assemble, with the only tricky action being locating the hose into the tube that is the main attachment feature.  Fitting the bag is easy and I like the “lid for the bag” feature, which means the dust won’t leak out when disposing of it.  A spare bag was provided and one already fitted, but I checked how to fit the bag just to make sure I knew how to do it.

So, what about it in use?  Well, the most noticeable thing, which was detailed in most of the reviews, is that it is quite heavy, but the weight distribution is interesting, with the Sebo being very bottom heavy.  This makes it easy to vacuum a floor, but less easy to manipulate on a staircase.  The Sebo, actually, seems to pull itself forward, which makes cleaning on a carpet very easy.  It also automatically adjusts the beater bar and height to match the carpet pile, which is strange at first as a light flashes to indicate it moving up or down and then the height changes noticeably.  There is a lot less heat output from the Sebo in comparison to the Panasonic, and the filters limit dust.  The noise level is very low and seems quiet in comparison – the Sebo noise does change in pitch when in use, but this is not a problem in my view.  The attachment hose sits to the right of the handle and can be easily lifted out and used while the machine is still set for vacuuming the floor, this is probably the best feature of the machine, as it is easy to clean around objects and into corners, especially on the stairs.  Whereas, the Panasonic required the beater bar to be switched off and using the attachments was a separate exercise.  The fact that the Sebo is bottom heavy also means using the attachment is not likely to lead to the cleaner falling over (a common problem with the Panasonic).  When using the attachments, perhaps the only major drawback is the lack of supplied tools, there is a narrow tube for cleaning down the sides of chairs and a upholstery cleaner, but that is all and I miss a brush.  However, various tools can be purchased if required and a number of accessories are available, another attractive feature.

Over all opinion is that it is a good vacuum cleaner, which is rather heavy, but that is not a major problem.

Visit to York

We spent a few days (Thursday to Monday) in York over the weekend for the engagement party of our eldest granddaughter.  I love this city for many reasons, but most of all because of the fantastic history wrapped up in the place.  If you plan a visit to York, I always recommend spring as the hills on which the city wall sits are covered in daffodils, which is very pretty if the sun shines.We travelled up there using Cross Country trains as this is easier for us than going across London – Fareham to Winchester, then Winchester to York.  The journey up was generally OK; although, the carriage was a little cold (more about that later), but everything ran on time and we were early enough to have a quick beer in the buffet at York station – The Coopers – which sells very good real ales and is reasonably comfortable for a station buffet!  Then we took the No. 4 bus to The Marriott Hotel (can you tell we are retired and get free travel?), which got us there in about 10 minutes and leaves from opposite the Station exit – very convenient.
The first evening we ate at The Marriott Hotel and we were a little disappointed by the meal and especially the cost, but it was convenient.  Despite this the Marriott is a very nice hotel and we got an upgrade to a “Grandstand View” room (left with the gardens in the foreground and the racecourse in the distance), which was really comfortable with a huge bed (the less said the better).  The Hotel also has a swimming pool, a beauty center and a gym, but we did not partake in these!
Day two (Friday) was mostly spent shopping, but we didn’t get too far – Marks and Spencer and Fenwick’s, so not too much to report there.
However, we did “find ourselves” outside my favourite pub (strange that) – The Three Tuns – this is a really old pub (229 years of serving customers), but is also well on the tourist map and was busy.  The beer is excellent (and included some homemade mulled cider, for those who like cider – not me) and the food is good.  We only stayed for one pint, but I always like the atmosphere in there, however, the seats are not the most comfortable.
That evening we went to a lovely little restaurant in Goodramgate – The Lime House – where we had some really tasty food, which was both well presented and tasted wonderful (I had venison cutlets).  perhaps the only problem with this restaurant is it is small and we got stuck near the entrance, which was a little drafty as some people don’t seem to know how to shut a door!  but the place is worth a visit and I thoroughly recommend it.  We finished the evening with a few beers in The Cross Keys, at the top of Goodramgate, which is part of a chain of pubs and was very comfortable, it looked fairly newly fitted out, and served a nice pint of Hobgoblin.
Day 3 was the day of the engagement party (at a little “town pub” near Acomb – The Green Tree – which is OK, but nothing too special), so we spent the day shopping again.  The highlights were a little market display in a marquee at the top of Parliament Street, which was selling goods that were “handmade in yorkshire” and we bought a couple fo things.  I also enjoyed a chat with a young lady who was making and selling pewter goods (we discussed acid-based etching!), but I didn’t buy anything (tut tut).  Then Brown’s departmental store and finally a beer in The Graduate, because we could get free WiFi in there (sad).
Sunday is always a funny sort of day, but we discovered most, if not all, of the shops were open in York, which meant another round of browsing the shops.  I guess what I noticed most is that there are a lot of shops in a short distance and the walk up Stonegate, with a slight detour to take in the breathtaking view of York Minster, along Low Petersgate with its multitude of little shops, then down The Shambles just for the beauty of the street (still too many tourists, including us!) and then a couple of beers in York’s most haunted pub – The Golden Fleece – which is also a really nice little pub with some good beers.
If you recreate that little walk for yourselves, I recommend following it up with a walk around the walls of York, some breathtaking views are possible, there is also a lovely park near the Lendal Bridge (on the left when going up toward The Minster) and a number of places to visit as you travel around the city walls.
Our final day was spent packing and then travelling back on the train.  Unfortunately, the air conditioning in our carriage was ridiculously cold and we shivered most of the way home!
So, my final comment – visit York, take a few days to do it and try to make it in Spring to see the slopes at the walls covered with daffodils.  It really is a beautiful city and has lots of history, lots of good restaurants and far too many good pubs!

Shopping

I am off to do some shopping, just compiling a list  of things to get.  This shop is fresh fruit and vegetables – part of my diet to control my diabetes.  I eat a fresh fruit salad everyday, which is my only sugar intake (apart from starch in bread and potatoes).  I should say this is working and my sugar level remains static at 6.5 mMol/L

Despite the comedy in the picture, I think men are quite good shoppers and this is because the exercise tends to be very focussed.  This was well illustrated last time I went shopping with my wife (in West Quays, Southampton) – I managed to buy a pair of black shoes within about 40 mins of starting to shop and although I could’t find any shorts that I wanted, at least we got the main item.  However, my wife spent most of the next afternoon looking for a particular colour of blouse or top, but without success!

I must say though that we both prefer online shopping and absolutely hate the idea of shopping in a supermarket.  My last visit to Lidl was totally a waste of my time as I couldn’t find anything and many supermarkets are so large that finding one or two specific items can be a nightmare.  My last search of a supermarket was for some dusting chocolate for cappuccino, but I couldn’t find any, while online I  found a supplier who sent the item within two days of my search!

Long live online shopping!