Panenka scarves is one Canadian’s attempt to document his appreciation of the obvious and not-so-obvious experiences of a life in the Czech Republic. For previous Panenkas, click here.
It was an early Wednesday morning when I started to write about today’s Czech thing. Actually, I should admit that it’s not entirely a Czech thing, but rather a Prague thing.
At about 8:30 in the morning I went for a coffee at Café Slavia, something that had been on my to-do list for a good six months. This is one of the most well-known cafés in the entire city and there’s good reason for that. It’s in a fantastic location – across the street from the National Theatre – and has an amazing view of the Vltava River and Prague Castle. That is if you time it right.
Actually, that’s one of the reasons it took me so long to get here. If you wait too long, the tourists will snap up all the window-side tables in a flash and the expensive coffee won’t be worth your time. But today was perfect; the city wasn’t up yet.
So why exactly is this place so famous? Well, for starters it’s on one of the busiest street corners in the city. As I mentioned, it also has that unbeatable view. Being so close to the theatre, it’s been a popular hangout for Czech playwrights, actors, artists, intellectuals, and tourists alike for more than a hundred and twenty years. One look at the walls show this – they’re lined with photos of all the famous faces that have sat down at these tables. Though the only two I could recognize were 90s Hillary Clinton and Václav Havel.
Last Wednesday, during this same break, I had a coffee at McDonald’s. Suffice it to say, this week was much classier. The atmosphere was a lot more enjoyable – less high school-ey, more laid back – though I sure could’ve gone for a hash brown. You can take the kid out of Hamilton …
My table had a perfect view of the castle. The fall foliage was starting to creep up Petřín Hill, people streamed past my window, and trams packed with commuters flew by. It’s a pleasant seat so early in the morning. It weeds out a lot of the action that would be inside the café otherwise and fills the room with a quiet peace that you can tell will be shattered within an hour or so.
The only other person in my vicinity was a man who looked like he could’ve been an old actor (though I’d never know) sitting alone, milking a coffee, reading the paper, looking content, and just doing it right. An old oil painting of a chap talking to a green apparition hung behind him. It’s a comfortable environment when the café is so quiet.
That’s the nice thing about starting the day so early, as I do on Wednesday. I’m well into it by the time others, like those commuters filing past my window, are just beginning theirs. Because of this, I found myself at Slavia – enjoying my second coffee of the still-young day and thinking about all the great minds that have sat there, likely doing the exact same thing, over the last 100 odd years. I won’t lie. It gave me a bit of a nerd boner.