Tuesday, April 05, 2022

A Famous Prague Lunch Guest and a Beer Bath

Our last day in Prague had arrived and we hit it hard.

We checked out of the hotel but luckily could leave our bags behind.

I finally got a taste of the Easter market gingerbread I'd been seeing sold all over the place.

Some more coney donuts happened.

Kotva Department Store's big black brutalist architecture caught my eye yesterday on the food tour, so when we had a little extra time to explore today that was the first thing that came to mind. 

We went to a supermarket that also happened to house the Museum of Communism. We had to check that out too!


We tried the Czech cola Kofola. According to Wikipedia, "Kofo syrup, the main ingredient of Kofola, consists of 14 herbal and fruit ingredients (such as extracts from apple, cherry, currant, or herbal aroma)".

The museum really balanced out all of the capitalism I did in the downstairs supermarket.

The Birth of Czechoslovakia

Czechoslovakia was established as an independent state in 1918 on territory that had previously been part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. The founding of Czechoslovakia was preceded by decades of struggle for political autonomy and the eventual history of World War I; there is also no question that assistance from Woodrow Wilson and the USA was instrumental. The transfer of power occurred peacefully on October 28, 1918. Karel Kramar became Prime Minister and Tomas Garrgue Masaryk President. Czechoslovakia acquired 21 percent of the entire territory of the Empire, 25 percent of its population, and a strong economic base.

Emperor Maria Theresa once proclaimed that without the Czech lands, all that would be left of the Empire would be the poor Austrian Archduchy. The new country was home to many industrial giants who influenced technological progress on a global scale. For example, there was the Skoda Works in Plzen, a kind of European General Motors, which supplied piping for the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant and for the sluices of the Suez Canal.

When the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC) was established in 1921, it was one of the largest Communist parties in the world; its popularity was boosted by the poor living and working conditions of the workers, who, with a weekly wage of 12 crowns, hovered just above the poverty line.


In keeping with the wishes of the Communists, on October 28, 1945 decrees nationalizing all banks, insurance companies, strategic industrial concerns, mines, and other factories with between 150 and 500 employees were issued. Thus, 75 percent of industry was now in state hands. In 1946 the film industry was nationalized as well. Some companies were confiscated outright without compensation, while owners of others were compensated.

For Czechoslovak Communists, The Soviet Union served as an ideal model and was to be emulated in all ways possible. Things even went so far in the 1950s that the Communists replaced Baby Jesus, the traditional bringer of Christmas gifts, with the Soviet Ded Moroz, or "Grandfather Frost".

The rivalry between the USA and the USSR reached unprecedented levels during the Cold War. They competed to see who could make more destructive weapons, who would rule outer space, and who would lead the way in science and sport. Although the Americans had a four-year head start on the Russians with the atomic bomb, the Soviet hydrogen bomb was tested just months after its American counterpart. In August 1957, the Soviet Union even beat the USA in carrying out the first successful test of an intercontinental missile, one capable of delivering a nuclear warhead across the Atlantic Ocean in 15 minutes.

In October of the same year, the Soviets launched the first satellite, before sending the first dog into space. In 1961 Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. The Americans responded by sending the first man to the moon in 1969. There is no doubt that, at first, captured German scientists and the application of repressive "research methods" in which leading scientists were forced to work for the Communists with guns to their heads in labor camps, contributed greatly to the success of Soviet scientific progress.

Czechoslovak propaganda presented the Soviet Union as a country worthy of universal imitation. Thus, organized trips to the USSR began to be offered. However, visitors were closely monitored and prevented from straying from the planned itinerary, so that they did not see the true face of Communist-induced poverty in Russia. The Soviet cult of personality was also imitated in Czechoslovakia. After Klement Gottwald died, his body was preserved, just like Lenin's. Despite being cared for by about 100 experts, it soon began to decompose. The President was then cremated, his ashes interred, and the mausoleum closed.

"This enormous sculpture weighed 17,000 tons and cost 150 million crowns. If built today, it would cost tens or even hundreds of billions of crowns. People were not overly fond of this monument and jokingly referred to it as "the line for meat." The artist behind the statue, Otakar Svec, and his wife, just like Stalin, did not live to see the unveiling of the monument. They both committed suicide."

We had to leave the Communist people's paradise a little earlier than I would have liked because we had a seriously capitalist reservation at the Michelin Guide star winning restaurant La Degustation. It was kind of fun getting a lunch booking at the place because we were the only customers there. At a restaurant as nice as this it felt especially baller to have the entire staff's undivided attention.

I thought the pattern on the floor was fun.

The menu was annoyingly indescriptive. This was "truffle, egg, parsley". I feel like the tragedy of fine dining is when I go to Denny's there's a small paragraph on the menu about the grade A eggs in the omelets. Go to a place like this that probably does a lot of really interesting things with a lot of really interesting ingredients from interesting places and they write little or nothing in the menu, and maybe mumble something quickly while serving. There will then be ten courses so by the time you're done you don't remember the first one. Maybe I'm just weird and wanting to document things while normal people don't care as much as I do.

Per their website:

"Our tasting menu presents a seasonal selection from our trusted farmers, foragers and hunters. We put a lot of energy into sourcing ingredients and aim to bring out the unique essence of each in our cooking.

Our dishes originate from traditional Czech cuisine. For inspiration, we look to the seasons and to the natural relationships between our ingredients. When preparing game, we are interested in what the animal eats, what environment it lives in, and how the seasons alter its flavor.

Our sommeliers are always experimenting to create new wine and non-alcoholic pairings to complement each of our dishes. They create drinks from fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts."

I think our favorite part was ordering the non alcoholic drink pairing. There were lots of flavors that I had never had in a juice before. I believe Lydia is enjoying the rest of her walnut juice here, for example. There would be like an apple juice base or something normal but then a strong taste of whatever the ingredients were.

Catfish, kohlrabi, horseradish.

The juice with this one was sea buckthorn

Pork belly, onion, leek

I solved the "bad menu" problem by just filming one of their dish explanations.

Fallow deer, lard, cabbage

This I believe was the grape soda.

Hazelnuts, defrutum

So we're sitting alone, enjoying our extravagant lunch. I went to the bathroom. I like visiting the restroom in places like this even if I don't really have to in order to check out what they have going on in there. When I came out I locked eyes with a familiar looking man and his wife who had just sat down. This was a famous person! Apparently the classy thing to do is to leave such people alone, so I guess I would be considered "not" classy. I did leave him alone but only because I could not for the life of me place who the heck he was. I couldn't imagine a conversation going well that started with "who the heck are you.. also I'm your biggest fan." I knew he was British and has had reddish hair maybe in some of his roles. It was driving me crazy looking through pictures of British actors and not being able to find him.

When the bill came I devised a plan to create a diversion with the coat check people by the door, and then Lydia would snap a picture of them. That would at least be a fun keepsake of the event and I could then ask my friends to help me identify the dude. Lydia... did not take the picture. So we ended up having a fight about it, my brain couldn't let the nagging feeling of trying to figure out who the guy was go, and it sort of ruined the rest of our day. What a strange turn of events.

Later at the airport my gears finally ground out the identity of this day ruiner: Jared Harris. He was in some fantastic shows that I enjoyed immensely: Mad Men and ChernobylChernobyl was sort of important to me at the time because I watched it around the time of the beginning of the Covid outbreak, and it helped me to deal with the government lying or just being wrong while in reality not really knowing what they were doing.

I was really looking forward to the Original Beer Spa so it was unfortunate that Mad Men was overshadowing it. We were also a little late and the lady behind the desk was rude about it, so that made things worse.

The idea was basically to fill a bathtub with hops and yeast, and then sit in it while enjoying unlimited brewskies. I had never heard of such a thing so why not indulge in a little touristic silliness.

My one main complaint was that the thing was just a bathtub and so the water got cold. I was glad we only had an hour or so because longer would have just been more time sitting in a cold beery tub.

I had some of the real Budweiser at the airport.

We celebrated arriving in our Paris hotel room by breaking out our Czech oplatky wafer cookie things.

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