Getting Out of Prague – Czech Paradise and the Orlik Reservoir

With a month left in the Czech Republic, I finally got a student of mine to show me some proper Czech parts of their countryside at the weekend. After speaking in our last lesson about my desire to see some more of the Czech Republic before I go back to the UK, he invited my girlfriend and I to the Orlik Reservoir, an hour south of Prague on the River Vltava, a place he seems to have a love for which borders on the sexual.

Calling Zdenek a ‘student’ sound ridiculous to me as it conjures up the idea of him being below me in the ladder of life but he is in fact a successful civil engineer with a seemingly perfect Czech life and English which is arguably better than mine. Actually, hanging around with a student outside of class is a bit weird when it comes to error correction and ‘teacher talking time’. When you hear something that is blatantly wrong or something that sounds stupid, but you get what they mean, do you correct them in real life? I let a few mistakes fly but then I just couldn’t control myself when he repeatedly said he was ‘building a tent’. Luckily, he also had a fluent friend with him who had spent years in South Africa and every time Zdenek made an error – like calling the shore of the lake a peninsular – this guy would mumble ‘fucking hell’ to himself before laughing and walking away. Not how I’d learned to do it on my TEFL course but his way worked by shaming Zdenek into correction.

Zdenek was right as the Orlik Reservoir is a beautiful area of pristine water, thick forests and a quiet, calm atmosphere. Without a ring of surrounding mountains, it is a little more subtle in its beauty than, say, Lake Garda or Lake Bled, but there’s still plenty of tranquil natural splendour to soak up and activities to do.

We stayed at the Podskalni campsite where Zdenek was like a celebrity. He knew everyone there and even had familiar banter with the lady who sold us ice cream. As soon as we got there we grabbed a beer and jumped in the lake for a refreshing early evening dip whilst Maeve put the tent up (she is the man in the relationship). The second drinking stop was with two classic old guys, one of whom introduced himself as “Miroslav – there is no English equivalent”, and two minutes later they were generously sharing their Scotch whisky with us. Then we were joined by a group of Zdenek’s friends and accordingly the night took a turn for worse as one of the group began to ply us with Czech rum – not one of the Czech’s best achievements – with a simple form of peer pressure that my sheep-like character has let me get into many messy situations over the years.

Pretty worse for wear, we ended up at The White House, a kind of a social club in the middle of the woods which we’d been warned was awful. And awful it certainly was as, on a Saturday night, there were only three people there – one faceplanted on his table, and one receiving and one giving a blowjob in the corner.

The next day was a struggle but probably the most pleasant debilitating hangover I’ve had for a while. We spent the whole day swimming in the lake, sitting on the gravel beaches getting sunburnt, and stealing Zdenek’s dog so we could take it for walks (the most placid dog in the world which nevertheless decided to take a dump right next to a sunbathing couple). All-in-all, it was a really nice day.

The week before that we had a very enjoyable trip to Czech Raj – or ‘Czech Paradise’ – half way between Prague and the Polish border. It’s one of those places that I’d heard of but never really looked into. So, like a participant on a blind date with low expectations, I followed the group organiser (‘group’ being a grand term for four people and ‘organiser’ meaning the person who printed out the train timetable) first to the town of Jičin and then an uninspiring two kilometre walk – except for photo opportunities to rival the classic Windows desktop picture – to the start of a part of the area called Skalní Město.

This is probably why I was massively impressed when we suddenly came upon hundreds of sets of sandstone towers jutting up all over the place. Good old interactive fun as you can clamber up and down these stone structures, explore dank caves and ignore the safety barriers to your heart’s content. Also, very good for pinecone wars, ridiculous photos and getting lost.

Post-walk, we stopped in Jičin – apparently one of the Czech Republic’s most desirable places to live – for a couple of cheap beers. The same things always seem to happen when we take a trip outside of Prague and step away from the tourist crowds. The pubs and squares always empty at about 5pm never to fill up again, the trains we need to get home finish very early and we ask ourselves the same question – “I wonder if they need any English teachers here”. I love living in Prague but the crowds can get to you sometimes, especially when you need to be somewhere and a row of people stretch out across the pavement in a fighter squad formation. But these places are always to the other extreme and I could find them quickly getting pretty boring – a bit like teaching in Saudi Arabia except with more alcohol to numb the pain. Also, I’ve found myself getting used to the crowds and enjoying the constant hubbub of life on the streets.

Going Home for a Holiday – Yorkshire

I’ve been living in Prague for fourteen months now and it’s still a bit strange to think of going back to England as a holiday. I went home at the weekend for a wedding of an old friend in the middle of nowhere in North Yorkshire. But it was also a great excuse to escape the urban sprawl of Prague and to visit some of friends and cheer myself up with some classic English countryside.

It has been over a year since I saw my country in the sunshine. The last time I ventured back I brought my American friend who had the pleasure of experiencing the overwhelming greyness of a December in the UK and visits to the future UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Riverside Stadium of Middlesbrough, the Manchester suburbs and Otley for a night out. But the sun was blazing for the whole weekend and it gave the place a glow and, for the first time ever, I left England with a tan.

To be honest, I am a massive negative Nigel when it comes to Britain and my home city of Leeds normally takes the brunt. I tell Mr Foreign that I’m from this fairly non-descript city and they either vaguely know where it is before asking me how far it is from London or a smile crosses their face and they shout “Leeds United!” That’s as far as it goes. Meeting an English person is even worse:

“Where are you from?”

“Nottingham.

“Oh right.”

“You?”

“Leeds.”

“Oh, okay.”

“…”

Where two Americans meeting each other will somehow find an extremely tenuous link that they can enthuse about for hours, we generally have nothing to say. But that’s not to say that the area where I’m from isn’t worthy of a bit of praise.

I’m not even from Leeds, that’s just the biggest google-mappable sized city to me – I’m actually from the beautiful area of Wharfedale. Basically, this part of West Yorkshire is like a giant pair of testicles – Leeds is one average ball, Bradford is the other hideously deformed ball and Wharfedale is a belt of charming suburbs at the very tip.

Wharfedale is a green belt of rolling hills and little towns marking the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales. First of three nostalgic visits for me was the Cow and Calf – a formation of one big rock and one small rock – that overlooks the spa town of Ilkley. Up here there are some nice hiking trails, great views of the valley below and a perfectly situated traditional pub. It surprised me coming back here that Ilkley now even has a supped-up Tourist Information selling all kinds of Yorkshire rubbish – I purchased a Know Your Sheep book which will be very handy and not a waste of money I’m sure, and a white rose of Yorkshire flag – it’s strange what being around foreigners does to your regional pride. I cringe at the memory of chanting “Yaaaahkshire!” at a group of “Star Spangled Banner” singing Americans and feel an unstoppable compulsion to introduce every Eastern European to the genius of Yorkshire Puddings.

Next up was The Chevin. This fairly well-known area of natural beauty above the market town is more of a forested area than Ilkley but includes more of the same trails and beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Otley and The Chevin is actually pretty active in the social calendar as it hosts well-attended folk festivals and cycle races. To balance this out, during the  day the place generally reeks of death as the grey army descend and make use of the charity shop capital of the universe.

The wedding on Saturday was thirty minutes away in North Yorkshire so I drove to my romantic Bed and Breakfast (for one) in Harrogate. This spa town is a pleasant town full of attractive Georgian architecture and wide-open spaces and is certainly a place your Grandma would love. For her there’s the famous Betty’s Tearooms for a scone and overpriced tea. My tastes however are slightly more downmarket and I took the Dixy Chicken (fake KFC) at 2am option. I bowled into the grubby takeaway wearing my wedding suit to raised eyebrows from the staff and immediately confronted by one of those perpetually angry, ignorant Englishman I generally hate shouting “The Euro should f***ing burn!. Leave the f***ers to it!” at no-one in particular. Ah, home.

Food is always a very important part of going home. It’s surprising, how it’s the really little things that aren’t even necessarily English that you can miss. I spent months just wanting a deep pan pizza or a really dirty kebab. Cheese and English tea – the biggest Czech  deficiencies – are regularly smuggled over up people’s bottoms and in hollowed out prams so we can easily ignore the sub-standard Czech alternatives. My first day back home alone consisted of a warm award-winning pork pie for breakfast, fish and chips (the old national dish) for lunch and curry (the new official national dish) and cider for dinner.

I always get abuse from my students for the perceived poor state of English food. Granted, it’s simple and not that great but it’s at least as good as the stodgy, bland but filling Czech food. They base their opinions on that one time they had Fish & Chips in a pub in central London. They aren’t to know that to get fresh Fish and Chips you need to go to an actual Fish and Chip shop not get the frozen version at Wetherspoons and more importantly you must go north. Also, to get good country fare you have to make it out into the countryside to one of thousands of excellent country pubs using locally sourced produce to mix the traditional with the modern. And at least we know what a fresh vegetable is. Rant over. Screw you, Pavel!

The bottom line is that it isn’t the most spectacular place to visit – say. on a par with the coastal vistas of Croatia or the forests of Romania that I was blown away by – but it’s a damn sight better than I generally make it out to be

The Prague Half Marathon – Destroying Pavel Nedved

Left hand side in the blue and black - that's me

Ever since waddling through my chubby teenage years, running has been my thing. With poor portion control and a love of everything savoury, it’s also going to be only way of avoiding heart-disease and obesity until my knees inevitably give way in my late-Twenties. Over the last nine years I’ve competed in half marathons in Newcastle, Glasgow, Prague (in 2008) and Leeds and slowly trundled through a full one in Pisa and now I proudly have a trophy cabinet (box under the bed) full of medals. Yes, these medals are all for merely taking part but that’s the best sporting achievement I’m ever likely to obtain.

The Prague Half Marathon on Saturday was my first decent-sized run of a busy running season and it crept up on me and arrived a few weeks too soon. A life-shortening weekend in Wroclaw coupled with a disproportionate cheese-to-everything-else diet and a couple of weeks of icy conditions not suited to running, left me in a perilous position only a month or so before the run. I did my best to get myself in shape but I felt like I left it too late so I had to dig into my arsenal for my two main weapons. First, was pride, I had to beat a friend who had recently excelled in his first half marathon and the second was my classic Yorkshire cheapness – I was not going to spend €50 on a race and not get a PB.

On the greyest day outside of a Soviet-era soap opera, 11,000 people took to the streets of Prague to do one of the most attractive urban runs in Europe. The first five kilometres alongside the river was a giant mess of people and so I had to use my third and final attribute – my pigmy size – to pick my way through. Afterwards, the congestion eased and everybody spread out and I could run at my own pace as I tried to put my foot down to alleviate constant feeling of self-doubt (an annoying lack of clocks) and a bladder that felt like it was going to explode from the start. I traditionally try to sprint the last two kilometres and this time it nearly killed me, especially as the organisers tantilisingly count down every one hundred metres with a kilometre to go.

In the end, I finished with a really pleasing PB of 1 hour 30 minutes, 30 minutes behind the clichéd group of front-running Kenyans but a whole 17 minutes quicker than Czech football legend Pavel Nedved. Always said he was over-rated.

Little amusing things always happen in a run that help you get through with an occasional smile punctuating the almost ever-present grimace/sex face. Like at one point, the course loops round so you double back on yourself and run past people a fair way behind you. Here, I met the 11,000th-place runner loping along very slowly being followed a few feet behind by an ambulance crawling along presumably waiting to scoop her expired body up off the pavement. It was like watching a zebra caught in the eyeline of a waiting lion.

Other delights include a woman I passed twice, who I can only guess spent the entire race singing the Rocky theme tune (not Survivor, but you know, the other one) over and over again…on her own to no-one in-particular.  There was world’s laziest spectator who was not only sitting down but using wooden clappers to take the effort out of slapping two hands together. Oh and there was my Mum who failed to respond to the shout of “MUM!” both times I passed her. That embarrassing moment when you know everyone has seen you fail and you just have to pretend you weren’t waving but scratching your head and sprint away from the scene of the crime.

In two weeks it’s the Pardubice Wine Half Marathon – not entirely sure what that consists of but I’m looking forward to a mid-point tipple of wine and cheeseboard. Then in June it’s the Gorlitz Marathon which I am not looking forward to at all.

Derby Day in Prague – Sunburn and a Scoredraw

Ever since being teargassed at a bad-tempered Prague derby in 2008 I’ve been hooked on watching football in Europe. It’s much less sanitised – for better or worse – than England and always offers something interesting, if not always on the pitch. I’ve experienced the electric atmosphere of the San Siro in Milan, Hertha Berlin at the impressive Olympicstadion and the rustic charm of Artmedia Bratislava in a cowshed in Slovakia and I hope to see a lot more football action in the future.

On Saturday, it was again the Prague derby of the city’s main rivals, Slavia and Sparta. This year’s contest didn’t really look like it was going to be a classic with Slavia underperforming after some crippling financial difficulties and Sparta sitting pretty on top of the league. And, in the end, it wasn’t, as the two teams played out a spirited but rather toothless one-all draw but it was still a really nice day at the shiny Synot Tip Arena topped off with a much-needed bout of sunburn.

Slavia took a surprise lead after a beautifully delivered corner found Martin Latka’s head and the underdogs could have had a few more. Then after forcing Slavia ‘keeper Martin Berkovec into a couple of stunning saves, Sparta eventually scored through Tomáš Přikryl (just try saying that) before the game petered out a bit and the off-field antics became a lot more interesting.

Three of us were sat right next to the Slavia Ultras – a set of hardcore fans who seemingly model themselves on the British fans of the Eighties (even down to their use of British flags and terms like ‘The Slavia Gentlemen’). These guys never sit down and certainly never shut up – even down to the children’s match at half time as the fans went crazy when a seven year old Slavia lad scored and then wheeled away with a classic airplane celebration. I’d definitely recommend that you try to sit by them but maybe not in amongst them though as you might find yourself out of your depth as they don’t take too kindly to tourists.

There seemed to be quite a few measures in place to placate the Ultras and to avoid any violence. For one, only non-alcoholic beer was served, which scuppered our plans of drinking in the glorious sunshine, but could be understood. Secondly, their every whim was catered for. Whenever they wanted to unfurl banners across the section, set off a couple of flares or cart in a tonne of flags, the officials were happy acquiesce, stand by and watch and do the occasional bit of firefighting. Overall, they whipped up and raucous yet non-violent atmosphere and a fun, awesome spectacle.

Cooped in the opposite corner the Sparta Ultras were obviously jealous of this attention, threw their toys out of the pram and kicked off in the second half. It started with what looked like a toilet seat being thrown onto the pitch. Then came a series of plastic seats that had been ripped up and flares were then let off in the middle of the mass of fans. The firefighters’ unenviable job was to get amongst them and to put the flares out whilst the police went in and arrested the perpetrators.

Unfortunately, kind of behaviour is virtually institutionalised in football in Central and Eastern Europe now which leads to families staying away and for a pretty intense, unwelcoming atmosphere. Add to that a generally poor standard of football and a game in these parts shouldn’t be a great prospect but somehow it is. Tickets are cheap, beer is normally plentiful and if you choose the right section in which to sit and the right game (derbies, historic rivalries and top-of-the-table clashes are always best) then the entertainment should be there. It’s an experience that I don’t think should be missed especially as almost every city in Europe has at least one decent team, each has a unique atmosphere and it’s a chance to see the locals at their best and their worst

8 of the Best Times to Visit Prague

March is a busy month in Prague – there’s two film festivals, a half marathon and a football derby between the city’s fiercest rivals. It’s always great to match a sightseeing visit to a city with an event, special season or a festival so, here is a list of eight of the best times to visit Prague.

1)      Prague Museum Night – June

Once a year Prague hosts a nocturnal festival of free museums throughout the city. A diverse range of museums, including the National Museum, the Jewish Museum and some exhibitions at Prague Castle, are all open for free from the early evening into the small hours. A complimentary bus service is also in place to shuttle you around the city and there are many musical events at the various attractions to liven things up. This night is a great way to learn about the history and culture of Prague without spending a fortune and getting them all out the way in one night lets you spend the daytime exploring.

2)      Witches Night – April 30

On the April 30 the Czechs gather in parks throughout the country to burn effigies of witches on bonfires to signal the end of winter (makes more sense than the UK’s Guy Fawkes night). So, find a park in Prague (you may have to go out into one of the suburbs) or go local and travel to one outside of the city, and you will find plenty of lively entertainment, crowds of locals in an excitable mood and lots of fire.

3)      Burčák Season – Autumn

Burčák is a (literally) explosive wine that comes to fruition in autumn and grips the drinkers of Prague. It’s a sweet wine that hasn’t quite finished fermenting so it can be pretty dangerous as the process keeps going when bottled and even when in your stomach which can lead to messy consequences if the pressure valve is not released or your consume too much. This brightly coloured beverage basically tastes like a mix between lemonade, fruit juice and wine and can be tasty and pretty strong (the quality and strength varies from batch to batch). With its arrival also come a number of markets and little festivals that sprout up around the city as they bring the usual accompaniments of sausage and Prague ham. A nice way to see out the warmer months.

4)      Prague Marathon, Half Marathon & 10k – March, May and September respectively

Surprisingly, this is probably the most stress-free way of seeing the Old Town. The streets are closed off to traffic and, more importantly, pedestrians and you have the freedom of the streets. Sure, it’s crowded but the steady torrent of runners always keeps going at an acceptable pace and rarely do you get stuck in a frustrating bottle-neck. These three runs are some of the most beautiful urban runs going and depending on how hardcore you are, you can jog along the historical streets of Prague over 13 miles at the end of March, 26 miles in May or a more feasible 10 kilometres at night in September.

5)      Easter and Christmas Markets – the run up to Easter and Christmas

Although the squares of Prague always look pretty, the markets of Easter and Christmas give them a little bit more personality. Hundreds of market stalls cluster round the monuments selling handicrafts, Czech specialities and hot and cold alcoholic beverages to suit the season. At Christmas there’s usually an ice rink to try out your ice skating skills and keep an eye out for carp tanks on the pavements selling live fish to be cooked later for the Czech’s Christmas dinners. Easter offers more of the same with another slightly odd tradition making the difference. You’ll come across many colourful wicker sticks that, as tradition dictates, are used by guys, mainly outside of Prague, to playfully spank their ladies. Probably best not to try it out yourself though.

6)      Sparta vs Slavia Prague – twice annually between August and May

The derby can sometimes get out of hand

See the locals at their passionate best (and worst) at this inevitably heated football game. Until recently Sparta and Slavia Prague were the two best teams in Czech football but Slavia’s fall from grace has not taken away from the intensity of this bi-annual match that gets the raucous fans out in numbers. The atmosphere in the always sold out stadium is normally electric and far out-weights the below-average quality football on show. The two teams normally play twice a year at either Sparta’s AXA Stadium in Letna, which is the easier to get to from the centre, or Slavia’s Synot Tip Arena Stadium, which boasts better facilities but is out in Prague-Vršovice.

7)      United Islands Festival – late June

Throughout the spring and summer Prague hosts many little outdoor music festivals and events and United Islands is one of the most hyped and impressively-attended of these. Set in fantastic island surroundings, right in the middle of Prague within viewing distance of Charles Bridge and Narodni Divadlo (the national theatre), there’s no better place to relax and soak up the friendly atmosphere and variable-quality of music. With no entrance fee and a central location you are free to come and go as much as you like so this doesn’t have to be the be-all-and-end-all of your trip if it isn’t to your taste.

8)      Jeden Svět and Febiofest Film Festivals – March

March is movie festival month as there are two distinctly different small-to-medium sized ones to choose from. Jeden Svět is a collection of human rights themed documentaries that will both entertain and, at times, depress and Febiofest concerns itself with mainstream and independent efforts from throughout the world. Neither are on the scale of Berlin, Cannes or nearby Karlovy Vary but they boast an unpretentious and lively atmosphere and give you a chance to sample some below-the-radar films that usually only come to this final outpost many months after the rest of the world.

An Englishman in Prague: Wroclaw – Let’s Go to Plan B

Continuing my quest to visit every place worth going to within a 500 kilometre radius of my temporary hometown of Prague, I went to the lively, university town of Wroclaw (Vrot-slaf) in South Western Poland at the weekend. This fairly small city is renowned for it nice architecture and student vibe.

Compared to many cities in Central Europe, Wroclaw should be pretty close to Prague but it isn’t when you get the longest local bus in existence. A 250 kilometre journey took us over five-hours thanks to a bus that stopped at every town, village and tree to pick up old ladies with their shopping, families with dogs and escaped convicts to then deposit them in the next hamlet two-miles down the road. On a nearly empty bus my friend and I suffered repeatedly from those awkward moments where you’re having loud conversations along the lines of ‘if you had to shag an animal which one would you choose’ before realising that all the people in front of you can speak perfect English.

I am by nature a reserved person. Think of the classic Englishman complete with bad teeth but without any of the suave and sophistication. So when I go on holiday I normally put the emphasis on the sightseeing and to a lesser extent the culture. Hardcore partying takes a back seat. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely drink (like a typically unskilled Englishman that doesn’t listen to his limits) and do my fair share of bar-hopping but due to my lack of social skills/shyness I won’t end up naked in a sauna at 6am with a group of local girls or in a prison cell doing tequila slammers with the city police.

So a messy weekend in Wroclaw in Poland was a welcome change. I left the missus/ball and chain/old lady/trouble and strife/significant other at home and took my flatmate James – a guy who has a few talents I lack, including a total immunity to embarrassment, absolutely no self-censor, a total free reign on the ‘shit chat’ part of his brain and about half a metre extra height. This is a guy who within an hour of being in Poland had got into a shouting fight with a Polish shop-owner after urinating over the back of his shop and then walked around for the weekend with plastic bags tied around his feet to keep them dry. The entire weekend was spent with him playfully harassing every girl he could find with the line “Are you from Poland? …Where is good to party? …Can you come with us?” And, to be fair to him, it worked. We ended up being taken to many excellent bars by lovely people to drink cheap, good beer. In its compact city centre, Wroclaw boasts a huge amount of clubs, beer cellars, micro-breweries, bars, traditional pubs and possibly the cheapest English pub in Europe.

My Polish friend always bangs on about the Poles being very friendly and the being women amazingly attractive but he’s Polish so I usually take it with a pinch of salt. Mythbuster: the Poles are very friendly and amazingly attractive. It was a nice change from the Czechs who are lovely when you get to know them but in public have hearts of stone. Wroclaw is a really youthful city that’s full of students so this probably counted in its favour and I might just be generalising a little.

To be honest, drinking and being hungover were two of the only real choices open to us. Wroclaw as an actual tourist destination is attractive  enough but not spectacular. It’s a pleasant historical town with a charming town centre made up of multi-colour houses and more churches than you can count. We arrived after snow had been falling for a couple of weeks and the temperature was still a couple of degrees below zero which left most of the river completely frozen over. It’s the kind of scene that needs the maximum self-control not to do a running jump and face-plant on the ice and I don’t think I have never been so jealous of a duck. Unfortunately the sky was completely grey which made all the admittedly fine buildings seem very depressing indeed and our photos turned out far from impressive. There was no point walking around for anymore than an hour or two as even Rome or Star Wars’ Cloud City would look fairly unspectacular in the unrelenting greyness. We must go back in the Spring.

The Winter Cometh: Time for a Minus 14 Degree Run With Santa Claus

Not me but I think it sums up the spirit of the run

After an incredibly mild winter, the winter has arrived in Prague (and the rest of Europe) with a vengeance. Personally or otherwise, for too long, have I been the victim of mockery from across the Channel by the entire population of a temperate country who are getting more snow than me. Thanks to Facebook, whenever one snowflake falls in the UK, it is inevitable that the world will hear of it through a blanket social media coverage that makes it sound like the coming of the apocalypse. This year is no different as we are treated to thousands of unique pictures that say ‘look, no matter how bad you’ve got it, it’s much worse here’ and people initially getting snow-giddiness and then snow-moaniness. At least I don’t have to watch the UK news reports with its cries of ‘Britain is literally going to sink under the weight of 2 inches of snow. God help us all.’

One of the draws of the Czech Republic was the perverse desire to live through a really cold winter with lots of snow and eventually I have got a fraction of my wish. Over the last ten days the temperature has relented and hit minus 20 degrees Celsius and has been generally hovering around the minus 10-15 mark. This is an incredible 10 degrees colder than I think I have ever experienced before but only yesterday did the snow fall and it was a pretty poor effort that’s predominantly melted away so far.

I’m a big running enthusiast (they call me the Usain Bolt of Yorkshire) and the height of foolhardy stupidity came on Saturday morning when I joined the 2 Miles with a Smile race around Stramovka, one of Prague’s charming inner-city parks. This monthly event, organised by transcendental keep-fit fanatic Buddhists (http://cs.srichinmoyraces.org/) or some such, is a great way to pit you against yourself and others as you can rack up personal bests, which get updated on their website, as well as racing against others.

This Saturday, dressed in my girlfriend’s thermal leggings, I was joined by about a hundred other shivering fools, loitering around the start line aching merely to get started. By the end of the opening straight I was struggling to feel my lips, fingers and, more worryingly, my toes. In contrast, I could feel really intense pain in my forehead and, weirdly, the inside of my nose, and I just wasn’t warming up at all. I’m pretty sure that if my inner thoughts were projected outwards they would have sounded something like ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggghhhhhh’. For the best part of the run I gravitated towards two other guys running at a similar pace and we created a small heat-retaining pack. At one point, because of a feeling of camaraderie and self preservation, I had to fight a sub-conscious urge to bear hug them both.

One thing the cold is good for is a personal best as you want just want to get to the end in the quickest way possible at any cost. I shaved a whole 5 seconds of my previous best – which means I can hope for a flat 12 minutes by April 2014. At the end of the run you get what is at that point the best food and drink imaginable – a pancake and a hot tea – before scarpering home to be back in bed by 10am. All for just 20 crown (less than a pound).

I’ve met a Czenglish woman who’s helped me decipher the Czech running calendar and is willing to take me into the wilderness to compete in cross countries. I’ve done two so far when the season starts again in March I will happily be there running up right-angled hills at 9am in the middle of nowhere. I was in a strangely proactive mood last night and ended up signing up for the Pardubice Wine Half Marathon (which places a large emphasis on post-race food and drink) and the Gorlitz Marathon (a historical town on the German-Polish border) to go alongside my existing registration for the Prague Half Marathon in March.  Whether that was foolish remains to be seen but it means I should lay off the goulash and dust off the grey Rocky tracksuit once more.

If anyone in Prague is interested in joining me one Saturday morning for a pleasant 2 mile run just send me a message or look me up on Twitter (@johnguzdek).