They know all about masks in Prague with every Communist schoolchild back in the day put through a daily drill of fixing on a gas one.
And woe betide anyone who didn’t do it quickly enough.
Today’s masks in these COVID days are cloth and less restrictive.
And the revellers at the long table on the King Charles Bridge at its grand reopening in July are lowering them onto their chins.
To help them gulp down their Urquell Pilsner beer.
No country on Earth, not even Scotland, drinks as much proportionately as the Czech Republic (official).
And they even bathe in the stuff… close by in the Original Beer Spa.
Beer is everywhere in Czechland.
Plain-clothes monks produce it and clink glasses on a night out up the hill in Prague’s Castle area.
The superannuated refresh with Pilsner after taking the waters and the treatments in the spa town of Teplice.
And the burghers of Hoptown, Zatec, notch up how many they’ve drunk on their beer mats.
In the Hope Museum next to the Beer Astronomical Clock which is better than the more visited one in Prague.
Here a skeletal figure next to the dials, and Satan himself, mock the teetotal.
They hold a Hop Festival too here in Zatec, eery year where among the competitions is a biggest belly contest.
I’m here to work on mine.
Just as soon as I get out this nuclear bunker.
Have I got nukes for you?
Radoslav had warned us to stick together as we made our way through the myriad dark, dark passageways five stories down in the bowels of Parukarka Hill in Prague.
Where the only company is mannequins in protective suits and gas masks and the ghosts of Communist past.
Here is where 5,000 Czechs would have come to see out the end of days.
Let’s hope that they had plenty supply of Urquell then to wash down all that tinned meat.
The Czechs would, I believe, have prevailed. They are a durable lot, toughened by a lifetime of being fought over by the ‘Great Powers.’
But they’ve always had a Pilsner to pull them through.
I’m only here for the beer
Beer is at the heart of the Czech story, believed to be the oldest in the world, dating back to 993BC at Brevnov Monastery.
For 250 years in fact only monks were allowed to brew beer.
Which you can only imagine they gave up reluctantly.
They certainly haven’t lost the habit judging by the fun they’re having.
At the Strahov Monastery Brewery close to my opening night billet.
You’d be hard pushed though to recognise them as monks as there is barely a tonsure between them.
In the corner, two British girls on a hen night ply a local with shots and for advice on which bar to go to next and there is no shortage of options.
I am happy where I am though, with my waiter guiding me through the beer menu.
As I sup down my beer onion soup and beer goulash with dumplings.
Mild, followed by dark and finished with IPA, is the answer. But I’m not finished there as I’m given a tour of the brewery with samples at every stop.
Thankfully, it’s all downhill home to the Golden Key Hotel were I will sleep in a triple bed under a wooden ceiling with a sauna in the morning.
And wash it all down…
My hosts probably feel that they can’t trust me in Prague’s Beer Spa and that I’d drink all the suds.
So they take me next instead to the spa town of Lazne Teplice which is the last word in massage, saunas, bathing pools and medical practices.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Well do, but the luminaries of yore came here to take the waters.
Among them Beethoven who also sought a cure for his failing hearing…
And you can see the horns displayed in the glass cabinets in the Hotel Beethoven corridor.
While you can also ask to be taken to the room where he stayed, although we didn’t get in.
He may very well still be in there and just not have heard the knocking.
Beethoven, the 200th anniversary of who’s birth it is this year, was clearly well looked after in Teplice.
And he would certainly have feasted on the town’s speciality chocolate cake in the titular cafe.
All of which I’ve been told I must work off next, as the Czechs themselves do, in Bohemian Switzerland.
No, I’ve not taken a wrong turning although I’ve not been myself since that first night in Prague.
Bohemian Switzerland is the park named for the two Swiss climbers who came here in the 19th century and were reminded of their own homeland.
It truly is an enchanted land and got the official stamp of approval.
When the makers of The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe used an arch in the park and set Aslan there.
The Czech Republic is full of surprises and I spend my last night back in Prague which too has many still to reveal.
Two iron figures outside the Franz Kafka Museum, whose waists revolve and who shoot out water onto a map of the Czech Republic.
It is the work of experimental sculptor of David Cerrny and it is believed to represent what the European Union has don to their land.
The Czechs are wonderfully irreverent to their leaders.
Walk around Prague and you’ll see Cerny’s mark everywhere.
Babies in the tower
A man holding an umbrella hanging from a building a Communist Brabant car on leg and Babies Climbing a TV Tower.
You can get up close and personal to the babies in the tower cafe.
But be careful looking out the window because these weans have no nappies on.
Cerny’s statues blend seamlessly with the Medieval ions, King Charles IV, the nation’s patriarch chief among them.
Tourists though are urged toward the statue of St John of Nepomuk, who fell out with King Wenceslas, and, no, not the Good One.
This Wencesclas ordered Archbishop John to be thrown off the bridge when he refused to divulge Weneslas’s wife’s confession.
It’s good luck to touch his statue and make a wish and that wish will be lifted up to the heavens.
Me? I think St John of Nepomuk might just have drunk too many Urquells and fallen off the bridge that way.
Where to stay
Hotel Golden Key: The Castle area of Prague from €70. Reception will help you out with maps and directions for the sprawling and tiring Castle area Also that yourself to a spa and the relaxation room. See Asten Hotels.
Stay in Teplice Spa: Beethoven hotel: Price per person per night in off peak season is €87 – including room, treatment. daily entrance to Thermalium pool and enjoy the water features, sprays, cold baths and spas. Lots of Beethoven features dotted around the walls and you can even see the room where he stayed. And full board.
Enjoy your trip
Trip to Bohemian Switzerland and see the arch from the film of CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. – €120.
Where to eat
Strahov Monastery Brewery in the Prague Castle area. When in Prague do like the Czechs and eat goulash with dumplings, of course. Go for a starter too – onion soup with an infusion of beer. Heck. go the full three course and dig into the apple strudel.
With Ryanair – to Prague if purchased way in advance from €40-€120.