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Prague culture no secret.

Byline: By Carolyn Hitt

With the sound of 'Do you want sexy sexy?' floating through the cold night air, Social Secretary Dot and I legged it out of the bar and ran through the deserted back streets of Prague. That's not strictly true.

We didn't break into a sprint until we had nonchalantly passed the windows of the pub so as not to encourage pursuit.

Before we came to a wheezing, giggly halt under the Astronomical Clock in Wenceslas Square even Darren Campbell wouldn't have caught up.

And our training regime had consisted of two bottles of Frankcovka, the Czech Republic's heartiest house red.

There's nothing like soaking up a little local colour when on an Eastern European minibreak but this encounter had brought out our yellow streak.

Dot is quite brilliant at bursting through language barriers and getting under the skin in foreign climes by chatting to the natives. It's not just for insider information. She has to let them know we're not English. She needn't have worried on this score.

As BMIbaby deposits planeloads of Taffs throughout the week, thanks to its very reasonable flights from Cardiff, the citizens of Prague are getting pretty familiar with the Welsh.

My approach to Cymric-Euro relations is slightly less proactive. I bury my nose in the Lonely Planet guide, smile inanely and attempt communication by speaking English very slowly in the accent of whichever country we happen to be in. In Prague this proved a challenge.

In the end I opted for the voice of an enigmatic double agent from a John Le Carre drama. This would work perfectly with such phrases as, 'Red Squirrel will meet you on Charles Bridge at midnight' but less so with, 'Can you tell me where the loos are please'.

Dot, meanwhile, had built up a basic Czech vocabulary by Day One. 'Please', 'thank-you', 'beer', 'wine' and 'no way mate' in response to rip-off taxi drivers.

Her application of Cardi economics to the city's transport system ensured we enjoyed the cheapest journeys in the Czech Republic. She also established when the giant Christmas Tree would be lit up by talking in semaphore to the workmen halfway up its 60ft trunk; discovered the best value Smetana concert in town by consumer-testing the classical music touts and elicited the life story of a watercolour artist on Charles Bridge.

But then, we seemed to attract friendly locals. One shopkeeper jumped on to the pavement as we passed and bellowed, 'Hey Girls I love Cliff Richard! Congratulations!'

When we told him we didn't really share his passion for Cliff, he tried another icon of British popular culture, 'I love Jeremy Beadle! Watch out Beadle's about!' Yikes. It's evidently payback time for Czech telly after they inflicted The Singing Ringing Tree on us in the early '70s.

Then there were the off-licence chaps who tried to persuade us to sample a little absinthe. There are many reasons for resisting Prague's signature liqueur. It's dangerous. It may instantly transform you into Toulouse Lautrec, inducing distur- bing bohemian hallucinations. But most of all it looks like Listerine and sets your mouth on fire. Just say no.

The off-licence chaps wanted to know about Wales and learn some Welsh. 'Keep your language. It is beautiful. Teach it to your children,' said one, in the voice of an enigmatic double agent from a John Le Carre drama. His next request spoiled the moment somewhat. 'What is Welsh for: I want to milk a cow,' he chortled, making udder-squeezing movements. Perhaps they'd already been at the absinthe.

For all its surreal encounters, Prague is a stunning city. Fairytale architecture, bohemian back streets, literary cafes, stylish shops, and it's clean, friendly and cheap. In most cities, tourists are accosted by looky-looky men foisting tasteless knick-knacks on them.

Here, you get talked into opera tickets or a performance of Dvorak's Greatest Hits. A midweek break ensures you miss the scourge of the British stag party trips. There are signs that they are catered for - in particular the biggest branch of Spearmint Rhino imaginable. Housed in a classy building on the banks of the Vltava, at least lap-dancing blends into the local landscape.

In addition to a Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, the city also has a Museum of Sex Machines, although judging by the alarming contraption in the window of the latter it would be difficult to tell which was which. The packet of condoms in the Hilton minibar fridge was also a bit of a shock, when all we were looking for was an overpriced Toblerone.

After managing to miss the tourist must of watching the Astronomical Clock strike 12 noon three days running, we embarked on the other essential tourist quest in Europe's beer-drinking capital - finding a bar with no tourists. It's vital for the post-holiday anecdotage. There's no pose in saying 'we spent an evening in Murphy's Pub with a lovely couple from Ammanford.'

The rather rundown watering hole in a medieval side street fitted the bill. Crammed with students and a few old men with large moustaches, this was authentic.

Francisco and Jan, a pair of beaming young men, took it upon themselves to be our hosts. They advised us it probably wasn't a good idea to put Tom Jones's Green Green Grass of Home on the jukebox again as the cool teenagers in the corner would be affronted.

Yet when the cool teenagers did choose their own music it made the average boom, bang-a-bang Eurovision entry sound like the LostProphets.

All was going swimmingly until Frankie and Johnny got a little fresh. They were pretty harmless - indeed Johnny barely looked old enough to be out - but when Frankie purred, 'Do you want sexy sexy?' and Johnny puckered up his lips there was nothing lost in translation.

As Frankie nipped to the gents, I whispered the following instruction in Dot's ear, 'Mission aborted Red Squirrel. Repeat, mission aborted. Meet you on Charles Bridge at midnight.' And with that, the spies went out into the cold.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 6, 2004
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