Nineteen percent in Brno.
It’s early evening; the main station was closed so we had to make our way from Dolni. The streets were busy with bored commuters. My mobile phone indicated that we should follow the route straight ahead, and all seemed okay until we encountered a huge shopping centre. We followed one of the side roads and passed beneath a railway bridge; then the online map began telling us to turn left, but the street names on the screen did not correspond to the signs around us.
“Where do we go now?”
‘Not sure’, I said. ‘This thing is trying to work out our route.’
We carried on. Eventually I said ‘We might need to ask directions; the battery is down to eight percent.’
“What! I thought you were going to charge it up while we were on the train!”
I pointed out that the charge had only gone up to nineteen percent by the end of our journey.
“Nineteen percent! That’s no good!”
I was anxiously watching the reserved power level steadily diminish. At last, Paul spotted the name of our destination in bold red letters on a building straight ahead.
I had no idea what to expect from the city of Brno, and was very impressed by the quality of our room; spacious and elegant, overlooking the church square. Soon after we arrived, a crowd of good-natured youngsters had gathered in the square to drink beer and listen to driving techno-dance music – think of Depeche Mode performed by Rammstein.
We wandered through the town centre and found a café serving massive burgers – the meat was very rare, but it was all perfect. Hidden beneath a towering pile of cheese, bacon, and fried onions.
After Brno, we caught another train to Budapest; a long, long journey through woods and fields dotted with electric pylons. At one point I thought that I was seeing exactly the same church in the same field for the third time.
Before Brno we spent four nights in Prague; architecture, food and beer. The youth hostel had brightly-coloured stairs and a cellar bar that served as a breakfast room. We ate our simple meal of bread and cheese surrounded by ancient posters and film-club memorabilia.
‘I’m in love with a German film star…’ (Barbara Gogan, Polydor Records 1980)
We had arrived in Prague just after dark; a bus journey took us to the Metro, where we travelled for seven stops and emerged from a lift to find the museum, a floodlit baroque fantasy, floating ahead of us.
We went to the hotel – passing a few sauna clubs and adult cinema shops – where we found a very nice room – with a couple of single beds pushed together, and – on the wall was a splendid geometric abstract print.
A week later we travelled to the Liszt Ferenc airport; I was disappointed. Where were all the statues and profiles and cufflinks and corkscrews and cigar-cutters? I was expecting the place to be ornate, with frosted Lalique-style glass doors and twisted marble pillars and an abundance of keyboard-themed drinks counters.
Instead, it was a perfectly normal airport. With planes. And delayed departures. The pilot took off in an insane hurry but gave us the smoothest landing, like diving onto a champagne eiderdown.
From the window of our hostel in Budapest I could see a building site; once upon a time, all the fabulous structures around us would have been similar scenes of disruption. The locals would have complained in furious renaissance Hungarian about the noise and chaos. And five, or thirty, or eighty years later, they would be able to enjoy an epic concrete confection with swarming cherubs.
Four days later, I decided to go to the library and explore the output of Miroslav Holub. He was a champion research microbiologist, but also wrote award-winning poems, one of which concerned a building site.