Praying in Prague

Last week was the International Christian Communities of Eurasia Prayer Conference, which was held in Prague. Pat and I went along for the first time ever. The conference ran from Wednesday lunchtime to Friday lunchtime, but flights meant that we flew on Tuesday and returned on Saturday.

Prague was going through a period of extremely cold weather though the dryness of the air meant that there was little snow. I have never been so cold in all my natural born days. We had lots of warm clothing, but my hat and scarf combinations generally left my cheekbones exposed, and they froze.

We flew Air France, Bordeaux to Paris, then Paris to Prague, which gave us the right to a bag of pretzels and a sandwich on the way, and pretzels and a pineapple and coconut sponge cake on the return. We stayed together in a nice hotel with very powerful heating. It was -14°C in the street and +26°C in our room. The hotel served a buffet breakfast of the usual euro-miscellany and then made up sandwiches and snacks which were left for guests to help themselves to as the day unfolded.

The participants at the prayer conference ate together on two evenings, once in a Prague institution which is a kind of brewery and traditional eating-house. I had svíčková, which is a kind of Czech version of boiled beef and carrots, served with slices of bread dumplings. It was very good and very filling. the second evening we ate at the restaurant of a deacon of the international church in Prague where the set menu was a gastronomic tour de force, with meat and fish courses and a very good chocolate mousse with marinated bitter cherries.

We had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Prague friends, Romana who worked with us in North Wales in the mid 1990s, Jitká who was here in Bordeaux for a year in 2003 and Ted and his family. Ted teaches at universities in Prague. Romana met us at the airport on our arrival and then escorted us back to the airport along with Jitká.

A highlight for me were two visits to Bethlehem Chapel, the meeting house built for Jan Hus to preach in the 1400s. It was built to accommodate 3000 people, stood, and apparently up to 10,000 actually crammed themselves inside. At the time Prague had a population of some 40,000 people. You can see just how popular a movement it was. His Prague ministry lasted just 12 years, then followed two years preaching in the Bohemian countryside under the pope's anathema, then he was tried and burnt.

Prague now is a beautiful city with a illustrious past and a rather sordid present. Nasty gift shops line the streets of the old town. Supermarkets display cannabis leaf signs to show that you can buy cannabis cookies and cakes. On Wenceslas Square Marks and Spencer is on one block and on the next a large building advertises Thai massage and through the open doors you can see ten or more eager girls lounging on sofas and beanbags waiting for their needy punters to arrive. That's us Europeans, eh?

I had a list of good coffee shops to visit. We didn't do any. I had a list of cheap restaurants. We didn't do any. We did explore Old Town, the river bank, New Town, the Jewish quarter and the Castle area. Oh, and the Czech language is a czallenge!


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