Comedy Festivals – with the notable exception of Edinburgh – can be fun, particularly when you’re there for a couple of days.
Normally when you gig abroad, you fly in (as I’m not a morning person that usually means an early afternoon flight); on arrival you get picked up, taken to a hotel with just enough time to dump down your stuff, go to the loo and, if you’re British like me, look in vain for a kettle in the forlorn hope you’ll be able to make yourself a hot drink. Disappointed, you then flop on the bed for 10/15 minutes or so while flicking through the various TV channels and availing yourself of the hotel Wi-Fi while simultaneously charging your phone which of course is about to die – yet again.
Then it’s off to the gig, after which it’s back to the hotel and the next morning you’re off to the airport and home having seen nothing of the city you’ve just been performing in. So although gigging abroad may sound glam, in reality you’re often just in transit.
Festivals, however, sometimes give you the chance to have some time to yourself and to even play the tourist. So not surprisingly, one of the main attractions of performing at the first ever Prague International Comedy Festival was getting to spend two days in Prague – one of Europe’s most beautiful and interesting cities.
If you haven’t been, put it on your must-see list, it’s a historical and architectural gem. Not forgetting of course that the food is fantastic and, from a British perspective, Prague is still cheap and cheerful despite the ever-weakening pound.
Well it’s usually cheap and cheerful that is. As someone who prefers their own company (in other words, I can be anti-social at times) and with a whole day of sightseeing in the offing, I took the unusual step for me of hanging around with other comedians for the day. This was primarily because I was fortunate enough to be in the company of some of the loveliest comedians on the circuit– Jason Patterson, Matt Price and Ryan McDonnell.
Things were going well until we hit a café in a rather touristy spot of Prague – located on the steps near the square with the Cathedral no less. Now you expect to pay a premium at such places. What we didn’t expect was to be charged €30 for 4 coffees. How? Just say the menu we were originally shown wasn’t the same menu we were shown when the bill came. The latter came with much higher prices pencilled in, presented by a rather annoyingly smirking waiter.
Admittedly, the boys treated being ripped off with an equanimity I singularly failed to match. After enlightening the waiter with my thoughts on his establishment, making him come for the money and demanding the change, I then preceded to go round all the other tables to tell the other customers not to order anything as we’d just been charged €30 for 4 coffees and the place was a rip off. Not surprisingly, it was at this point they all started asking for their bills.
The Czech waiter seemed to take umbrage at what I felt was the embodiment of community spirit on my part. He then started shouting at me in Czech whereupon I replied in English he could say what he damn well pleased as I couldn’t understand a word. (An argument used by many a Brit since time immemorial I imagine). My ignorance of the Czech language notwithstanding, I did suspect he wasn’t being particularly complimentary – a suspicion confirmed when he threw a bottle at me. (He missed). By this point, the boys had wisely scarpered up the steps, assuming, I suppose, I could more than look after myself.
Now I wouldn’t say I bear a grudge, but my family is Scottish after all and we remember battles from the 13th century, so still seething, I tried to report the café to the tourist office. Fortunately I’d managed to swipe the receipt that the waiter had been so keen on keeping. Unfortunately, it turns out there is no information regarding the name or the address of the café on said receipt which I’m not entirely sure is legal.
Being ripped off aside, the Prague Comedy Festival was a hell of a lot of fun. The gigs went well, the Mosaic Hotel where we stayed is lush and the staff incredibly helpful; the restaurant opposite serves great Czech food and the bar opposite was fun too (though if you’re averse to cigarette smoke, you may want to avoid it). Sadly, I can’t remember the names of either establishment which may explain why I never made the grade as a travel journalist. Oh yes and the cinema round the corner from the hotel, Kino Mat, serves some of the best hot chocolate you’re ever likely to drink. Trust me; I’m a connoisseur when it comes to that particular beverage.
Next stop was Luxembourg and the first ever International Comedy Festival there too. I’d never been to Luxembourg before, and to be honest I wasn’t even sure where it was on the map.
As it turns out, it’s a nice place to visit and rather compact, perfect for a long weekend visit. Like Edinburgh, Luxembourg City seems to be a city of two halves – the old town (Cité) and the new town across from the Adolphe Bridge.
If you’re planning on doing any sightseeing at all, invest in the Luxembourg Card. It offers incredible value for money, offering free entry to numerous places and free public transport including on the domestic train service. I took full advantage and headed off to Vianden, a castle about an hour or so away from Luxembourg City. If you like castles and great views then this is as good a place to go as any.
Of course being a castle, it’s up a hill. Sadly the bus stopped at the bottom of it, and it’s quite some walk, as I found out to my cost. It’s fair to say I’m not particularly sporty. To give you an idea with regard to my general level of fitness, I invariably take the lift down a floor, let alone up it. So though I say you have to go up a hill, to me it seemed more like a mountain of the K7 variety.
After several pit stops on the way up to get my breath back, I finally arrived at the ticket office, unable to speak, considering myself rather fortunate to still be breathing, if rather stertorously, convinced I was about to give up the ghost and keel over. However, once I recovered, I enjoyed going round the castle which also boasted a fine display of etchings by Rembrandt, incredibly fine and detailed, that someone sporting an old pair of glasses such as myself was sadly unable to fully appreciate.
However, I did have time to visit the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg City where the paintings were luckily larger. The collection, like the city, is compact so no chance of being overwhelmed as you might at some of the world’s larger museums.
Although one room did house a warder who seemed to be enjoying a very long, loud and rather animated telephone conversation in Portuguese. I’ve been in many a museum where warders have told people off for using their mobile phones: I had, until then, yet to witness a warder who was the one doing the talking. If only she had given the matter some thought. After all, if she’d been in the modern art section, I might have assumed she was an installation piece.