Once Upon a Time in the East

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It has been a number of years now since Prague was first named as a favourite destination for weekend revellers intent on boozing: stag or hen parties celebrating a friend's last weekend of freedom, a chance to live it up. Such parties are now fairly common here and are showing no signs of letting up.

Several times a week here is bound to come across at least one or two groups on mini-break visits, often wearing goofy matching outfits, and carrying joke shop accessories. A fortnight ago I saw a bunch of guys dressed in matching golden outfits, June bugs with Elton John glasses. It wasn't pretty. Another bunch, on Wenceslas Square, dragged along a miserable prisoner complete with ball & chain, the future groom. In the evening, there too, was a group, this time all ladies, dressed in skimpy nighties, bunny slippers, and 50s eyeglasses looking hard to please (strange combination). Hard to describe, really. But quite a hangover the next day, I'd think.

Who knew just how wild some of these parties could be?

It happens this week that the British Foreign Office released a report called "British Behaviour Abroad" - related to stag and hen parties - which might leave some a little shame-faced: it seems that stag and hen parties in Prague, though "fun & games" they may be, have a tendency to end with someone figuratively losing an eye. According to the report, of the 800, 000 or so Britons visiting last year, 845 needed consular assistance, 445 lost their passports, 36 were arrested, and 53 went to hospital. That might not seem like that much until you realise that the Czech Republic apparently ranks fourth on a list of countries where British visitors needed help, behind only India, Australia, and Thailand. You can blame the booze; the report does, saying the disproportionate number of British travellers needing consular help was "likely due to the massive influx of stag and hen events".

A massive influx of stag and hen events.

Not having ever taken part in a stag party - it's probably too late now, anyway, I'm already married - I have to wonder at the allure: I can't imagine picking any destination on the map for a weekend solely for going to bars. Not Amsterdam, not London, not Berlin. No matter how cheap the flight tickets, beer, and establishments might be. I understand going out and having a good time of course, always great in a foreign city, but fail to see the attraction of doing so with seventeen other guys all wearing the same t-shirt. But even if I did, why go somewhere at all if I wasn't going to remember what I did or would spend the next day green-faced in a hotel room, I could just as easily stay at home.

In short, I find the idea that someone would only visit Prague to spend the weekend in the city's strip bars and clubs, quite depressing, and I'm sorry that Prague has gotten to be known as such a destination. Prague once had a real aura of mystery. I realise couldn't last; it was brilliant while it did. You can still find it in some hidden alcoves and gardens and streets but you have to bother to look. You won't find it on tours bragging about the "beer and babes" of the so-called "Wild East".