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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Androgynous holidays 3: Prague

So I conclude this little collection of posts about getting away by describing a long weekend in Prague with my friend Sarah.

This is indeed a beautiful city. World War II didn’t touch it, despite (or actually because of) its being in the heart of Hitler’s empire, so a thousand years of history remains layered everywhere. The buildings are beautiful, and so is the setting among steep hills with the river flowing through, and there is an abundance of things to see. It’s all very walkable but the public transport is also cheap and efficient. I’m less excited by Czech food and beer, I confess, but that’s a minor point (once the food gets grim there are plenty of Italian and other foreign cuisines to be had).


Prague Panorama 1: from the Castle
Prague Panorama 2: from Letna Park

Prague Panorama 3: from Zizkov Tower

We spent our first day visiting the obvious sites: the Old Town Square, the Tyn Church, the Old Town Hall with its famous astronomical clock and caught the procession of figures striking the hour, the Charles Bridge and the Castle complex on the hill.


Beautiful buildings everywhere you look

Bridge gatehouse

So much decoration on so many buildings

Castle, churches, statues

The next day, in contrast, we ventured out to what has been described as the “World’s Second Ugliest Building” (I couldn’t tell you what the first is) – a futuristic Soviet-era tower built to jam West German TV, but opened just as the Iron Curtain collapsed so its only function now is to provide a view of the whole city. Its most bizarre feature is the giant babies crawling up it, artworks that were taken away for repair just a few days after we visited. Don’t ask me their significance!



We also wanted to visit the nearby Military Museum to see the V2 rocket and other stuff (Sarah is a rocket scientist) but it was closed for a major refit so instead we tramped up the steep hill to the National Monument which contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.



We then went to the National Technological Museum. Bohemia, later Czechoslovakia, later the Czech Republic, has always been a major mining and manufacturing area and the Czech-built planes, trains and automobiles were interesting, as were the galleries of mining equipment and astronomical instruments (we both like astronomy). Mining is in the lowest basement, astronomy on the top floor. Seems appropriate! The gallery of illusions was great – rooms that appear to make you shrink or so steep-floored that you have to lean to appear upright... Pretend you’re Alice in Wonderland! An excellent museum.



Day III and we went to the Museum of Communism. Not many exhibits as such, mainly information boards, but the message was clear: communism was a dirty fraud and the Czechs with their mineral resources and highly industrialised were thoroughly exploited to the benefit of the Soviet Union and other less productive parts of Comecon. The social ills, material shortages and bullying culture were pretty bad. Of course, Czechoslovakia rebelled in 1968, an uprising that was crushed by Soviet tanks. A grim chapter in history indeed. To look at the city now, with its shops and restaurants, you would hardly know it had been part of the Warsaw Pact. Mind you, the downside to that is that city centres all now have exactly the same shops!

I wanted to take a river boat and on the way to the landing stage we stumbled across something I had very much wanted to see but hadn’t yet planned, which was the crypt of the small orthodox cathedral where the agents of the Czech resistance were holed up after their assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, arguably the very nastiest of Nazis, head of the Gestapo, Hitler’s Man in Prague where he was known as the Butcher and the Hangman, and very much the driver of the Holocaust. It’s a national shrine and the history of Operation Anthropoid, the only successful assassination of a leading Nazi, is told in the anteroom. The German reprisals on the Czechs were horrific but that finally convinced the rest of the world that the Nazi regime was deranged and evil. I intend to come back to describing this emotionally moving location in another post as contemporary politics are throwing too many shadows of this sort of horror onto life today.



Our boat trip was a pleasant break from this history of oppression and evil. I was especially delighted by the famous, brooding Vysehrad rock with its fortress and monastery, immortalised as a symphonic poem by local composer Smetana. I’m sure there was a legend of a ship-swallowing monster connected with it, too, but our boat chugged by unmolested.


River Vltava from the Charles Bridge

Prague Castle from the river

Vysehrad rock

On Day IV, our last, we paid a brief visit to the Jewish Quarter. This area, full of synagogues survived the Nazis, even though the inhabitants didn’t. Perversely, Hitler wanted to keep the area intact as a sick museum to an exterminated race.

And then we went on to the remains of the giant pedestal of the Stalin Monument, the biggest ever Soviet-era statue – 17,000 tons depicting blissed-out workers admiringly following Uncle Joe Stalin. The wretched artist and his wife committed suicide before its unveiling in 1955, a year before Kruschev came out and condemned Stalin. The whole thing was blown up in 1962 – a process that took two weeks. There was an film of an interview with one of the masons who worked on it in the Museum of Communism explained that the Czech women on the left hand side appears to be to be laying a hand on the Soviet soldier’s gun for protection. She’s actually reaching for his genitals, a symbol of Czechoslovakia’s rape. There don't seem to be any free photos online but you can read about it here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin_Monument_(Prague) There’s now a giant working metronome on the site (I don’t get its significance) and we were pleased to see that the plinth is now an unofficial skateboard park, a deconstructed monument to a trivial activity but one so symbolic of freedom and personal skill.

So apart from history grim and gorgeous we also enjoyed some good meals. I’m not so thrilled by Czech beer, I must confess, and dumplings are something that really do stick too severely to the ribs, but we fed ourselves well on the whole. Particularly outstanding were this rolled rabbit loin with stuffing with barley risotto. I also had a classic goulash at the Cubist building, the Black Madonna. The best dinner was at the Cafe Imperial a few yards from our apartment. Sarah says her tuna was amazing (my salmon was pretty good) and the local white wine was pleasant. The tiled décor was extraordinary.

Rabbit loin roll
Cafe Imperial


As for trans life, I didn’t go out in full female mode. It’s partly because I’m a little distressed about my loss of trans freedom and I get the blues when I have to go back to male mode (most TGirls will recognise that feeling). But I was also a little uncertain how the locals might take it. Besides, Sarah has been living full-time female for a while and now needs to exist as an independent woman without me inadvertently outing her. So no full femme, although my shoes, bag and so forth remain female. One day I will travel abroad as a woman, I have promised myself.


Photogenic Sarah - lovely lady and good friend

Do go to Prague, it's beautiful.

Sue x

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Androgynous holidays 2: West of England


By popular request, here’s part 2 of my androgynous holidays, with pictures.

I went away three times in September, for different reasons each time, but always with the aim of clearing my mind, which has been troubled of late.

My first trip was to Wiltshire, which is really the first county west of London where you no longer feel the gravity of the capital drawing you towards it. I wanted to fulfil a few promises made to me when young, and to be as feminine as possible whilst still presenting as male.

Avebury is a wide and very ancient neolithic henge of stones, ditch and mound that was partly encroached on by a houses in the Middle Ages. No-one knows what these ancient monuments were for or why they were built but the effort required to construct them and the many other ancient buildings and artefacts in the area suggests a place of great significance. You can look up a lot about it online. I went because the more famous Stonehenge was often on the itinerary when we went to Wales or the South West for family holidays when I was a kiddie, but my father always said Avebury was bigger and better, yet he never actually took us there. So it was something that had always been on my “To Do” list.


Avebury

It’s certainly a beautiful spot with ancient buildings and sheep encroaching on the stones. My bed-and-breakfast hotel was lovely and the village pub provided a good dinner.

Avebury


The next day I fulfilled another promise to myself, which was to walk more of the Ridgeway, possibly Britain’s oldest road that has been used for maybe 5000 years. I did some stretches in Buckinghamshire as a teenager with my father. This time, however, I was kitted out in my girl clothes, though not presenting as female. My walking boots and purple socks are women’s (as I explained in my last post, I have tiny feet and I often can’t get men’s shoes and socks in my size), as were my T-shirt, fleece and trousers. I’d rather be all woman, but clearly my skin health problems have made me very cautious about wearing makeup except on special occasions. I wear women’s clothes every day anyway as it’s the most obvious connection to my feminine side.

The area around Avebury from the Ridgeway Path on Fyfield Down. The landscape is full of stone age sites.


The weather was perfect and the walk was wonderful. I felt tired but calmer in spirit when I arrived at my destination in Ogbourne St George where I stayed in a cosy old hotel and had a fantastic dinner in the wonderful pub called the Inn with the Well, which does indeed have a well – 97 feet deep, right in the middle of the floor with reinforced glass flush with the floor so you can walk right over it. The warm mackerel starter, rabbit casserole main and warm chestnut & choc pudding, with local lager to drink, made an excellent dinner that I will remember for a very long time. And the road leading to the pub goes into my book of daft place names …

 

Mind you, the little River Og, which gives its name to the village, is a pretty odd one, too. I should explain that when I was 10 my classmates and I found in a school geography book that there was a place called Bushy Bottom in Sussex. As 10-year-olds we thought that was hilarious. Since then I've kept a note of places with ridiculous names, like Batman in Turkey or Bastard Butte in Wyoming. Sadly, Butt Hole Close in Yorkshire has recently been renamed. Apparently people had been posing in illustrative fashion by the street sign. Such models who feel dispossessed can now venture to Ogbourne St George if they prefer. It's all very silly ... and I am doing nothing to stop it.

On a related note, the train to Swindon (from where I took a bus to Avebury) whizzed passed a weird sight: a man standing in a cornfield, naked but for a pair of tiny blue briefs, holding a 15-foot pole vertical. There was some device on top pointed at the train - a camera, speedtrap, I know not what. The sights of England, eh?

I digress.

The next day, I went to beautiful Marlborough, which has always been a favourite place to visit, though I haven’t been there for years. It never changes: the broad high street, the curious alleys, the old shops, the weed-stocked River Kennet flowing gently by. The Green Dragon pub where I had lunch put me in mind of the fictitious Dragon of Wantly inn that appears in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels. I think Trollope is a marvellous author and Marlborough is very much a Trollopian town.

A lovely trip that calmed me after a lot of troubles with plumbing and other stuff to deal with in August.


Bath Abbey. Picturesque, but places of worship are rarely transgender havens.

The following weekend I went to Bath and the distressing conversation with my sister about Lugbutts (LGBT people) has been recorded. Despite that, there were walks to be had all along the River Avon, especially on a disused railway line that’s been turned into a path and cycle track running all the way to Bristol. The irony is that my sister didn’t seem to spot that my shoes and socks and shoulder bag were women’s! I did clip my nails so they wouldn’t be quite so feminine. The previous time I had visited her I forgot to cut them and even remove the clear varnish, and I could tell that she was staring at them. I hate this double life and after her revelations about her anti-trans and gay campaigning, I don’t think I’ll be seeing her so much.

Let’s pause here for now and I’ll tell you about Prague in the next post in a few days as that’s more significant, especially as I went with a trans friend.

Prague - we're getting there


Sue x

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Androgynous holidays


The illness that disfigured my face for over three years has subsided and, with a new, cautious makeup regime, I can be seen in public identifying as female again. But it has left me very distressed because just a few years back I was aiming at living nearly full-time female. That can’t now happen because when the problem arises again (as it does periodically) then I will be back to presenting as male only. It’s taking me a while to come to terms with this.

As I mentioned in the first post of this year http://suerichmond.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/those-biggest-resolutions.html it was in 1997 that I resolved finally to accept that I was transgender. I have dressed as a woman every day since, though that’s not the same as presenting as female all the time.

Most of my clothes now are women’s items, so even though I have had to revert to presenting as male for much of the last four years, I still feel connected to my trans side through what I wear and through manicuring and varnishing my nails, eliminating male type hair and so forth.

I therefore check out the latest clothing styles to see what may pass as male attire even though it’s female. Fashions these days are actually quite samey across the genders, as it happens. I have been blessed by being petite and having small feet (UK 5½ or European 38/9, US 7½) so women’s shoes, socks, T-shirts, jeans, etc. are easy to find. Having small feet has always been a problem, though, when wanting men’s shoes as the ranges usually start with a 6 or even a 7 and even before finally accepting my trans side I would sometimes have to opt for women’s styles in shoes (the shop assistants being apologetic whilst I was secretly pleased!)

So on my recent trips to Wiltshire, Bath and Prague I have been presenting as male, but with perfect nails, women’s shoes, underwear, shirts and shoulder bag. I feel connected to my trans side but nobody especially spots the understated femininity in my walking boots or socks or top or bag. Perhaps this is one aspect of my future as a trans person. Not a future I envisaged or wanted, but one that may have been forced on me by necessity.

Anyway, I’ll tell all about my adventures and provide some more pretty pictures in my next post. 

Prague in autumn


Sue x