We were at the ‘exhausted’ phase of our trip. We had been traveling non-stop for three months, and had another month ahead of us. Finding ourselves once again in Prague, we strolled through old world streets in an area that was now a spiderweb of merchants and restauranteurs. Bridges dated back to the early 1500’s. Art-nouveau architecture lined every block of the old quarters. And to our right, an absinthe house.
We all know of absinthe. Drink enough and you’ll see the Green Fairy. Drink enough and you will lose your mind, cut off your ear, or enter an abyss of talking caterpillars smoking hookahs and moons whose crescents are the smile of a magical, talking cat. We look at each other and without a word the three of us walk in.
We cozied up to a table on the second floor, next to a small window overlooking the alley street out front. The window was shaped like and upside-down shield, and lower than my waist. We ordered our absinthe’s, asking for something authentic and not the high proof diesel they sell to tourists. We watched as three friends at a nearby table rolled a cigarette that had a distinct cone shape; as they smoked, the haze smelt sweet, its “dankiness” concealed by tobacco – a European-style joint.
The server came upstairs with a tray – crystal glasses each containing a serving of a light green liquid, its color that of an infusion of herbs. They were positioned around a tall vase with small, spouted faucets evenly distributed around its circumference. The beautiful absinthe maiden put an ornate silver spoon atop our glasses, then a chunk of sugar on top of the spoons. After lifting the lid off the vase containing water, she dropped in dry ice. The water became vapor and the condensation formed quickly, making it look like we were about to drink from an orb of witches brew…
She turned on the faucets over each of our servings of absinthe, allowing drop after drop of chilled sugar water to mixed with the absinthe creating a green, foggy elixer.
We drank the absinthe slowly. At first we struggled through sips of what tasted and felt like fiery dragons breath. After every couple sips, we added more water, slowly diluting the intensity. One drink seemed like three or four. The haze of nearby cannabis drifted through our conversations. Then, we smelt caramel.
I looked over the balcony to the floor below, the walls piled high with bottles full of different labels of absinthe. There were glasses filled with blue flames, and caramelized sugar. Of course I went down and ordered another. The brand was called Beatle Absinthe, at the bottom of the bottle a large stick-bug, the liquid itself herbaceous green with a hint of cinnamon brown. They poured it, lit the sugar on fire, allowed some of the absinthe to burn, and then said we should drink it neat – no water added.
The taste was like sweet bourbon if you infuse strong, earthy herbs. Absinthe is, after all, an anise-flavored spirit, so you can’t escape that strong flavor, but prepared this way, it is sweet, and a very different experience. Absinthe also has an alcohol volume ranging from 40% – 70%; you can find yourself deep within the rabbit hole very quickly. I’m not talking about the touristic stuff that glows green. Stay away from that. It’s strong, not authentic, and will get you plastered but then again so can glue. Make sure you’re experiencing the real stuff, and get over wanting to drink it the way Van Gogh did, with a higher wormwood to blood cell count coursing through your veins.
Well, needless to say we were on another level. Every chemical brings a different experience to the human body. This one is unique, euphoric, hazy, yet focused. As we strolled back through the alley streets, the touristic vibe disappeared. We were on a yellow brick road to the old city, where we had intended to go before our absinthe detour. But something was missing.
Convenient stores are common in Prague, and there is a variety owned by Chinese families that sell primarily absinthe and other inebriates to tourists. We pop in and walk out with a small vial of absinthe, this time infused with cannabis seeds. With one twist of the cap off the bottle, and a pass around, and we’re floating over Prague, making our way…somewhere.
We had been to this place before… 4 year prior. The first time around we got tricked by absinthe ice cream and lollipops. This time, we knew how to order. Magically, more glasses glowed green for us, in an environment that felt familiar and odd. It was a stuffy absinthe museum blaring punk, techno, gaga, and other intense beats. Every glass of absinthe tastes different depending on the brand and preparation technique. We savored the flavor and discombobulated feeling. Again, sipping slowly.
When we finally left, we had lost track of time. We needed something to drink on our way back. Another Chinese convenient store run, and now we have cannabis beer.
I have to say that this experience ended well. We started early, ended early, and found some great bohemian food to re-energize, and bring us back to earth. At a local park, we discovered a perfectly formed hedges carved into labrynth-like maze that rose high above our heads. We found our way through the winding puzzle to an ornate fountain with birds splashing, and nature in vibrant color exploding around it. A happy site to drift off to while lounging on a nearby bench. When our green fairies finally bid us good day, the sun was going down and we still had a sunset to enjoy. We remembered a day exploring Prague – more of Prague than we thought we had once we retraced our steps and all the things we saw. …And we still had our night! Not to go stumbling through in a drunken state of belligerence, but as people who have come to appreciate what a city has to offer.