Hills are fascinating things. Not only are they the result of noisy goings-on beneath the Earth's crust that break what would otherwise be a monotonous terrain as flat as Kate Moss's chest, but they also represent what is an inherent human need for challenge, achievement, and the overcoming of difficulty.
People have died climbing big hills in the Himalayas, many have received concussion in mis-timed attempts at getting on ski lifts in The Alps, and up-hill struggles are used as a metaphor for anything from trying to get through Old Town Square without a truck full of flyers to convincing yourself that Prague's expat scene poetry readings are a melting pot of literary talent.
One hill definitely worth the struggle in Prague is the one we call Nerudova in Malá Strana.
Leading up from Malostranské náměstí to the Castle steps, it is easily avoided by stepping onto the No22 Tram, or only venturing as far as getting pissed in Jo's Bar. But the gradient is far from unmanageable, and many do pass along this way for an amble and a stroll.
Of course, there are many of you who will be able to stride from N to A in the time that it takes me to light a cigarette, but this is one of the many advantages that lie in not living the life of an athlete.
While it is true that you clean-living-Mattoni-drinking-gym-going types do not have the inconvenience of a bed side bucket full of different coloured morning phlegm or the humiliation of being beaten up by five year olds, there are advantages to a life lived on heavier fuel.
With lungs the size of ping pong balls and a muscular capacity that would not threaten a Koala Bear, we less healthy ones are obliged to pause for recuperation breaks that give us the chance to explore a street to its full explorability, whereas with you it is a matter of choice, and one that may not take priority if your day's schedule is full of lifting heavy things and running about.
And Nerudova is full of places in which to sit and pant. Once famous for its pubs, it is a truly beautiful stretch of cobble, and one that holds a wide range of building usage.
Many of the houses retain their medieval barn doors, and most are adorned with their own peculiar house signs.
It is a street typical of Malá Strana which has long been the home of poets, drunks and odd-bodds living in Wonder McCathney style harmony with the diplomats and ambassadors of the Czech Republic.
At no. 2, right at the bottom of the street, is U Kocoura (House at The Cat). A rarity in this area, this pub makes no attempts to make itself into a magnet for passers-by. No tri-lingual menus, no welcoming hostess, no nothing. Just a few tables covered with dirty table cloths, 38Kč for a half litre of Plzeň 12 °, and a big picture of Garfield on the right hand wall.
The double doors are opened when it's warm, and the atmosphere is airy and relaxed. It used to be (and maybe still is) owned by Přátel piva (The Friends of Beer), a former political party and despite being in no danger of winning any prizes for interior design, it makes for an agreeable thirst quenching stop before the climb. Take care to look out for the regular with a hyperactive dog who tried to make sweet canine love to the arm of the man at the next table.
Next door is a shop that sells good leather goods; bags, belts and the like, and it's worth popping into quickly just to inhale the aroma, cows being one of the things that smell infinitely better when they're dead than when they're alive.
Two of the most impressive buildings architecturally speaking are at no. 5, the Morzinský palác, and no. 20, the Thun-Hohenötejnsky palác, which are now the Romanian and Italian Embassies respectively.
Two muscular chaps support the doorway at no. 5, which was made into one house from three in 1668, and two big eagles have nested beneath the portal of no. 20 which was built in the 1720s.
Far more difficult than holding up old buildings on Nerudova however, is distinguishing the places worth stopping in and the ones where a thoughtful cockroach would think twice about visiting. Lots of the tourist orientated businesses along the street are populated only by a grumpy salesman or a student doing part-time work and reading a book.
This is because what they sell is crap, and even given the fact that most tourists groups leave their brains at home to save on luggage space, you'd have to eat a whole box of stupid-sandwiches on top of that to want to buy some of the wares available here.
The Bohemian crystal stores are numerous (Axel Crystal at no. 25, Bohemia Crystal at no. 25 as well, and others), all filled with the most foul selection I have ever witnessed.
But for a real look at the hideous, pop into the candle store at no 7. to the left of the Gingerbread Museum at no. 9 (yes, you read that right, a gingerbread museum).
Imagine on a scale of one to ten (ten being the ugliest) how ugly the offspring would be if Andrew Lloyd Webber were to mate with Jabba The Hut's little sister. Double this figure, and that's how offensive to the eye the creations formed in this little wax hell hole are.
Far more intentional in its link to the fiery place below, is Restaurace U čerta (At the Devil's) at no. 4, a small restaurant where all the ornaments have devilish horns. The waitress refused to comment on whether that Satan-like painter who used to exist on Charles Bridge was a previously fired waiter, but the similarities are evident.
Both interesting, but neither very welcoming.
There's actually a lot about Nerudova which is unappealing, but there's also as much which is intriguing. One aspect which mixes both of these is the number of businesses which sell puppets as a side-line.
If Plato had been a Prague resident in the year 2017 AD, there is little doubt that he would have abandoned pondering the problems of political philosophy and morality in favour of the far more pressing question of how a republic's economy seems to depend so entirely on the sale of nightmare inducing characters with string on their limbs.
It's as if they've multiplied in an R rated version of Toy Story and snuck into every place with a cash register. I appreciate that they're a low maintenance sale item, but I've thankfully never seen anyone buying the things.
Equally puzzling is the number of specialist stores along the sidewalks of Nerudova. Which ridiculously generous loans officer gave the go-ahead for the setting up of a business that exclusively sells hats that resemble out size marsh-mallows? Or one that offers only porcelain replicas of Prague houses? I don't understand.
Streets have feelings too you know, and surely its an affront to the dignity of this stretch of city to have so many shops selling so much useless crap. Where's Amnesty International when you need it?
The same applies to a little shop that sells lace and chess sets, which I suppose is an obvious combination when you think about it. The chess sets are not bad, and the assistant girl was very eager to haggle.
"Very nice, hand made, I can make you nice price", she bellowed before I'd even had time to remember if I could actually play the game. She cut down one set priced at 8000Kč to 6000Kč in a matter of nanoseconds which was encouraging, but by then I'd remembered that I get confuse d about which shaped thing goes in what direction, so I declined her friendly selling tactics.
Historically speaking, Nerudova is at the heart of Prague's artist quarter, and there are a few private galleries present helping to continue the tradition. The most interesting of them is at no. 13 - Museum Montanelli.
It's pretty modest in size but it manages to pack plenty of original work onto its display space which is one of only few private-owned Czech non-profit organizations focusing on contemporary visual art. Apart from that at ,no. 27 there's Designum Gallery, offering the best contemporary Czech design in porcelains, crystal, jewelry and paintings, exclusively made by Czech designers.
A fair number of the bars along Nerudova offer gardens for drinking in, and they make for a nice escape from the hustle and rustle of street life. They are often sparsely populated and shady, and if you're really lucky, your sit down will be accompanied by the soundtrack of a neighbour's radio or argument. This may not sound perfect, but it can give the effect of being part of the family.
At no. 32 in a Baroque house in the middle of Nerudova Street, is a museum, celebrating what used to be the Dittrich Pharmacy, which was born around 1821.
Pharmacies are without doubt a vital part of civilised society, and I've visited quite a few in my lifetime. They're a fine place for curing headaches and helping to keep the world population at a manageable level, but I'm not so keen that I'm going to blow 20Kč of my expense account on visiting a museum devoted to their history.
Here, one can find a rich exhibition showing what a pharmacy in the renaissance period to the 19th century was like. The collection boasts several thousand objects, especially the complete furniture and equipment of a former pharmacy named "u Zlatého Lva" (Golden Lion), which was established here from 1820.
The unique furniture and equipment of the pharmacy consists of a work desk (recipe desk) and of repositories (sets of drawers and shelves) made of pinewood, covered with birch plywood and with ebony imitation made of black stained pear wood.
The inventory contains a number of vessels made from clear and hyalite glass, Slavkov porcelain and from turned wood. The furniture and equipment of the pharmacy is a unique showpiece from the turn of Classicism and Biedermeier. The exhibition is administered by the National Museum.
The visitors book was full of positive comments, and if you've got money to burn and time to spare, then it might be worth a look. I'm told that the prize exhibits include leech bottles and a large dried fruit fish.
Next door to the museum is an unashamedly touristy restaurant at the House at the Golden Horseshoe which is most notable for the overwhelming smell of vinegar that greets and pickles the innocent visitor.
A couple of doors down and across at no. 11 is a shop which doesn't quite understand the concept of advertising. The most obvious sign in the window lets the passer-by know that this is a hand-made shop. This may well be true, and all merit to the bricklayer, but only when we read the hand written sign on the door do we really become aware of what we can buy inside.
"Stamps for sale - but only with our postcards!", it says, brimming with commendable generosity.
Sanctions apply as of now.
At no. 33, Žabka, one of the Polish owned quick marts that sprouted up and a scout hut are the slightly less grandiose inhabitants of what used to be the palace of the Bretfield family. These days if you cross the threshold it'll be to buy pig fat and a plastic bag of stale rolls, or to pay homage to Lord Baden Powell of the bad fitting shorts.
Two hundred years ago however, you would have been a guest at one of the legendary Malá Strana Balls that were held there. In 1787 (or 1791 depending on your source), two of the guests were Mozart, and that Warren Beatty of the 18th Century; Casanova.
Both men with dexterous fingers, but who played different instruments, they would surely have made more interesting company than a fat check out girl and a bunch of 14 year old neo-nazis.
You would have come across another interesting chap had you happened to call at no. 47, Dům U Dvou slunců (House at the Two Suns) a few years later. This is where Jan Neruda (1834-91) lived, which is in itself quite an interesting coincidence. How many people do you know that share their surname with the street they live on? Uncanny.
Jan the Man was a journalist and poet who observed and recorded bohemian life on the left bank. One of his best works, Prague Tales, is available in English published by Central University Press.
He wrote anecdotes and portraits of life in Malá Strana, and doesn't mention tourists once, so I'm not sure how authentic his prose is, but his writing is certainly a viable alternative when the TV has broken.
There's a plaque on the wall of the Houses of The Two Suns commemorating its most famous resident, and the current occupiers, another puppet store and a mediocre pub/restaurant, indicate that the building has seen more interesting days.
Some of these were during the Communist period, when the pub was a favourite hang-out of The Plastic People of the Universe, the underground rock band who were later instrumental in the founding of Charter 77.
A little further down the hill from this historical high-spot is somewhere definitely worth a look - Valoria - Castle & Garden Restaurant. Part of the pleasure of visiting for the first time is the surprise of what's on offer, so it almost seems a shame to spoil that by describing it in detail here. But life is tough boys and girls, so consider it an exercise in character building. You've already lived through the trauma of no Santa Claus, the death of a loved one and the revelation that Milli Vanilli didn't sing their own songs, so I think you can cope with this.
In what used to be the home of someone rich born a fair while ago, Valoria is quite the find. Don't be put off by the cheap sign at the entrance, just head on in and prepare to be impressed. On the ground floor is a large restaurant that is usually busy and attentively served.
When I popped in, they were offering a special Tiger prawn and shrimp bisque menu selection as well as the usual menu. There are bars dotted around, themed nights (including a gourmet night) and plenty of room to swagger and stagger.
The real treat lies up and beyond however, and if you've got the energy, follow the signs and climb the steps up to the garden area. Even if you can't afford the 65Kč for a small beer, you can just pretend you're checking out the venue for a future occasion, and once there just stare open mouthed at the magnificent view that stretches out below.
As evening arrives, lanterns will be lit, and live music of varying quality will begin to play. There are two cast iron beds pushed up against one of the walls for those for whom the stairs were just a little too much, and the fountain at the centre is inventively used as a champagne ice-bucket. The whole establishment is so vast that selected members of staff carry walkie talkies.
Dressed from head to toe in black bow ties, and with a constant eye on customer satisfaction, they look not unlike an armed response unit from Kitchen Confidential, but don't let this put you off - they're a friendly bunch. If you've got the cash, you can spend up to 14,500Kč on a bottle of wine (well worth it for a bottle of Montrachet Côte de Beaune 2007), but generally, the food prices are not outrageous.
And as it's owned by the people that own the famous Valoria Restaurant in Brno, the grub promises to be far from a gamble. But a gamble's what we like, and a struggle's what we need, and Nerudova can offer both. Particularly if you wear a blind fold. Occasionally a meeting point of breath-taking architecture and wealth-taking tourist trap, it may well have lost a lot of the charm it used to have. But a lot of it is still within reach, so grab it while you can.
And it's a fine place for the ancient art of tourist-kicking, or knocking over those stupid enough to try going downhill on those damn annoying Segways...
At no. 16 is an Antikvariat which is a small shop selling things for the shelf space that you can't reach. Old books in Czech and old photos of people you don't know are arraigned haphazardly along the walls, but there's stuff worth having if you look hard enough. (The English books are at knee level about half way along the left wall.)
LoVeg Veganská Restaurace, a little pat half way up Nerudova, is a vegetarian restaurant that offers an appealingly priced specials menu, located up several flights of stairs away from the noise of the street below. A gluten free burger, which basically was tomatoes over eggplant on a bed of au gratin potatoes (go figure) followed by a raw chocolate fruit cake had me feeling the proud healthy punter in no time. Its an okay stop off for lunch or a quiet drink, and the top floor loft is a nice place to go for it shades you from the mid-day sun.
The shop selling models of Prague buildings (no. 21) is actually quite an impressive affair. Next to each piece is a photo of the Prague land-mark it imitates, and the attention to detail is what they pride themselves on. They make quite a pleasant souvenir or gift, and cover all the main architectural gems of the city. I was unsuccessful in finding a replica of my apartment block in Haje, however, but I guess the sculptor decided that a 24-story block of concrete slab was that much of a challenge.
The sweet shop at no. 17, Creperie U Kajetána, around half way up the hill had more than just a cameo role in Miloš Forman's film Amadeus.
It was a tea shop before, at the moment it's apparently "resting" between film work, but this makes it no less of a draw. It's cool, it's peaceful, and it smells of the ever present Trdelník rolls. What else do you want?. Drinks cost between about 30 and 50Kč, and the waitresses strike a careful balance between being attentive and leaving you alone.