Tag: Prague

Prague, Part II

“When you are quite well enough to travel, Latimer, I shall take you home with me. The journey will amuse you and do you good, for I shall go through the Tyrol and Austria, and you will see many new places. Our neighbours, the Filmores, are come; Alfred will join us at Basle, and we shall all go together to Vienna, and back by Prague…”
― George Eliot, The Lifted Veil

Alright, let’s talk specifics about Prague! If you yourself are planning a trip, here’s a whirlwind tour of what we enjoyed during our visit and which I could heartily recommend to any of you looking to alight on the Czech Republic’s fair landscape. Summer is the preferred time of year to travel but be mindful that as Prague has become a more popular destination in recent years, you may be competing with other tourists! However it’s not at all expensive and you can eat and sleep well there for decent prices while getting to explore an absolute jewel of a city.

Stay

We got a combined travel deal of plane fare and a room booking at Hotel Hoffmeister but this hotel was extremely easy to get to and ended up being a great place to stay. The subway from the airport to the nearest stop is a direct shot and the hotel is a just a couple of minutes away from that and you are within walking distance of all the major sites of the old city. The service is friendly and the facilities excellent. A fabulous breakfast is served every morning with all the continental trappings including teas, coffees, breads, cheeses, pastries, fruit, yogurts, eggs, and meat. Local favorites feature heavily! There is also an in-house restaurant which we enjoyed one evening, and a in-house spa. You better believe I booked a massage and felt all the better for it!

See

The palace complex. Set high above the historic city, the historic castle of Prague is a mix of buildings from different eras with absolutely stunning views. It’s worth booking a tour ticket which gives you access to several of the individual palaces, the national cathedral as well as several smaller chapels and areas. However if that’s all you do, you’ll be missing out! Several of the individual palaces or buildings hold their own schedules of events including lectures and daily concerts or performances. Lobkowicz Palace is a privately held building with a justifiably famous collection of art and music that is well worth the admission price. May I also recommend the cafe where you can dine on the terrace in the summers?

The history city square is home to a famous clock tower and several civic buildings all worth a check in as well.

The Charles Bridge. One of the iconic sites in Prague, this bridge dates back to the reign of Charles IV but the statues lining it now are mostly baroque. It is always packed with tourists and buskers, but no trip is complete without a wander across its arches.

The Jewish Quarter with several history cemeteries, synagogues, shops, and eateries.

Prague is such a foot friendly city that I’d recommend not scheduling your time too closely and make sure you genuinely just spend some time wandering the streets. You are sure to stumble across shops and places to catch a cup of coffee or a local pastry that are deserving of exploration. We had a general idea of what we wanted to do each day, but we also played a lot of this trip by ear and it ended up being a fantastic decision.

 

 

Eat

Basically eat every where you can! In addition to the cafe mentioned above, we loved Cafe Savoy for lunch and Cafe Imperial (lots of French inspiration in this city if you can’t tell) for dinner and sheer ambiance! The photos above are from the main dining area with its famous tiled walls and ceilings.

Speaking of French food, the Cafe de Paris was a joy to discover. They are famous for their house special of steak frites made with a secret bernaise sauce which is fearfully and wonderfully made. I highly recommend!

However, there is no point of travel if you don’t eat local food and one of our favorite finds was a food hall called Lokal Dlouhaal which was not just cheap but utterly Czech. The dishes were not particularly Instagramable to look at, but were fantastic to eat! Red cabbage and potato dumplings feature heavily, as does beer. I enjoyed a stew style dish of beef that was wonderfully and heavily seasoned while Jeff ate his body weight in schnitzel.

Pilsner is a local invention and is cheaply found across the whole of the city from the original Pilsner Uquell brewery. But if you want a fun night out, Hemingway Bar does amazing and fun cocktails with a great mix of traditional drinks and their own unique concoctions.

Prague, Part I

“It’s easy to fall in love among the winding cobblestone streets and snow-covered castles of Prague, but is it a good idea?” 
― Dana Newman, Found in Prague

It has taken me a ridiculously long time to try and write up our Prague trip, it’s been nearly two months! But I did want to try and put together a couple of posts on it because it was a location that had been on my list of places to travel to at some point for a long time, and it was such a lovely short holiday.

We didn’t really plan out this trip, except to check in with pals who had previously visited the city and had a few tips and tricks for us. Other than that, our only agenda was to explore a new place that neither of us had ever been. I was really lucky to see a lot of Western Europe growing up due to my father’s career and our family’s opportunities to travel, there’s a lot of countries and cities I’ve been fortunate enough to see, but Eastern Europe was always a bit of a mystery to me. We didn’t make a list of places to see (although we did have a list of places to eat! Priorities, people) and just sort of decided what to do on a day by day basis. It turned out great.

Cities have very distinct personalities to me. It’s some combination of architecture, food, music, smells, style…every place has a very unique and stand alone identity. Some cities have a very modern vibe, some feel more medieval, and many are just hodgepodges. Prague is an old city with a lot of history that is interwoven throughout its structure, but so much of it feels distinctly Baroque. It was a major city in the Holy Roman Empire and while some of its most major building works were undertaken in in the 14th century, a lot of what remains in terms of architecture and decor is straight out of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Baroque is about grandiosity and large spaces, large proportions, detailed design elements, and rich colors. In terms of symbolism and themes, religiosity and grandeur are important common motifs. Prague has all of this in abundance, not only in its grand cathedrals and palaces, but almost everywhere on the streets. The buildings were brightly painted in most cases, with historic stone carvings and fresco artwork plentifully included. But there was still a lot of other morsels of style shot through. Gothic featured heavily, as did remnants of Communist and Cold War era architecture and art.

You can enjoy a complete cultural history of the Czech Republic on a wander through the city! We ate at a traditional food hall where the contents on the plate were not particularly photogenic (think thick stews, cabbage and potatoes, and “peasant food” dishes common in Soviet period) but the taste was incredible. We also scoped out the luxury areas and dining spots where French style cuisine is prominent and not entirely unrelated to the Imperial period where everything French was all the rage. Meanwhile, you’re constantly aware that you are not in Western Europe or what most Americans think of when they think of Europe. The buildings have Slavic style domes rather than Italian ones, and none of the languages here are Romantic.

I felt very out of my comfort zone here, but in the best possible way. Everything was new to me–visuals, taste, and sounds–and it’s been a while since I’d had an experience like it. To have the whole thing packaged in a city where the carbs are plentiful, the pilsner is flowing, and everything is decently priced or cheap is a joy.

I was struck by how “low” a city it was, development work and skyscrapers were not at all plentiful, which certainly adds to its charm! While not untouched by it, Prague was spared a lot of the destruction of the 20th century which other parts of Europe have had to manage. It’s also long been a multi cultural city. It has a prominent historic Jewish Quarter, which in turns holds several synagogues in various “styles (the Spanish Synagogue, for example), and has served as a meeting ground for the languages and cultures between eastern and western Europe for a long time, as well as some overlap to trade (and conflict) points with the middle east in the Holy Roman Empire.

As for culture, my god! Mozart debuted Don Giovanni here (we scoped out the opera house) and Kafka is one of its famous literary lights. Classical music is everywhere in the form of daily concerts and performances. We actually didn’t take one in, which is a mistake in retrospect, but we heard it playing everywhere we went.

Exploring a city just by wandering it is one of my favorite parts of travel, but it has been a surprisingly long time since we did it. By not really having an agenda, I think it allowed us to relax more (ironically) and simply follow what interested us on any given day. We only had four days in Prague, but it was an absolute jewel box of a holiday. I’m endlessly amazed at how refreshing travel and exploration is to the mind and soul. It renewed our desire to try and plan more and shorter trips, rather that just try to save up time and money for “big” ones.

I highly, highly recommend a visit.