Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Prague

While our visitors were here, my sis Kristin and brother-in-law Richie, Kyle had a stretch of four days off.   We wanted to do a short trip during those days, so we were deciding between Berlin and Prague.  After hearing such wonderful things about Prague from everyone who has been, and watching Rick Steves on Hulu, we decided on Prague.  It is an easy five hour drive from our place, and as usual, it was a gorgeous  and scenic drive.

We got to Prague in the afternoon and checked into our apartment in the Mala Strana neighborhood with a beautiful view of the river and the Charles Bridge. 
Kristin enjoying the view from the apartment
View of the Charles bridge from the apartment window
We headed out for the evening, with no particular destination in mind. One of my favorite things to do in a new city is wander aimlessly, and walk in whatever direction looks interesting. That's exactly what we did that first evening. We strolled across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town, taking pictures, looking at street vendors selling jewelry, paintings and sketches, and listening to the unique sounds of street bands. We made our way to the main square, which is so beautiful with it's Gothic towers, Baroque churches, and brightly painted facades. We decided that this would be the perfect place for our first Czech beer. The Czech Republic is famous for their beer, in particular, the pilsners and lagers. We were not let down!

One end of the Charles Bridge
It's easy to see why Prague is called the "City of Spires
 
Interior of a church off of the Old Town Square, now used for concerts
The Old Town square

We had dinner reservations that evening at a Medieval Tavern where there's a little show to go along with your dinner in a candlelit, pirate looking cellar.  I know, very touristy, but we are tourists, and it was fun!  In between dinner courses we watched sword fights, belly dancers, and musicians.  For a main course, Kyle, Kristin and I ate pork knee...I bet you didn't know that you could eat a pig's knee, did you?  Well, you can, and it was pretty good if you can get over how it looks. It was a great first night in Prague!

Kyle and Richie with their tasty dark lagers
An awesome view of the Prague Castle on our way back to the apartment

The next day we got up early, ate at a great breakfast place called Bohemia Bagel, and began our full day of sightseeing.   We started in the beautiful and impressive St. Nicholas Cathedral, which was just around the corner from our apartment. Then, we started the steep climb to the Prague Castle.  The castle is more of a huge complex of buildings and churches rather than what you picture as a castle.  It sits on a hill with amazing views overlooking the city.  (Right outside of the castle, I was very excited to see a band that was on the Prague episode of Rick Steves!)
The interior of the beautiful St. Nicholas Cathedral
View of the Prague Castle complex from above
The band from Rick Steves! (I'm a nerd, so what?)
St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle
A close up of Mucha's Art Nouveau stained glass window.  Gorgeous colors!
The burial place of St. Wenceslas
The working class houses of Prague Castle
After a full morning of Castles and Cathedrals, we headed to the apartment for some lunch and to rest up for the rest of the day.  Once we were recharged and refueled, we made our way to Wenceslas Square.  (Wencelas, as in the jolly good king, who was considered a martyr and saint, and is an important Czech figure since he's from Bohemia.)  Wenceslas Square is an important commercial and social center of Prague's New Town (it's not new though, it still dates back to the middle ages).  That day, they happened to have a street fair set up of traditional Czech food.  Lucky for us!  We got to try a really good sweet bread called trdelnik, where they roll the dough into a long rope, wrap it around a round metal rolling pin looking thing, and rotate over a fire to bake.  Once it's baked, they slide it off and roll it in sugar and nuts.  We enjoyed our trdelnik with hot wine, while Richie stuck with some beer and sausage.

The gigantic Czech National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square
Trdelniks rotating over a fire, mmmmmm!
Warming up with hot wine and trdelnik (aka rolly bread in my language)
That evening we walked through the park near our apartment to a great restaurant, recommended by a local, called Olympia.  They had a large menu to choose from of traditional Czech food.  Kristin had delicious beef ghoulash with bread and potato dumplings, Kyle and Richie both had beef roast in a cream sauce with dumplings, and I had roast duck with dumplings.  I was very surprised when our food came out and they set half a duck in front of me!  It was melt in your mouth goodness!

Both dishes were mine!  I can't believe I ate the whole thing...just kidding! 
The next day we started out in the Jewish Quarter to see the Jewish Cemetery and a few of the city's historic synagogues.  The cemetery was really interesting and sad at the same time.  It was the only place available to Jews for burial for over 300 years, so it's said that some of the graves are stacked 12 deep.  The oldest gravestone there dates back to 1439.




After touring the Jewish Quarter, we admired the gorgeous Art Noveau buildings on our way back to the Old Town Square.  (Prague is said to be the best Art Nouveau city in Europe.)  We had lunch at a Spanish/Mexican restaurant that was actually really good!  We chose that restaurant because it was in the perfect location to eat outside and watch the famous astronomical clock in action. It's a tower clock that keeps track of not only the time, but position of the sun, astronomical signs, the saint of the day, ancient Czech time, etc.  Needless to say, we weren't quite sure how to read it, but it's really cool! It was built in 1410, making it even cooler!



You can see the Apostles parading by the top windows
That afternoon we hiked up Petřín Hill, a really nice park on a big hill. At the top of the hill is a small version of the Eiffel tower where you can go to the top for an amazing view of the city. It had been cloudy most of our trip, which made Kyle not overly happy with his photos. On our way down the hill, the sun decided to make an appearance, which made for a much more energetic Kyle! He went to morph speed to get in some good shots before the sun left us again. The city really did look much more cheerful in the sun, and so did Kyle!

Pretty sites on our way to the park
Petřín Tower
View from the top
Looking down the tower
Here we come, walkin down the street...
Soaking up the sun

A cool candid shot Kyle caught of a Czech woman.  What an interesting life she's probably experienced!

For our last dinner in Prague, we ate at a small Mom and Pop kind of restaurant, where we had another wonderful dinner. The Czech food is extremely hearty and filling, which is perfect for tourists on chilly days. (I wonder what they eat when it's really hot out?)

On our way out of the city the next day, we went to see a special sight that is important to our friend, Jason N. (who gave us awesome insider tips for our trip) and his family. His grandparents are Czech, and escaped Prague in 1938 before the Nazi invasion. They left behind a beautiful home and a bank, which became the Gestapo headquarters, and is now the Ministry of Industry and Trade. They moved to New York City, where they became successful once again.


The Ministry of Trade and Industry
Prague is a unique and wonderful city that we definitely plan to visit again. We loved the beautiful sights, intriguing history, tasty beer, and great company. 

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