If Florence was our favorite city from our Europe trip, Prague is a very close second. Unfortunately because of our long train day (never schedule Innsbruck then Prague unless you can book a sleeper car) we only got to spend one day in this lovely city. However, it was nearly a perfect day.
When we did arrive in Prague, it was late and we were hungry. There was mall next door to our hotel that had quite a few restaurants covering most of Europe’s cuisine. Cristina, her Italian blood and appetite reawaken by spending days with her family, picked La Piazetta because she was still craving Italian food. I ordered the petto d’anatra al maiale (duck breast with a honey basil crust). Very good and tender but served slightly cool. However, the coolness didn’t hurt the flavor. In fact, I might have to do this in my kitchen with chicken. Cristina ordered some sort of pasta dish…good, but unremarkable. After our meal, we opted not to go experience the Prague nightlife and just sleep instead. We had to try to cram as much of Prague as we could into the next day.
With the exception of Innsbruck, which was cold and rainy, most of our days were examples of perfect weather. Our day in Prague may have been the prettiest of them all. Cool enough to almost need a jacket, but not quite, the day just made for perfect companion to our adventure in Prague. We first wanted to see the Prague Castle, one of the oldest intact castles in all of Europe. However, the castle is at a much higher elevation then the rest of the city. It would have been exhausting to walk from our hotel to the castle because of this incline. Public transportation was a little harder here to navigate due to how foreign the language was to us. After some rambling around we found a tram to take us up to the castle. And what a splendid castle it is.
There are two options at the Castle: a long tour and a short tour. Having only one day, we opted for the short tour with the promise to ourselves that we would come back. You can’t visit Europe with the idea that you will never come back; the things you don’t see will drive you crazy. We first toured St. Vitus Cathedral. St. Vitus is a formidable looking Gothic cathedral. I know I go on and on about Rick Steves in here but really his book was invaluable in the cathedral. His words are a great tour guide in the castle. Without it, we almost missed the gorgeous (and I mean gorgeous) stained glass window showing the life of St. Wenceslaus and his grandmother St. Lucy (imagine the pressure on him to be a good boy…his grandmother was a saint!). We would have also missed the St. Wenceslas Chapel which contains relics of the saints as well as being decorated with semi-precious stones. Now, the public isn’t allowed in there (theft could be a problem), but you are allowed to view the chapel through two doors. The baroque tomb of St. John of Mepomuk with its silver cast is a site to behold.
After the cathedral, we ate at nice little restaurant inside the castle premises. My roast beef with bread dumplings was simple and delicious. Cristina’s poached chicken with potatoes and spinach didn’t disappoint. For dessert we had strawberries with fresh cream. As the Cure sing, it’s the perfect way to be.
We then toured the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica and the Golden Lane. Neither one of us know enough about Czech history to really expound on what we saw except to say that they all were very beautiful. The Old Royal Palace also had quite a few balconies and terraces that provided us with some breathtaking views of this beautiful city.
Right outside the castle is a Toy Museum which was a great little find. This museum claims to have the largest Barbie collection in the world, and it certainly seemed like it. They were up to date with Lady Gaga Barbies. However, their doll collection went beyond just Barbies. They had American president dolls, NKOTB dolls, and an entire shelf dedicated to Star Wars and Star Trek. Cristina thought that it was blasphemous to put the two together but I’m one of the few that goes both ways on the issue so I thought it was the best thing ever (well not ever but it was really neat!).
We then walked down the castle to the Vltava River to the Charles Bridge. On the way there I tried looking for something that was related to Kafka but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was or did I see it. I probably forgot it because the Charles Bridge was really cool. Much like Jackson Square on a cool Saturday afternoon, it was full of life with artists and street performers. We even found an LSU sticker on some scaffolding on the bridge. Down the river on a barge was a very leggy brunette singing a pop version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Moments like that are priceless.
We made our way down to the Old Town Square. It was right before four o’clock so we rushed to the Astronomical Clock. The Astronomical Clock is just that (it tracks the sun and moon and the months) as well as being a full out Disney attraction. The only mistake it makes (which isn’t a mistake because humans did this) is that it can’t keep tract of daylight savings time. When the clock strikes, all the apostles appear while a figure of death is striking the time. It is a short performance but it is bucket list worthy.
The square was full of people watching a big screen full of World Cup action. But that wasn’t all. Everywhere you looked there was smoke. Heavenly smoke was being created from large smokers cooking wonderful meats that were on pits directly above the flames. Cristina went with chicken kabobs while I ordered a plate of ham and a Budweiser. No not the American beer, but the Czech beer made in the town of Budweiser that is much older than its American counterpart (note: American Budweiser cannot be shipped out of North America with the Budweiser label). Both were just perfect. In fact, I still dream about that ham and that beer. We then tried a cinnamon bracelet. I have no idea what they are really called except that it literally looked like a bracelet but it tasted like a slightly crusty (in a good way) king cake. We could have stayed here all night but apparently there were more Brits in Prague that night so they decided to show the English soccer match instead of the American. We retired to our hotel to watch Landon Donovan lead the Americans to victory.
Of all the cities we went, we were really happy with what we accomplished. We missed things but we were OK with that. We missed things in Prague as well and while we are OK with that, we still feel like we have some unfinished business there. Prague probably deserves two days at a minimum maybe three. We didn’t see half of the castle nor did we get to see the Old Jewish Quarter. At least 10 places we passed were featuring classical music that night. We never made it into Wenceslas Square nor did we really explore Lesser Town. However, we have to take our own advice. We have to act like we are going to go back.
Note: Of course, I started to study Jan Hus in graduate school. I need to go back!