Where did I go: Prague, Czech Republic
When did I go: December 2015
Sunday – 6th December
1400: Just arrived in Prague. Nice and easy exit at the airport, pre-booked taxi to the hotel, and we were all checked into our rooms within an hour of landing.
We (that’s me, my other half G and our friends M & J) are staying at the Boscolo Prague – a luxury 5 star hotel located just off the centre of Prague.
1600: After a brief walk to stretch our legs, we decided to hit the hotel spa – it has a sizeable pool, Jacuzzi, Sauna, Steamroom and a Plunge Pool. Thing to note: just like in many other European countries (but not UK) everyone goes in the Sauna “au naturale” – apparently it is unhygienic to wear your swimsuit in to the Sauna. (Anyone know why? I’ve asked google and I have not come across a reasonable answer)
1800: At the Old Town Square. A huge and lavishly decorated Christmas tree dominates the square. Many twinkling fairy lights are draped over other trees and the square is dotted with little red-roofed market stalls of the German (or in this case Czech) Christmas market. The Church of Our Lady before Tyn towers above the square and looks like Disney’s sleeping beauty castle.
This is where the eating (and drinking) began. We started with mulled wine and beer and hot dogs. Now, as a vegetarian, I hit my first (and only) problem with Prague – if you don’t eat meat, the choice of food is severly limited. So I had to pretend to enjoy my (rather bland) corn on the cob, while the others gorged on hot dogs.
1900: Moved on to another corner of the Old Town Square. Here, my companions found a ham roast and I discovered “Trdelnik”. This is a sweet pastry popular in middle Europe and has Slovak origins. It has a hollow centre and is baked over a fire pit and dusted with sugar. Trdelnik actually means “empty head” – quite appropriate given the shape of the pastry.
1930: On the famous Charles Bridge. It spans the river Vltava and connects the Old Town to the Little town below the castle. From the bridge, you can see the beautifully illuminated Prague castle on the hill.
2000: Dinner. Very good food and beer. I had a very nice coconut beer, but with an alcohol content on only 0.25%, I’m not sure that it qualifies as a beer.
2130: Time for dessert and another beer at Lokal. A hugely popular place frequented by tourists and locals alike. Drinkswise they serve only Plisner Urquell – a lager brewed in the town on Plzen. But they serve it in four different “cuts” (See picture below) – which is something to do with how much froth the beer has (or is it “head”? I really should pay more attention when people talk about beer). Anyway, none of them tasted very good to me, although G, M & J thought they were very good.
Monday – 7th December
0945: On a city tour bus. The city of Prague is made up of four parts: Old Town (Prague’s most central, and busiest area), New Town (the commercial heart of Prague), Little Town (aristocratic houses surrounding the castle) and Hradcany and Prague Castle. The tour bus take us to each of these in turn and drops us off with the tour guide at the castle entrance. From here, you get a great view of the little town below the castle and the old and new towns across the river (but you can’t see much today because of the fog).
For a country with over four decades of communist dictatorship, Prague only has a very small number of what I would call “Soviet style” buildings. Here is a picture of one. However, many of the old buildings fell into disrepair during the communist era – many of them have since been restored.
Prague has a history of well over 1000 years, during which it was an important centre of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was also known as Bohemia for much of its history. It became the capital of Czechoslovakia at the end of World War I and was occupied by Nazi Germany during WWII. In 1948 it became a communist dictatorship backed by the USSR until the fall of the Berlin wall. In 1993, Czechoslovakia was peacefully dissolved into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with Prague remaining the capital of the former.
1130: Quick tour of the St. Vitus Cathedral located inside the castle. It is the largest church of the Czech Republic and an excellent example of Gothic architecture. The ceiling looks to be at least 60m high, but according to our tour guide, this is an optical illusion created by the narrow arches, which are only 33m high. The church took nearly 800 years to complete and houses the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors – among them the tomb of St. Wenceslas (the “Good King Wenceslas” of the Christmas Carol)
1315: After a quick tour of the castle courtyards, the tour continues down the hill, through the little town, over the Charles Bridge, finishing by the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. Built in 1410, it is the oldest working Astronomical Clock in the world.
1330: Time for lunch (and more beer). Excellent beer and food again (duck, chicken, and beef for G, M & J and a really boring Barley dish for me – it tastes a bit like stuffing, but without any flavour.)
1500: Shopping for some Bohemian Crystal glasses.
1530: Walking around the New Town and Wenceslas Square, which is home to several international department stores, including Marks and Spencer.
1600: Afternoon coffee/dessert at a café. Many types of hot chocolate on offer: hot chocolate with coconut, hot chocolate with orange, hot chocolate with cherries (which is essentially a black forest gateaux cake in liquid form) etc. The café is warm and cozy and I could happily snooze until dinnertime, but my friends have other ideas.
1730: Cocktails at Hemingway’s – this is a very popular cocktail bar in Prague and it’s supposed to be very difficult to get a seat if you haven’t pre-booked. However, today there’s only a few after work drinkers around, and we manage to get a seat and several cocktails. The cocktails are indeed works of art – and not too expensive either.
1900: At Cathedral of St. Clement for a classical musical concert: Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Completely unplanned, but got some last minute discounted tickets just because we were going past. Music provided by the string quartet of the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra in Prague and a Soprano. Beautiful music in a grand setting.
2030: Dinner at an Italian restaurant. Centrepiece is fish. I also get the chance to try some non-alcoholic beer, which is quite nice.
2230: Another restaurant for dessert. Really tasty fig cake and fried cheese (yes I know). To finish off the day, a cup of mint tea (although a beer would have been cheaper)
Tuesday – 8th December
1000: On the tram to the Prague castle – we are going to the Strahov Monastery next to the castle. Taking the tram in Prague is easy. You can buy the tickets at any tram station – a one way ticket is 24 Krona and is valid for 30 minutes from when you start your journey. When you get on the tram you insert it into the machine in the tram which puts a time stamp on the ticket and validates it.
1100: At the Strahov Monastery. It is home to the unique Strahov library, which is the largest monastic library in the country with over 200,000 books. The library is located in two large halls, with floor to ceiling bookcases and Baroque ceiling frescos.
1200: It’s just gone past mid-day, so must be time for beer! I’m having an eggnog coffee – latte with egg whites and rum.
1330: Walking down the hill from the castle to the little town, stopping at a few gift and souvenir shops along the way.
1430: It’s been more than 5 minutes since our last drink, so must be time for another beer :). You guessed it, I had the hot chocolate! My alcohol tolerance level is much lower than the others, so I have to pace myself.
1530: At the John Lennon wall. It’s a normal wall which has been filled with John Lennon inspired graffiti. Apparently, the wall started in 1988, when young Czechs who opposed the communist regime would write grievances on the wall and subsequently this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge.
The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paint.
1600: At the John Lennon pub – just 50m from the Lennon Wall. This is where I tried Grog – Rum (or Whiskey) with hot-water and lemon. The others had beer. (You may have noticed by now that I have a taste for the spirits unlike the others who keep on the beer. See, my view is, why drink down a whole pint when you can get the same amount of alcohol with a teaspoon of the strong stuff? )
Also tried their excellent double skewer kebabs with fries.
1800: Walking back to Old Town via the Charles Bridge. Quick stop on the Bridge to rub two Brass Plaques on the side of the bridge. One of St. John of Nepomuk, which makes your wishes come true, and another of a dog, which ensures your return to Prague.
1900: Dinner at a restaurant in the Jewish quarter. Spinach pancakes covered with Cheese for me, meat for everyone else.
2030: At the Old Town square Christmas market again. Time for a spot of Christmas gift shopping – but, items on sale are exactly the same as what you would get at a Christmas market in the UK – the handcrafted and personalised chocolates I got for the grandparents, the lovely embroidered apron I got for my mother-in-law, the beautiful, hand painted candle holder I got for an aunt – it’s all here! This is what makes me cynical about Christmas markets – there must be a factory somewhere churning out these “authentic”, “one-off” products for every Christmas market in Europe.
2145: At the Municipal House. This is one of Prague’s most lavish and exuberant buildings – both inside and outside. Built in the early 1910s it’s been carefully restored in the 1990s in the Art Nouveau style. A lot of consideration and effort has gone in to the restoration of the building and it is clear for all to see. Take the café just inside of the entrance – It is like a walk-in museum for the Art Nouveau style and I feel really under-dressed in jeans and boots.
It has a wonderful 1920s atmosphere, and a dessert trolley! There’s something very glamorous about being served dessert from a trolley. Oh, and the hot chocolate – It’s worth visiting Prague for this hot chocolate alone. It is actually melted dark cocoa, so thick you could almost make the spoon stand-up in it. And of course, it comes with a shot of rum – especially for me 🙂
Wednesday – 9th December
0900: Taxi from hotel to airport, quick check-in and through security.
1000: One last Czech meal before we go.
1200: And we are off. Good-bye Praha – until next time.