Prague - Part 1

Trip Start Apr 21, 2009
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Trip End May 02, 2009


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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Friday, April 24, 2009

We arrived in Prague on the overnight train from Frankfurt right on schedule - shortly before 10 o'clock in the morning...I was looking out of the window and noticed that after we passed Dresden the countryside was becoming prettier and prettier, and then the names of the stations were appearing in a different language...we were not in Germany anymore...







Prague greeted us with warm sunny weather, blooming horse chestnut trees and the scent of lilac in the air...now, I had never been to Prague before, but the scent of lilac and the sight of candle-like flowers of the horse chestnuts are sooo unmistakably familiar...I know I've mentioned it before, and I can't help but say it again - it is sweetly nostalgic to me...we travel a lot, but it was the first time that we happened to be in Europe in the end of April - exactly when horse chestnuts and lilac begin to bloom...and so - I suddenly realized how much I miss it...sure, you can plant a lilac bush or two where you live, but it's not the same...over there - lilac is everywhere, just everywhere...some streets are literally drowning in it...the air is permeated with its scent...well, I'd better stop now before my raving gets completely out of control! :)













anyway, we checked into our hotel which turned out to be very modern, hip and friendly place...several people asked my recommendation for hotel in Prague (Prague is a very popular destination nowadays!), and although my experience is obviously limited, I could say that we liked a lot and would definitely stay again at The Icon Boutique Hotel !...






I booked it by chance when the hotel I was looking at in the Old City turned out to be completely booked out...now, having been to Prague, I could say that we would not want to stay in the Old City anyway - the crowds of tourists there are unbelievable...The Icon Hotel is on a little quiet street, yet - within 5 - 10 minutes walk from the Old City and even less than 5 minutes from the main street Wenceslas Square...

this hotel is also within walking distance from the train station - which mattered to us (because we arrived to Prague and left it by train)...it's new, modern, comfortable...they have a trendy bar there popular with cool local crowd - The Jet Set bar...and their breakfast is quite good, made to order (there are buffet items, too, but the eggs, toasts, coffee/espresso/cappuccino are made to your specifications) and served all day long (so if you are a late sleeper - you don't have to worry about missing the breakfast time)...anyway, we liked the hotel a lot...

having checked in, we decided to go to the Castle Quarter - a neighborhood with Prague's most important church (St. Vitus Cathedral), Old Royal Palace, Strahov Monastery and a maze of little picturesque streets and courtyards...speaking of "picturesque" - the # 22 tram that took us up there (it's all uphill) makes for a very picturesque ride and gives you a brief overview of the city...






we started with the Strahov Monastery - the highest point of this neighborhood - and made our way down to the Castle...my dear hard-working angel had to participate in a phone conference call (work never ends for him), and we needed a relatively quiet place for an hour or two...so we got the furthest table in the courtyard of the Monastery Brewery ("Klásterní Pivovar")...the brewery was founded in the early 17th century (although it was closed for a while in the past), and the monks brew rare unpasteurized yeast beer on premises...I don't really like beer that much, but I was in Bohemia - how could I not try their best beer?...so I did try it - a sip of light beer and a couple of sips of dark beer (I liked dark better), and my dear angel ended up finishing both mugs after his conference finally ended...


we ordered a few simple dishes for a light lunch there, and I tried a drink popular among locals -"becherovka"...


I liked "becherovka"a lot!...it is slightly bitter liqueur that is made of more than 10 different herbs and supposedly has certain therapeutic qualities...some say that "becherovka" has aphrodisiac effect as well...that might be true: it's difficult for me as it is to take my eyes and hands off my beloved angel, but after a dose of "becherovka" - nearly impossible! :)

afterwords, we went down the steep winding street to the Castle Square - the central square of the Castle Quarter where kings, noblemen and religious leaders used to live...after a short walk through the series of gates and courtyards we got to St. Vitus Cathedral...unfortunately it was already closed for climbing (such a disappointment to me!), but we were still able to get inside and see the beautiful murals and opulent tombs of the kings...







we detoured a little to go to one of the absinthe shops in the Castle Quarter...it was more for the sake of curiosity than anything else...I first tried absinthe last year in London, and although I can't say that I am crazy about it - I still like it well enough...It has only recently become legal in the United States even though in Europe it's been legal for quite some time...in Czech Republic, however, it has been legal for much longer than in most other European countries...so - they even developed their own tradition of absinthe preparation...






I am posting various styles of absinthe preparation here (courtesy of the internet and Google) - with it being legal now it might be helpful one day :)

Modern-Style: Add equal amount of water and sugar (or coke) to absinthe and drink.
French Tradition: Pour the absinthe into a shot glass, put a sugar cube on a slotted spoon and hold it over the shot glass. Pour water over the sugar to dissolve it into the drink.
Czech Tradition: Pour the absinthe into a big glass. Stir the drink, then dip the wet spoon into sugar, covering the spoon. Light the spoon on fire, letting the sugar caramelize, then dip it into the drink and stir. Add water to the glass and drink. You will see many variations of this in Prague.





In Prague (and probably in the whole country) there are many absinthe bars (such as Absinthe Time - a bar completely dedicated to absinthe) and smaller absinthe shops - such as the one we stopped by...the owner mixed up our absinthe according to the Czech tradition, and even my angel - who hated it back in London - found it almost acceptable...as for me - I liked it this time even more than before...maybe it's an acquired taste...well, we are still far from connoisseurs...maybe when I begin to use the names like "Lucid", "Pernod", "Mata Hari", "Kubler" instead of the all-inclusive word "absinthe" - then I'll know that I've progressed to the next level :)


after our little absinthe-tasting expedition we went back in the direction of St. Vitus Cathedral...and a few steps past the Basilica of St. George (Bazilika sv. Jirí ) we found ourselves on a little pretty street called Zlatá ulicka ("Golden little street")...the street looks as if it came straight from some fairy tale - very charming, with these colorful toy-like little houses....














but as tiny as the houses seem to be - people actually lived there...Franz Kafka lived in # 22, for example...





many goldsmiths and alchemists who tried to transform metals into gold used to live on Zlatá ulicka for years...there is even a legend about an old alchemist who lived there...his name was Doctor Uhle, and he spent all his life studying old magic books and doing various experiments in the lab inside his house in hopes of finding the elixir of life and being able to transform things into gold...
the elixir of life he apparently had not found - because one day his house exploded, and he was found dead inside...as for the second objective of his experiments - who knows...clasped tightly in his dead fingers there was a big yellow stone which - upon the examination - was proved to be real gold...how it got into his hand - nobody will ever find out now...because even if there was some secret - the old Doctor Uhle took it with him to his grave...apparently transformation of things into gold does not work well without the elixir of life...

















we lingered on Zlatá ulicka for a little bit and then walked further downhill... in a few minutes we found ourselves in the neighborhood called The Little Quarter (Malá Strana) on the bank of the Vltava river...it was getting late, but we still wandered around Prague...somehow it is very easy to find your way in this city...at least it was so for me...we got back to the hotel without any maps or asking for directions...and we did not take a taxi, metro or tram - it is so easy to walk in Prague...and so pleasant...












my dear angel has wonderful relatives who live in Prague - Inka and Michal (Inka's son)...so that night we spoke with Inka, and she kindly offered to show us around her city....we agreed to meet the next morning at our hotel...we would have a great time with Inka and Michal in Prague, but that is the subject for the next blog...





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