Czeching Out Prague

Trip Start Aug 22, 2012
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Where I stayed

Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Friday, April 5, 2013

While our friends from the US were visiting Europe, we all headed to the Czech Republic for a weekend trip to Prague, a city ceaselessly referred to as "the most beautiful in Europe" by friends and acquaintances. The appeal of this city didn't end there: Prague is well-known as one of the two beer-making hubs of Europe (the other being Belgium).  Would it live up to this reputation? Could we fit enough sightseeing into two days to even come to such a conclusion?  More importantly, how much beer can a human being consume in that much time?

We arrived in Prague in the early afternoon.  Although our friends were a couple hours behind us, there was something we did arrive with: appetites.  After checking into our hostel, Jaclyn and I mapped out three of the top spots for local/varied beer in the city and, upon finding that one was only a few blocks away, set out in search of food and amber beverages.  Mercifully (it was cold...more on that later), it didn't take long for us to reach our first destination: Pivovarský dům.  This microbrewery offered a variety of homemade beers, from classic light and dark Czech lagers to the more avant garde coffee and nettle beers.  I had the dark lager and a banana beer, Jaclyn had a wheat beer and the coffee beer (which brought a strong aroma of coffee to the table with it).  The beers were delicious, and Pivovarský dům also gave us (well, me) our first taste of regional food (they really love duck meat, evidently).

After eating, we met Nicole and Jessie back at Hostel Advantage, which my brain kept contracting to "Hostage" for some reason, our base of operations for the weekend.  We had a private room (with its own bathroom, thank the Maker) to ensure that our stay was nothing like the feature film Hostel.  And breakfast was included, so, you know, really nothing like the movie.

One of the first things we noticed in Prague was how absolutely merciless many of the crosswalks are.  When the green light signals that it's ok for pedestrians to cross the road, these people are given no more than five seconds to do so before it turns red again.  This allots one just about enough time to make it halfway across the street.  Making this even more hazardous are the aggressive natures of the motorists AND the relatively high probability that they are drunk.  With this much suspense and action, it's no wonder that two Mission: Impossible movies have filmed in Prague.
 
Braving both the crosswalks and the freezing temperatures (the latter of which we've gotten used to over the last several months), we headed to U Fleků, which, having been founded in 1499, is the oldest brewpub in the city (and supposedly the only brewery in Central Europe to have been making beer for 500 consecutive years).  This brewery makes exactly ONE type of beer, a dark lager called Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13°.  Within minutes of sitting down, a waiter stopped by the table with a tray full of freshly-poured lager, passing them out to anyone who needed one.  And, rest assured, when the mug ran dry, he was back in a flash with a new, frothy-headed glass.  I, honestly, never ordered anything at this place.  They just kept preemptively bringing me what I wanted.  Glorious.

Afterward, we walked down the Vlatava River, passing the architectural oddity that is the Fred and Ginger Dancing House (so named for the way in which it looks like two people dancing...which I guess you could say it looks like) on our way to Vyšehrad, a castle sitting atop a hill overlooking the river.  The highlight of this staggeringly cumbersome uphill climb was the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul.  The accompanying cemetery was also interesting, but we were chased out by a groundskeeper whom I referred to as "Old Man Jenkins" and who, I could only assume, would end up being the guy dressed as the phantom at the end of whatever mystery we were about to unwittingly stumble into.  Unfortunately, the only mystery we ultimately encountered was when we walked "off the map" and struggled to find our way back to a metro station.  Having once again worked up an appetite (for beer, of course), we headed to the aptly- (if somewhat lazily-) named "The Tavern," where I consumed the best hamburger I've had in at least eight months.  This place was really fantastic, with a quiet Bohemian vibe that made the meal satiating and relaxing.

After breakfast the next morning, we headed to Old Town Square for a walking tour of the city, which was made relatively difficult due to a marathon taking place that morning that had traffic both automotive and foot-driven congested.  We finally made it to the square, and for the next two hours, our guide, Chris, led us through the city, pointing out various sites of interest while fighting relentlessly to be heard over loudspeakers at the race and a helicopter which, for some reason, decided to hover directly over us for no less than 50% of the tour.  While the girls found themselves fixated upon our tour guide's boyish good looks, I was considerably less impressed, primarily because he informed me that I would not be able to break into the Old-New Synagogue in the Jewish district and see the famous Golem of Prague, rumored to be held within its walls.

We began our tour at the foot of the legendary (and "overrated," according to many people) Astronomical Clock.  Every hour, moving figures put on a little show which culminates with a (human) horn player trumpeting from the top of the tower.  It was fun but, yeah, it sort of felt like something else was going to happen, like watching a firework as its fuse shortens and then sparks away into...nothing.  Okay, okay, a firework with a really fancy, ornate fuse.  Regardless, the clock is certainly impressive looking, with its season dials, zodiac symbols, and actual minute-by-minute time-keeping apparatus.

Our tour took us through the aforementioned Jewish district, past an old Jewish cemetery, a Franz Kafka statue, and a church, in the foyer of which hung the arm of a thief who had once tried to rob the place and was stopped...by a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Yeah, it was story that stretched plausibility, but, well, the arm was totally hanging there.

The tour ended in front of the (by all accounts, "overrated") National Museum, which was the first of four sites featured in Mission: Impossible movies that we saw on the trip.  We then went to Lehká Hlava (which translates as "clear head"), a vegetarian restaurant Jaclyn somehow bamboozled me into going to.  Seriously though, the food and ambiance were great.

Following lunch, we began the journey across Charles Bridge (second M:I location!) to Prague Castle, making a quick stop at the John Lennon Wall.  Many travelers consider this site to be, you guessed it, "overrated," but the graffiti-covered stone wall had a lot of charm, serving as a perpetual reminder of an artist whose work was adopted as an anthem during the revolutionary period of the 1980s.  Also, Spider-Man.  Not really sure about that one.

Much like Budapest, crossing the river to the western part of the city is like stepping into a completely different town.  Shops are situated up and down hilly, cobblestone streets, and a large staircase leading up the hill empties out right next to the Kancelář prezidenta republiky (or, the office of the president--the place that stood in for the Kremlin in M:I-Ghost Protocol).  Just beyond this building is the absolutely massive St. Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic structure dating back to 1344 that is all gargoyles and flying buttresses.

For dinner that night, we headed to Pivovarský klub, the sister restaurant of Pivovarský dům.  While the two places shared their signature lagers, Pivovarský klub did not offer the other originals available at Pivovarský dům, instead opting for a huge menu of bottled beers from all over Europe (including one or two from the US) and a few other regional beers on draught.

During our final hours in the city Sunday morning, we headed back to the Old Town Square to meander through the (for some reason still functioning) Easter market.  Jaclyn and I stopped by the Praha Hlavni Nadrazi (the train station, and final stop on our Mission: Impossible reality tour) and grabbed some pastries at Cukrarna Hajek before hopping on the bus back to Vienna.  My only regret is that we didn't spend anther day or so there to take in some museums (the Museum of Torture Devices was particularly enticing) and, of course, to drink more absolutely fantastic Czech beer.
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Comments

Nicole Service on

Prague really was beautiful, I think overall my favorite stop on the trip, though a difficult place not to drink. Beautiful scenery, beautiful buildings, beautiful tour guide, and tons of morbid stories. It was everything I dreamed of.

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