PRAGUE

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We traveled to Prague for five days in July 2008. We went to Prague immediately after our ten-day trip to Turkey.  What can I say about about Prague that hasn't already been said?!? It is absolutely stunning.  It is such a beautiful city; in our opinions and based on our travels, it may only be second to Paris as far as its beauty. 
We stayed at the Corinthia Panorama Hotel.  I booked it through Priceline for $150/night...while we were there, we noticed that double rooms were available for over $300/night! Also, we were "VIP" guests (I'm assuming Priceline's doing), which meant that we had access to the "Executive Lounge".  In the lounge, we had access to unlimited Internet use, drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and delicious chocolates. We had also had access to the gym/pool/sauna (much to my chagrin I only used the gym once), a complimentary fruit basket and water upon our arrival, and free dry cleaning for a few items. The "executive" add-on is typically $30 extra per guest but we didn't have to pay a thing!  This has yet again confirmed my love and obsession with priceline. The hotel is outside of the city center but is located right around the corner from the metro stop "pankrac", which is four stops from the city center. The metro was extremely efficient, easy, and reliable.  One thing we didn't understand about the metro was actually whether we needed to pay. Every day (until we wised up on the last day), we would buy tickets from a newspaper stand. Well, we noticed as we scanned our tickets, that many people would just walk through without scanning anything.  There isn't a gate to open or go through or anything like in DC, so you virtually just walk through.  Finally, on our last day, we felt like being bad-asses, so we didn't buy any tickets and used our tickets from the day before and just walked through (don't think I wasn't scared). We took the metro every day and walked everywhere. There is absolutely no need for a car and/or cabs in Prague, as the city is small and all of the major areas of interest are located in a very compact space.
Prague was a nice change from Turkey in that our days were very relaxed and unplanned.  We slept until about 10 every morning, took our time getting ready, went to our luxurious lounge to check the internet (and eat about 5 pieces of chocolate), and then headed out at about noon or so.  We would then stay in the city until about 8:00 or 9:00 and head back to our hotel.  It was such a change from my normal traveling! We really never had an "itinerary" and just played it by ear each day.  Even though our days started off late, I never felt rushed because we had ample enough time in Prague, and like I said, the city center is pretty compact.
The food is very rich and heavy...stick-to-your-ribs good, although it can be a bit much. It reminded us a lot of the food in Hungary. The cuisine mostly consists of soups, meats, game, and goulashes. We loved the potato soup and ordered it about everywhere we went. T absolutely loved the food...so much that I bought a cookbook so I can make it until we each weigh 300 lbs! After a few lunches and dinners though, I needed a break. We ate pizza two nights, oh, and ravioli another night. But before you judge us, this was Italian-style pizza and it was delicious! Speaking of Italian-style, the ice cream in Prague was incredible...it was exactly like the gelato in Italy. At Cream and Dream in Old Town, I had one of the best ice cream experiences of my life, that's including Italy! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
We drank A LOT of beer on this trip. I mean, when in Rome, right? We hung out a lot at beer halls and took advantage of the delicious beers, dark and light.
The weather was a bit chilly, especially compared to Turkey. Every day was in the high 60s, maybe low 70s, and it drizzled off and on for 2 of our days. It would never drizzle for more than an hour or so, so it wasn't bad. Luckily, I had my paschmina to keep me warm and my umbrella to keep me dry!
We arrived on a Monday, after a 2 1/2 hour flight from Istanbul. Our flight seemed like an eternity...I sat next to "Bahranian Man", who was about 300 lbs., sweaty, and DRUNK. He had finished off 3/4 of a bottle of Jameson prior to the flight and polished off the rest during the flight.  He literally didn't shut up, that is, until he passed out. Oh, he also got in a fight with the flight attendant and started screaming "you are a bad woman", "your heart is black", "you hate me because I'm Arab", "give me my food...this is bullshit", and our personal favorite, "you think you're sexy!" After the screaming, another flight attendant came to give him his lunch and he started crying for about 10 minutes or so. Let's just say this was a flight that we will never forget!
After we arrived, we immediately headed out to the city for lunch/dinner. We ate at some random place on Wenceslas Square that was really good.  I had a delicious pork roasting on a rotisserie (see photo below) that I still think about.
We then proceeded to walk to the infamous Charles Bridge.  The bridge crosses over the Vltava River and it's one of Prague's most important structures.  It is a pedestrian promenade filled with artists and musicians and is lined with 30 baroque-style statues. During the day, the bridged is extremely busy and crowded. The bridge in itself is beautiful and the views of Prague Castle are amazing.
On our second day, we ate lunch at U Medvidku. The pub served typical Czech cuisine and the food was good and reasonably priced. After a filling lunch, we headed over to Prague Castle, where we spent the majority of our afternoon.  Prague Castle is huge hilltop complex that includes St. Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica, the Daliborka Tower, and the Golden Lane. The Cathedral was absolutely stunning and was our favorite of the aforementioned sights. It was the most beautiful cathedral I had ever seen, even more striking than Notre Dame, in my opinion.  The Royal Palace served as a residence for many Bohemian kings and princes and is still used for the inaugurations of presidents.  The Basilica is Prague's oldest Romanesque structure. We weren't that impressed with it, although it offered incredible views of the city.  Golden Lane is a picturesque street of tiny 16th century houses built into the castle fortifications. It now contains small shops and galleries.
We ate dinner outdoors at an Italian restaurant (I told you I needed a break from Czech food...I have no shame...the pizza was so good!) near the Mustek metro.
On our third day, we ate lunch at U Fleku, one of Prague's original microbreweries dating back to 1459. It is Prague's most famous beer hall and one of the few places where they still make their own beer. The food is traditional Czech and is pretty average, but their sweet dark beer is excellent. For extra fun (and the scrapbook) a man playing the accordion provides live entertainment.
After lunch, we walked over to Old Town (Stare Mesto). I loved Old Town; it's filled with winding cobble-stoned streets lined with endless shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants...what's not to love? Old Town Square is also home to the famed Astronomical Clock. We spent the afternoon meandering through the sinuous streets and perusing the shops and galleries. We concluded our day with, what else, beer! We stopped at a cafe right off of Charles Bridge and enjoyed a few beers while sitting outside on the water.
That evening, we saw the opera Don Giovanni at the Estates' Theater.  This theater is where Mozart staged the premier of Don Giovanni in 1787.  The theater itself is gorgeous (see pictures below) and the opera was fabulous.  It was wonderful seeing this performance at the theater where it actually debuted over 200 years ago!
It was drizzling off and on on Thursday.  We had a later start than usual and headed directly to Restaurant U Cizku for lunch. The restaurant was slightly out of the city center near Charles Square.  It serves typical Czech cuisine and was pretty good.  In my opinion, most of the Czech cuisine starts tasting pretty the same: rich and heavy!
My goal for the next two days was to go shopping and find typical Czech handicrafts. Prague is known for the crystal and blood-red garnets. I, of course, wanted to find a ceramic plate for myself, garnet crystal for my sister (I already had a garnet crystal bowl from when T's sister went to Prague a few years ago), and something, anything, for my parents. We ventured over to Wenceslas Square and Na Prikope but had little luck.  So we walked over to my favorite area, Old Town, to peruse the galleries and shops once again. I ended up buying a hand-crafted ceramic plate for myself, a garnet crystal plate for my sister, and a ceramic plate (which T [accidentally] broke in Dulles Airport...I don't want to talk about it) for my parents.
We ate dinner outdoors at U Prince Hotel in Old Town Square. Oh,what a great place for people-watching! Old Town Square is so busy, especially in the summer, and swarms with tourists from all over the world. It's fantastic to sit back, relax, throw back a beer, or two, or three, and watch all the characters walk by.  At this point, we both needed a break from Czech fare, even T.  I had ravioli (I was really reverting back to my roots on this trip) and T had duck. The menu was extensive and the food was good and affordable. What I really liked about the menu was that every item was available in half or full portions. I wasn't that hungry, so I ordered the half portion and it was huge! I could only eat half. One thing that we thought was quite interesting was that they charged a "cover charge", which covers the condiments (which we didn't use) and the bread (which we didn't eat). It's only $2.00 per person, but still...I think that's how they get away with "affordable dining" in a prime location.
Our fifth and final day in Prague was spent eating, drinking, and roaming the streets...hmmm, much like the other four days! We ate our final lunch at Klub Architektu, which was recommended by our new friend, Trish, from our Turkey trip, as well as our Frommers book. The setting is unique; the restaurant is tucked into the alcoves of a 12th-century cellar and you feel as if you are dining in a stone dungeon.  I guess you go there for the ambiance because the food is not very good, but it is cheap.
We walked along the Vltava River to look at the "Dancing Building" (Rasin Embankment Building). It's also known as the "Fred & Ginger" building for its depiction of an abstract dancing couple.
We ended our day, as well as time in Prague, where else, but in Old Town. After walking around all day, we were happy to find an Italian restaurant on the Square (for more people-watching, of course), and eat delicious pizza and drink our last Czech beers.
Clearly, we loved Prague. It is truly a spectacular city and it was a wonderful trip!
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