Saturday, August 6, 2016


We arrived in Prague after a 4 hour train from Vienna and were met at the rail station for the transfer to our apartment (included in our rental, nice.)  After settling into the apartment we headed out to get some Cz Krona and a late lunch. Before finding the ATM machine, Pat found some shoes that caught her eye…at Gucci. She didn't check the price!

We enjoyed glasses of Czech Republic wine along with mixed salad, sausage in a beer and tomato sauce, and baked brie with bread and cranberry sauce at V Kolkovne, a classic Czech restaurant.

As we walked the streets we noted numerous “old” cars being used as tourist transports. You guessed it, they have “Vintage Car Tours” here. Note: Most of the sites are in areas where cars are not allowed. Walking and Segway tours work well. If you want to offer transportation, you need to make it the event, i.e. riding in a vintage car.

We stopped in the main square for a few photos before heading to a bakery for pastries, a super market for blueberries and bread, and a nearby mini-market for milk and juice. The super market was in a mall near the main square. The mall includes a little wine shop where we picked up two bottles of red for the apartment. We were lost in the maze of streets for a bit but managed to find our way back to the apartment, the streets run at all angles and are connected by walking tunnels at times. Quite a maze to negotiate even with google, especially those tunnels where “she” loses her signal.

Next morning we headed across the river and up the hill to Prague Castle. We took a tram up the hill and walked through the gardens to the entrance. 

The Interior of the St Vitus Cathedral is impressive, the castle not so much, other than for its size. The Cathedral combines “The Old Church” from 14C and a new extension completed in the 1920’s. It blends well but if you look at the individual elements, some are clearly more modern, such as the stained glass window by Alfons Mucha that celebrates the birth of the Czech nation and the life of Wenceslas.
The "Old Church" at St Vitus
The Alfons Mucha window in the "New Church"
Lunch was at Lokal U Bile Kuzelky, down hill from the castle called.  A great tomato, pepper, cucumber and feta cheese salad was followed by fried cheese and a pork, onion, and pepper k-bab with a side of potato salad. Pat had a dark beer, "Kozell Black" and Bill had a “light” one, "Pilsner Urquell". Both were excellent although anyone looking for a light beer would have been overwhelmed by Bill’s, more an amber than light in US terms.
Cute buildings across the street from Lokal Restaurant

We crossed back over the river on the pedestrian-only medieval Charles Bridge which is lined with statues reflecting religious scenes. The bridge is also lined with caricature artists and stalls selling jewelry and art. There were some good views of the river, the castle (behind us) and rooftop statues and domes as we crossed the river. 

Looking back at the castle from Old Town

In researching Prague and environs we discovered an area referred to as Elbe Sandstones. The area spans national parks in two countries, the Saxon Switzerland National Park in Germany & the Bohemian Switzerland NP in the Cz Rep. It appealed to our outdoors adventure side so we booked a full day tour including 5 miles of hiking. Our tour companions, all mid-thirties or less, were from Sweden, London, Australia, Canada, and Boston. We were pleased to be able to keep up with the best of them although Pat admits she was getting pretty tired by the end.

We started in the Bohemian part of the park with a hike in Edmund Gorge near Hřensko, Cz Rep. We hiked down a steep trail into the gorge and along the Kamenice River. Enroute to the trail we passed by several places offering drinks... We're pretty sure that Coke tastes the same everywhere, but while we haven't tried it yet, we are quite sure that Bud here actually has some flavor, note that České Budějovice, Cz Rep is the true home of Budweiser.

Map of the Czech National Park

The sandstone overhangs and sheer walls were covered in moss, lichen, and trees (they grow in the water absorbed by the sandstone). There were also plenty of ferns along the path and long waves of grass growing in the river. The trail ended when the canyon walls rose directly from the river. Here they offer a boat service through the canyon, the boat being propelled by poling. After the boat ride we continued along the gorge returning to Hřensko. 

Back in Hřensko we were offered a range of traditional Czech foods for lunch.  Bill chose the minced boar with cabbage and potato accompanied by a pilsner;  Pat went with the roast pork with spatzle and spinach with a "half dark" beer. 

After lunch we were off to the German national park. We stopped at the "Bastei” mountain bridge for a walk among the sandstone towers. The trail was a series of paths and bridges sometimes made of metal.  In medieval times there were houses built on top of the columns.  It must have been quite an ordeal to get home from the base.  We enjoyed the views down over the river Elbe canyon and around to the nearby table mountains ...although it would have been nicer in sunshine rather than the light rain. 

People crossing the Bastei Bridge

Back in Prague we enjoyed pizza and wine at Pepe Nero near our apartment.

Thursday we explored the streets of Old Town. The streets do not follow any regular pattern making it a challenge to navigate through the area. Once we recognized a few key streets (ones that extend more than 1 or 2 blocks) it became much easier to find our way around. We later learned that Prague may be the only major European city to have survived the wars with an extensive medieval core, hence the streets were not updated to remove the bottlenecks or to add avenues in the Old Town.

On our first outing of the day we planned to just pick up pastries and fruit for breakfast. Then we realized that we were practically in the Old Town Square. So we detoured for a couple photos...
This is the "House of the Minute" - they used distinctive names,
rather than numbers to identify addresses.

There is lots of cool architecture around the Old Town Square

The Astronomical Clock is extremely popular. But it is even more impressive if you know more about it. There is a succinct explanation at . One point stands out for us:the clock is based on "Italian hours" (we have no idea what that really means) but the key point is that the day is divided into daylight/daytime and darkness/nightime...and each has 12 hours but the length of an hour is the time of daylight or darkness divided by 12. So if we understand this, a daylight hour VERY rarely equals a nightime hour.
The astronomical clock
We finally got back to our errands (this time finding an ATM). From there we headed back to our apartment. Along the way we had to make a photo stop. This time looking to the north at St Vitus and the Castle.

After dropping off our purchases, we headed back to checkout the market.  Pat would have bought one of every fruit and a few veggies, but we have no time to cook and we were scheduled for a "Food Tour" at 2pm.  So she contented herself with photos (and drooling).  
In our experience to date,  European food markets are aimed at the locals. This one "gets it".
Many stalls offered small baskets of mixed fruit and a little fork. Pat still can't believe she didn't buy one.
We wandered some of the shopping districts (souvenirs and designer brands abound) and snapped a few photos before heading to our afternoon Foodie Tour, with Taste of Prague. Not only did we enjoy the tour, it was so great of Jan to provide us with a full summary. See following...

1. We had the pickled herring with wasabi mayo, and the beet root puree with goat cheese “chlebicek", the open-faced sandwich, at the Sisters bistro.

2. We followed with meatloaf on bread, Wiener sausage, headcheese with vinegar and onions, and smoked pork cracklings at the Nase maso butcher shop. Both the bistro and the butcher shop are at Dlouha 39 street.

3. We had the pork schnitzel with potato salad, the Prague ham with horseradish cream, and pork goulash with dumplings at the Lokal pub at the Dlouha 33 street. We also had Pilsner Urquel lager - regular pour and milk style pour.
Ham with shredded horseradish in whipped cream -
The ham, nice and moist. The sauce, very light & mild.
A "milk" pour, aka "froth" is beer poured to be all head.  The froth is considered sweeter.
A slice is half foam. A normal pour still had significant head.
4. We had wines at the Bokovka wine bar at Dlouha 37. Namely the 2014 Creme de Cambrium by Mr Nejedlik, the 2013 Welsh Riesling by Mr Nepras, and the 2009 Blaufrankisch by Mr Madl.

5. We continued with the Scotch egg, the vanilla custard donut and the Matuska California IPA at Maso a kobliha at Petrska 23.

6. We finished at the Eska restaurant (Pernerova 49) with fermented beet root soda, burnt potato in ash with potato espuma, fermented red wheat with sous-vide egg and button mushrooms, and zemlovka: bread pudding with apples in an espuma of vanilla and rum.

In summary, a lot of great food that in fact kept getting better!

Friday morning was rainy so we relaxed and stayed in until we were ready to head to lunch. We decided to go to a Tapas Restaurant we had previously discovered. 

We started with Cava followed by Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, jumbo Olives stuffed with caper seed pods, crusty bread and red wine. The mushroom risotto that followed was spectacular (in Pat’s opinion…but she says that a lot, yet in this case Bill might agree). We finished with cappuccino.

Risotto with 3 kinds of mushrooms, including those slivered chocolate looking pieces
Next we went to the Alfons Mucha Museum. Honestly, Pat recognized the name and knew that we had seen his stained glass work at the cathedral, but once she investigated further she knew she had to go to the museum.  His Art Nouveau works evoke such memories and imagination. She thinks this results from reading her Mom’s childhood books that were illustrated in Mucha’s style.  We enjoyed  watching a young girl (maybe 8 years old) who was as mesmerized with his works and his story as Pat was.  As we left, Pat commented that she now has one more “favorite” artist.  And that she has to see Mucha’s “Slav Epic”, a series of huge pieces covering the story of the Slavic people…hoping and expecting it to be of similar impact as Diego Rivera’s murals…we will see.
Mucha Posters recreated as bookmarks
On our way back to the apartment we stopped at a Wine shop to prepare for a relaxing evening at home.  After dinner we went for a walk along the river.  The clearing skies made for some nice lighting on the surrounding landscape. We have been here a few days and each time we come and go, we notice a few more of the Art Nouveau details of our building. For instance the lion on the main door and the character on the staircase. There's more but we don't want to bore you.

Saturday, our last day in Prague, we were off to the National Museum to see Mucha’s "Slav Epic". The series of 20 paintings is his interpretation of Slavic history, in panels up to 20' high and 26' wide.  Fortunately the works are accompanied with a story explaining the history addressed and the message of each piece. We learned a lot and appreciate the effort he made to help his people take pride in their past and look forward to a great future. 
"King Otakar II if Bohemia" - Depicts the celebration of a marriage used to strengthen relations with other European nations ...features many royal figures from around Europe.

We also breezed through three other floors of European art with works by our Austrian "friends" Klimt & Egon Schiele, as well as Edvard Munch, Miró, Picasso, Monet, van Gogh, etc. Included was another artist who's work caught our eye, possibly due to fond memories of Rhodes...
Frantisek Kupka - Colossus of Rhodes, 1906

We returned to Pepe Nero for lunch.  For us Italian food is comfort food. And food wise, we needed a “normal meal”. This one included an arugula and tomato salad (with amazingly sweet and tasty tomatoes), Carbonara for Pat, and Amatriciana for Bill. The accompanying Negroamaro was excellent. Another wine that we were really sorry to have finished. The team advised us, they had more but we had to exercise restraint.

At Pepe Nero
After lunch we enjoyed a walk around the Jewish Quarter where we are staying. Today it was strikingly different. Being Saturday the major Jewish sites are closed and hence there were about 1/10 the number of tour groups. Frankly, this neighborhood, which has an amazing number of "still-standing" Jewish landmarks is a mob scene of tourists. We would sympathize with the locals having to deal with the heavy tourist traffic... but maybe we don't need to, apparently the "locals" all live in the newer neighborhoods, leaving Old Town to the tourists.  Granted, we would have liked to see more of the sites but with the rain on Friday, we opted out of a morning tour...overlooking that a Saturday tour would only view the outside of the sites.
Clocks on the Jewish Quarter Town Hall - one is traditional with Roman numerals,
the other uses Hebrew numbers and spins counter clockwise to represent the
Hebrew language being read right to left
On our evening stroll along the river, crossing over at the Manesuv most (Bridge) and back at the pedestrian Karluv most we caught some photos of the many swans in the Vltava river, some kind of powered boogie board event, and the surrounding buildings and statues.

A view of Old Town over the Charles Bridge (Karlovy most)
A competition going on in the river. Bill's telephoto captured this much.
They appear to be on powered boogie boards...
A view toward Old Town from the Charles Bridge
The image we imagined getting from the Charles Bridge toward Old Town

Our overall assessment of Prague:
  • A wonderful place to wander the maze of streets, get lost, and then discover how easy it is to get around and how convenient things really are.
  • A place loaded with great photo ops glad we were very selective in what we included here
  • Foodwise, search out the avant garde places that are rediscovering their roots and offer more tasty options. The basic roasted meat is surprisingly tasty but not something we'd look forward to eating meal after meal. The fried cheese and tartar sauce is also good but a bit bland. The accompanying potato salad is truly good. And the everyday beer is really flavorful. 
  • There are several great daytrips. We planned on two but really only had time for one. 

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