|The John Lennon Wall.|
We're renting a small apartment in the Little Quarter, something we found through Airbnb. It's a charming little studio decorated with Ikea furniture and several Audrey Hepburn accoutrements. It's ideally located within blocks of the western entrance of the Charles Bridge, but just far enough away to escape all the touristy hub-bub.
We spent our first day taking a guide-book tour of our hood. Some of the highlights included a walk around the weird-sculpture-adorned Kampa Island, a peek at the colorful and imaginative John Lennon Wall and a late-night classical concert at the Baroque-tastic Saint Nicholas Church. If you can imagine, being as sleepy as we were, we had a hell of a time staying awake for that latter activity. We capped off the evening with a romantic stroll across the Charles Bridge, which afforded us our first glimpse of the more-touristy but totally gorgeous eastern side of the Vltava River. We can't wait to see more of it tomorrow.
|View from the Castle Quarter.|
Andrea Řezníčková (booked via Personal Prague Guide), a bubbly, early-thirtysomething "typical Prague girl," showed up at our door this morning at 11 a.m. She took us to a local cafe, where we "drew into a map" to configure a walking tour suited to our interests. We asked her to take us on a tour that started with sites pertaining to some of Prague's oldest history (think Hapsburgs) and transitioned to some of the more modern stuff (think Commie assholes). We started by taking a tram to the Castle Quarter where we toured the Prague Castle, which houses the offices of the sitting president, Václav Klaus, and the spectacular but way-too-crowded Saint Vitus Cathedral. Then we rode down to Prague's main thoroughfare, Wenceslas Square, where, on Nov. 17 1989, thousands of Prague citizens filled the streets to protest the country's one-party government. Known as the Velvet Revolution, this was the moment that catapulted the country to freedom from restrictive Communist rule. Andrea was an extremely well-informed guide who was happy to answer every question we threw at her — and there were a lot. It was especially interesting to hear about her own experiences with Communism in the '80s. We ended our tour over beer and a delicious spicy cheese spread at Restaurace u Provaznice (aka The Ropemakers Wife).
After that, Alan and I pulled out the guide book and did a little rogue-style touring. We went to the stunning Old Town Square where we wedged ourselves into a ridiculous crowd to watch the funny Astronomical Clock go off at the top of the hour, and toured some of the surrounding churches. On the way home we stopped by an outdoor market called Havelske to pick up some fresh raspberries for breakfast.
|At Country Life vegetarian restaurant.|
In the evening we met up with my friend and City Paper colleague Samantha, who just so happens to be on a trip here, too, with her friend Yvonne. We had a great time gabbing over a delicious dinner (and wine!) at another vegetarian restaurant called Maitrea, which also served meat-free variations on typical Czech cuisine and a few ethnically inspired dishes. Dessert and coffee was had at the historical Café Louvre, a favorite hangout of famous dudes like Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein. We tried a variety of tasty desserts — an apple strudel, and ricotta and raspberry cakes — but my hot chocolate with rum was probably the best. It was topped with a hefty dollop of housemade whip cream. Di-vine!
After dropping off the ladies at their hotel, Alan and I strolled back to our apartment via Charles Bridge, which, for the first time since we've been on it, was crowd-free. It gave us a nice chance to walk across leisurely, checking out each of the statues and gaze at Prague's dreamy landscape, all lit up like a fairy-tale land on each side of the Vltava River.
|On Petřín Hill.|
The Dancing House was pretty cool, a super modern clunk of architecture that sits on a corner alongside a row of fancy baroque, gothic and art nouveau-era facades. From there, we crossed back onto the eastern side of the Vltava to take an exhausting hike up Petřín Hill. The view from up top was something else.
We ended our night with a fab meal at Lehka Hlava, another crunchy vegetarian restaurant owned by the same folks as Maitrea. We actually liked this spot a little better. The food was about the same, but the atmosphere was cozier, setup in a small dining room decorated in a colorful enchanted-jungle motif. It was pretty dreamy.
Final Impressions: Prague has earned itself a spot at the top of our favorite-places list. The city is extremely walkable and fairly easy to navigate - that is, when you're not being stalled by the crowds. It's definitely a tourists' city. I'm thankful we stayed in the Little Quarter, which kept us just far enough away from the hustle-bustle but only a hop and skip to Old Town, where most things seem to be happening. Prague is an exciting, vibrant town, and one of the most beautiful places we've seen. The enchanting, well-preserved blend of architecture — Medieval castles and looming baroque cathedrals alongside Art Nouveau-era concert halls and ornate Renaissance palaces — lends the city an enchanting quality that makes you feel like you're living in an honest-to-God fairy tale - especially when it's glowing at night. We had a wonder- filled time.
Language: Neither of us have had any experience with the Slavic-rooted language. But the Czech people have had plenty of practice with ours. We did our best to use some of the basics. Locals seemed appreciative when we'd say things like "Dobrý den" ("Hello," pronounced "doe-bree den") or "Deku" ("Thank you," pronounced "jyaa-quee"). But we never had to go much further than that.
Food: We didn't have a single bad meal in Prague. We started the trip seeking out traditional Czech cuisine, which is hearty, super flavorful and bone-sticking. Our favorite regional bites were the goulash (tomato-based stew with spices, beef and potatoes) and the spicy cheese spread we had at Restaurace u Provaznice. When we felt like we'd had it with the meats and cheeses, finding veggie restaurants was a breeze — contrary to what we heard before coming. We found three places (all listed above) that we loved, and saw several more. The wine was great, too, especially in a culture that thrives on beer. We made it a point to stick with regional varieties, which tend to be full-bodied and almost pepper-y when red, and the whites were nicely dry and crisp.
Money: The U.S. dollar goes a little farther in the Czech Republic - especially when dining. For example, our meal at Lehky Hlava (two glasses of wine, an appetizer, two entrees, a dessert and two cups of tea) was 700 Kč, which may sound wildly expensive, but was only $35. Tip: An easy way to convert kcs to dollars is to drop the last number (700 = 70) and divide that by two (70 \2 = 35). We were told by our landlord and tour guide that it's customary to round to the nearest half-dollar when tipping (700 = 750 = about $38). Easy breezy cheapy!
Next stop: South to Český Krumlov, a small castle down near the Austrian border. Stay tuned!.