In Prague, I ate traditional Svickova – which is pretty much the Czech version of Thanksgiving dinner. Recommended by a friend who lives in Prague, it definitely made me feel more at home. Instead of turkey and mashed potatoes though, it was beef tenderloin in a gravy served with bread dumplings and cranberry sauce. Becherovka was just as prominent in Prague as it was in Karlovy Vary, too. So lots of herbal (38 herbs to be exact) after dinner drinks were happening and I wasn’t mad about it 🙂 Aside from eating like a local Czech citizen, I instantly fell head over heels for the city of Prague. Confidently calling it the most magical city I have ever visited, and my new favorite spot in Europe. The Golden City sparkles with such character, charm, color and life. Keeping its authenticity from the luck of not being bombed in the war, Prague is a true testament of old European beauty.
Prague lured me in the moment we stepped off the train and hopped into a cab. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and headed straight towards the Mala Strana neighborhood (Mala Strana meaning, Lesser Town or Little Quarter…but don’t let the name fool you, there is nothing less interesting or less beautiful about this part of town), where we would be staying at a beautiful ornate Preferred Boutique Hotel – The Alchymist – which was located right next to the US Embassy, so security was quite impressive in our cul de sac of cobblestones. The hotel held such gorgeous features and was pure luxury. My husband, mother-in-law and I dropped our bags off, I sat and stared at the beautiful Bohemian crystal chandelier in our room, and then we immediately set out to explore the neighborhood and grab lunch. We stopped at a corner cafe, had a couple of beers, stopped in a couple really cool markets and got to know the area a bit better. After doing a lot of research on Prague food and dining, we realized that our hotel had a fabulous restaurant! So we decided that after a long day of traveling, and with a rain storm coming through that night, fine dining at the hotel sounded wonderful! After dinner we got a Becherovka at the tiny bar, where I was hypnotized by the amazing interiors (and maybe a little by the Becherovka pour!).
Prague fit the perfect irony of luring me in by the past and keeping my full attention of combining the present and future all in one. The artistic architecture and pure grace of the candy colored buildings, which were all in excellent shape by the way, combined with the cobble stoned streets captivated me for a full 72 hours. Known as the city of gold, the shiny color was present at every angle. And the richness of the city was magic. Unexplainable by words of blogging, really. All I can tell you is… if you have a bucket list of places to go, cities to see, Prague should absolutely be at the top of your list!
Wednesday was my favorite day. Thursday was too, actually. Every day and every single thing about Prague was just my favorite! We walked over the infamous Charles Bridge – which provides the most gorgeous views of the city from all angles and also graces the path with 30 intricate statues dating from the 18th century. Narrow and crowded cobbled lanes lead us east into Old Town Square. Where I fell I love. The Square was dominated by Gothic steeples of churches and the Old Town Hall clock tower where the intricate astronomical clock amazes the crowd. At the center of the square lives a dominant green monument called the Jan Haus Monument, where locals would sit on the steps, chat, and snack under the sun. Also near the Square is the popular art nouveau Municipal House, decorated by the most talented of Czech artists and architects of the early 20th century. We marveled in amazement at the charm of the Square… and that was the moment I knew this city was really special.
As I have mentioned, I love churches… and lucky for me, so do my side kicks (my hubby and Mama K)! So we peeked into the two most well known churches in Old Town Square – Tyn Church and St. Nicholas Church. Both beautiful and very different, making learning about their history and glancing up at their ceilings all the more interesting. Something I have noticed in some of these Western European cities is the significance of the crown. A lot of designs, art and decoration were inspired by crowns. And many of the churches chandeliers were designed in the shape of a crown, which is kind of awesome and very intriguing.
My mother-in-law read about this DIY (do it yourself) walking tour around Prague that showcases the significance of the most prominent buildings and their history. So we did that, with my husband being our lead tour guide, and it was really fun! We ended our tour at the area which was once the Jewish Quarter. Before I studied up on Prague, I had no idea the importance of the once large Jewish community Prague had. At the start of World War II, Prague had a healthy 118,000 Jewish residents living in the city. By the end of the war only 10,000 had survived to call Prague their home. History like this stirs a lot of spinning in my head, and I was just so compelled by the Jewish Museum, Old-New Synagogue, and Old Jewish Cemetery. The part that hit me the hardest though, was seeing artwork that had been preserved by young Jewish children that were being held captive in concentration camps. Seeing their struggles and feelings through crayon construction papered stick figures was extremely hard for me. It made me so sad.
Famished by our excessive walking and DIY touring of the city, we happened upon the fanciest of streets! Nicknamed “Paris Street” for all it’s lavish high-end shops and jewelers. We found a restaurant on the street where we sat amongst cigarette smoking Bottega Veneta bags and Prada shoes. I would have felt really insecure given my frumpy outfit choice of the day if I hadn’t just left the Jewish Quarters and realized how lucky I am to be living such a beautiful life. We walked through the entire city, enjoying its wonders, and headed back to our hotel – where I stepped into the spa for my first manicure/pedicure of the trip. A two hour affair where I relaxed in the joys of pink toe nails and cubical-free fingers 🙂
That night, we walked back over the Charles Bridge, where we noticed sunset views over the water and city which made it sparkle more than ever. We dined along the river at a trendy restaurant that felt the tiniest bit familiar to me. For all of my Philadelphia friends, it had the same feel of a new and modern Stephen Starr restaurant. It was a really cool and hip place called Mlynec – and our hotel concierge had to fight for a reservation for us, so I knew it was going to be good! All three of us ordered the signature dish – veal filet mignon schnitzel. Yes, you heard me. We got thick veal filet’s that were breaded and deep fried, schnitzel style. And we devoured every last bite, that’s how good it was! We ended the fantastic dinner with a Becherovka, of course, and cobble hopped back over the Charles Bridge, where pitch black skies made the city lights on the water sparkle even more!!
Thursday was a day to remember. We walked up steep cobblestone lanes to the famous Prague Castle that sits overlooking the city. It is Prague’s number one attraction and is a must see! We timed our visit perfectly so that we were present during the Changing of the Guard – happening every hour with the most spectacular change with flag fare and a flag ceremony happening at noon. This was quite a popular thing to do for tour groups and locals, so we were lucky to arrive early enough to catch front row views. It was so cool! See photos below.
We walked about the castle courtyards and explored all areas of the property – all really breathtaking and beautiful. We toured the spectacular Vladislav Hall which was located in the Old Royal Palace and saw some really neat rooms (personally, Hofburg Palace in Vienna was far more impressive to me). We then stepped into hands down the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen (and I have seen many cathedrals in my day), St. Vitus Cathedral. It was covered head to toe in dark wood carvings and details with colorful stain glass masterpieces draped throughout. It absolutely blew me away. We then made our way to the Basilica of St. George, which is Prague’s finest Romanesque church. It was amazing. We made sure we saw St. Wenceslas Chapel, which was really old and eerie, but super cool at the same time. And then ended our three hour escapade in the Treasury where we were swooned with jewel-studded crowns, crosses and relics (relics are small, decorative boxes or capsules that were given as gifts back in the day – they were once believed to create miracles). We couldn’t leave though without strolling through a secluded neighborhood hidden in the courtyards of the castle. Tiny row houses of rainbow colors with tiny dwarf-like doors and home replicas of what living spaces used to look like way back in the day were displayed for people to tour. It was so cute and so much fun!!
After our castle adventures, we walked even further up steep cobblestone lanes to a Prague brewery my friend living in Prague told us about – St. Norbert’s Brewery. It is her favorite place to go, so obviously we had to try it!! We had some local beers, beef goulash soup in bread bowls and beer cheese. It was so much fun being amongst happy Prague folk and indulging in local fare. Speaking of my friend, after we walked back to our hotel, she met us there to catch up and chat about all things Prague, all things travel and just all things life! Her name is Sarah and her and I went to High School in Wisconsin together. She is a year younger than me and has been living in the Czech Republic for two and a half years now! Living with family (her Aunt, Uncle and little cousins) in a small town an hour outside of Prague for a while and just recently (last November) moving to the big city of Prague. She is so well traveled and has such interesting views on life, we had the best time with her! She took us to a tiny wine bar in a cold basement that looked to have once been a wine cellar. It was awesome. We had been desperately wanting to find a good wine bar, but when they are hidden underground like that, only the locals can find them… So we got lucky having her with us! She gave Mike and I some good advice and suggestions for our future European travels and we filled her in on what’s happening in the States 🙂
We hugged Sarah goodbye and thanked her a million times for meeting us and then headed straight to dinner. We dined that night at a true Czech restaurant located in the Mala Strana neighborhood, only minutes from our hotel – Konirna. And that is where I ordered Svickova – Sarah actually being the one who told us about it! It was our last night in the Czech Republic, so I had to order a genuine Czech dish. And it was delicious! On our way to dinner, we stopped at the infamous John Lennon Wall – which was heavenly. On this trip, I have developed a new obsession and appreciation for graffiti and this wall was just amazing!! We took some photos and just soaked in how awesome it was. It made me love Prague even more than I already did, which I never even thought was possible!
The next morning, we boarded a very early fast train to Berlin. Going from big city to big city, but with two completely different vibes. I’ve heard mixed reviews on Berlin, some people love it, some people not so much…. So I was excited to form my own opinion.
Until tales of Berlin’s eerie history, wiedersehen!