Prague – Sweeter Than Eye Candy

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.

DSC_1037

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 HotelThe 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!).

20140519-173457-63297348.jpg

20140519-173458-63298275.jpg

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!

DSC_1032

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.

DSC_1035

DSC_1038

DSC_1033

DSC_1036

DSC_1034

DSC_1041

DSC_1039

DSC_1043

DSC_1046

DSC_1045

DSC_1051

20140519-183622-66982939.jpg

20140519-183509-66909730.jpg

20140519-183504-66904493.jpg

20140519-183621-66981179.jpg

20140519-183624-66984616.jpg

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.

DSC_1050

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.

20140519-183625-66985466.jpg

20140519-183626-66986289.jpg

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!!

20140519-183941-67181480.jpg

20140519-183942-67182299.jpg

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.

DSC_1053

DSC_1062

DSC_1061

DSC_1062

DSC_1065

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!!

DSC_1068

DSC_1070

DSC_1071

DSC_1073

DSC_1078

DSC_1081

DSC_1085

DSC_1092

DSC_1087

DSC_1095

DSC_1096

DSC_1099

DSC_1097

DSC_1101

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 🙂

20140519-184751-67671317.jpg

20140519-184753-67673208.jpg

20140519-184755-67675345.jpg

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!

20140519-184758-67678054.jpg

20140519-184757-67677551.jpg

20140519-184910-67750456.jpg

20140519-184912-67752149.jpg

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.

DSC_1100

Until tales of Berlin’s eerie history, wiedersehen!

Karlovy Vary – The Spa Town

In Karlovy Vary, I drank a lot of natural hot spring water straight from the ground. It wasn’t as delicious as it may sound. With distinctive mineral flavors and strange salty after tastes, the water was not one I would chug in the middle of a hot thirsty day. The town is famous for their many hot springs that are publicly scattered throughout and encouraged to the people. The water is said to have positive effects on the health of ones body. Ranging from temperatures of luke warm to extremely hot, it was fascinating walking around the town, placing my porcelain cup underneath the spouts of the springs, and trying all of the different kinds. I’m secretly hoping the water had some kind of fountain of youth effect on me (something similar to Tuck Everlasting)…. but I think the only thing it did was leave a metal taste lingering in my mouth.

20140515-164620.jpg

As I mentioned, Karlovy Vary is known for their health and spa treatments and gets its fame from the natural hot springs – it is literally considered a spa town. In the mid 1300’s, the small town was rumored to be accidentally discovered by Emperor Charles IV when one of his hunting dogs fell into the waters. Do I believe this? Maybe. My dog falls into water all the time. We’ve never discovered anything cool from little Calvin, but there is still hope! Today, the well off from Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Russia and other European countries resort to this spa town for treatments such as hydrocolontherapy and lymphatic drainage. I just got a massage, nothing fancy to brag about. The tradition is to sip the mineral-laden waters from a sweet little porcelain cup, which they sell everywhere in town, and rid your body of any toxins. I had a great time pretending to be a celebrity spa patient sampling the various hot springs the town had to offer!

Fun fact: Two of the greatest movies ever were filmed in Karlovy Vary! One of my husband’s favorites, James Bond 007 Casino Royale (yes – I was walking the same streets as once Daniel Craig). And one of my all time favorites, The Last Holiday (yes – I love Queen Latifah and I am not ashamed).

20140515-164752.jpg

Early Sunday, Mother’s Day morning, we boarded three slow trains and one bus from Munich to the tiny spa town in the Czech Republic. My mother-in-law was still traveling with us and was such a sport. Used to the luxuries in life, she was rather excited to experience her first European railway. Because Karlovy Vary is so small and has a reputation of being hard to get to, my husband and I were fully aware of the travel situations we were going to be faced with that day. Taking one “nice” train from Munich to our first stop in the Czech Republic, my poor mother-in-law got a true glimpse of what we would be dealing with the rest of the day. The town in the Czech where we had our first transfer went a little like this – remember the movie, The Night Before Christmas? All the characters were really scary and the whole setting was just dark and rather depressing it almost felt frightening in a way? Well that’s what this town was like. And we had an hour and a half layover before boarding our bus. We tried to walk around the town for a bit, but got scared, so we sat on benches cringing until our departure. The bus brought us to another train station where we boarded a slow train in the middle of nowhere. That train then dropped us off in the middle of a field…. where we had to run in the long grass carrying our bags to the next train, which was thankfully our final train. Finally reaching Karlovy Vary was a huge sigh of relief. I have never been that happy to arrive anywhere in my entire life!!

20140515-164314.jpg

Because of the rough travel day for my mother-in-law on Mothers Day, my husband was so sweet and arranged for her the night before to get a massage at the spa upon our arrival. She was thrilled! The spa had open availability right after her massage, so I decided to get one too. It was so relaxing after such a stressful day. We were staying at a beautiful hotel right along the river and in the heart of town called Quisisana Palace. It was so luxurious and our whole experience there was really beautiful.

That night we took Mama K to one of the most fun dinners we have had this far! We went to a traditional Czech restaurant that was recommended by our hotel for fine Czech cuisine. It was a really special night. We started celebrating by drinking a bottle of German white wine we had bought at the market in Munich. We then proceeded to walk two minutes down he road to the restaurant – Hotel Embassy – where we were seated at a lovely table with a chair at the end that just so happened to look like a Queens throne! So of course, Queen Mama K, on Mother’s Day, got to sit on the fabulous throne and feel like royalty all night.

20140515-164811.jpg

20140515-164332.jpg

We were also treated like royalty that night! The Czech waiters who were taking care of us were so inviting and eager to please. It was wonderful! We ordered a bottle of red wine from the Chianti region where Mike and I had wine tasted in Tuscany, to show my mother-in-law just how tasty it was! We all ordered fantastic traditional Czech meals – for example, Mama K got the goose, Mike got a full duck, and I ate piglet… all because of peer pressure (I would like to formally apologize to one of my best friends Danielle, who I share a teacup piglet calendar with, I promise the pig that I ate was not as cute as our calendar piggy’s!!). For desert we got hot strawberries with green peppers – strange combination but was really delicious and looked extremely easy to make!! A good, fresh summer desert I’ll be able to whip up at home! We also sipped on a traditional Karlovy Vary herbal liquor that is very special to their region. Two Czech men sit and make two batches a week in the town of Karlovy Vary. The recipe is so secretive, they are the only two humans in the world who are said to know it. It tasted almost like a strong cinnamon liquor with a dash of nutmeg and had the consistency of a syrupy port wine. It was called Becherovka and if it is sold in the States, you must go out and buy a bottle now. Because it is the best after dinner drink ever!

20140515-164345.jpg

20140515-164517.jpg

The next day we set voyage for hot spring tasting! But before we did that, we took a challenging hike, or mud slide, up a steep hill that had no path. The hike was leading us to a point at the top where a tall tower sat with gorgeous views of the town – it was called Diane’s Tower and it has been a famous tourist attraction for 100 years. There was a tram that ran every ten minutes from town to the top of the hill, which is how normal people get there, but given our food and alcohol intake the night before, we decided to hike. On this hike I got very muddy, climbed a tree, shimmied in between and over fallen branches, made friends with a cute baby mouse who happened to look as helpless as I did, and climbed rocks just to reach the tower. Talk about a good exercise. My mother-in-law is in such good shape, but her and I were partners in crime in the struggle to reach the top. And if for some reason you are blind and haven’t noticed, my husband has turned into a wilderness man, also known as a wildabeast, where one might confuse him with a wolf. So he was fine.

20140515-164357.jpg

20140515-164410.jpg

 

We took some amazing photos from Diane’s Tower, bought some huge water bottles, and for the sake of our safety, took the tram back down into town. On just about every corner of the town were porcelain cup stands where you could pick out your own unique cup to drink hot spring water out of. I picked out the cutest gold owl and my husband picked out what looked to have been a miniature porcelain beer mug. We went from spout to spout all over town sipping the different waters and trying to identify what the special tastes and qualities of each were. I personally liked the extremely hot water spouts the best. The warmer the temperature, the more shielded the strange tastes would be.. in my humble opinion.

20140515-164731.jpg

20140515-164539.jpg

20140515-164629.jpg

20140515-164530.jpg

20140515-164606.jpg

20140515-164554.jpg

20140515-164639.jpg

20140515-164651.jpg

20140515-164721.jpg

20140515-164711.jpg

DSC_1016

DSC_1018

DSC_1019

DSC_1023

We ate a late lunch at a confusingly expensive restaurant called Pizzeria Capri. It was a restaurant right in the middle of town that took pride in their celebrity status with names like Daniel Craig, Morgan Freeman and George Clooney dining there in the past. Which is the only reason we could think of as to why it was so expensive. The food was ok, but I wouldn’t suggest going if ever randomly visiting the small spa town. We walked around and explored the shops a bit – heading into a lot of Bohemian Crystal shops to learn more about its significance in the culture. For those of you who don’t know, Czech Republic used to be a part of Bohemia when it was once a country. Causing the town’s beautiful architecture and whole vibe to be very Bohemian. When I think of boho-chic fashion, it is nothing like Bohemia or Bohemian culture. So I am quite confused as to where it got its name and inspiration from for “boho-chic”. I was thinking maybe from the gypsy”s? But I am not quite sure, I just found it all to be very interesting.

That night we had another amazing dinner at a place called Hotel Promenada. The restaurant is said to be the towns best and nicest restaurant. It felt so cozy inside and had the feel of a home living room with nice decorations, white table cloths and long-stemmed candles lighting the ambiance of the room. The food was spectacular – my mother-in-law and I both ordering the rabbit and my husband ordering a steak. The desert was so special too! The chef came out and made it right in front of us at our table. He started by melting sugar in a pan on high flames and adding orange juice and fresh squeezed oranges. From there he cooked thin crepes with nuts inside. All displayed on personal plates with a whop of whipped cream and ice cream. It was my favorite part of the meal!! And at the end of dinner, the week waiters graced Mama K and I with pink roses. It was so nice!

20140515-165002.jpg

 

20140515-165018.jpg

20140515-165030.jpg

20140515-165038.jpg

After desert, we sipped on some Becherovka, obviously, and headed straight to the casino at The Grand Hotel Pupp – also known as the casino James Bond hung out at in Casino Royale. We each lost a good chunk of money, but the overall experience of getting to play black jack at the same tables as James Bond made it every bit worth it. We chatted with a man who was doing some serious gambling from Kuwait and sipped cocktails feeling pretty fabulous. Unfortunately, there is a strict rule that you cannot take photos inside casinos, so I don’t have any action shots of us high rolling. But I did snap a secret shot of my husband’s and mine his/hers cocktails!

20140515-165053.jpg

The next morning we boarded the fast train to Prague. Where we had to do an unexpected transfer in yet again, the middle of a field. How Czech people find this normal is beyond me – but running through an untamed field only to get on the next train with grass and burs stuck on my leggings and a few mosquito bites on my ankles is not my idea of normal traveling.

Until tales from Prague, and maybe some more field running, Bon Voyage!