Thursday, December 5, 2013

Prague: A Walk in Heaven But A Driver's Hell

Rolling hills and magnificent cathedrals, wide and powerful rivers with 7 picturesque bridges, narrow cobble-stoned streets opening up to market squares filled with vendors selling the most incredible offerings of food and drink you should completely avoid but don't -  Prague is a most beautiful city.  It has such a romantic feel, many Eastern European couples honeymoon/vacation here and take in the sights. There were not many children present, perhaps the reason for all the smiles.

Steeped in the deep history of the Charles IV Luxembourg and the Austro-Hungarian Empires, centuries before the Nazi occupation and Russian Communists plunged them into a dark and grossly unproductive gloomy existence, Prague is now a vibrant city - proud of its early heritage, music, writers and architecture - Dvorak, Mucha, Kafka are still ever-present in the city.  (and one must mention when in the Pubs, they are very proud of all Ice Hockey players that they produce!) 

We did get a chance to see a production of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Estates Theater in Prague. Mozart conducted and presented Don Giovanni here for it's first production.  The classic film Amadeus on Mozart's life  was filmed here and directed by the famous Czech director Milos Forman.  The Old Town of Praja gave the film it's late 18th century Vienna feel.

After walking for what seemed miles, I got hungry, "Wanda let's eat!".... so we crossed one of the many bridges and I chose Kavarna Slavia Cafe with a view of the Cathedral across the river.  I noticed a guy playing on his iPad who looked strikingly like Albert Einstein and thought it made a great photo in this 1950's era lunch crowd with cigarettes and beer, coffee and cake. Later, as we are talking to a local about places to eat, she mentioned this classic Prague cafe that in the past was known for all the intellectuals and writers hanging out and talking for hours - The same place with the Einstein look-alike!  About the only thing out of place were a couple of "intellectuals" from the USA. 

Kavarna Slavia Cafe - The finest Goulash I can ever imagine eating in my life...and of course Wanda would not share her Almond Schnitzel......
The optimist would say the Czech people are advanced in their public transportation and the abundance of trams and buses, the auto driver realizes nothing had been designed since the horse and buggy days and to drive here is to experience total road frustration. :-)  the confusion of roads and dead ends, ( I actually had to drive in reverse on city streets up to 50 yards to get out of a dead end, more than once) It even confused our Tom-Tom GPS.

Go to Prague, but do not drive there.

The Castle and Cathedral with our tour guide Tomash (a seminary and history major).  You can Google and read about the long history of Prague, but it is so interesting hearing it from a local who is so passionate about his country.

Something modern! The Dancing Building inspired by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

Once the car was parked, Prague became less stressful - and I wasn't even driving!  One way we "De-Stress" after a long drive is to eat and drink. So we find out where the locals like to eat and funny enough a favorite spot is Lokál.  The menu has a variety of traditional Czech food and they teach you how to order your beer.  Beer drinking is taken very seriously here since it is the national beverage.  (Coke is more expensive than beer)

Foam in your beer mug is very important - it's your personal taste how much.  I will say upon observation that the middle beer "Snyt" is the most popular being served.

A local restaurant LoKal

Food pictures are from the Lokal restaurant - the view is from the Brenovsky Monastery - the first brewery in Prague run by the monks. 

Czech / Bohemian cuisine is influenced by a shared European cultural heritage - traditions combined from the German-Czech, Czech-Slavonic, even the Soviet Empire left their mark.  If you want to go back further to King Charles IV  brought wine grapes from Burgundy and Josef Groll introduced Pilsen beer from Bavaria.  Enough history.  The Czech cuisine that we sampled was hearty and rustic.  On a cold fall day - we enjoyed the Beef Goulash, bread dumplings (knedilky), pork schnitzel,  sausages, potato soup (bramborovy), and lots of cabbage!  We were not there long enough to sample everything - so we will definitely be returning!
Picture taken while having a beer at an outside cafe.  Beer is cheap here, unless you are in a tourist area such as this. The view and people watching made it worth it.

You must make Czech Gingerbread cookies for Christmas if you can find a recipe.  I'm sure there are many on the internet.  The secret ingredient has to be the honey instead of molasses.  I'm not sure - but I did put one under the recipes section.  They were so yummy!!
Vendor selling a traditional Trdelnik -like a toasted cinnamon roll or a Churro.  They are paired with warm Gluhwine and can be deadly strolling the cobble-stoned streets.

Not such a great shot of Prague's most beloved St. Charles Bridge.

(Someone on the internet took a much better shot of the St. Charles Bridge. - so I stole it)  30 +baroque statues line the bridge, most of them Saints and Martyrs.  Prague being an ancient city going back as far as 5500 BC when various Germanic and Celtic tribes settled in the region., one hears a lot of "Tall Tales" about the ghosts that wander around Prague....

Saint John of Nepomuk was one of those Saints and a Martyr.  He was tortured to death and his body was thrown off the bridge into the Vltava River below.  I think most of the saints lined up on the bridge were thrown off the bridge for some reason.  

I tried talking to a few of the locals (that spoke English, since my Czech was horrible) because locals and tourists alike were lined up to touch the reliefs - as pictured above by the daughter. A young local told me it is a Prague ritual that is supposed to bring you luck  "By rubbing the relief - your wish will come true, but  you must concentrate very hard - and it really works " she told me.   ( I'm not sure why rubbing the relief is lucky after the way this Saint was treated.)  But hey - I'm game,  my wish:  I wish our return to Prague will be sooner rather than later because our time here was much too short!