2008 European adventure: Prague

Summary: Mandi and I flew in to Prague via Munich, recovered from jet lag for a couple of days by eating a lot of pork and drinking a lot of beer, then took the train to Nuremberg.

15 October

For Mandi and I, European adventure started in Prague. We tried to make it to Prague a couple of years ago but ended up in London instead due to a snow storm. We figured October would be early enough that there wouldn’t be snow, but we had our fingers crossed anyway. We flew in on Lufthansa via Munich, arriving at about 8 am. Arriving in the morning on a trip where you’re doing a big time zone change sucks, especially if you aren’t good at sleeping on planes. I bring all the stuff required for airplane sleeping – headphones, neck pillow, exhaustion – but never manage to sleep. After some confusion at the airport we figured out how to catch a bus then the metro into town and found our hotel to drop off our bags. Our room was ready, but we resisted the temptation to take a nap and instead hit the cobblestone streets looking for coffee and something edible.

Busy in Prague

We made it to the Vltava River and stopped for coffee at the most touristy place available, which had good espresso and bad salad. We crossed the Charles Bridge, an old pedestrian bridge, and wandered through a maze of cobblestone streets up the hill towards Prague Castle. The castle is a sort of jumble of churches and government buildings, like all of Prague an easy place to get lost. I think we saw some marching dressed-up soldiers up there at some point. Jet-lagged and hungry, we stumbled down the hill to Restaurant David for lunch. We saw our first dumplings there, apparently Prague’s most reviled contribution to the culinary arts. I think Mandi found the dumplings underwhelming but not repellent. The venison goulash and crispy duck were very good, as was the beer. Sadly, after our meal we got very sleepy and made our way back to the hotel to take a nap.

Bridge and castle

We woke up a couple of hours later and found dinner at U Provaznice, a loud and crowded pub-like place. We enjoyed one of our best meals of the whole trip there, a roasted pork knuckle with minced apple-horseradish stuff and a bunch of beer. The perfection of the roasted knuckle is difficult to convey…I think it had been braised first because it was completely fall-apart tender, but then it had been roasted to achieve delicious crispy skin.

16 October

We paid the price for our nap with a rotten night’s sleep, waking up at nearly noon. Mandi got some information about a tour of the Jewish Museum and went looking for lunch. We found the tour meeting spot and lunch of pork and beer at Restaurace U Knihnovy. The slices of roast pork loin I had were good, and there was actually some salad-like stuff on my plate.

We met up with our tour guide, a nice young lady whose name I don’t remember, at the Intercontinental Hotel. The Jewish Museum in Prague consists of several synagogues, a cemetery, and a ceremonial hall. The most moving stop was Pinkas Synagogue, where the names of Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who were murdered by the Nazis are written on the walls. The cemetery was interesting but strange because we got caught in the middle of a big tour…or it’s just always like that. The tour started at the Old-New Synagogue, a very traditional and austere place dating to the 13th century, and ended at the Spanish Synagogue, an extravagant structure inside and out.

We promptly got lost after the tour, but along the way we did find more beer and a clothing shop called Kebab, where I bought a shirt. After a stop back at the hotel we went to dinner right down the street at Plzenska Restaurace U Dveu Kopek because it was raining hard and I can’t swim very well. The food was good – I had smoked pork neck – but I still had that pork knuckle from U Provaznice on my mind.

17 October

Friday was our last full day in Prague and we were still jet lagged – did I mention that arriving in the morning is a bad idea? We gradually woke up at a cafe/bakery down the street. We’d gotten glimpses down Wenceslas Square a few times on our way back to the hotel so we decided to take a look at that first. The square is really a long boulevard leading to the national museum. We stopped to look at the wares at Foto-Skoda and saw the highly desirable Super Takumar 85/1.9, sadly priced way higher than I’m willing to pay for such a lens. The used camera stuff at Foto-Skoda is lovingly lighted behind glass, like a museum with price tags. Next we stopped at 14 Once, where I got a new pair of jeans.

My shopping complete, we caught the tram towards Prague Castle…at least we thought that was where we were going, but we figured out after a while we’d gone the wrong way. So, we got to see some interesting parts of Prague, including a giant mall. Once we’d had enough, we hopped off and rode the same tram the other way, all the way across the river and up the hill to the castle complex.

The castle is a big jumble of churches and government buildings, a maze obviously designed to wear tourists out so they drink more beer and eat more pork. Once we were worn out we wandered down the hill to U Hrocha, where we had beer and a huge pork knuckle. Sadly, it tasted more like ham than the delicious braised-roasted pork knuckle at U Provaznice. It did have delicious crispy skin though, and the saltiness was good with beer.

We went back to the hotel for a beak and caught a tram across the river to Restaurace Rybarsky Klub for dinner. In case the Czech is opaque, it’s a restaurant run by the local fishing club. Believe it or not, we’d had enough pork and resolved to try some local fish. We had some good smoked trout, roasted carp, and grilled pike-perch, along with some Budvar – we’d had several other Czech beers but hadn’t had any Budvar yet.

Charles Bridge

18 October

We finally woke up relatively early Saturday so we got to try the hotel’s breakfast, which looked exactly like the breakfasts we’d later enjoy in Finland and Germany – coffee with a buffet of bread, cheese, vegetables, and so on. We had a list of things we’d neglected so we set out to do them in the couple of hours before our train. We picked up some postcards and stamps at the hotel and marched to the Mucha Museum. Alphonse Mucha painted art nouveau stuff, including champagne labels. Our next stop was the garnet cooperative, where Mandi got a couple of things after a very long wait. We found a cafe for some espresso and post card writing.

We headed for the train station on the metro very early so I wouldn’t freak out. The train was very empty. Between naps the scenery on the way to Germany was spectacular, with a sprinkling of New Jersey-style decrepit industrial stuff. It would have been fun to take a couple of days to get to Nuremberg, getting a better look at some of the places along the way like Plzen.

Next stop: Nuremberg. There are a lot more photos of the trip at my Prague set at Flickr.

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By isaac

I like cats. he/him