Prague 2007 - A lovely trip to Central Europe
In order to utilize free airfare on United and Alitalia, as well as Marriott Reward Points, we decided to extend a London business trip a little bit and go to Prague for a few days.
I arrived in Heathrow and took the Heathrow Express and the Underground and walked to our hotel. It was in an area that I wasn't familiar with, so it was a nice, since we had been to London several times.
I was able to walk to Buckingham Palace, where a ceremony and parade was going on. The band was playing tunes from the musical Grease. I strolled around some parks and enjoyed our brief stay there.
After a couple of flights on Alitalia, stopping briefly in Milan, we arrived in Prague. Since the Prague Marathon was going on, it took a bit longer to get to downtown than normal, but it was interesting to see parts of the city that one wouldn't normally see.
We were a little put off by the graffiti on the walls of the buildings on the other side of the street from the hotel, but, as we walked around the city, we realized that this was just part of the character of the city. We arrived at our hotel and were pleasantly surprised to see a chilled bottle of champagne and some fresh fruit, and a note congratulating us on our anniversary. After a quick bite to eat at an Italian restaurant called La Vita é Bella, we had our first of many strolls around the city.
Upon arriving at the river without walking too far, we realized that Prague is smaller than we had thought. We walked back to our hotel through the Old Town Square, which was a flurry of activity due to the Marathon.
The next day, we decided to make the trek to the castle on the other side of the river, since the weather reports indicated that the next two days promised Prague a ton of rain. It was a warm day and we passed through the Old Town Square again, discovering that the Marathon was actually this morning and that we had to squeeze through the masses in order to get through to the other side. All of the streets that radiated from the square were lined with shops that sold Bohemian Glass, nesting dolls, and jewelry.
We made it over the Charles Bridge, or Karluv most, which was packed with people, musicians and vendors hawking their wares. On the other side was more flurries of activity and a small square off to one side called Námestí Na Kampe, where we thought we might like to visit later. Off to the other side, we could see where we had dinner reservations later in the evening at Kampa Park. We then passed through the main street and headed upward towards the castle.
We kept going up and up and finally made it to our lunch destination, which was a small Vietnamese restaurant called Maly Buddha. We had a nice meal of Pho and noodles and caught our breaths before heading on up. Around the corner, we came across the cutest old man at a toy shop called Houpací Kun (The Rocking Horse). We bought a bunch of wooden toys and headed for the Castle, known as Pražský hrad. Decided to take a stroll through the South Gardens before heading into the castle.
In the 1600’s two Catholic Governors were defenestrated (def: thrown out of a window, thank you Mr. Spencer, my high school Latin teacher) into the South Gardens. Luckily, they landed on a pile of manure and survived. It was a lush garden with excellent views over Prague. We entered the castle in the back and promptly had our first gelato of the trip, which was delicious. We then bought tickets for some of the sights in the castle, which included Golden Lane, a row of quaint homes with tiny doorways that used to house artisans during the 16th century.
We also saw St. George’s Basilica and The Old Royal Palace, which contained the gigantic Vladislav Hall and was built around 1135. We couldn’t find the Palace for a bit, until we saw some people walk through an unmarked door. Not very good signage. The castle then closed and we would have to return another day in order to see St. Vitus’s Cathedral.
We made it to dinner at Kampa Park a little early, but had a nice, slow-paced dinner with wine and dessert and proceeded back over the bridge and strolled back to our hotel. On the way over the bridge, we turned around and saw the castle, beautifully illuminated on its hill, overlooking the city.
We woke up the next day and had a nice lunch at a Restaurant/Pizzeria called Corto, which served beer for about $1.50 USD. We had a nice time watching the market next door on Havelská. We then made out way towards the castle again, so that we could see the inside of St. Vitus’s Cathedral. Throughout the day, we kept checking the weather the report and it kept reading that rain was imminent. But it didn’t come until after we were asleep, which was nice. Our third day in Prague was also beautiful. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather, except we had packed for cold, rainy weather.
We made it up the staircase to the castle and enjoyed the cathedral before walking around the grounds and heading back towards the city. We then walked all over Kampa Island and the Little Quarter, visiting their parks and every once in a while coming across the Certovka River. We saw the old mill water wheel, which was under renovation. Much of Kampa Island was damaged during one of their worst floods ever in 2002.
We stumbled upon the Grand Priory Square (Velkoprevorské námestí), where graffiti honoring John Lennon, ever since his death in 1980, was once punished, has since been allowed to continue ever since the fall of communism in Prague in 1989. It symbolizes the freedom gained through the Velvet Revolution.
We then had dinner at the U Zlatých nužek, which was at Námestí Na Kampe, where once again, we had wine and good food before strolling back to our hotel through Old Town Square, stopping for some great wine and cheese along the way.
On our last day in Prague, we decided to check out the Old Town Square again, so that I could check out the Salvador Dali Exhibit. There were many of his works, including sculptures and photographs of him, but it was hard to tell whether or not they were original or not. Having seen some of the originals at the Guggenheim in New York, these were a little disappointing. Nevertheless, it was a nice collection, showing the various stages of Dali’s career.
After that, we headed to the Jewish Quarter so that we could check out St. Agnes Convent, but could not for the life of us find it. We then headed for the Old Jewish Cemetery and were moved by the sheer number of people affected by the Holocaust. This was by far the densest cemetery that we had ever seen. We even read that some of the graves are twelve layers deep. Craving large sodas again, we headed to KFC and enjoyed some chicken and large coca-cola lights.
We then crossed the Mánesuv most to get back into the Little Quarter, where we ended up spending most of our time in Prague. We visited some more parks and were on a quest to see Il Bambino di Praga, the Holy Infant of Prague. We went to the Church of Our Lady Victorious where we found it. Apparently, this statue, given to Prague in 1628 by Spain, has been responsible for several miracle cures and Catholics from all over pray to the little statue. The parish also historically dresses up in the doll in lavish costumes, depending on the season. It was an eye-opening experience, or at least an eyebrow-raising experience.
Exhausted from walking many miles over the last couple of days, we went back to our hotel, passing Wenceslas Square (Václavské námestí), the site of the large demonstrations during the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Recharged from a short rest at the hotel, we went back out and had dinner at Il Primo and once again had some great food and wine. To and from the restaurant, the rain finally showed up, allowing us to use our cold weather clothes and our umbrella. A fitting and romantic end to our stay in Prague.
It took four planes and 24 hours get home, but, hey, it was free.