Day 2 – Prague – Sept 16, 2016

Prague Tour Continues
more Savoy, Park and Petrinska, Strahov Monestary, Prague Castle, Vegetarian Food and Cuban Music

As we anticipated, we had a wonderful breakfast at Cafe Savoy.  Gruyere omelette, cafe au lait and multi vitamin juice accompanied with superb breads.  The coffee here is served with a shot glass of water – the Savoy serve it with sparkling water – which is quite lovely and cleanses that ‘coffee breath’ when you are done.

We headed to the castle as our destination – but the walk via the parks was an adventure on its own.  We started at the monument to the victims of communism.  A very interesting breakdown of a man down the stairs on a steep hill – very effective.  Then we wound our way through an old orchard in the park with wonderful views from the hillside and school kids all around.  There was a small temple near the top of the orchard with a simple table inside (we found out more about that later in the day).  

From the top of the park, we came to the old forest – Petrinska Sady.  It is full of old trees – oaks, chestnut, maples with tons of character.  There has never been development in the forest as it was protected as part of the castle lands as far back as history records.  There are some unique species found there to prove it.  Flightless weevils is one which is unique only to that area.  Through the woods there are several monuments to water with tables for rituals to be performed on (my previous reference).   Their purpose is to prevent mud slides.  There is a top layer of porous sandstone soil and a lower layer of impermeable clay which results in serious mudslides – 1961 was the most recent large one.

The path through the forest led to the Strahov Monastery behind the castle where we visited the national library and ‘took a load off’ to enjoy some Strahov brewed beer.  We were seated with a couple of older American women – one from New York, the other Boston.  They shared several tips on Vienna – but mostly the basics as they are not the adventurous type. And to our surprise (disgust…) they were avid Trump supporters – they despise Hillary and are oblivious to any Trump failings, or what his world reputation may be.  They are convinced that guns and the loose laws around them are not a problem.  wow is all I can say.

Finally off to the castle – Mike didn’t pay the extra for a photo ticket this visit – and in fact the outside was more impressive than the internals.  The most impressive internal room was the great hall – you could imagine grand events.  And the views of the city and surroundings were spectacular.   My biggest challenge of the visit was getting 10kr to use a toilet – we had to end up buying something just to get change.

There were 2 cathedrals – one newer and quite impressive with very ornate decoration. The tomb of the arch bishop and another we weren’t sure about were extensively decorated in silver.  The tombs of the two architects of the cathedral which was designed in the 1300’s were fairly recently found in the basement and brought up for display. The older cathedral was plainer with no ornate decoration.  

After the walk back, an afternoon siesta we headed to Clear Head for dinner – an amazing vegetarian restaurant which was extremely busy.  We had ‘tofois gras’ pate made from smoked tofu, barley miso and cashews – but Mike was convinced they use real fois gras.  We had the ‘big clear head’ for dinner which had a great tasty variety of items – baked wrapped spinach and pumpkin, grilled veg skewers, potatoes au gratin, gyros, salad, tzatiki and more.

We needed the walk after dinner – this time in the rain and luckily we had brought the umbrellas from the B&B – although my sandals in the rain on the cobblestones were not the best decision of the evening.  The walk back was entertaining – a Friday night with pub crawls in full steam – guys with kegs on their back filling their buddies glasses as the roamed the street.  Lots of group sing songs too; loads of energy and fun.  Needed to rise early for our pack and pickup by Paul as we head by train in the morning to meet up with Derek & Marketa.

Day 1 – Prague – Sept 15, 2016

Prague Highlight Tour Day
Charles Bridge, Lennon Wall, Jewish Town,  Street Sites, Cafe Savoy

You know you’ve had a good days walking when you are experiencing ‘cobblestone throbbing’ in your feet.  That was me at the end of day one.

Monty started the day early at 6am to get some shots on the Charles Bridge with less people.  We had naively thought that by travelling in September we would avoid the crowds.  Turns out there are still MANY tourists at the popular venues, so to avoid the throngs, you need to get an early start.  Mike returned and we headed for breakfast, followed by a visit to John Lennon’s wall- full of tourists.  And then back to the Charles Bridge – which was packed by then.  Amazing the numbers of people compared to Mike’s March visit a couple of years ago.  There are also clear signs of continuing restoration with new pigeon grating and additional gold leaf on the main ‘Crucifixion’ statue.

From the bridge we headed over to Jewish town.  Every street here in the older part of Prague is cobblestone – so no surprise that pretty much all of the women wear flat shoes!

The Jewish town tour consisted of the Old Synagogue, the Cemetery, the Memorial Hall, the ‘new’ old Synagogue and a funeral/burial museum.  Michael wore head covering – although not all the men did.

The Memorial hall had the name, birth and death date of all holocaust victims from Czech by city.  The script was very small, and room after room the walls were full.  A very sobering experience.  There were people from 2 to 82 and beyond.  There is a photo to give you perspective – there were many rooms full from floor to ceiling – and some rooms with double and triple height.

The most interesting part of the tour was the old Jewish Cemetery.  It is the oldest surviving in Europe.  There are tombs from the 1400’s thru the 1800’s – you need to see the photos to get sense of the atmosphere and the aura of somber ancient chaos.  

The remaining exhibits explained the death rituals, Sabbath, Hanukkah etc.  Quite the men’s club for sure. 

From there we headed to the old town square where we visited Our Lady Before Tyn church and the astronomical clock.  We passed a Czech used book shop where I managed to find what seems to be pretty good antique mushroom book for Derek & Marketa – he can check out the drawings and she can read the text. 

For lunch we of course had beer – but with Italian (still no Czech food!).  The risotto and Calabrese salad (fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella) were superb. We also managed to get a phone card for use on our trip(about $20 for our trip) and managed to text Derek, Kyle & Patrick & Joanne.

After a short break back at our apt, we walked along the river towards the Jazz Dock (we had planned on going there the next evening, but ended up not going).  We headed to Wenceslas Square passing lots of interesting and beautiful buildings.  The early 1900 buildings along the waterfront were very pretty then we crossed the bridge at the ‘Dancing House’ (tribute to Fred and Ginger) by Frank Gehry based on Vlado Milunic.  It is built on a plot where a house was bombed in 1945.  The land was cleared in 1961, and then sat vacant until 1992 when the Dancing House was started – and it was completed in 1996.

We also walked past the Mosaic House – with lots of cool statues – a man and woman in business attire hanging off the power lines from umbrellas, giant mushrooms, a giant fly on the side of the building, funky chairs, and lots of pink & blue bugs (looked like multi-legged pigs) crawling up the building.  
We ended up back in the open Wenceslas square where we had to have a beer and people watch as the locals wrapped up their work day.  We circled back past the opera house, the national museum.   By now it was past sunset, so we headed back and found a great place for a good Czech meal (finally!) and cheap beer.  We had pig knuckle, pig neck along with potatoes with cream and garlic and hot peppers – amazing.  

We rolled out of there alongside the river where we found a Cuban band playing down along the river edge.  With no seating and sore feet, we continued back to find a cafe.  And boy did we find a cafe!  The Cafe Savoy is a gem.  I had Savoy Hot Chocolate with an amaretto and Mike had a Latte accompanied with a torte with red currants and marzipan fondue icing.  The cafe and the building date from the late 1890s and still have all the charm and class. A great way to end a full day.  … and the waiter insists they have the best omelettes in the world – so naturally we had to return in the morning.

Day 0 – en Route to Prague – Sept 14, 2016

The Height of Trip Anticipation

Our trip from Picton to Prague was uneventful, although the stop over in the Chopin airport in Warsaw was entertaining.  A very talented pianist serenaded the airport crowds on the open forum piano in the waiting area. 

As arranged by our airBnB in Prague, Paul picked us up at the airport with his ‘Get Delivered’ sign. While we fought traffic, he informed us of where to get the best beer, and a great Uzbekistan restaurant (he is Russian) along with what to order – Plov (rice pilaf dish), and Lagman.  We took his advice and had both – and they were excellent.  We also had a samosa like appetizer and some bread with black cumin seeds & green tea.  a superb meal for about $60 cdn.