I’m currently sitting on a train, travelling from Prague through to Berlin, we’re getting off at Dresden for a day trip. It takes about two hours. The rolling green scenery and river Vltava are going past, basking in glorious sunshine. A group of sleepy Americans surround us.
Waking at 3:45am and flying from London Gatwick at 6:45am, we touched down in Prague (after sleeping through the flight), in the sun. Here we were greeted by Rebecca, our host, adorning a single flower for Samantha, she bought us coffee before guiding us through the public transport system; bus, Metro and tram.
After a phase of rejuvenation through English Tetley tea and spurious instructions on how to use the flat, four of us set out for a tour of the south-western fortifications, with a secret route in through the back. Inside we were amidst a mock Byzantine church and a graveyard of noteworthy Czechs, topped off by a view across the city towards the castle in the north. At the lil’ cafe in the corner we munched our crab-stick cocktails and tuna salad, which kept us going a little further. First Czech beer: Gambrinus (king of beer), nothing overwhelming.
Rebecca and co. headed home whilst Sam and I explored a little more, walking up the river, into town, stopping at the first island; exhausted we fell asleep on the walls, circled by pedalos and wispy willow tree fluff.
Not quite reaching the National Theatre, our feet not able to take us much further, we turned back for home - but not before feasting on stone-baked pizza in a hidden student tavern.
Over hills and following tram routes, we got a feel for the area - beautiful architecture and frescoes marked with graffiti and dirt, what felt like a run-down neighbourhood populated by Mercedes and Audis alike. Spires sat at every intersection and it was clear Prague had been through a lot. Rebecca and Lynn flew home that evening, leaving us to our own devices.
Come Thursday, after a twelve-hour sleep and some shopping from the local Bila supermarket, we explored the next big bit of the city. Moving down from the museum and St Wenceslas square, into Stare Mesto, through the winding streets to Charles Bridge. It felt like Venice–cramped and tourist driven. We didn’t cross the bridge, instead we carried along the river, setting down by the Jan Palach square to note events of interest in the Prague Post. We doubled back through Josefov, past the Golem synagogue (Staronova Synagoga) and dodging the old chitty-chitty cars that give tours, making our way home in a roundabout way. Back at the flat, Sam’s culinary skills cooked us up a paprika stew and potato salad, and again we collapsed.
On Friday it rained and with rain came indoor events! At the National Museum we swotted up on the Czech’s first republic and Mr. Masaryk (a temporary “Republica” exhibition). We timed our trip home to imperfection, getting caught up in thunderstorms and great balls of hail–creating rivers where there should be roads.
That night we dressed up for the Prague State Opera’s rendition of Madame Butterfly, it was to be our first opera. Tickets cost 400Kc, for seats near the top, but with a good view of stage and accompanying English subtitles. We drank bubbly and ate salami and cheese ‘open’ sandwiches on the Opera House’s balcony, looking out at Prague.
We set aside Saturday and Sunday to explore the castle (prazsky hrad) and the area over the river, Prague 1. We took the 22 tram up to the top of the hill and walked down into the castle grounds from behind. Whilst I purchased our access all areas tickets, Sam tried a free “spicy chilli” food sampling which left her crying and red faced - if there had been a bucket filled with water, I think she’d have used it.
The queues to the cathedral, which ran from the entrance right down the side, diverted us to the St. George national gallery. We both fell in love with the tiny postcard sized “A Red Parasol in the Summertime” by Josef Manes (1855). Moving on, the Powder Tower with its three floors of army histories and dressed up mannequins was lacklustre. In the beautiful warm sunshine we sat on a wall (before moving to a hidden courtyard) and ate the pre-prepared potato salad, grapes and scrumptious cherry tomato picnic. (Aside: these were the tastiest cherry tomatoes I’ve ever come across with a fresh and juicy explosion when eaten whole).
Sated, we learned all about the castle’s history–both old and recent, St Vitus, Wenceslas, phases of construction et al, zipping through the end of the exhibition because we were cold. We entered the cathedral itself just as the sunlight poured through the central stained glass windows, colouring the walls pink and purple. The crypt and southern tower were closed, leaving only the circular tour of the ground floor with its various chapels.
We skipped Golden Lane, Kafka’s house and the old palace and had a cursory look at St George’s Basilica; all cultured out we took panoramic photos and stumbled down the steep hill into town, ready for an evening meal, albeit an early one.
The Lonely Planet guide pointed us towards, “The Maltese Knights”, not much to look at from above, but downstairs the restaurant came into its own, a converted cavern, candlelit and mysteriously romantic. In shorts, and clearly tourist attire, I ate a delicious wild-boar steak in rose-hips sauce, Sam chose the lamb, sauerkraut and apple. We washed it down with an ’07 Muller-Thurgau white wine.