Prague & Dresden

Wine tasting in Melnik and live jazz

Thursday, back in Prague, and rested after a very late lie in, there was doom and gloom outside, 12 centigrade and heavy rain. Sam cooked an awesome Spanish omelette for us before we departed for the Czech Beer festival. Passing ticket inspectors at the Metro, we reached the beer tents wearing entirely the wrong clothing. Freezing, we fund minimum drink sizes were 0.5L and neither of us really fancied it–the full sized cow on a spit was also a little off putting.

Back at home we bought tasty Italian wine, cooked Tuna Neapolitan and went to sleep to the sounds of Nina Simone and Django Reindhart.

Wine tasting at Melnik Zamek

Friday we tried something a little different, up early with packed lunch in tow, we were at Nadrazi Holesovice by 9am, to catch a bus to Melnik. Confused by the timetables we latched onto the first English speaking folk we found, two travelers from Australia and NZ. We spent the rest of the trip with them.

For 4kc each we reached Melnik in about 45 minutes, and walked the small hill into town. At Melnik Zamek, a renaissance chateau, we took the self guided tour and wine tasting. Walking through ornate stately rooms we learnt about Wenceslas lunettes and 17th century maps, from our sheets of paper. Phase two took us down into a hidden cellar (we spent a good 15 minutes trying to find the entrance) where ten bottles, a water fountain, some barrels and brown herbed bread (that Sam hates) lay waiting; a do it yourself wine tasting session. The Muller Thurgau was rancid and acidic, we all agreed, some of us liked their Pinot Noir. There was much discussion over the sweeter dessert wine which we couldn’t drink much of.

With the rain beating down hard, the only food option was the castle’s restaurant. My opportunity to sample the local beef stroganoff and dumplings, although I can’t say I was too impressed. The views from here were spectacular, as we watched the bands of rain pass by, a hill in the distance (Rip, where legend says Cech and Lech stopped before forming the Czech and Pole nations), disappearing and re-appearing periodically. We chattered over dinner about traveling through Eastern Europe, life down under, places to visit, sights to see; Sam scribbled notes frantically–I remember a trip to Vilnius was on the new to do list.

Melnik in the rain
Melnik in the rain

Stopping for some much cheaper Bohemian glass and oddly shaped Melnik wine purchases (we didn’t buy the huge wine glass in the shop window, despite Sam’s pleads), we retraced our steps to the bus shelter. The rain gave us a 10 minute gap to make a dash for it.

We said farewells to our temporary travelling friends, and with Dresden umbrella in hand, we took Metro line B to Muzeum, and in the pouring rain explored the side streets of Wenceslas square. Amongst our findings were board game shops, quirky wine and souvenir shops and the excellent Lucerna, where we spent much of the afternoon drinking alcoholic coffees and listening to live piano music.

U modre kachnicky restaurant

After toying with the idea of returning home, we changed our minds and stayed in town. In the rain we followed Sam’s carefully devised plans for the evening. Finding U modre kachnicky in Mala Strana for dinner–a purposefully expensive treat with a menu specializing in duck and game dishes. Rather than starters, we treated ourselves to their Kir Royale. As my main dish I had honey and ginger roasted duck on a bed of raisin rice, contained beautifully in a bed of lettuce. I don’t like ginger, but this was gorgeous. Sam’s duck course, with peaches, was equally yummy. When we arrived a waiter was lovingly preparing fruit crepes for some Americans, mixing and cooking the sauce on a gas stove in front of them, with “oohs” and “aahs” as poured alcohol put on a flame show. We had to have one too, despite being full we found a space for this scrumptious delight.

Sam’s plan–part 2, saw us head out into the night in search of some jazz. It seems the areas recommended in our outdated Lonely Planet guide either had no music on or were no more. The proper, “pay for jazz”, venue had a spooky vocal act on that freaked Sam out. Instead we chose an early night and an early Saturday morning.

Early morning sights

Early meaning we left the flat at 7:15am, getting to old town square by 8am! The streets were empty, and the sights at last a pleasure to witness. No tourists, no tour groups, pick pocketers, artists, moneymakers or taxis. Charles Bridge was the same, clear and enjoyable. Perfect for some photos too (bar the weather maybe). The bride we saw dashing about the place must have thought the same.

Prague astronomical clock
Prague astronomical clock
Sam on Charles Bridge
Sam on Charles Bridge

Luxury breakfast

For breakfast the Savoy was shut, the Kaverna Slavia over the bridge was a very good choice. Two of the best fresh croissants outside of France, a supreme zucchini and aubergine omelette (Sam’s bacon omelette was also tasty), orange juice and an exciting cinnamon espresso–all from a riverside table with a castle view. Quite quietly brilliant.

For the rest of the morning we explored side streets in Stare Mesto, perusing the astronomically priced Bohemian crystal store off the old square, with its chandeliers. We purchased some choice works of art that represented our time here, six or so.

When hours had passed and people had woken from their slumber, we crossed Charles Bridge towards Mala Strana, up Trziste, through some lanes and out onto Nerudova, stopping at U Zeleneho Yaje for fancy teas. Smoked moldovian tea with milk, sugar and vanilla–very WOW. Sam’s strong Irish tea with cocoa beans, served in a ceramic tea pot was not so interesting, but equally tasty, as was the marble cake! It’d been empty on arrival, but as we left the girl taking orders and making teas was frantically busy serving customers.

Smoked moldovian tea at U Zeleneho Yaje
Smoked moldovian tea at U Zeleneho Yaje

Valdstejnska zahrada gardens

Going back down the hill, we stumbled into the Valdstejnska zahrada gardens, with their albino peacock and peculiar grotto wall. In search of lunch our luck turned a little, the Lebanese mezes place no longer existed, all the cute cafes didn’t serve food and we didn’t fancy roasted piglet. We ended up at a posh but entirely pretentious place, we stayed for starters, a good decision. Nauseating tiles in the bathrooms and a toilet inducing indoor water feature didn’t help matters. Sam’s potato and poached egg soup tasted odd, incredibly sweet and by the end quite sickly. My soup of the day, lentils, was just a bit normal and tasteless, filling a gap nonetheless. We later figured they had seasoned Sam’s soup with sugar instead of salt. With bill paid, we left the place that couldn’t do soup.

Heading under Charles Bridge, along Na Kampe, we found some charming pottery places, where we dreamt of a house to put things in. Coming back up via St Nicholas’s church, we paid a visit to the recommended St Nicholas’s cafe for the next course. Supposedly an original underground dwelling, it was more of a smoky pizzeria that couldn’t do Coke and garlic bread properly.


An evening of live Jazz and Blues

Disgruntled, with very tired legs, about 8 hours of walking by now, we crossed at Manesuv most, heading for home. But we wanted a night out! So, despite our weariness, we darted straight for “Red Hot & Blues” near Namesti Republiky, via a gift shop for some cups. With two tequila margheritas from the happy hour offer Sam was quickly off her head. My dark Staropramen didn’t have the same effect. Craving some normal food, chicken fajitas and chips sufficed.

Joined by a rowdy but well behaved Irish group, we jived to the sounds of a New Orleans blues performance. An enormous kazoo playing black guy led the vocals, with a distinctly opposite small and white guy on piano and harmonica, usually at the same time, very impressive!

Phischbacher at U stare pani

After thanking them and moving on, it was time (10pm) for some serious Jazz at U stare pani, an underground low-lit red light club with 250kc music cover charge. Tonight the Walter Phischbacher trio were playing. This was real jazz; piano drums and bass. The mesmerizing tunes dipped from classical to funky to a rompous messy moment that beautifully fell into a new rhythm. Rolling piano solos got the crowd howling with applause and when the tempo upped itself, the collective “wow” was tangible.

We were served by a chirpy and kind waitress that met our every need, the drinks kept coming. Bailey’s coffee, Mexican coffee (rum, kahlua, coffee and cream), white russians, margheritas and even Bailey’s cheesecake. We spent a fortune and loved every second.
Even for the USP, this act was something special. We didn’t hesitate in buying the CD. Nothing short of awesome.

Inside U stare pani
Inside U stare pani
Jazz Club U stare pani
Jazz Club U stare pani

Catching the penultimate trams home, our mammoth 18 hour day in Prague drew to a close–a magical day wherein we found the hidden joys of the Czech capital; embracing the culture, seeing the sights and jamming to the music, a perfect ending.

Home time

Sunday was a later starter, mostly filled with chores; cleaning and preparing the flat for our departure. Late breakfast left us eating the last of the salad, cheese, scrumptious vine tomatoes, bread and frankfurters, leaving some for the flight home.

We nipped out at 3pm for one last meal in Prague, going to the Kaverna Slavia, via the Tancici dum. Although much more noisy and busy, we still enjoyed the glorious food and views of the castle. Samantha tried the breadcrumbed asparagus and spinach salad followed by a smoked salmon crepe. As per usual, soup started my meal–this time being beef broth with meatballs. Then after, I was treated to a surprise delight. Turkey with czech cheese, cranberries and potato torte was simply divine!

And that was that; the tram-metro-bus route to the airport was smooth as you like and we spent remaining CZK on Krusovice beer and glasses plus some demi-sec Bohemian champagne.

The flight home is now over and it’s back to working life again.