Friday, September 28, 2012

Prague: Bohemia's Mistress

Our next three days began at night. We arrived in Prague and settled into our hotel, Le Palais and headed out to dinner.

Gus and Joan

Our hope was to enjoy a traditional Czech supper in the Vinohrady neighborhood. A wonderful evening and a short walk left us at Hlučná Samota.

We entered through the bar...

... and were seated in the non-smoking back room.
Mark & Gus

The service was friendly and pleasant, however, the meal was forgettable ... literally. While I am unable to remember any specific dishes that we ordered I do recall the  heavy sauces (gravies) and dense bread dumplings; hopefully this was not representative of Czech cuisine.

Next morning, with the benefit of a wonderful breakfast buffet, we were off to explore Prague. While transportation was available we decided that we were going to walk; the temperatures were in the high 60°s with sunshine. We had a general idea of where we were headed, but we allowed for whatever, as we strolled down  Bělehradská.   
Vom Fass offers a variety of oils including ~ olive oils, 
almond oil, pistachio oil, avocado oil, vegetable oils and
 more plus a wide variety of  vinegars, fruit juices and syrups.

Belles Fleurs, one of Prague's most popular florists

 2BLuxury offers high quality replica furniture from the
Baroque and Renaissance periods.
Leaving Bělehradská we turned left, then right, then through an underground pass way, past Čelakovský park and ~ 
Neoclassical Czech National Museum. Due to major
renovations the museum is closed until 2016.

We now entered Wenceslas Square  ~
Top of Wenceslas Square
Less a square  than a boulevard, Wenceslas Square has the shape of a very long rectangle. At the top is the National Museum and at the bottom Old Town. We are heading to Old Town  ~

Along the way ... Joan amongst the flowers
Nearing Old Town  ~

Smoking Hams

Havel's Market

The oldest market in the capital, Havel’s has been continuously open since 1232. Originally selling fresh fruit and produce, it has since branched out to include flowers, arts and crafts, leather goods, wooden toys, ceramics and much more.

Basket of Berries Take-Away
Strawberries, Raspberries (Red & Golden),
 Blueberries, and Redcurrant Berries
Wonderful marketing of beautiful berries ... we, and I suspect many others, simply could not resist buying one of these 180 Kč (around $9) baskets. After eating our delicious collection of color, we continued on our path to The Old Town ~
The narrow cobble stoned streets of the old town in Prague are full of surprises – few cities have as impressive architecture as this city with its Old Town Square and intricate astronomical clock ~
The Astronomical Clock
This clock is so old that, in the celestial map in its center, all the planets turn around the earth rather than the sun. The legend is that the artist who created the amazing clock was so successful in his job, that in order to prevent him from building another one that would compete with this wonder, the patrons of Prague blinded him! As an act of vengeance, the clockmaker climbed on the tower and stopped the clock for 50 years.
Animated Figures

The four figures flanking the clock are set in motion at the hour, these represent four things that were despised at the time of the clock's making. From left to right in the photographs, the first is Vanity, represented by a figure admiring himself in a mirror. Next, the miser holding a bag of gold represents greed or usury. Across the clock stands Death, a skeleton that strikes the time upon the hour. Finally, the Turk tells pleasure and entertainment. There is also a presentation of statues of the Apostles at the doorways above the clock, with all twelve presented every hour ... we were fortunate to catch the 11:00 am show.


Leaving Old Town Square, left me disputing the characterization of Old Town as "Disneyland for Grown-Ups"... I would describe it more as romantically rough, well suited as a setting for a Dan Brown novel. 
Off of the Square we stopped to admire and taste a praline or two, or three ~
Gold Pralines Chocolate Shop Window
All handmade Belgian chocolate

Walking further East we came upon ~

The Powder Gate
The Powder Gate can trace its origins back to the 11th century, when the original gate was one of 13 entrances to Prague's Old Town. Originally known as the New Tower, its name was changed to the Powder Gate in the 17th century when it was used to store gunpowder. Today, the Powder Gate maintains an appropriately sooty look that reflects its historical past.
Through the Gate and to the left with discovered ~
Municipal House
A national cultural landmark, is among the most significant Art Nouveau buildings in Prague. The most significant Czech painters and sculptors of the time participated in the decoration of the Municipal House. Among several attractions inside Municipal House is Prague's biggest concert hall, the Smetana, and the famous Francouzska Restaurant where we ate a light lunch without clicking any pictures ... overpriced and underwhelming.
After lunch we headed over to ~

Dedicated to the life and work of the world-acclaimed Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha the museum is housed in the Baroque Kaunický Palace. Photographs are not allowed inside the museum, yet our favorite might have been ~
Four Seasons by Alfons Mucha, circa 1895
This was Mucha's first set of decorative panels and it became one of his most popular series. The idea of personifying the seasons was nothing new; however, Mucha's nymph-like women set against the seasonal views of the countryside breathed new life into the classic theme. In the four panels shown here, Mucha captures the moods of the seasons - innocent Spring, sultry Summer, fruitful Autumn and frosty Winter, and together they represent the harmonious cycle of Nature.
While feeling like we had already put in a full day we pushed on as we still had plenty left to do. We now headed to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) and gained a bit of relief in our schedule ... today was Yom Kippur and all of the museums, synagogues, and the cemetery were closed; however we did walk by, but not into ~
Ceremonial Hall ...
Gus in the lower left corner

Old Jewish Cemetery from the street below

The Old-New Synagogue ...
Gus under the No Entry for Vehicles sign

 Leaving the Jewish Quarter we crossed over the ... 

Charles Bridge  is one of the
 best-known points of interest in Prague

... to Lesser Town, Little Quarter, or Malá Strana. While in Malá Strana we enjoyed, visited, witnessed, and ...
 A spectacular view, one which some people
 refer to as the "Venice of Czech Republic"

Wallenstein Garden
 (Valdštejnská zahrada)

Outside the Franz Kafka Museum

John Lennon's Wall: The Lennon Wall was formerly
 an ordinary historic wall in Prague, but since the 1980s,
 people have filled it with John Lennon-inspired graffiti
and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs.

 ... dined a deux ~
kampa park
Reservations at 6:30 pm
Sunset at 6:45 pm

kampa park from the Charles Bridge
(photo taken earlier in the day)
Zagat's summary of reviews reads ~ Perennially “popular”, this “renowned” “favorite” located on the Little Quarter’s “historic Kampa Island” offers two terraces for “contemporary fine dining at the water’s edge”; loyalists laud the “lovely” interior and “inventive”, “top-quality” International menu. Make sure to get seats by the river ... we did.
Joan and Gus with the Vltava River and
 the Charles Bridge in the background
Yes that is a bottle of Billecart – Salmon, Brut Réserve in the wine bucket. Our dinner  ~
„Nordic sashimi“ of salmon, scallop, lobster and
shrimp with parsley oil, green apple and soy aioli
Seared scallops with cauliflower,
 nuts, raisins, and capers beurre blanc
Pepper steak with crispy potato cake,
cipollini onions, zucchini, and Cognac sauce

Grilled turbot with turnip and leek confit,
celery purée and Löjrom caviar sauce with morels

One last look at the Charles Bridge from
the Riverside Terrace

Our absolutely wonderful waiter ...
We finished dinner around 9:15 pm; we held tickets for an intrguing Black Light Theatre performance beginning in 15 minutes. A taxi, which had been arranged for us, was waiting in the front of the restaurant. We were off with little time to spare.
 "Aspects of Alice"
TaFantastika Black Light Theatre
This form of theatre originated from Asia and has become a speciality of Prague, where many theatres use it.The distinctive characteristics of "black theatre" are the use of black curtains, a darkened stage, and UV light, paired with fluorescent costumes in order to create intricate visual illusions. The technique, paired with the artistry of dance, mime and acrobatics of the performers is able to create remarkable spectacles.
We enjoyed the performance, it was late, we caught a taxi, entered our room, and were soon asleep.
Once again, after a very satisfying breakfast, we were off. Today was primarily dedicated to seeing Prague Castle and its surrounding points of interest. To reach the castle we returned to Malá Strana ... this time by metro.
Muzeum Station on the green line to Hradcanska Station

Exiting the metro from Hradcanska station we boarded a tram that took us up Petřín Hill to a stop close to Strahov Monastery, in the vicinity of Prague Castle. Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes after 11:00 am and the monastery was closed until 1:00 pm (contrary to information on their website)  ... we decided not to wait. However, this is what saw  ~ 
Strahov Monastery
and what we missed ~
Strahov Library
Up a few steps, down a cobblestone street, around a corner and we took in  spectacular views captured by a very talented photographer.
Panoramic view  of Petřín Park,
 one of Prague's greenist spaces,  and beyond

Breathtaking view of Malá Strana,
 just below and a bit south of Prague Castle,
 and the Dome of St. Nicholas Church and the Bride Bell Tower

Venturing down a pedestrian pathway we walked for maybe ¾ of a mile. Our timing was near perfect ... as we arrived at Hradčany Square and the First Courtyard we encountered the ceremonial changing  of the Castle Guard that takes place every day at noon.
The Castle Guard
 Entering the Second Courtyard we looked around and gathered our bearings ~
Joan in front of a  Baroque fountain
in the middle of Castle's Second Courtyard
We were now inside the castle complex. Roughly the size of seven football fields, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. Built and renovated during 13 centuries, the complex includes churches, gardens, alleyways and royal residences that would take days to appreciate ... we had 3 hours.
Walking through and emerging from a passage into the Third Courtyard ~
Front view of St. Vitus Cathedral with its Rose Window
(picture taken by Joan while laying on her back)
Rose Window from the inside

St. Vitus' Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. Located within Prague Castle and containing the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors, this cathedral is an excellent example of Gothic architecture and is the biggest and most important church in the country. Inside the cathedral ~
Art nouveau stained glass window
by Alfons Mucha, third chapel on the northern side
 In an explosion of light, color and activity, Mucha surrounds St. Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech people, with scenes from the lives of Slav Saints. The window’s centre from top to bottom compiles 1000 years of national history.

Wooden depiction of the crucifixion
by František Bílek

The Baroque silver tomb of St John of Nepomuck

Outside of the cathedral and to the south ~ 

Bell Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral
Click on link to listen to the bells pealing at
The Bells of St. Vitus Cathedral

St. George's Basilica
We leave the castle complex and catch a taxi back to the Vinohrady neighborhood and our hotel. On our way we pass ~

Frank Gehry's Dancing House
The Dancing House by Frank Gehry started in 1994 and was completed in 1996. The building consists of unusual shapes and curvatures. The very non-traditional design was originally named Fred and Ginger (after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - the house resembles a pair of dancers) and stands out among the Baroque, and Art Nouveau buildings for which Prague is famous.

We continue, however before we returned to the hotel we attempted to visit ~

Villa Gröbe gazebo

in Havlíčkovy Park ~ a lesser known alternative to Prague's many other parks. What the park lacks in tourist popularity, though, it gains in serenity and charm. The whole park is on a steep slope, which serves as a great location for Grebovka vineyard. The top part of the park is shady and quiet. As you head down to the lower part of the park, toward the vineyard, you’ll see a wooden gazebo, below which lies the reason why most people come to Grebovka – the wine restaurant. We made the trek down to the restaurant, hoping to enjoy the serenity and a bit of lunch, alas the restaurant was closed to the public for a wedding ceremony. Back up the steep slope we soon found ourselves back at our hotel.

A quick spa treatment for Joan and a nap for Gus left us with less than 30 minutes before we were to meet Mark and Ellie for dinner downstairs in Restaurant Le Papillon.

Mark, Gus, Joan, and Ellie
(clockwise from top left)

While the food and service was, at best, average the chance to spend our last night with Mark and Ellie was just what we needed. Reminiscing, sharing, laughing, teasing, and absolutely the best ~  appreciating family and the ones that you love.

Tomorrow, we head to different destinations. Mark and Ellie home to Glendale ... Joan and Gus to Paris to spend a week with very good friends, Ian and Judy.


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