Prague sightseeing: show and tell

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Prague was magical. It's the kind of city that is filled with beautiful things, where the old and new live side-by-side, and where folklore runs amok with rampant glee in the streets. (The golems, though, are hidden in the rafters of the Old New Synagogue).

We were lucky with the weather. The last time we went we almost got frostbite, but this time the sun was shining, the skies were (mostly) clear, and the weather was warm.

We did all of the touristy things this time, taking in the magnificence of St Vitus (above) which took over 500 years to build. When you walk in, you're struck by the smell of the place which is deep and musky, and has no doubt been around since the middle ages.

St Vitus is particularly famous for its rose window (above) and stained glass windows which were spectacular. You really don't have any idea of the magic of colour before you enter these vaulted rooms. The colour dances on everything inside like a kaleidoscope and you feel the warmth of the reds, the cool of the greens, and the potential of the pinks and purples as you walk from window to window.

As you can see, we were early risers and managed to be leaving all of the attractions just as a tour group arrived. Lucky us.

This is St Vitus Cathedral from the outside. It's inside the castle compound which you get to by walking up a very steep hill (or a ridiculous set of stairs that we very carefully avoided).

This is the interior of St Nicholas Church which is rather beautiful with all of its careful painting and gold accents. Mozart once played here, and the enormous organ is carefully preserved in the back of the Church.

The statues are carefully and lovingly hand-carved and they're not just in churches - Prague's streets are peppered with them, and many of the buildings are adorned with marble-carved figures or, in the less affluent areas, wood carvings.

Some awnings are particularly impressive, like this one above the Dior shop entrance.

Prague is a city which embraces art and artistic expression; although it probably maintains it now as a tourist attraction, you still get the feeling that this is somewhere you could embrace your inner painter, writer or composer. It helps, too, that there are musicians in every pavilion and on big bands on street corners.

And then, of course, there was the minor fact that beer is cheaper than water.

There was beer tasting, beer sampling, beer cheese, beer breweries, beer pretzels and beer drinking.

I drank a whole half a pint of beer and couldn't do anymore, but good for me, I say. I partook in the beer cheese (cheese is dissolved in a pint of beer until it becomes more of a spread, which is then blended with onion and served with deep-fried toast) and I photographed the beer-sampling. I did my bit, and I drank orange juice.

The 'traditional' tourist fare was all meat and dumplings (bread or potatoes), or chicken schnitzel with potato salad. I tried this, above, which is roast beef served with bread dumplings, creamy gravy and a dollop of fresh cream on a lemon, topped with cranberry confit. There was also a dish called 'smugglers goulash' which I wasn't hungry enough to eat alone, but it was essentially beef goulash served inside enormous round breads. You tear off the bowl to scoop out the goulash! I'm going to try making this soon.

We had a particularly lovely time in Prague. I bought white chocolate buttons from Viva! Chocolate Factory, beeswax candles from Manufaktura, we got ourselves a special traveller's mezzuzah from the Old Jewish Cemetery, and I enjoyed endless art-enjoying outlets - including the much-coveted Mucha who is esteemed and revered through many galleries, exhibitions and attractions.

A post on Prague wouldn't be right without mentioning these - trdlnik - which are delicious bread-like pastries grilled on an open braai (or fire). They're honeyed, covered in nuts and sugar and nutmeg, and turned frequently to produce a crisp exterior and  soft, hot interior. It was 40kc for a single trdlnik which was plenty: oh-so-delicious and served piping hot off the fire! Definitely recommended.

We had a three-day weekend here, but could have easily stayed for a few weeks. It's the ideal place to visit when you want to get away from the rush of London, and better still: don't switch on your mobile roaming. I was away from my cellphone, emails, internet and work demands for three wonderful days! Huzzah.

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