Monday, November 2, 2015

Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I)

View from Prague Castle  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

My first trip to Europe was a three-week tour of five countries when I was a pre-teen bordering on teenagerhood. Without digital cameras, smartphones, blogs, Instagram, Facebook check-ins and the like to help me recall, my memory from that trip two decades ago is a little fuzzy. I did keep a written travel journal, but I no longer have it, and there are printed pictures, but I don't know where they live (and I don't have any digital copies of the pictures themselves).

While I don't remember every single detail and hotel and sight and meal and gorgeous view, there are a few that were engrained so deeply on my awestruck psyche, that all these years later I not only have a clear memory of those experiences, but I can almost close my eyes and see and feel those scenes right before me.

The first one is from our first stop—Paris, France, where we disembarked from the plane and hopped on the subway that would take us into the city. I remember feeling a very vivid sense of disappointment. This was the City of Lights? Of love and romance and glamour? The perfume capital of the world?

To be fair, I didn't give Paris a fair shake in those first few hours, since you can't really judge a city by the subway ride in from the airport (I'd hate for someone to judge NYC by the A/E/J/Z subway ride through Queens and Brooklyn into Manhattan), and especially not on a summer day, not too long after the morning rush hour, when the car is filled with people with one outstretched arm raised to hold the subway pole, and my poor eyes (and nose) were subjected to the sights and scents emanating from those usually covered, but now revealed places.

So that was France.

(For the most part—I also remember the chocolate croissant-filled breakfasts and cramming rolls stuffed with cheese and meats into our bag for the train ride to Versailles.)

Then came Germany, where I distinctly remember tentatively poking my head out of the train car as we arrived in a new country and breathing in the very welcome and extremely delectable scent of freshly baked, yeasty bread.

Switzerland was where I fell in love with a small, lakeside town and earnestly wrote in my journal that I would one day live there (complete with a crude drawing of Mt. Pilatus towering over Lucerne, my someday home). The clear air, the unbelievably bucolic environs and frolicking cows and sheep, the cow bells (which I noted as a good idea for my big dog to wear), the chocolate, the window boxes (which I'm still waiting and hoping to have one day)—it was all exactly how I imagined perfection to be.

In Austria I have a memory of a pretty, gas lamp-lit street where we'd had delicious plates of Wienerschnitzel. And being a lifelong fan of The Sound of Music, I remember noting every person walking by wearing an outfit that remotely resembled a Captain von Trapp or Maria or Liesl ensemble.

We also met with the man whose family is behind a clothing line that played a large part of my family's wardrobe then (and still does for my mom and I today), but also our (at the time) family business. I remember being in complete awe of the process he walked us through at company headquarters—the raw wool coming in, being boiled and turned into fabric, the designers, the pattern cutters, and, my favorite, the racks and racks of prototypes for the next season which I was thankfully allowed to try on (i.e., play dress up with), while a little business was handled among the adults.

Then there was the Czech Republic, where we visited its capital city and a small neighborhood just outside Prague where family friends lived. I remember smushing into the backseat of their teeny (I'm assuming) Skoda for the pretty drive along windy roads to their home for dinner. The Charles Bridge. Dumplings. Pork knuckles. Wenceslas Square. The spiced kick of Becherovka, a wonderful Czech herbal bitters in an emerald green bottle, that I was allowed to taste and bottles of which we brought home, where I continued to (sneak) taste(s) of by pulling out a bottle secreted in the last drawer of my mother's dresser, under her stack of silk scarves and lace handkerchiefs.

Even though only a few years had passed since the Czech Republic had emerged from communism, meaning that parts of the city were still unkempt and sooty, I had the impression that Prague was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been. Walking through its church-lined, castle-surrounded cobblestone streets, under gorgeous, gilded sculptures, and prettily-colored buildings that were charmingly lined up one after the other felt like skipping through a storybook.

+ + +

After we'd booked this year's summer trip to Sicily, and then realized we could squeeze in another (shorter) trip—the last, as it were—before I wouldn't be able to fly anymore, we decided to plan a capital-city trip in mid-October. With 5 days to use, we thought it would be nice to visit two cities and I immediately voted for Prague to be one of them. While I'm normally more interested in visiting new cities, my memories of Prague were nearly 20 years old—and they were all good ones. And since R had never been, it made the list.

We flew directly from Stockholm to Prague on the morning flight and by lunchtime we were already checking into our hotel at the foot of Charles Bridge on the Malá Strana side (versus the Old Town side). We had picked the Domus Balthasar Design Hotel based on its amazing location, its pedigree (a medieval building with modern amenities) and the dark wooden beams in its rooms (a favorite architectural detail of ours). I'd booked the attic room, but after the receptionist saw R's height and my third-trimester stomach, she offered to upgrade us to a suite on a lower floor so I wouldn't have to take too many flights of stairs (there's no elevator) and R would be able to stand upright in the shower (as the attic room ceiling is sloped).

Once we were settled in the room we rested for a bit (at my request) and then by late afternoon we put on our boots and ventured out into the city. Crossing over the still-delightful Charles Bridge, we found ourselves right before a bakery with a huge crowd in front of it, everyone in line for a famous Czech pastry, the trdelník, a sweet, spherical goodie that can be filled with any number of delightful things. Unfortunately I can't find the name of this particular bakery, but if you come off the bridge and continue straight on Karlova you'll find it a minute later on the south side of the street.

Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Charles Bridge, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Seeing as everybody seemed to be reveling in their treat, we put ourselves in line and ordered a simple, chocolate filled one for R, and a classic, overflowing strudel-filled one for me. Emerging with our precarious sweets we stood on the cobblestones and dug in—R, elegantly so. Me, a little less so, as I struggled to keep my coat, scarf, and nose out of the sweet, creamy, honey-dripping concoction. My clothes survived, my nose (and chin and cheeks), a little less so.

When we'd finished and I'd made myself presentable, we continued on our walk, looping all around Old Town before finally reaching the Old Town Square, where we stood in the middle, taking in the beautiful colors, the street performers' music, and the heady scent of roasting pork (a Czech specialty). Purely by accident, we found ourselves in the square at the top of the hour, when the famous Astronomical Clock does its show, so we gathered with others to watch.

While we continued to meander around for quite a bit, R had already fallen in love with the town for the same reasons I had—he was completely charmed by its un-showy, yet, impressive facades, its enchanting nooks and crannies, its storied history, its very friendly people, and its fairytale-like character.

Old Town, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Old Town, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Old Town, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Old Town, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Old Town, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Old Town Square, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

By the time we arrived back at the hotel ready for a little freshening up and to make plans for dinner, I was ravenous and insistent that we dine on koleno, pork knuckles, another Czech delicacy.

A little Googling led me to a promising option: crispy, roasted pork knuckles at Klášterní šenk, located on the grounds of Břevnov Monastery, the Czech Republic's oldest Benedictine monastery, founded in the 10th century and only a few minutes away by car. The idea of eating something so rustic, in such an atmospheric place was too much for me to handle and we immediately opened up Uber (which we had begun using for the first time on this trip and had already understood was super convenient), booked a car, and were on our way.

Not only was our meal incredible, but having an actual monk in his dark robes walk through to the bar for a pint of beer pushed the experience over the top for me.

(Another plus in Prague: transportation and food is very, very affordable, even more so to us, as we're accustomed to NYC and Stockholm prices, but honestly, good quality meat, beers, charcuterie, fermented cabbage, savory pancakes, all manner of lovely, creamy spreads and freshly-baked bread and crisps to spread them upon for two people for less than thirty dollars would be a coup for most, I'd imagine.)

The next morning our plan was to head up the hill to tour the grounds of Prague Castle, which rather than being a single building, is a complex of buildings overlooking the city. Bur first: breakfast. We left our hotel and headed west along the street that winds up to the castle, an easy (even for me...at that time, at least) 20-minute walk. I had scoped out Creperie U Kajetana, a lovely-looking café on Tripadvisor that morning, so we headed there, as it was conveniently located on the street leading to the castle and makes for a perfect spot for a pre-visit breakfast or lunch.

I had a pot of tea, a herbal juice, and crepes with goat cheese, pears and walnuts, while R had coffee, a carrot juice, and a salmon-topped bagel. The entrance is welcoming and the dining spaces behind are adorably higgledy-piggledy and so cozy that we lingered over our meal before starting the walk up the hill.

Creperie U Kajetana, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Nerudova Street to Prague Castle, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


As we arrived in one of the main plazas of the complex, overlooking a gorgeous vista of red-roofed Prague, we had a moment of disbelief as we experienced a scene almost too idyllic to believe—palace guards in smart uniforms riding distinguishedly atop regal horses, golden gates leading to palace buildings, a lively quartet playing courtly music in the middle of the square, and this entire tableau taking place under the most striking of blue skies while the autumnal sun shone down (we had perfect weather the entire time we were in Prague).

We strolled around the grounds, taking photographs and listening to the music, visiting St. Vitus Cathedral, and arriving at the castle gates just in time for the fanfare of the changing of the guards and the flag ceremony. Something about all the lovely music and pomp and circumstance and looming cathedral towers made me realize how much I had missed the central European experience.

(Stockholm is a beautiful city and Sweden a wonderful country, but while it's European, it's also squarely Scandinavian, and an entirely different experience than you'd have in a Catholic city in the heart of the European continent.)

I soaked in as much as I could, only agreeing to head back down when I began to tire.

Prague Castle, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Prague Castle, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

St. Vitus Cathedral, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

View from Prague Castle, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

View from Prague Castle, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

That evening we decided to walk to the Old Town and wander around until we found a place for dinner, but we had less luck with our spontaneous choice that night, so we Uber'd back to Malá Strana and popped around the corner of our hotel to the elegant U Malířů for dessert, where I had some asparagus-mousse and berry invention (I will always be the one to order the oddest-sounding dessert) with tea and R had an apple tart with a whisky.

We were seated on gold-rimmed, brocade chairs in one of the window nooks of the restaurant with a view to the pretty street outside. With classical music playing and the murmur of people around us, we once again took our time over our dishes and enjoyed our last evening in Prague.

The next morning before heading to the train station for the 4-hour ride to our second and final destination, we walked south of our hotel to the foot of Most Legií, the bridge just south of the Charles Bridge, for breakfast at Café Savoy, R's pick of the trip. Walking into the high-ceilinged, classical European coffeehouse we had a feeling that he'd chosen well, and after ordering and then tasting our breakfast spread, we knew that he had in fact chosen the best spot for our farewell-to-Prague meal.

Cafè Savoy, Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Malà Strana, Prague  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Prague Train Station  |  Postcard from Prague (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part I) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

After our feast we walked back to the hotel, zipped up our suitcases and hopped into a car to the train station. Next stop: Vienna.

Leave a note (comments)
Subscribe via e-mail
Follow along on Instagram and via Bloglovin', RSS or Feedly

One year ago: An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö
Two years ago: Odds and ends
Three years ago: Milkman nostalgia & Gentle living & A good thing

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a note!

XOXO,
J.