Sunday, 29 November 2009

Prague: Quite possibly, the world's most beautiful city...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another fantastic day in the Mother Country. Okay, as promised, time for the recap from what was truly an AMAZING trip and a spot very high on the "must see" list: Prague.

Honestly, I can't say enough about this city - the photos below will hopefully do it some measure of justice, but you really have to see it to believe it - EVERY building is a work of art. The achitecture was like nothing we'd ever seen before, and it has further sparked an already burning desire to hit spots like Riga, Kiev, and Vilnius just to see what aother charming secrets lie behind the now vanished Iron Curtain. But I am gettig ahead of myself - let's start with that alarm going off at 4:15, AM...

Day 1 - Another New Experience

So, first off - OUCH when that alarm went off. I figure I MIGHT have pulled 2 hours of sleep - JT no more than 3. Regardless, by 5 AM we were semi-bright eyed and bushy tailed and in a cab. Only then did Jenny have the sense to check her wallet, at which point she said, "I had 40 pounds in here last night - why do I only have 5 now?" Yeah...that was kind of my fault, as I'd borrowed money from her whilst she was in the bathroom to pay for the previous night's dinner.

When we told the driver we needed to stop at an ATM, I'm pretty sure he thought we said "Would you please solve for Cold Fusion and put someone on Mars?" Suffice it to say that we totally threw him off his chi, but he did recover, and before 6 AM we were at Heathrow Terminal 5 (yep - the famous one that lost all the bags, which I think are STILL piled high and deep in a warehouse in Italy somewhere).

We started the morning with coffee and a cumberland sausage biscuit, and let me tell you what that started for my intestines - THREE STRAIGHT DAYS OF GAS. Granted, the 4 thousand sausages and beer I ate (not a vegetable or fruit in sight, mind you) didn't help, but by takeoff at 7:05, I knew my fellow passengers were in for a long flight (longest 1 hour and 25 minutes of their lives...).

We landed and had an easy transit to Prague, which is MUCH bigger than I expected. The ride from the airport was about 40 minutes, chillin' in a black mercedes and feeling like kings in our court.

We checked in at the Gloria B & B but were told our rooms weren't yet ready. So, dropping our gear, we turned around and headed for Prague's Old Town, home to some of Prague's most famous attractions.

In a word - WOW. Whatever your expectations of Prague are - prepare to have them exceeded and shattered. The walk to Wenscelslas Square wa just GORGEOUS. The Opera House. The Statues. The turrets and towers on EVERY building. And then, best of all - the blood sausage. This, ladies and gentlemen, was life changing.

Picture a footlong dog stuffed with things you never want to imagine eating, but then stuff in huge fat globules and enough spice to kill a small horse. Then, cook it in blood to seal in the flavor. The result? The best $3 meal you'll ever have...and one that I had for lunch ALL THREE DAYS I WAS THERE. Check out JT getting into the act.

We wandered around for a bit before finally selecting the Powder Tower as our first official tourist stop of the day. Since we were fortunate enough to have unseasonably blue skies, we were treated to AMAZING views of the castle and the surrounding Old Town (check out muffin's camera work in sepia). Again - simply stunning (Bristol Pistol - you said it best).

After that, we rolled into Wenscelslas Square, where we wandered through Tyn Chruch, this GORGEOUS church with a caretaker that was ready to bust up anyone who didn't walk counter-clockwise around the church. He might have only been 5'4", but I'm pretty sure that guy knew 4 ways to kill you with just his thumb. This church, incidentally, has the claim to fame of being the final resting place of Tycho Brahe...yeah, I can already tell you guys are just as excited about that fact as Jenny was when I told her.

We then hit up the Christmas Markets that were starting up. Whilst they weren't in full swing, the buzz was already in the air, AND they were testing out the lights on the tree! We then were treated to the "top of the hour" show at the Astronomy Clock, which is something akin to a "Glockenspielesque" performance (funny thing is that we didn't even know it was going to happen). This moment is also provincial, because Team Taylor discovered one of the greatest things ever created: hot wine. Making hot wine is fairly simple:

1. Buy very cheap wine with a high alcohol content.

2. Pour very cheap wine into a massive ass tea kettle.

3. Heat the wine to 4 billion degrees.

4. Advertise (in English) hot wine for 1 pound.

5. Pay an Eastern European girl to wear a ridiculous reindeer hat.

6. Pour into an uber thin glass to scorch the hands of stupid tourists.

7. Drop a lemon into the glass...since lemons are such a native fruit of the Czech Republic...

We then wandered around the old town and watched the sun set on the river before finding this GREAT little local pub, where we sampled two beers. First was Gambrinus (tasty) - second was Pilsner Urquell. Okay, now I have had this stuff a lot before, but in truth I have never liked it. Brewed locally, this stuff is the JAM. SO TASTY!

After a few there, we rolled over to a great little restaurant, where I invested in another European gem - the Pork Knee for two platter. Check out this slab of pig.

The walk back through the Square treated us to another turn of the Astronomy Clock, 1 more glass of hot wine, and the lighting of the tree! Talk about awesome.

Then, exhausted after a GREAT day of wandering around, we rolled back to the room, where we PASSED OUT and slept like rocks for 11 hours. JT didn't stir the entire time. WOW...I was jealous.

Day 2: A PERFECT Saturday

We rose at 11 (yep, it might be a Bed and Breakfast, but you have to wake up WHILE THEY'RE SERVING to actually get it) and headed back toward Old Town. Of course, we had to have a blood sausage en route and then a hot wine to celebrate our arrival. Once there, we found the market in full swing - it was GREAT! Jenny tried a local pastry, which was quite tasty.

We then headed to Prague's most famous landmark - the St. Charles Bridge. Unfortunately, there was some reconstruction work taking place on the bridge (the oldest stone bridge in Europe), but it was still stunning, covered in statues and steeped in history. Also, the bridge serves as the conduit to Prague's other famous landmark - the castle.

Sitting high at the top of "Lesser Town" (no joke - that was it's name - talk about an inferiority complex), the Castle is a massive complex that served as the seat of kings in the region for hundreds of years. Excited about the visit, I rolled up to the counter at 2:50 PM.

Sam: "I'd like 2 tickets for the full tour."

Dude at Counter (DaC): "No."

Sam: "Um...please?"

DaC: "You do not have time to visit."

Sam: "Why?"

DaC: "We are closing in 40 minutes."

Sam: "But it's not even 3."

DaC: "It's winter (insert blank, bored stare here)."

Sam: "We'll be quick."

DaC: "No. Go see the church instead. It's still open and it's free."

Having been slapped in the face by a young Vaclav Havel, we wandered into St. Vitus Cathedral, where we were treated to the MOST AMAZING stained glass we've ever seen. I realize that JT and I have been to a LOT of churches in the last 5 months, but this thing was among the most impressive - WOW. And, in truth, this was what we thought was "the castle" and the only thing we wanted to see, so we looked at it as a cost save!

After the castle, we found another must-do for me: a cave bar with no windows. Dude, I felt like Vin Diesel in Triple X trying to buy cars from Yuri ("Welcome to Anarchy 99" - Chuck, that was in my BEST Teddy KGB accent, just for you "Doesn't he look like a little mouse? Bye, bye little mouse!!!"). This place was GREAT, and again - beer was Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeap. However, I rolled even bigger, going with a Czech specialty (that's illegal in the UK) - Czech Absinth.

Okay so I order this, and the guy comes back with something that looks like a potion from Severus Snape's classroom. It's green, and I'm pretty sure it's either anti-freeze or battery acid. Beside the glass, he sets down two items: a packet of sugar, and a book of matches. A couple of thoughts run through my head:

1. The sugar is for killing the taste of the poison. The matches are for lighting myself on fire.

2. The sugar is an offering for whatever witch owns this place. The matches are to make my little cauldron boil.

3. Neither of these mean anything - they just want to see what a dumb ass tourist will do with two items that have NOTHING in common with each other.

In the end, the matches stayed put and I put the sugar in the poison. And whilst I'm still here today, I'm pretty sure I took 9 years off my life drinking that stuff.

After that, we found another dive for a couple of drinks before wandering back through the square (can someone say more hot wine) and taking time to enjoy the market and the tree. An interesting thing is that, in front of each big tree in the city (of which there were several), there was always a nativity carved from wood (maybe even from a single block like the guy in "Meet the Parents"). It was just great.

We then rolled over to a restaurant to try the last of the Czech specialties on the list - beef goulash and dumplings. The food was great, but the restaurant gave us 2 surprises:

1. They charged us 198 kronas for a bottle of water. That equates to 8 pounds, or roughly THE SAME PRICE AS 8 BEERS. No wonder it was the ONE THING not on the menu.

2. When I handed them my card, they said, "no sir - only cash." Then, smiling, he said "but we do take Euros!" I almost went back for the matches from the cave bar to try and set this place on fire, but in the end I gave up and paid. However, we were NOT happy. That being said, it was a PERFECT DAY, and our love affair with Prague was safe and sound.

Day 3: A View for the Ages

We got up earlier this day, made it down to brekkie, and then wandered out around 11 again. We hit some different Christmas markets for shopping. And now's the time to admit that, although it's uber-lame, I LOVE shopping now. I don't know what's happened to me. But hey, when you've got this adorable wife traveling with you and buying such stylish headwear, how can you not enjoy it. I mean, come on - look at my little Communist.

We spent a good 2-3 hours before rolling out of the markets and to the river for a last view of the bridge and the castle, when Jenny found an outdoor cafe (read BAR) by the water. The result? Being treated to THE BEST view in Prague - sunny, blue skies, a light breeze, the sound of rushing water, the Charles Bridge in front of us, and a direct view of the castle in the distance. All was right with the world.

We then grabbed a final hot wine in the square (shocker, I know) before picking up our ride to the airport and heading home. All in all, this was among THE BEST long weekends I've EVER had in my life. Having seen it like this, I can't imagine Prague any other way than with the energy of Christmas and all the decorations in the streets. It was a truly, truly magical experience.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Catherine - I hope that gives you a good idea of what to expect! For the rest of you - chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

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