Monday, January 11, 2010

12 Prague, Czech Republic

The last overnight train we took was a noisy, smelly affair from Agra to Udaipur, India and the next day began Patrick's two-week battle with kidney stones. So we were a bit trepidatious as we boarded the 10pm train to Prague. Luckily, however, the overnight aspect was where the similarities ended: we ended up with a private (six bunk) cabin, slept comfortably through the night, and we're happy to report that Patrick's internal organs are doing just fine.
We were delighted to learn that Sandeman's New Europe--the company that gave us a great free tour of Jerusalem--does a Prague introductory tour as well. Our guide James was full of interesting stories and facts (did you know that the Czech national anthem was actually written for a comedy festival 80 years before the country's independence?) and managed to do a very respectable job of covering some 800 years of history in three hours. We walked all over the city--from the famous astronomical clock in Old Town Square to the network of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter to the Estates Theatre where Mozart himself performed. Though we weren't able to catch a show there, we did get tickets to Swan Lake at the State Opera House. We felt woefully underdressed for the red velvet and gold interior and the elegant ballet on stage; luckily we got the cheap seats in the back.

Prague Castle, the largest Medieval castle in the world, looms impressively on the city skyline. Lit up at night, covered in snow, it looks like something out of a fairy tale. The halls and rooms inside don't quite live up to the external facade, but we did get a huge kick out of seeing THE window of Defenestration of Prague fame that began the Thirty Year's War. Props to Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Blynt, our high school history teachers, for ingraining facts in our memories that lasted a full decade!

Another highlight of Prague Castle was the nearby U Cerneho Vola (The Black Bull) pub recommended by Katrina's mom. The decor was simple, with a few rows of long wooden tables to share, the beer flowed easily, and the fried cheese was delicious. Bohemian cuisine proved very fun to eat: huge roadside sausages smothered in tangy mustard; pork knee served on a cutting board with a knife stuck in its center; pots of goulash to ladel over bready dumplings. All washed down, of course, with a half liter of local brew. The word "pilsner" comes from the Czech town of Plzen after all!

And in that spirit, we celebrated our last night out of the trip with a pub crawl through the snowy streets of Prague. We started out slowly with half liters at Malostranska, took it up a notch with grog and a full liter stein down the road, and then knocked back a few more at Stara Praha with some food. But we were still looking for a full-fledged Czech bar. When we shoved open a heavy wood door at Divadelni Kavarna to reveal a smokey room with tackily upholstered chairs, and all the wooly-sweatered Czechs turned to look at us, we knew we'd arrived. It took several beers, some absinthe, and busting out the dance moves but by the time we closed down the bar, the regulars were giving us thumbs ups and even a kiss on the hand.

View more pictures from Prague here.

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