September 12th to 14th, 2002
(9-12) It’s hard to believe that we arrived just yesterday…. We left Dulles on 9-11 – some angst about the date, and the airport was practically deserted when we arrived three hours before our departure! New security precautions were a roadblock for truck inspections and armed soldiers and mean looking German shepherds in the security area. The Red Carpet lounge was a welcome oasis for the long wait, but activity was back to a moderate pace by the 5:25 flight time. The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful, though sleep was fitful for Dad and I. Transfer from UA to Lufthansa for the last leg was smooth, with that flight taking just one hour to Prague – arriving early. We had to wait ~ one hour for Candy and Stan to arrive, since their Air France flight from Paris was late. After a wild minibus ride, we arrived in Prague about noon.
Hotel Betlem Club is a perfect location in the Old Town – clean and friendly. Our room on the first floor (2nd floor in the US) is delightful, with two large windows (plenty of sun and street noise!), 15-foot high ceilings, and a modern bathroom, complete with hairdryer. Candy, Stan and Dad have rooms on the 3rd (“attic”) floor with lower pitched beam ceilings and smaller windows. Dad asked “when would they be putting the bedclothes on?” --- He’s not used to the euro-style low beds with simple bottom sheet and duvet.
During the afternoon we took turns resting – the guys did a local Czech beer tasting and after unpacking we wandered through the narrow, interesting streets of the “old town” (Stare Misto). At 7:00, after a shower and change, we walked across the Charles Bridge to the “Little Quarter” (Mala Strana) where we were scheduled to meet Steve’s friend – Simona Agnolucci – at a restaurant called U Mecenase, located in a medieval wine cellar (Malestranske Namesti 10, tel 57531631)
The restaurant was fantastic – superb ambience and beautiful furnishings, with friendly staff, excellent service and authentic Czech cuisine. The groups’ choices (after a typical Czech salad of minced vegetables and cheese) included beef or pork tenderloin and Roquefort sauce, Goulash, and stuffed turkey – served with dumplings or potato pancakes. For drinks we started with a delicious Czech sparkling wine, had local wines for dinner (good, but not great), then the local Slivovitz (for the brave) and coffees. Dinner lasted a very pleasant three hours thanks to our delightful hostess.
Simona is a treasure who lights up a room with her beautiful presence – we were all smitten by her natural Italian beauty, intelligence, charm and humility. Only on gentle prodding did she reveal that she graduated from Stanford in 1998, met Steve during the year she worked at E-groups – then worked in NYC before coming to the Czech republic one year ago. She took a job with a prestigious British law firm with offices here because she “always wanted to learn a Slavic language!” (Born in Chicago to Italian parents, she’s lived many places and speaks fluent English, Italian, French and Spanish already!) Her excellent Czech got us some special service – not to mention the beautiful face and figure! Next year she hopes to attend Yale Law School – then spend an additional year of study in Paris, which will allow her to be licensed to practice in the US and/or any EU country. WOW.
She seemed to enjoy the gift bag of goodies (“like a care package from my mom!”) and, after a leisurely walk back across the Charles Bridge, with views of the city lights and illuminated castle, we reluctantly said good-bye. We hope she’ll come to visit!
Day one ended on the little hotel 3rd floor patio with a nightcap and very full bellies. Alas – sleep came easily for all but yours truly (perhaps the espresso?..)
Today, Sept. 12th, brought another day of perfect weather – sunny and cool. I skipped the hotel breakfast to get a little sleep (5:30 – 9:00), then at 10:00 we headed out for a leisurely walking tour – including Old Town Square (huge, with a fascinating variety of architecture, the famous Town Hall Astronomical Clock – and, unfortunately, too many tacky street vendors wrecking the ambience and the view of the Jan Hus statue), Wenceslas Square, and the Haveski open-air Market. The boys enjoyed yet another beer tasking (the Czech republic is known for great beer), while Candy and I did a little shopping. We had a wonderful late lunch at Restaurant U Plebana (recommended by Rick Steves, but discovered by Paul and Stan yesterday) right next to the hotel! Their local wine was very good, and the food delicious. We sampled salads, ham rolls with horseradish cream sauce, game pate, and outstanding thick potato mushroom soup served in yummy bread bowls. Stuffed – all but yours truly are now napping!… More tomorrow…
(9-13) After naptime, the troops assembled for a trip above the castle, where the view was said to be spectacular as the light began to fade. We set out at 6:00 for the tram station – a confusing place! We were sold 15-minute tickets for the short ride, but then didn’t know which direction to catch the #22. I asked a young man which direction, and he pointed left… so we boarded the #22 going that way…. But after > 30 minutes we realized that it was the wrong way! We got to see a lot of (Section 2) Prague that wasn’t planned – but then had to get off the tram and wait for another going the right way – retracing our route to the end of the line – with long-expired tickets – watching the lovely light fade behind the beautiful buildings. No photos – just memories.
Our destination was a restaurant mentioned in Rick Steve’s book with “the most beautiful terrace view of the city.” It was lovely – even with most of the sun gone – but too chilly for sitting outdoors. The restaurant – Ozivle Drevo – was located on the grounds of the Strahov Monastery above the Castle (not enough time or energy to tour either one). The style, per Rick, was stately “country farmhouse” and we were seated at a long table on church pews with cushions. The tablecloth was colorful cotton; we had a 5-candle candelabra – and little cheap paper napkins! Go figure! As we were sitting down, our waitress (who spoke no English) asked if we’d like “appertif?”.. from a towel-wrapped bottle she was holding. We said “certainly”, thinking it was complimentary since she poured each of us a tiny 1/3 sherry glassful. It tasted like a nice, smooth sherry, we agreed. When we got the huge menus, printed in four languages, it appeared to be an expensive, special place.
However, the only other people there were Americans and British – then a tour bus arrived just to have a beer (and their guide was paid a commission…. Hhmmm…) The food was less than spectacular – the onions floating in my onion soup were practically raw and the duck was overcooked. The only “delicious” meal of the five was Paul’s sole. The bottles of wine were extravagantly priced, so Candy and I had glasses of the local white wine @60 kc, Stan had beer, and Dad and Paul had gin @90 kc. When the bill arrived we were flabbergasted to discover that we had been charged 500 kc each for the “appertif” !!… What a scam! Paul complained bitterly – but all they would do was remove the “service charge” of 720 kc. The British group overhearing the lively exchange interjected that their Prague guidebook warned against accepting the offer of an appertif – apparently a common scan. (The head waitress, who spoke English, told us that it was “40 year old port” – not a chance!) So we learned a hard lesson – but that’s part of the adventure. Paul, Dad and I returned to the hotel by cab and Candy and Stan took the tram to Malastranka and walked back over the Charles Bridge.
We decided to check out that night to “play it safe” – and it’s good we did! They have to get bank authorization via phone (especially since the recent floods) – but thanks to Candy’s MBNA connection, we didn’t have to wait 30 minutes like a Canadian gentleman trying to do the same. We decided to have a nightcap in the adjoining defunct clubroom, drinking bottled beer and champagne from the hotel cooler. Lots of laughs – especially when Stan tried to call daughter Dana and left the message “Hi! This is mom…… I mean DAD…!”
We packed and hit the hay at midnight, then got up at 6:00 to meet our taxi-van at 7:00 to go to the airport car rental office to pick up our van at 8:00 for the next leg of our trip. Prague was wonderful – need to go back someday to see more!…