(9/12/04) Everyone had a poor night’s sleep because of wild screaming and stomping in the bar below, where the locals were watching the Czech national team play hockey in the semifinals on TV. (The Czechs lost to Canada 4-3 at ~ 3:00 AM!) We left Pension Pohada at 9:15 and decided to try the Hotel Central for breakfast, but they stopped serving at 9:00 (!), so we drove to Prague on empty stomachs, arriving at the outskirts at ~ 11:30. We then circled countless times around narrow one-way streets before finally finding the Betlem Club Hotel with the help of a taxi driver! After unloading the luggage, Paul and Stan had to take the car to a parking garage behind the National Theatre – then walked back to the hotel (getting lost again!).
We finally had a wonderful lunch at the restaurant U Plebana next door – the fondly remembered potato and mushroom soup in a bread bowl, and salads (roasted broccoli and smoked cheese for me) – Yum! Then we were able to check into the hotel, unpack, and take a much-needed nap. Since we’ll be here two more days and saw many of the “must-see” tourist spots on our last trip, we had a chance to slow the pace. (Candy and Stan look a walking tour on their own and reported a huge crush of tourists – many more than 2 years ago where we were here 3 weeks after the big flood.) We met in Dad’s room ~ 5:30 and walked away from the tourist zone to explore the area near our hotel, discovering Monarch Stella vinia... delightful modern wine bar just 2 blocks north. We enjoyed sampling 2 wonderful local wines (a red Monarch Alibernet 2002 and a Ryzlink Rynsky 2001 white) and a delicious cheese sampler with baguettes and olives. Since we were too full to consider a large dinner, we decided to return to our favorite little restaurant – U Plebana – and shared two plates of delicious venison goulash and 3 bowls of onion soup.
9/13/04) Sleep was interrupted by some loud revelers outside, but the bed was comfortable and there was no need to get up early. Paul and I walked to the car park to scope out the (only?) route back to our hotel and to retrieve our travel brochures – then searched in vain for a coffee shop. We returned to the hotel for breakfast – surprisingly good coffee, cereals, yogurt, fruit, rolls & jam – then headed for a walk across the Charles Bridge, which was packed with tourists and sidewalk artists, but always impressive!
We wandered around Kampa Island, which suffered the flood of 2002, now bustling with construction among the river view parks, pubs, and newly painted shops, hotels and restaurants. Many of the Vltava River boat tours leave from this area. Dad and Paul opted to return to the hotel for a nap, but Candy, Stan and I continued to tour the “Little Quarter” (Mala Strana) – one of four medieval towns that united in the late 1700s to make “modern” Prague. We had a wonderful lunch at Restaurant Gitanne (soups, salads, vegetable stuffed peppers, etc.), then toured the ornate and impressive Church of St. Nicholas at the center of the square.
Eventually our group of five reconvened at the hotel and set out on foot to find a special restaurant to celebrate Candy and Stan’s engagement. We made reservations for 6:30 – then spent the next hour “people-watching” in nearby Wenceslas Square, where Paul and Stan discovered the wonderful local “Velvet” beer. The restaurant – “U Modre Ruze” is located in a 15th century cellar with vaulted stone ceilings – a very intimate atmosphere. We toasted with champagne, then enjoyed a variety of delicious cold appetizers (pate, avocado with shrimp, etc), soups, and we all had the recommended entrée – a “Czech plate”, with roast duck, roast pork, smoked pork, sauerkraut, Czech and potato dumplings – Whew! A chocolate mousse was shared to end a pleasant evening.
(9/14/04) After sleeping late, we had another basic breakfast in the hotel – to start our day with good coffee! We decided to take a half-day excursion to the town of Kutna Hora, about 70 km southeast of Prague. After one wrong turn, we found it, and had a pleasant afternoon enjoying the clean lovely town and eating a huge delicious lunch at Dacicky Pinice restaurant (meats, dumplings, goulash, and a huge pork knee served on a spit for Dad!). We then toured the impressive Cathedral of St. Barbara – dedicated to the patron saint of miners and built in the Gothic style over a 500-year period (1388-1905). The history of Kutna Hora is connected to mining of silver ore from the 13th century. Soon after, the mine was providing about 1/3 of the total European silver production and by the end of the 14th century the 500-meter deep mine was the deepest in the world. Kutna Hora became the second most important city in the kingdom of Bohemia (after Prague) and today, with its 300+ medieval and Baroque buildings, is on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. Time did not allow for us to take any more tours, but the town’s history is fascinating and it is obviously thriving as a tourist destination.
The Czech countryside is delightful along the secondary roads, which were in surprisingly good repair. Farmlands (growing sugar beets, grain and hay) and orchards abound between the many small towns. New construction and renovation is underway in every town we passed – a sign that this country, with such a troubled past, is truly getting back on its feet. The Czechs are pleasant, hardworking people (who really love their beer!), and the future for the next generation looks bright, as they work hard to improve the country’s economy.
This feeling was further reinforced when we spent a delightful evening with Jan, his adorable fiancé Martina (and their cute puppy “Aneka” ?sp). Since they live in Prague during the week and spend most weekends in Kovarska, we arranged in advance to treat them for dinner. We walked from our hotel across the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) to the lovely Kampa Park restaurant. We ate outdoors on the lower level (dogs are only allowed here), so we didn’t have a view of the bridge – but it was pleasant and comfortable, and the food and service were superb. Appetizers included delicious soups, salads, sashimi, etc, and meals included venison, pepper steak, chicken and fish – all gourmet and presented with flair on beautiful modern white dishes.
Jan (32) has completed his PhD in engineering and Martina (24) has a masters in ecology and is working on her PhD – both very modest about their accomplishments. They volunteer their time to help their community, and hope to eventually settle down in tiny Kovarska to raise their children. This energy and optimism is a precious commodity for a country on the mend! And this evening was a wonderful end to our stay in the Czech Republic…