Prague, Czech Republic – June 20, 2010
Warning – this was a long trip. It is a long blog post!
I must say, Prague is my favorite city on this planet. It is absolutely beautiful. The people are nice, most speak English, and the food is great!!!
We stayed at the Alchymist Grand Hotel and Spa. This is a wonderful hotel. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the city. It is literally right across the street from the U.S. Embassy. In the dining room, there is a spectacular crystal chandelier. The Czech Republic is world renown for the crystal it produces. The building that houses the hotel dates from 1517. That is officially the oldest hotel at which I have stayed.
After checking-in and settling into our room, we needed to figure out where to eat on our first evening in Prague. One of the staff at the reception desk recommended David’s. It was an easy walk from the hotel, only about one block just around the corner and up the hill from the hotel on Tržiště. That was one of the best meals I have had in quite some time.
Following our meal, we returned to the hotel for a nightcap. Sitting in a 16th-century ambiance was enjoyable.
The next morning, we rose early (not unusual) for breakfast, eager to begin our exploration of Prague. In the area of the hotel, the streets are all cobblestone. The patterns are charming. It was entertaining to watch the red streetcars going by in each direction, taking commuters to their daily business.
Leaving the hotel, we walked to the Charles bridge. King Charles IV commissioned the bridge in 1357. We were so early that there were very few people out. The bridge is world-famous, in part, due to the numerous statues that line the sides of the bridge.
Just south of the bridge, I spotted the Mlýn Huť (Water Mill with Gremlin) on the Čertovka Canal. I am certain that in the past the wheel provided power for manufacturing or grinding meal.
From the Charles Bridge, looking back to the west, one can easily see St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle. The views look like something one might see on the box of a jigsaw puzzle.
At the bridge, the river is quite wide, maybe 500 meters (1,640 feet or about 1/3 of a mile) or so. There is a lot of traffic on the river. There are also several anglers on the river in small boats at any one time.
We made it back to the hotel around 10:00, just in time to catch our ride to the Czech Crystal Showroom. Of everything we did while we were in Prague, this was the worst activity. It ended up being a very high-pressure crystal business. Some of the crystal and jewelry pieces available were well over US$1,000. We did buy some wine glasses, but they tried to get us to buy several thousands of dollars’ worth of crystal. It seemed like a nice at first; after all, they picked us up in a Mercedes. The showroom was about a 15-minute ride from our hotel. At the end of that ride, we discovered the error of our ways.
When we made it back to the hotel, we had just enough time to put our purchases in our room before we went out to hit the streets again.
We walked toward the Charles Bridge again. Just before we got to the bridge, we spotted a small, old, purple convertible Skoda. As it turned out, we stumbled upon a car used to tour the city. We were just in the right place at the right time. We hired the driver to take us on a 45-minute tour. It was worth every penny. He was a very nice young man who spoke perfect English.
One of the first stops on our tour was the Lennonova zeď (Lennon Wall). I made a mental note to return and take some photographs. Throughout the drive, he explained many of the sites we passed. At the end of the tour, he brought us back to the bridge.
From there, Leslie and I walked back across the Charles Bridge. We made our way to Wenceslas Square. There we found the old city hall and the astronomical clock tower. The clock seems very complex to me. If someone were to ask me the time while I was there, I would have to look at my watch! The upper portion is a clock and the lower portion is a calendar complete with zodiac signs. There always seem to be throngs of people at this location to watch the clock hourly.
We walked back across the river using the bridge just north of the Charles Bridge, Mánesův Most (Mane’s Bridge). We slowly made our way back to our hotel. We found ourselves there in time for a free wine tasting with various cheeses. That was a nice surprise.
The next day, I actually had to go to work! Yes, this was a business trip. Within the Department of State, there are historic properties around the world for which facility managers are responsible. They are known collectively as the Secretary’s Register of Culturally Significant Properties. I had one such property in Madrid, therefore the invite to this seminar on the best ways to care for them. The register contains 17 properties scattered around this planet.
Those in charge of the seminar selected Prague as the venue because the U.S. Embassy there is in the old Schönborn Palace. The main portion of the embassy dates from 1718, although parts date as far back as 1643. As one might imagine, facilities with such a provenance require different methods of maintenance than a more modern building.
In addition to the embassy, the ambassador’s residence is on the register, so we spent some of our seminar time at the residence. Two items at the residence I found particularly interesting were an old “StairMaster” located in a gym and a small wooden table. The StairMaster was interesting because it almost looked like a torture device. The small wooden table was interesting because of the marking on the underside. Apparently, during World War II, the residence was a rest and recuperation location for the Third Reich. The underside of the table has a German SS furniture inventory mark.
Later that evening, we walked to the U Modré Kachničky (The Blue Duck) to eat. The food there was delicious and well presented. As with our first evening, a hotel staff member recommended the restaurant. We would highly recommend it to anyone spending time in Prague.
The following day, when I returned to the hotel, Leslie and I were able to spend a little bit of time at the Castle complex and St. Vitus Cathedral. It was a bit of an uphill walk from the hotel, but it was well worth the effort. Parts of this cathedral date from about 925! Yes, that is right, 925! In the cathedral, one of the most spectacular sights is the Tomb of St. John of Nepomuk. According to church documents, St. John was tortured in front of King Wenceslas IV. That happened around 1393. The tomb consists of two tons of silver.
When Leslie asked one of the docents about the tomb, he took us aside, without speaking a word of English. He motioned us into a closed-to-the-public portion of one of the side chapels, near the Sepulchre of St. Adalbert. We walked to the rear of that chapel. He unlocked an iron gate. Again, he motioned us to follow. We began to descend a flight of stone stairs. We ended up below the main floor of the cathedral, where some of the royal tombs are located. The three of us were not able to communicate very well because of language differences, but the “special” tour was very unexpected and very interesting.
Departing the cathedral, it was thrilling to have a downhill walk back to the hotel. On our way, we stopped at a restaurant that had commanding views of the town. We had a lovely dinner there.
The next morning, we had some time to kill before we had to go to the airport. I suggested we use the time to return to the Lennon Wall for some photographs. We did. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the wall, I realized I had left my camera memory card in the hotel room. I asked Leslie to standby. I raced back to the hotel, got the card, and rushed back to Leslie. Even though the total distance was 1.5 kilometers (nearly one mile), it was worth every bit of the effort. I ended up with some of my most favorite photographs. When we left the wall, we wandered through the streets, slowly making our way back to the hotel. We stumbled across a florist shop. That is when I captured my other favorite photo. Then it was back to the hotel, off to the airport, and back to Madrid, Spain.
At one point during our stay, Leslie, and I both said, “Prague is just a breath-taking city.”