Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Recovering while Discovering Prague

Recovering while Discovering Prague

If you read the previous post (New Year's Nightmare in Prague), you already know that Devon was hospitalized practically upon setting foot in Prague and remained there for almost the entirety for our trip. Bottom line: Devon is going to be just fine AND we still got 2.5 really awesome days in this beautiful city.

The Winter Holidays in Prague: 
One of the best parts about Prague is that it is a city that is exceptionally fun in the winter months. As previously mentioned, prior to the hospital, we attended a beautiful string quartet holiday concert at the beautiful Mirror Chapel and strolled around the Old Town together. There are probably at least half a dozen holiday-themed concerts daily at a very affordable price. Because we arrived the day after Christmas, we were expected all of the festivities to be closing. We were quite wrong!

Holiday markets are everywhere! There were a few around Old Town (Stare Mesto), one in Wenceslas Square, one outside the castle in Mala Strana, and one within the palace courtyard. There are plenty of goods being sold, delicious mulled wine, desserts, and sausage. Everything is lit up in the squares, including a colossal tree!

Because we were unsure of Devon's condition when we re-booked our return flight, we were stuck in Prague through New Year's because all flights were full. But after all the bad, our luck was beginning to turn. On the evening of Devon's release, we spent New Year's Eve watching fireworks across the city from our window in a quiet residential neighborhood.

When we checked into our hotel in Stare Mesto the next day, the concierge let us know that New Year's Day is a big event in Prague and that there would be a fireworks show over the water just minutes from where we were staying. 

Devon was feeling pretty excellent by the time the celebration started, so we made the short walk to Vltava Riverfront and watched some epic fireworks. For all the trauma we both went through, we suddenly felt incredibly immersed and connected to the Czech community.

What to Eat?
After the show, Devon was feeling up for some food. But in a city full of pork, duck, and sausage, we were very wary about what to put into his body. What we both discovered in Prague is that we really are not fans of traditional Czech cuisine...well, maybe Devon would be, if he could have eaten it this time. Goulash and street meat are just not for Lenni. 

But what we did find is that there is quite a bit of Italian food in Prague, and Devon needed some plain pasta, soup, and bread! 

This actually killed two birds with one stone, because many of these Italian restaurants carried gluten-free pasta and dough to meet Lenni's digestive issues, as well!

Find a Go-To Spot:

Every hotel we stayed at offered a complimentary breakfast, which by the bank sounds great! But Czech breakfast culture is a bit heartier than what we are used to. As pictured above, savory meats and cheeses are the primary options, usually followed by bread, an assortment of fruit, and hard-boiled eggs. Devon was content with the bread in his condition, but Lenni is a scrambled egg kinda gal and couldn't get past the brie and prosciutto for more than one morning. 

We ended up finding a little bit of Paris in Prague at Au Gourmand, a french style cafe with delicious caramel lattes, omelets, and pancakes. Devon and I were able to fill up just by splitting a plate. 

We liked this place so much that we went here three times in as many days for breakfast and coffee. We started to feel like we had a little place in Prague that felt like our own! We can imagine returning in many years to this same spot and feeling nostalgic about our experiences in this city.

Free Things to Do:

As previously mentioned, a Free Discover Prague Royal Walk Tour is entirely worth it. It will help acquaint you with the city layout and history. This tour was the only reason Lenni learned how to navigate the city entirely on her own with no wi-fi.

The astronomical clock is one of the most popular sites in the city. Every hour on the hour thousands gather to hear it's toll and watch the statue figures of Apostles and others move about the clock. It isn't really worth braving the intense crowds for this, but at any other time of day, check out this impressive operating medieval clock. It is truly a stunning work of art...and still functional!

On our first trip over the bridge, we headed to the John Lennon Wall, just down the stairs to the left once you get to the Mala Strana side. People come to spray paint colorful words and designs inspired by John Lennon's "Imagine" mentality. The wall changes daily as spray-painters create new art using this as a canvas.

Just around the corner from here is the John Lennon pub. We didn't check it out, but it's pretty neat from the outside.

There are a number of churches you can enter. Stop in to rest your legs and admire the beautiful chandelier at St. Nicholas Church by the Astronomical clock. 

Check out the Thief's Arm at the Baroque style church of St. James the Greater...

Oh, what was that? You didn't know that there is a church in Prague with a mummified human forearm and hand dangling from the ceiling?

The legend goes that a thief broke into the church and was stealing something from one of the statues. The statue came to life and gripped his hand until morning with the priests arrived. They could not release the statues clutch, so they called the butcher...

The human arm hangs as a reminder of what happens when you steal from the house of God.

Peruse the open markets and small shops. You don't need to make a purchase to admire the unique and weird craftsmanship!

Traditional Tourist Activities:
Our favorite thing to do in Prague is stare up at the incredible gothic and baroque architecture blended beautifully together into the skyline of this city. But when Devon was feeling well enough, we did jump on the tourist bandwagon.

We made it to The Jewish Museum for a moving exhibit about Friedl Dicker-Brandeis' incredible work in bringing art classes to children at a concentration camp during her own relocation to Terezin. Over 4,000 hand drawn pieces of art by children survived in a suitcase that was discovered after her own extermination.

The permanent exhibition displays the handwritten names of all of the Jewish Czech victims of the Holocaust across the building walls. 

If you continue around the property, you will walk through the Old Cemetary. This historical monument is the resting place of locals from the Jewish community dating back to the 1400s. Due to religious burial beliefs and property allowance issues, this cemetery expanded from the ground up with as many as 12 graves on top of one another. It is a fascinating sight.

We made our way across the Charles Bridge for a second time in two days. Everyone should cross the bridge once to see the statues, but crowding is an issue and we suggest that those making multiple trips over the water take the other bridge just a few blocks down in Old Town. It actually gives an equally beautiful view of the Charles Bridge.

On our second trip into Mala Strana, we headed for the castle. Get your quads ready for a serious uphill climb. And in the case of rain (or snow, like today!) wear shoes with traction.

When you reach the top of the stairs, TURN AROUND for the most beautiful view of the city. You will be substantially elevated over the buildings that once seemed to tower over the rest of Prague.

As you enter the square at the top of the hill, look to your right. There should be two military guards at their posts just outside the castle gates. This is the point through which you will exit should you choose to visit the castle.

Keep in mind that the "Castle" does not refer to one building; it is more like a fortress of sorts. Once you pass through security, you will enter an archway. On the other side of the archway, you might see an incredibly long line at an information booth. This is a ticket booth. DO NOT GO HERE IF THERE IS A LONG LINE!!!

Walk through a second archway and take a left around the Cathedral. Keep walking until you hit a fork. You will see a ticket sign that points to the left for "Golden Lane." Follow the sign until you reach what will look like a small food shop. BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE!!! There will be maybe half a dozen people in this line :-)

We purchased Circuit B, which gave us access to four of the eight sites on the Palace Grounds. Golden Lane, named for its neighborhood of goldsmiths, is an adorable walk back in time. These tiny houses hold relics of past lives in medieval Prague and are current homes to craft shops and specialty stores. If you are really tall, be prepared for contortion. 

We visited a prison tower as well.  Devon was really excited about this skeleton hanging in the entrance. 

This is one of a kind insight into medieval forms of solitary confinement.

Once finished at the tower, we made a slight descent to another incredible photo op point. Unfortunately, it was snowing and we were too cold to take advantage.

We checked out the Basilica of St. George next. To be honest, this isn't a must see, but it was nice to escape from the cold!

Our final stop was the St. Vitus Cathedral. The line can get long for this one, but we arrived at just the right time. This is the most beautiful of all the sites on the palace grounds and a MUST do. This massive cathedral is home to the resting place of Czech hero, the "good King Wenceslas."

The cathedral shines with a variety of colors reflecting off the massive panels of stained glass. Each window tells a different biblical story. If you want to spend a little extra money, there are guided tours for this and other sites.

We had been told by another American tourist couple earlier in the day that the actual Old Prague Castle is not impressive or worth seeing. Our patron travel saint, Rick Steves echoed these sentiments in his Prague Pocketbook, so we decided to skip and get some food instead.

As we headed back into the old town from the bridge, we felt that we had done enough of the traditional tourist events over two days- it was quite a bit more than we imagined we could do a few days ago when Devon was still in the hospital. 

After some reflecting over pasta and gluten-free pizza, we decided that the earlier turmoil in our trip had somehow brought us closer to Prague. This is a city we found our way through with absolutely no expectation of a positive outcome. We had withstood a number of tests on our journey that gave us a deep appreciation for the culture, beauty and moment-by-moment nature of this glorious city.

Until next time...Nashledanou!

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