Last month my husband and I were in Europe for two weeks. While in Prague, we took a tram to Prague Castle.
The most impressive building at Prague Castle is the St. Vitus Cathedral. Its bristly Gothic steeples rise above the palace grounds, identifying it from afar. This is the first building you see, but the last sight on the tour.
The first sight is the Old Royal Palace. Ornately carved doors. Wonderful grand halls. Spiral staircases. An intimate chapel. More doors. Doors with intricate handles. Doors with gorgeous hinges. Dining areas with long tables. Shields with emblems.
And best of all, authentic heating (or not). We visited in mid-December and kept our coats and hats on the entire time.
Next comes the St. George Basilica. Although it was built in the first century, its Baroque facade was added in the 17th century. Inside were rich carpets, iron scrollwork, and painted ceilings. When I was little I played a violin sonata by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, so I was interested to see a chapel dedicated to St. John of Nepomuk on my way out of the building.
The basilica was hosting a concert featuring Jiri Tomasek that weekend---I wished I could have gone, but we were going to be in Paris already by then. He was guest faculty when I was at Michigan State, and taught me for a term.
Then we took a walk down Golden Lane. The street itself is very short, with many tiny old buildings that originally housed castle servants. These buildings were occupied until 1952---Kafka lived in one of them for a few years. Now they are a mix of shops and replicas of medieval rooms.
Entering in the middle of the street, it was not clear which way to turn, so we turned right. We bought a beautiful book of Czech fairy tales, and saw many reconstructions. It was beautiful and quaint, but it felt like a side trip, so when we saw the exit door at the end of the road it was tempting to go through without turning back and doing the other end of the street. My leg had been bothering me and my husband didn't want to overtax it.
But we turned back, and were glad we did! At the other end of Golden Lane was a tower with a dungeon and torture chambers, the alchemists' laboratory, and a museum of armor and weapons which we would have been sorry to miss.
The exit from Golden Lane was up some stairs, where we stopped for a trdelnik (only here they were called trdlo, which my mature husband insisted on pronouncing "turd-lo") and cocoa. Then we admired the magnificent panorama view.
Our last stop was St. Vitus Cathedral which showcased beautiful stained glass windows, stone-, metal-, and wood-work. There are doors here, too. I could do an entire knitting collection based on the portals of Prague Castle.
After this inspiring, wonder-filled excursion, we took the tram back down to Old Town and had a late lunch at Country Life cafeteria where we tried (among other dishes) potato dumplings stuffed with plums in poppy seed sauce.
Our first day in Prague was spent wandering through Old Town and (accidentally) New Town. The next day, after partaking of the renowned Maximilian Hotel breakfast, we set off toward Prague Castle.
The tram stop was in New Town, which we had discovered was actually walking distance from our hotel, though farther than Old Town. It was good that we had our Exploring Day before our Castle Day, because we learned that the street signs were not always clear, some street names were deceptively similar, and in short, it was easy to get lost.
So my husband identified two possible tram stops and we used the second one, the first having snuck around the corner while we weren't looking. (Well, it was actually Narodni street which turned the corner, as we found out later. Luckily, the Narodni Theater stop was straight ahead on the path we had chosen.)
Once we were on the tram, we had a bit of excitement concerning where to disembark. The name of the stop was given in lighted letters behind the driver. But there was also an announcement of each stop. Eventually, not only the name of the stop on the board was announced, but another name---the name of our stop! We looked at each other in alarm, rose to leave, and the doors closed.
I thought it was mightily unjust that the name of the stop for Prague Castle, of all places, was not the name on the lite-brite board, and that it would be announced when it was already too late to get off. Having unaccountably missed the first place to catch the tram, I was unsure of our ability to navigate our way back to the correct stop. I supposed we could catch a tram back to the place where we could walk up to the castle, but I wasn't thrilled with that option, either.
If I had had time to brush up on my nonexistent Czech language skills before we left, I might have understood the words "next stop" in the announcement. But it all became clear a few minutes later, when our stop appeared on the board and was announced for real, that there was no need for either more wandering or waiting.
Our first stop in Europe was Warsaw, to see some friends of ours and meet their lovely daughter (who is five years old, looks like a Disney princess, and loves Dr. Seuss).
Our stay was shorter than we had planned, because our flight was cancelled and we had to leave the following day. But we enjoyed the time we had there very much.
After feeding us, our host walked us over to a spa where we had a wonderful massage. I also tried some homemade nalewka (apparently a passion with the owner) and sampled some ginger cookies.
When asked what he wanted to do in Poland, my husband said "eat pierogie," so that was our next stop. We got a sampler plate of many kinds of pierogie and went back the next evening to have full plates of our favorites. (I ordered the "Christmas flavors" of sauerkraut and mushroom, while Jeff got the "mountain cheese" our host had ordered the night before.)
At the pierogerie we also sampled a couple of hot winter beverages: fruity compote broth and something that reminded us of Red Zinger tea. Both were delicious, but I preferred the kompot.
Our one full day in Warsaw began with a trip to the Wedel shop and cafe downtown. We had a lovely breakfast there, including some very decadent drinking chocolate. Our host took us to the top of the Palace of Culture and Science for a view of the city, then on to the Chopin Museum.
In the evening we saw the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Russian soloists. Alena Baeva totally blew me away with her rendition of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (scroll down for a video of her performance of this famous work by Saint-Saens).
The next morning began in a relaxed manner as we had breakfast and took a subway to the train station to catch a train to Prague. But the subway was held up between several stops and we were in danger of missing our train. We had gotten special non-refundable, non-reschedulable tickets, so this was a problem! Our quick-thinking host called a cab to meet us a couple stops before the train station, and this taxi driver was the right man for the job. He scooted us through the morning rush-hour traffic, our friend helped us find the right platform, and we boarded the train just seconds before it started down the track.
To be continued . . .
Last month my husband and I finally went on our honeymoon. After nearly 17 years of marriage and two children, we decided it was time. We visited friends in Warsaw, then went on to Prague, Paris, and London, spending just a couple days in each city---a "tasting menu" of European highlights.
Our friends in Warsaw told us we would find these "hand warmers" in Prague. Called trdelnik (pronounced just like it's spelled, if you will), these street pastries are made of dough which is wrapped around a metal pole and roasted over a fire, then rolled in cinnamon sugar. The result is a delicious hot snack you can stick your hand in, like an edible mitt. Wonderful!
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