As we leave for Vienna, I thought I’d summarize some of Prague’s highlights. You know, the must dos for anyone visiting for the first time. I do this as much for myself as for you, since I immediately forget all the wonderful experiences I have on vacation after they’re over. J., on the other hand, can provide a running account of what we did every moment several years later.
First, there’s the architecture, much of it dating back several centuries, which we took in by meandering through the cobblestone streets. Everywhere we looked, we saw intricately adorned building and churches. So look up–no, higher–and you’ll wonder how the building architects and artisans created such beauty so many years ago. Then, to to take in this beauty from another perspective, climb up a tower or two for a view from above. These beautiful old streets go on for miles.
Then there’s the Jewish quarter, Josefov, where the absence of Jews is especially haunting given the vibrant community before the war. One of the old synagogues has been transformed into a memorial inscribed with wall after wall of names of Jews who died in the Holocaust. Jews were not truly welcomed back to the city until the end of Communist reign in 1989. No wonder there are so few of our kind living here today.
Classical music abounds in grand performance halls. Don’t forget Prague Castle, which is lit up at night thanks to the generosity of the Rolling Stones, or Strahov Monastery, replete with floor-to-ceiling shelves of ancient books in its stunning libraries. It would be peaceful there if not for the hoards of tourists like us, including those seeking a taste of the craft beer. Imagine monks making beer. Turns out this country is known for its beer, and its beer consumption.
Finally, not speaking of whipping cream, take in the rich, delicious food, but don’t tell the servers at the beef bar (yes, they exist here) that you’re vegetarian. Even better, try the desserts–the multi-layered honey cake, the blintz-equivalent palacinky, the danish-like kolache (try poppy seed and cheese), and the fruit-filled dumplings. Those Czechs may be overly fond of marzipan, but that is another matter for another day.
I did not realize until I arrived what a vibrant café culture this city has. Take-out cups are the rarity; people sit for hours in cafés, drinking coffee topped with whipped cream, of course, and feasting on that heavy traditional Czech fare or, perhaps, a slice of dessert. Wanting to live this experience firsthand, we visited a well-reputed spot for a hot cider, seating ourselves as is the custom, and reviewing the menus.
Then I realized, to my horror, that there were ashtrays everywhere, and we were in a cloud of smoke. Clearly the research on the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke has not made it this far east. The Czechs are staunch holdouts on smoking in restaurants.
Upon realizing the danger to ourselves, J. and I simultaneously lost our appetites and left without ordering. Call me uptight but I don’t want anyone’s ashes falling in my whipped cream. Why did I care? By then, I’d consumed enough cream to clog all my arteries anyway.