This weekend I took advantage of a last-minute fare to head to Prague, where I had never been before. A friend of mine from the Rice volleyball team, Klara, lives there and she kindly opened her doors on very short notice to host me. It was a wonderful–if short–weekend that has left me hungry to explore the rest of the beautiful Czech Republic.
The trip began well; while I was waiting to board in Geneva, someone kept whistling The Final Countdown. When I arrived at Prague airport Friday afternoon, I was disappointed that my passport wasn’t stamped (Switzerland is now part of the Schengen area.) but my disappointment didn’t last long. I was thrilled to discover that the baggage claim conveyor belts notify passengers of incoming bags with a sound similar to 80s-era video game lasers instead of the harsh buzzers I’m accustomed to. Good start.
When I exited customs, Klara was already there waiting for me and she whisked me off to her family’s apartment in the 6th district. It was a nice house with a big garden, an apricot tree laden with fruit, two dogs (blood hounds), and three cats. Fun! We dropped off my stuff and headed immediately to Prague Castle, the largest castle in Europe or the world, depending on whom you ask.
Prague Castle is very cool and has a great view over the city. Its main gate features two very gruesome statues of men savagely beating other men with clubs and knives–what a warm welcome! Inside the castle walls is a very impressive St. Vitus Cathedral. Its exterior is mostly Gothic but includes Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles as well. Inside the cathedral stained glass windows create a dynamic light show on the stone and the pipe organ spans multiple stories. I could have spent an entire day there just learning about the myriad monuments, sculptures, and artwork–again, very impressive.
From there we wound our way down and walked around a bit, stopping at a cafe along the Vltava River. Everywhere we went there were numerous posters for classical music concerts: Mozart, Beethoven, and of course hometown favorite Dvorak. Every church, concert hall, and outdoor venue must have been booked for concerts. And then there were plenty of modern music concerts advertised as well: Madonna, Leonard Cohen, and on and on. Surely there must have been a music festival going on that weekend–nope, just business as usual in this very musical city.
After our exploration of Western Prague we returned to the 6th district for dinner with Klara’s sister, Karo (also a Rice volleyball player), and brother-in-law at a converted abbey that now serves traditional Czech cuisine. I had roasted leg of rabbit on garlic creamed spinach–delicious!–and, of course, hand crafted beer. We wound down with a few more beers at a nearby beer garden and then called it a night.
Saturday we headed over to the East side of the river and walked around all day. We had lunch at Klara’s parents’ restaurant (Anna Bar–highly recommended!), where I had garlic soup and Czech goulash–so good!. Our next stop was Old Town, where we witnessed the chiming of the really, really, really ridiculously cool astronomical clock. En route to Vysehrad, we passed many beautiful towers, churches, theaters, concert halls, and other buildings–I’m so fortunate to have had a tour guide who knew where to go!
Vysehrad was another cool castle with great views over the city and a cool basilica (St. Peter & St. Paul). After paying our respects to Dvorak in the cemetery, we hung out on a bench along the castle walls and just enjoyed the nice weather for a while. We then relocated to a cafe with a black tie pianist who played everything from Beethoven sonatas to oldies. It was nice to be out of the direct sun for a while so we lingered before making our way to dinner.
In a major departure from meaty Czech cuisine we dined at Prague’s best vegetarian restaurant. The food was phenomenal (I had bulgur risotto with chili tofu and peanut sauce.) but unfortunately Karo couldn’t join us–because she was going into labor! We cut the evening short and returned to the apartment to await news–which came around 1:30 AM–of the birth. Congratulations to the entire family and no need to thank me for my services–I’m sure the baby would have come eventually even if I hadn’t been there.
After a full weekend of Czech food, beer, walking tourism, and friends, and after instigating the birth of Klara’s nephew, there was nothing left to do but return to Lausanne–but not before buying a bottle of Slivovice in honor of my Czechoslovakian classmate, Martin. Here’s to you, Martin (Na zdravi!), I’m sorry we couldn’t meet on this trip but I assure you that your compatriots gave me an excellent introduction to your beautiful country.
While I was waiting to board my flight back to Geneva, the Prague airport speakers began blasting The Final Countdown. What a poetic bookend to a great weekend in such a musical city!