Saturday, April 23, 2005

Prague and Plzen

Memorial to the Victims
of Communism
Today started with a much easier tram ride — we learned our lessons yesterday — to a place busy with American expats called Bohemia Bagel. Had a bagel sandwhich for breakfast and some crappy coffee before heading out for the day. We did check out the memorial to the victims of Communism which was across the street and attracted my attention while waiting for the tram.

Prague Castle
Headed off to czech out the Prague Castle (Prasky Hrad), we figured it would take us a few hours. Made our way on the tram to the base of the steps to the castle, which resides on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Some good views from up here, but it was a very hazy morning. At the entrance to the castle everyone is waiting, but we have no idea why. So we enter through the gate and see the castle guard walking toward us quickly. It was the top of the hour and the changing of the guards was taking place! I figure we got backstage passes! ;-)

Prague Castle
We then walked around the courtyards and admired the beautiful architecture within the castle walls. The crowds grew as we got closer to the second courtyard and the ticket desk. There were LOTS of tour groups, each with 25 to 50 people walking around speaking in every langauge imaginable. People moved en masse everywhere with lots of pushing and shoving. While the sights were beautiful, it was very hard to appreciate what we were seeing. I cannot imagine what it must be like at the peak of the tourist season later in the summer! Unbearable.

Prague Castle
Bye, bye castle, hello beer! We headed across town to u Flecku, a Prague beer hall dating from 1499. All of the beer is brewed by u Flecku for the beer hall itself. We sat down at a long table in a busy room and two beers appeared as if by magic. Well, actually the waiter didn't bother to ask, he didn't have to. You come here to drink beer and eat, which is what we proceeded to do. Unfortunately, its a bit expensive at almost $2/beer. By Prague standards its a rip off.

Columns in the Old Royal Palace
Soon after, the a waiter comes by with a plate full of shots of liquor that smells like cinnamon and has a slight golden tint. He pushed them hard, "its a before dinner drink, you must try it. Its traditional!", so I tried one. Its Becherovka, a medicinal tasting local drink that did anything but please my palate. Its like Jaegermeister for the Czech crowd.

St. Vitus Cathedral
Meanwhile the tuba and accordion player are showing off oompah-style. We ordered some nibbled for lunch, a plate of beer cheese and a liver sausage with vinegar and onions both with rye bread. The beer cheese was great, stinky cheese mixed with the beer and some spices. The liver was awful, it didn't taste bad but the texture was very bad and made it hard to swallow. Yuck!

u Flecku
We left u Flecku drunk and happy. Time for a trip to the Tesco supermarket. I love running into random supermarkets wherever we go, you never know what you'll find and fall in love with. Had to buy some apples — a.k.a. crapples since there is little fiber in the local diet outside of the cabbage! — We then headed back across town to the pension. We picked up our bags and said goodbye to the damned stairs that I tripped on EVERY time I went down them.

Steph appreciating Becherovka
Headed over to the bus station and bought tickets to Plzen, the home of Pilsener Urquell beer! What a great bus line! It was very oriented toward students with video screens playing music videos and free drinks served on the road. Steph and I both had hot chocolate, they also served coffee and you could buy bottled drinks as well! Sweet, none of the other buses were this nice! We got off the bus in Plzen and walked back to the center of town where we found the Hotel Continental where we'll spend one night. The town is deserted, nobody is out on the streets on a Saturday late in the afternoon!

u Flecku
Checked in to the hotel, a very simple room with a shower but no toilet. We both took some long overdue showers before heading out to a local place for dinner. We ended up at Plzenská Basta, a Czech restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet. What a great meal! I had a spicy wild boar ragout with a dense rye bread for an appetizer and the venison goulash with knedlo (dumplings) for dinner. This is by far the best food we have found so far! We then headed back to the hotel to check out their "Music Club", an undergound bar/club run by the blues-loving owner.
Plaque Commemorating the Fall
of Communism
There was a British singer/songwriter playing her original music and covers there. She even played Allison Krauss songs! Another odd coincidence for us... I tried a glass of absinthe. Nasty stuff! Even the waitress was confused how to serve it. Apparently, you should place a sugarcube on a spoon, soak it with absinthe and light it on fire. Place the caramelized sugar into the liquor, stir and add water. Down the hatch. Damon, for some reason, wanted a bottle of this stuff. I hope he enjoys it!