About a week after arriving in Istanbul, my husband and I took a four-day trip to Prague and Český Krumlov, a lovely medieval town less than three-hours-drive from Prague. The kids stayed with the grandparents in Istanbul, and we met up with an old Turkish friend from my Beijing days and his lovely new wife. They traveled from Dusseldorf, Germany to meet us.
It was my first time in the Czech Republic. How many years have I wanted to visit! The airport was small, and it was very quick and easy to find my way to the exit and the airport express bus. Thirty minutes later, we were crossing the Vltava River. To my right was an astonishingly beautiful cityscape. I couldn’t wait to explore the whole city on foot, which is very doable because of its size. Prague was largely spared from destruction during WWII, so it retained its stunning mixture of architectural styles from Gothic and Baroque to Renaissance Revival and Art Nouveau.
The first thing we did after checking into the hotel was walk to the Old Town Square. It was bustling with street vendors, performers and tourists. There’s a 600-year-old astronomical clock that’s definitely worth trying to decipher. It’s the oldest such clock still operating. It chimes every hour, and 12 apostles come out and put on a very quick show. I’m told it’s definitely worth climbing the clock tower for the wonderful views, but we didn’t. We did, however, find a pub adjacent to the clock tower and parked ourselves outside while nursing good Czech beers. It was a great way to start our time in Prague.
We walked all over the Old Town and crossed the Charles Bridge just before sunset to have dinner at Kampa Park Restaurant. We sat by the river, watched the boats go by and enjoyed the most wonderful meal. It was a perfect pick for our first dinner in Prague.
Of Course there’s an abundance of bars all over the city. We never had to walk far to find a few or a few dozen bars to choose from. We went to a gorgeous cocktail bar called L’Fleur Mixology and Champagne Bar a few times. The drinks were top-notch, the bartenders were charming (and I must say very easy on the eyes), and the decor was decadently French Belle Epochesque….so me! It was also one of the few non-smoking bars in town. The air felt light after being in all the other smoke-filled places. In Prague, it was as if I had gone back in time a good 15 years to when smoking indoors was acceptable everywhere! Right across the street, there’s an 80s bar and club called Cafe 80s. I think we were so inebriated one night that we felt we had to check it out. It was so worth it. There are two floors. Downstairs, the bar and disco were packed. The main upper floor was much more chilled. They featured 80s cocktails like Sex On the Beach and B-52 shots. The music and vibe made for a very fun night.
One morning, we walked to the old Jewish Quarter, located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. There are six synagogues still standing and most are currently museums with old relics and information about the volatile history of the Jews of Prague. The Old New Synagogue is the only one that still serves as an active synagogue for the Jewish Community. It was built in the 13th century! We purchased tickets and visited some of the museums. I learned so much about the old Jewish community in Prague, but I wish I had taken a proper guided tour to get a more comprehensive history of the community.
We took a taxi across the river and went up to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. The tram is also a good option. The giant castle complex is so big that it feels like a village in itself. It could take a person all day to see it. The views were beyond stunning. I simply didn’t know where to rest my eyes. The castle overlooked the river and the lovely Old Town with its domes, orange roofed buildings, and church spires. St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the most beautiful architectural landmarks I’ve ever seen. It was so unexpectedly impressive with its ornately vaulted ceiling. I’ve never seen lovelier stained glass windows anywhere. The icing on the cake were the stained glass windows designed by Alfons Mucha in his characteristic Art Nouveau style. Really, this is not to be missed. We walked back down the hill to the Old Town.
For Dinner, we went to a restaurant called V Kolkovne, more popular with the locals and much more casual than Kampa Park. The food was big and hearty Czech fare that sat heavy in one’s gut, like pork knuckle, roast duck and schnitzel, all served with cooked cabbage, sour and sweet. Thank God we were hungry when we arrived. My husband likes to ask lots of questions before deciding on what to order. I sort of cringed when he asked what beer was good. The waiter’s astonished response to him was “all Czech beer is very good!” Then he asked the waiter what food he recommended. I think our waiter was so sick and tired of life in general that he exasperatedly replied, “I don’t know sir, you can just choose what you like!” Anyway, the beer was great, and the food wasn’t bad. I ordered the pork knuckle and was so glad that I had a whole day of walking under my belt. It could have easily fed three or four people. The place was also across the street from our favorite little bar, L’fleur Mixology and Champagne Bar.
On our last evening in Prague, we decided on going to Cafe de Paris for dinner, located in the Hotel Paris. The food and service were pretty good, but I enjoyed the place for its original Parisienne Art Nouveau décor – what a treat!
Some of my tips for Prague are:
- Don’t bring heels (except for maybe wedges), as the cobblestone streets are murder for your feet and shoes.
- I went in early August, and the weather reached into the high 90s! Bring loose and cool clothing if you are travelling at the height of summer. It was too hot for jeans.
- Take a guided tour of the Jewish Quarter. You will get so much more out of it than just walking around by yourself.
- Be sure to make time to visit the medieval town of Český Krumlov, less than three hours away by car. It’s a complete gem of a place. I would spend the night there.
We rented a car (a VW Caddy – something that resembles a bread delivery van) from our hotel one morning and drove the almost three hours to a gem of a town, Český Krumlov. Only two of us had a driver’s license, and only one of the two had any experience driving a manual car (hardly any), the only thing available. My husband got stuck driving. After what felt like a very long time and quite a few false starts, we made it out of the hotel’s parking garage. Anyway, he eventually got the hang of the stick shift, and once we were on the main highway to Český Krumlov, we all relaxed.
The drive through the Bohemian countryside was so lovely and scenic. We passed through picturesque farms and small towns. Český Krumlov is almost surrounded by the Vltava River (shaped like a horseshoe). Its town and castle were primarily built in the Renaissance and Baroque styles between the 13th and 17th centuries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We parked just outside town and walked across the river to get there. Once inside the town, it was really as if we were transported a few centuries back in time. It is lovingly preserved and because of this, it’s simply swarming with tourists. I wondered whether people were actually born and raised there or move there to work in tourism. There were restaurants, bars, galleries, and souvenir shops galore, but I didn’t notice any grocery or vacuum cleaner parts stores, for instance.
We picked a nice spot by the river (one restaurant among many) and ordered beers all around. Good friends, good beer and dream-like scenery made for a perfect time. We walked all over town and really enjoyed the narrow cobblestoned streets. When it rained suddenly (a relief after the sweltering heat), we took shelter in a tiny cave-like restaurant. The food was very mediocre, but where else could I have eaten in such medieval era surroundings?
We headed to the castle. Like Prague castle, Český Krumlov’s castle is disproportionately large. One has to cross a moat to get into the castle complex. The views from the castle are spectacular. Beyond the town below are the picturesque hills of Bohemia. We walked through Baroque style gardens, designed in the 17th century. We found a kiosk and bought ice-cream bars while enjoying our surroundings. From here, we walked back down the hill and to our bread delivery van to make our way back to Prague.
Tips for Český Krumlov:
- Rafting down the river is very popular. Rafts can be rented from various places. If you plan on rafting, bring a bathing suit. You will probably get wet. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for this.
- There are loads of buses traveling between Prague and Český Krumlov.