My first human encounter in Prague is with my driver and the juxtaposition is uncanny. He wore a Harley Davidson t-shirt, yet drove a private BMW car that was filled to the brim with spring water and nuts for his passengers. Very Uber like except that it’s a private service. I then learn that he doesn’t speak a word of English, well perhaps two and so my questions went unanswered. It’s okay, I thought – let me focus on Prague’s outskirts which I discover are far less attractive than the historical city itself.
My second encounter after checking into my hotel, is with a French woman who also doesn’t speak a word of English. She oddly looks a bit like me and given my reasonable but not extensive knowledgeable of the French language, I learn that she is waiting for her husband. I was asking for directions because it was my first day in Prague and it was already the second time I took a wrong turn, not that it mattered a whole lot. I hadn’t been back to Prague in several years and last trip didn’t cover this territory. I was an area of the city that would soon present me with some of the most breathtaking views of this historical gem I have been wanting to return to since my last visit which clearly didn’t warrant me enough time.
Oh Those Castle Views
There’s no doubt that the views of Prague Castle are breathtaking, especially at night. Talk about a romantic picturesque unreal story town visual, right? It should want to make you want to jump on a plane and head to Prague tomorrow if you’ve never been.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org
There are also the views from the castle and they’re equally stunning by day and night — you get all of Lesser Town first and then the rest of sprawling Prague beyond it.
Below, looking up not out….a different view, a different perspective.
Walking around Lesser Town on the west side of town….
I reminded myself that I didn’t have anywhere to be except for a dinner at Valoria which was in the same area I was told, somewhere along the winding street of Nerudova that led down the back side of the castle. For a street so close to such a renowned tourist attraction, I was astonished to learn very few people knew how to direct me to Nerodova, probably for the same reasons I wouldn’t have any data on catching a boat to Alcatraz in my own city. Locals focus on different things and they avoid the spots that tourists take over, especially during prime seasons like summer and fall. This part of town was the other side of the Charles, the neighborhood called Hradčany that surrounds Prague Castle. While you’d think it would be loaded with tourists, this was only the case at the Castle and nearby squares, both of which had classic old cars for rent in a myriad of loud colors, red being a favorite.
More from my solo walk getting lost in Prague and happily doing so…..
It was in fact, easy to avoid crowds if you simply took a turn onto a random street since most people followed guide books. Going at your own pace and getting off the beaten path is critical to understanding the pulse of any city and you don’t have to migrate to the suburbs to find treasured discoveries. Taking a wrong turn purposely means you’ll likely end up lost, especially if you had a lousy map like I did at the beginning of my trip. After every wrong turn I took, the streets grew quieter and for me, that’s bliss, particularly when the architecture is so damn beautiful, you don’t really want to share it with others. It was a far cry from the thousands who flooded Charles Bridge and old town every day and night.
The below quirky shot was taken right outside Hotel Lindner shortly after I first arrived.
This little girl was in her element playing freely on a side street off Nerudova, just the way we did as children. She was a treasure to watch!
The same area…..
One of the well known squares on the west side of town….this lantern spectacle boldly stands in the middle.
I was slightly north of Lesser Town (what a great name, right?) and while I was likely only ten minutes or so away from Nerudova as a crow flies, it took me nearly three hours to get there. Jet-legged, thirsty and sore from carrying my Canon 7D and far too many camera lenses, I ended up taking more shots on my iPhone than anything else. Fatigued from not sleeping for the last two nights, I forced myself not to give into a nap by buying a double Cappuccino at my first chance.
Soon, I’m on Jansky Vrsek. Later I learn that I was a stone’s throw from where I’d be dining later that night, but it was pretty isolated at the time. I discover a beautiful and historical St. Vitus Cathedral, which appears to be undergoing some renovation on its exterior.
St. Vitus Cathedral holds the Loreto Treasure, apparently one of the largest and most valuable Church treasure in the Bohemia. In contrast to the the Cathedral Treasury, the Loreto Treasure has works only from the the 16th to 19th centuries, which includes goldsmith art from the 17th and 18th centuries. Decadent finds include home altars, reliquaries, crowns of the “Our Lady of Loreto” Statue, carved ivory, small sculptures, paintings and jewelry.
Photo credits: St. Vitus Cathedral site
A 12th Century Monastery & Restaurant
If you head back up the hill, you’ll eventually get to Strahov Monastery in Strahov along Strahovské Nádvoří, which is a Premonstratensian Abbey founded in 1143 by Bishop Jindřich Zdík, Bishop John of Prague, and Duke Vladislav II. My camera battery had just died, but both inside and outside are utterly impressive. The monastery was built in the 12th century. Together with the Basilica of St.George at the Prague Castle (founded in 973) and Břevnov Monastery (founded in 993) it is one of the oldest monasteries in the country.
The king at the time supported it which allowed it to become one of the most influential centers of education at the time and was supposedly the largest Romanesque building in Bohemia and one of the largest ones in Europe as well. Sadly, the monastery was plundered by the Swedish army in 1648 and later rebuilt in early Baroque style. A couple of times, I caught some negative references to what the Swedes had done by a few older locals and couldn’t help but think how European that was in general — holding onto grudges from centuries gone past or at least remembering them in a way Americans never take note. I guess the monks were all about education (reading) and their beer and there’s still a stunning library and an operating brewery worth stopping at for a tasting or two.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.
Also in the same area of Strahovské Nádvoří (literally), you’ll find Peklo, a restaurant in a 12th century cave where you can have lunch or dinner (I grabbed lunch here in the early days of my stay in Prague and sadly my camera battery was still dead). I’ve included Peklo on my Ultimate Foodie’s Guide to Prague, so be sure to check out the other gems I discovered.
Photo credit: SurvivingEurope.
Prague’s Eiffel Tower
Rather than come down the hill from the monastery, you can head in the opposite direction and you’ll find yourself walking through a wooded park and eventually at Prague’s Eiffel Tower, which isn’t particularly pretty, but the surrounding park area is oh so lovely to walk through. They call this area Petřín Hill which rises some 130 meters above the left bank of the Vltava River. The hill, almost entirely covered with parks, is a favorite recreational area for locals and of course, it also houses the Petřín Lookout Tower, which stands 63.5 meters tall and many say that it strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower, but I’d argue, minus the awe factor. The Petřínská Rozhledna was built in 1891 and was used as an observation tower as well as a transmission tower.
You can actually climb the 299 steps to reach the top of the tower and the view of Prague from the top is breathtaking. You can even catch the highest peak in the Czech Republic, Snezka, which is apparently around 150 kilometers away, so be sure to bring your zoom and wide angle lenses with you. There’s also an observatory with a telescope, a hall of mirrors, a church, and a rose garden. You’ll find a ‘bubble man’ in the warmer months in front of the church and children flock to him like he’s candy, running around the bubbles, which is great fun to watch.
The surrounding area is absolutely lovely and very green, a great place to take kids or have a picnic. It’s also just a nice break from the more urban attractions that Prague has to offer – nature is imperative to having a positive mind/body balance experience on a trip in my opinion and a must to incorporate into any itinerary.
To reach this Eiffel Power of Prague at the top of Petrin Hill, you can either walk it which I did, or you can take the Funicular Railway, which leaves from Ujezd street in the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) near Ujezd tram stop.
Still tempted to take a nap, I kept walking until I found another place to order a cappuccino, not smart if you actually want to sleep the night through. It’s easy to get lost up here, although if you ask a local, they’ll tell you it’s impossible. My map didn’t quite cover this area and my phone was losing juice like there was no tomorrow even without turning it on. And so, I had to explore randomly and in doing so, I found a few more spots with great views…
Getting lost once again with no shortage of history, architecture and awe-inspiring spectacles…..
Another fun discovery on my journey was Obchod Loutkami along Nerudova in Lesser Town aka the Puppet Shop. Two other locations are at Jilská 7 and Jilská 22 in the Old Town, not far from the Old Town Square. Puppets are a big thing in Eastern Europe in general, and the art of Czech marionette and puppet making goes back to the 18th century. They are traditionally (and still to this today) handcarved from wood or made from plaster and come in all sorts of diverse characters, ranging from devils, witches and wizards to clowns, kings and princesses, and even Czech “celebrities” such as Spejbl, Hurvínek, or the Czech literary character of Švejk. There are other stores of course in Prague where you can find beautiful puppetry works of art, however this one was my favorite.
Puppet artistry is so big that they even offer classes and seminars on it, so you can learn how to make them. There’s even a museum dedicated to puppetry in Prague which has a permanent exhibition of Czech-Finnish puppet animations, including film decorations, animation puppets and props. Apparently its existence isn’t that old however — the Museum of Puppet Art was only founded in the southern Bohemian town of Tábor in 2013, their mission to collect, restore and renew the objects, working methods and traditions around the magical art of puppet films and stop motion. How cool is that?
I was intrigued by the history, tradition and all the why’s behind puppetry so I did some more research and digging. In other words, what did the museum choose to collect and why? The permanent exhibition of the Museum contains decorations, animation puppets, props and sketches from the past 25 years of Cagliostro´s Czech-connected production history. It is apparently based on the materials from the films directed by Katariina Lillqvist, a Finnish-born scriptwriter, director and producer who started her career in the late 1980´s in the Studio Jiři Trnka in Prague. During these years, 15 animated films were made here by her team, who has managed to stay together despite all the political, economical and technological changes of the challenging years of the post-socialistic society. Fascinating right?
They also collaborate with other galleries, clubs and cinemas in the neighborhood to create events, screenings, concerts, performances and joint exhibitions around Prague and the entire Czech Republic. Below are a few shots I discretely shot at Obchod Loutkami – oh so so beautiful and intricately done!
The Castle Isn’t The Only Place for Views
Finally, I found my way to dinner — Valoria has her own share of remarkable views, which you can catch regardless of season. Summer and fall are incredibly special however, since they open the porch up and there’s nothing between you and the views except for the sunglasses that rest on your nose. I ordered a still bottle of water, reflected on the flowers that sat on my pretty table and knew I wouldn’t leave this restful spot for hours. The food was fabulous as was the wine and the service, as well as their attention to details. Even the bathroom was well manicured and creative, as if they hired some feng shui expert to get it just right.
Ahhh yes, pure bliss was my dinner, the views and all her fine details….
The bathroom at Valoria
Food in Prague
As for the FOOD scene in Prague, you’ll find patisseries, sausages, pretzels and other street fare throughout the city and there are traditional restaurants, a growing number of French restaurants in the fine dining category and other ethnic treats. In fact, the culinary experience in Prague can be SO good, that I’ve dedicated an entire foodie guide to some of the best restaurants, cafes, eateries, bars and even street food. There are countless photos in this post as well, sure to whet your appetite. I’d argue that you could fly to Prague for a week just to eat and be happy as a clam.
Below, a Veal Tartar starter at Kampa Park, which they served with black truffle oil, quail egg, green apple and brioche croutons
Prosciutto with olive oil, arugula, cherry tomatoes and parmesan cheese at Bella Vista where I dined for lunch one day
This French lentil Beluga salad was served with marinated beets, roasted onions, goat’s cheese, arugula and tossed in a balsamic dressing at Kotleta
See the Best Restaurants in Prague.
Late Night Walks
Later, you’d think I’d take the shortest route back to the hotel, however even more fatigued after wine, it took me well over an hour to find my way back. Rather than cut through and avoid hill around the castle altogether, I made my way up the hill again, only to learn later that I could have avoided it altogether and been in my bed within 15 minutes. Sigh! It meant that I was able to take in some night views of some of the alleys and streets and historical buildings that I may not have seen otherwise.
Other Useful Articles & Links:
- Your Guide to Prague, From History & Architecture to Arts & Culture
- Lindner Hotel Prague Castle Sits on Same Site as 12th Century Monastery
- The Ultimate Foodie Guide to Prague’s Culinary Delights
- Valoria Restaurant Review
- Prague’s Kampa Park for that Romantic Night Out
- Re-Awaken Your Palette at Prague’s Michelin Star La Degustation
- Piano Nobile, When You Want Exquisite Food in a Czech Countryside Chateau (an hour outside Prague)
- Your Guide to Prague, From History & Architecture to Arts & Culture
- Hotel Imperial Spa & Health Club in the Heart of Karlovy Vary’s Hot Springs (a side trip from Prague)
- Medical & Wellness Spa Programs at Karlovy Vary’s Imperial (a medical spa and a side trip from Prague)
- Why Dreamy Loket & its 13th Century Castle Attracts Film Makers & Celebs (a village and side trip from Prague)
- Head to Karlovy Vary for its Healing Thermal Springs & Storyland-Like Walks (a side trip from Prague)
- Discover Heavenly Spa Town Marianske Lazne in the Heart of Bohemia (a side trip from Prague)
- Get Upscale Pampering at Prague’s Mandarin Hotel (luxury spa)
- Pure Radiance and More at the Four Seasons in Prague (luxury spa)
- Behind the Scenes at the Moser Glassworks Factory in Bohemia (a side trip from Prague)
- We Blog the World’s YouTube Channel – http://www.youtube.com/weblogtheworld
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