Posted in Food, Photography, Travel

Day #15: Prague

Čtvrtek 4 Leden 2018

Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) was on the agenda for today … it’s the largest castle complex in the world and took us most of the day to wander around it.

The castle complex began its development in the 9th century! That’s mind boggling to me.

I could say loads more about the Royal Palace, St Vitus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, plus the nearby Strahov Monastery … but my words could never do them justice. It’s the history of the place that amazes me … the recorded history as well as the history written in the stones, decorations, artworks, altars, weapons, torture instruments, plus the histories written in the hidden places and the public spaces.

A history full of intrigue and violence and sacrifice and conflict … of visionaries, philosophers, designers, architects, goldsmiths, jewellers, and of kings and mothers of kings, and priests and monks, and those who spent their lives building these massive structures – those who aren’t remembered, who aren’t written into the official records but who were central to these records of history.

So many years’ worth of visible, recorded, in-your-face history. It forces me to ask questions about our own history and how we engage with it when it’s not as visible; a history that’s more spiritual and engaged with the environment – a history so unlike European history it’s easy to see how the first Europeans missed it. They were looking for structures and monuments and artworks and society’s visible, tangible marks on the environment … there are questions and thoughts and inklings of ideas to ponder here, to contemplate and reflect on …

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As well as exploring the history of Prague and the Czech Republic more broadly, we’ve also explored the food. We’ve discovered it’s good food. Even Tim can eat it. On our first night at a restaurant called Vinohradský Parlament, I had dessert – not something I generally do – but one of the options was one I simply couldn’t resist: Podilové taštičky: u nás dělané taštičky z bramborového těsta, plněné povidly, podávané se strouhaným tvarohem, přepuštěným máslem a moučkovým cukrem (in other words potato gnocchi with plum jam filling, grated cottage cheese, a butter sauce, and icing sugar).

As you can imagine, I just had to try it. It was fabulous!

For one meal I had goulash, which is Hungarian rather than Czech, but I was particularly interested in the dumplings. I’d said to Tim before the meal arrived ‘what if they’re circles of white bread?’ and when it arrived we saw that’s exactly what they were … but somehow more delicious than circles of white bread, or maybe that was the sauce.

I also had a much more traditional Czech dish, svíčková na smetaně, made up of beef (very tender), some kind of gravy/sauce, bread dumplings (or circlets of soft white bread) and then, on top of the beef was a dollop of whipped cream and one of cranberry sauce on a slice of lemon. Delicious.

Svíčková na smetaně

Then there was the dessert of apricot dumplings swimming in sour cream with icing sugar sprinkled over it all, adding a touch of sweetness. Surprisingly, it too was delicious. Although I had too much and felt very sick for a while.

On the whole though the food was very good. And very cheap. Czech money is Crowns and the traditional meal I had was 195 of them. Sounds a lot, but when you work out it’s about 12 Australian dollars you realise it’s a bargain. It wasn’t unusual to have wads of 1000 crowns in our wallets!

Don’t try to pay for something costing 50 crowns with a 1000 crown note though! Not unless you want a stern talking to – it was in Czech so we couldn’t understand the actual words, but the tone was enough for us to know we were in trouble.

One more full day in the Czech Republic and then we have to face the idea of making our way home. I’m so not ready to go back yet – there’s still so much to see and do.

* Please note: As you’ve seen from some of the words in this post, there are plenty of accents in the Czech written language. Here are a few snaps I took as we wondered around the area we were staying in. I reckon you can work out the final word on this first sign.

 

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day # 14: Prague

Streda 3 Leden 2018

Dobry den from Prague. If you’ve been following along on our journey, you’ll have picked up our penchant for starting out in a new city by going on a photo walk with a local guide. I’d found Johnny’s Prague Photo Tours online and was impressed with his images, so booked a morning tour – which meant being out in the middle of Prague at 7:10am. One thing to be aware of, if you’re reading this from Australia, is that the sun doesn’t rise till 8am and it’s usually around 4C-5C at that time of the morning – or colder. So getting up early and heading out into the cold shows our dedication to capturing images of the places we’re visiting.

Or that we’re slightly mad!

Johnny contacted me last night to say that the forecast was for rain and he didn’t think we’d have a very good time in the morning so could we go in the afternoon? We could … the bonus of course was that we got a sleep-in and we stayed warm just a little longer. It also meant checking out the local pradelna – what an amazing place. No, really! It was very cool and a much more friendly space than the laverie had been in Paris.

So with our washing done, a visit to the potraviny for some mleko bez laktoza, vejce, maslo, ryzove kolacky, and a few other bits and pieces, we were ready to head into the city on the #22 tram (thanks to Darko for the info he gave us last night we knew where to buy tram tickets).

Our first stop on the photo tour was Black Madonna House – I struggled to get a good shot, but here’s one attempt. Hopefully I have some better ones.

We had made our way to the Charles Bridge and noticed the clouds were getting very dark. Before we knew it, it was hailing (very hard), and we ran for a restaurant close by. We sat and chatted while the storm (complete with a peal of thunder and flash of lightning) rolled over the city, and then headed out again.

It’s a beautiful city. Tim’s photos are way better than mine so keep an eye out on his blog in case he decides to post some. In the meantime, here’s just two of mine:

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #13: Venice – Prague

Martedi 2 Gennaio 2018

We had decided to forego the train from Venice to Prague in favour of flying … mostly to make the most of our time in the Czech capital. It meant we had the morning in Venice, and so we spent it seeing some of the sights we hadn’t yet seen or that we wanted to return to after our photo walk with Vinnie.

Or that was the plan. Vinnie had told us of a great vantage point from which to look out over Venice … the top floor of the new shopping mall. We’d been two days before but the terrace was booked out (yes, you have to book) so this was our last opportunity. We arrived early, wandered through the shopping centre (gorgeous red escalator that Sakye would have loved), then headed for the 4th floor and joined the line.

There’d been lots of rain the day before and apparently the terrace was dangerously slippery and so they weren’t letting anyone out there. Too much of a risk, so no looking over the rooftops of Venice this trip it seemed.

Except we had a back up plan … Vinnie had taken us to a place we’d never have found by ourselves and we returned there, climbed the thousands of steps, and managed to see the rooftops of (some of) Venice.

We had worked out what time we needed to catch the vaporetto to the airport and from which ‘station’ … but what we didn’t bank on was the height of the tide. We’d seen people wearing plastic knee high boots over their shoes and thought they were being extra cautious – there was no water spilling over from the Grand Canal – but when we arrived at the vaporetto station we were told the boat couldn’t go from there because the tide was too high. We’d need to go to San Marco instead and catch the blue line rather than the orange line.

We had six minutes to get there.

The closer we got to St Mark’s Square the more crowded the streets became and the more people there were selling the plastic boots. We soon saw why.

The Square was flooded.

We made our way around the outside – the non-flooded bits – only to be confronted by more flood waters at the other end of the Square. There was no other way around it – we had to wade through ankle-deep water.

Luckily my knee high fur lined boots were waterproof – as were Tim’s, except his weren’t knee high and so he ended up with wet feet.

We made it to the vaporetto station just as the boat was leaving the wharf. The orange line, the one we’d planned on catching, took 15 minutes to get to Marco Polo airport. The blue line, the one we now had to catch, took over an hour. By this time it was after 12 and our plane left at 2:40. Tim had read that it’d take 2 hours to get through check-in/security/passport control and it’s safe to say that by this point he was slightly stressed.

We waited in line only to realise after 15 minutes of waiting that it was the wrong line. Climbing through the fence to the right line was ungainly, so I didn’t do it, instead choosing to hobble as quickly as I could, through the throng of people in the line, out the gate that thankfully were open, around the barrier and up the jetty to join the right line – just as the boat pulled in.

We had a lovely trip across the Lido, then to Fondamente Nove where we’d been the day before, across to Murano, and then … finally … we were on our way to the airport. I hasten to add at this point that Tim didn’t think it was a ‘lovely trip’ but I was feeling quite relaxed.

We (finally) arrived at Marco Polo, ran (yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read that right, I ran – Tim was walking fast but for me to keep up I had to run), and followed the signs to the terminal. It was a 10 minute walk we did in six minutes.

There was no one at the check in counter – they’d all amassed at the gate by this time – and things were proceeding well until the machine spitting out the baggage stickers got a baggage sticker stuck in it and it took the girl quite some time to get it unstuck. You can imagine Tim’s state of mind at this stage.

Finally, the stuck sticker came unstuck … but she now had to change the roll. Tim was tearing his hair out.

Right, baggage stickers stuck on our bags, away they went on the conveyer, and away we went to security. Remove my watch, my hat, my gloves, my buff, my shoes, my jacket … something still beeped so I was led away to be checked over more thoroughly.

I looked around to see where Tim was, and he was as pale as a ghost and looking decidedly sick. He’d lost his passport and boarding pass. He was in a mad panic, upturning the security bins, reefing people’s belongings out of them to see if his passport was underneath their jackets, scarves, gloves, computers. He’d left his bag with me, and that apparently looked suspicious because I was called over to the security guard for another personal check of my person and both bags.

A shout of jubilation … he’d found it!

I bade a fond farewell to my patter-downer and off we raced for the gate. The plane was late and we had fifteen minutes before we had to board! Time for a coffee to calm Tim’s frazzled nerves, and a toilet stop and we were on our way to Prague.

Not the best way to leave Venice it has to be said! It strengthens my resolve to train it when next we find ourselves in Europe.

Small plane to Prague – one of the ones with propellers – but very smooth and uneventful. We’d booked a shuttle to our accommodation – ‘there’ll be someone holding a board with your name on it’ I was told.

There were about a dozen men holding boards with people’s names on them, and at the back a massive Macedonian with my name on his board. I approached cautiously, but as soon as he smiled I could see he wasn’t anywhere near as scary as he looked.

This was no ordinary shuttle – this was a meet and greet service. Darko, for that was the name of the massive Macedonian, provided us with lots of information about Czech people, how to stay safe from pickpockets and those who might want to take advantage of our foreignness (Prague is the 6th safest city in the world, so there really isn’t too much to worry about), where to change money and which currency exchanges to avoid, which tram to take to get into the city, the best stop to get off when visiting the castle, which pharmacy is open 24 hours a day (just in case you need), where to buy food, which restaurants we should try … he even took us into the apartment to point our how to get in, how to get out, what to do with the key … it’s a fabulous service.

What a lovely way to be welcomed to Prague! It was especially welcome after the stress of leaving Venice.