That evening, we returned to the busy area close to the Astronomical Clock. We had noticed a cellar restaurant there, decorated in a traditional style, and offering an extensive menu including different types of dumplings, and Beef Goulash, which we were keen to try in one of the places where it is a speciality. Once seated downstairs on the stout wooden furniture, it was obvious that this place had changed little over decades. Various hunting trophies adorned the walls, together with old artifacts, and a small stage promised entertainment of some kind. It was already quite busy, and there were local diners as well as tourists, which was a favourable indication that the food might be good.
For a starter, we ordered a mixed meat platter to share, which was to be accompanied with bread and pickles. We both requested the goulash and dumplings to follow. The elderly waiter advised us that the starter was ‘quite big’, but we were tired and hungry, so we didn’t think this would be a problem. Soon after, some musicians arrived on stage, including an accordionist, and they began to play traditional music. Although this would not normally be the sort of thing we liked, it was eminently suitable for the surroundings, and with some of the diners joining in with clapping, the atmosphere was most enjoyable. When the starter arrived, on a huge block of wood that filled the centre of the large table, it was hard to believe that it wasn’t intended for six people, rather than two. A selection of different sausages, all huge, was accompanied by chunks of pork, assorted cooked meats, two baskets of various breads, and plates of delicious pickles. The waiter had been right; we had literally bitten off more than we could chew.
I was determined to make the most of the evening, and worked through the meat selection until nothing was left. In truth, we had really eaten enough, and by the time the large bowls of goulash and plates of dumplings arrived, it was starting to feel like one of those American eating contests. Despite a good effort, we didn’t manage to finish the main course. The fact that we ate most of it was a tribute to how tasty it was, but to say that we were full would be an understatement. We stayed there for a while longer, enjoying the merry music, before settling the very reasonable bill, and wandering off into the night, to walk off some of that mighty repast.
The next day was colder, and very dull. We planned to take a bus tour, and followed the advertising posters to a side road not far from the hotel. A small bus was parked there with signs on it, so we guessed we had found the right place. I was surprised to be greeted by an American man, who was the guide. He was used to this of course, and he quickly explained that he was married to a Czech lady, and had lived in the city for four years. The tour would take in an overview of the city, including the famous Prague Castle, which dominated the highest ground above the river. For a small extra fee, he could arrange for an English-speaking guide to take us on a tour of the castle too. We agreed to this, and he produced a young man, a student, to accompany us on the bus. After waiting ten minutes past the scheduled time in case anyone else turned up, we departed, the only customers, with the two guides, and driver. As a result, the trip was very informal, and the American guide sat chatting to us, rather than going through his structured routine.
It was soon apparent that he didn’t think much of the Czech Republic, and was keen to return to the USA once he could arrange to take his wife along. He rambled on a lot about ‘Communist-Era’ decay, but his local experience was interesting too, as he showed us the areas where the wealthy locals lived, as we made our way up to the castle. Much of the present castle was constructed in the 18th Century, and it is also the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The views over the city are the best you can find, and it was such a shame that the day was so overcast and damp. Our young guide showed us around, though due to the time of year, many of the rooms and most of the exteriors were not open to tourists. There was also some sort of conference going on, which closed down even more of the rooms inside. Part of the castle complex is the Cathedral of St Vitus, an imposing Gothic structure dating from the 14th Century. Unfortunately for us, the interior was closed to the public that day. For those of you interested to see more, here are some Wikipedia links.
I was able to take some photos, but I was not at all happy with them, as it was difficult to get decent angles to shoot from. Please click on them if you wish to see the large file.
It was the kind of dull day where even the breathtaking views across to the city were rendered flat and uninteresting by the lack of light and colour.
The tour continued with a look at the concrete TV tower in the hills. The guide thought this was ‘ugly and typically Communist’. I actually quite liked the imposing Brutalist style of it. Here are some good photos of it from Wikipedia, just click the link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%BDi%C5%BEkov_Television_Tower
Our tour concluded back in the side street, with our guide suggesting that we return ‘in better weather.’ It was good to have seen what we did, as we would have been very reluctant to attempt the walk up to these sights on foot.
On the night of Julie’s 50th, we dressed for the occasion, and waited for the promised ‘limousine’ to take us to the restaurant for the pre-arranged meal. The concierge arrived with a black Mercedes car, and drove us to the trendy area where the supposedly top restaurant was situated. As in many cities, it was in a run-down place, undergoing an element of regeneration. Somewhat embarrassingly, it was also very close to our hotel, only a short drive, and easily reached by walking. Had we known, I wouldn’t have insisted on the car. I apologised, and told him not to bother to collect us, as we would walk back. The place was full, and had a very classy yet urbane feel to it. Shown to our table, we were told that the meal was a set-menu, and all food and drinks were included. What followed was one of the best restaurant experiences of my life. Delicious food, beautifully cooked and presented, with friendly staff, who went out of their way to please. I only wish that I could remember the name of it! I do remember that my main course was Veal Cheeks, something very hard to get in the UK. I had never had them before, and they were without doubt one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten. I know that Veal offends many sensibilities, but I just cannot apologise, as it was such a wonderful meal.
So that was Prague. Would I go again? Perhaps. I have been told that the last couple of years have seen the city become a venue for raucous stag and hen parties, and that there can be a lot of drunkenness there during the peak season. We experienced nothing like this, but then it was January. If you are within easy travelling distance, or able to include it in a wider tour, I am certain that you will be charmed by this historical East European city.