When I mentioned to people that I was going to Prague, anyone who had visited the city started swooning about how beautiful it was–“the most beautiful city” was repeated over and over by people who have likely been pretty much everywhere. Turns out … they were right. When you read this entry, understand that for every photo that’s here, I probably took about 25 because Prague is simply movie-set gorgeous–even when its glory is faded, it’s still a glory to behold. In fact, I kept saying, “Everywhere you look, Prague is just beautiful,” leading my children to repeatedly break into song.
We started the day with a hearty (and cheap) breakfast at Miss Sophie’s, which has turned out to be a wonderful find. Our apartment is on the third floor and could be reached by a tiny elevator that fit in the center of the circular staircase or by the stairs themselves.
The buffet breakfast menu is detailed in lovely chalk drawings each morning on the wall above the food, which is served in the charmingly rustic basement cafe. Hot food is walked table to table, like a Czech dim-sum served out of a cast iron skillet. Super filling!
Ned dreams of another espresso, and Harper gets too close to the pineapple rind.
Czechs celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, so anticipating that most places would be closed, we decided to walk by the Vltava River to the Charles Bridge. Apparently, we weren’t that unique in our plans, as the area was filled with families–tourists and natives–all taking advantage of what turned out to be a gorgeous blue sky, temperate day. As we walked the cobblestone streets (thank you, Haflingers!) from the Metro to the river, we saw an old luxury car carrying a tour group and thought it was super cool–so much better than the horse drawn carriages we also saw around town.
Prague offers a great juxtaposition between the beauty of an historic city and the vibrancy of the new. These sculptures, standing on the river across from Prague Castle, seem to comment on the role of the crown. And, they’re about 15 feet from the historic back-end of the Four Seasons, which–like Penn–overlooks the Vltava and the Castle.
Harper’s the dark figure in the foreground on the right, which shows the play of the sun in the Prague sky. You’ll see this later, too. Prague light is remarkable–often filtered through low winter clouds and forming a persist, soft focus mist, as you can see in the distance below:
After wandering along the river, we wandered into a tiny gingerbread shop–truly just a hole in the wall of another historic edifice. It also served the densest hot chocolate known to man.
There’s something about the narrow, winding streets of Prague that makes one feel like a secret agent, alone on a mission to secure the safety of the world.
We were on a mission of sorts, well at least two of us were. The kids had seen signs for the Torture Museum each night in the Metro were hopeful that it would be open on Christmas Eve. Well, of course it was. I skipped the museum and chilled my stress fractured ankle on nature’s ice pack: a frozen block of cement. From this angle, I could take some interesting photos, people watch, and freeze up for the walk across the bridge.
About 45 minutes later, three horrified Davises emerged ready to share truly awful stories and pumped to walk the Charles Bridge. The bridge tower is suitably impressive and marks the gateway to a gorgeous, cobbled (natch), sloping, S-curved bridge that is marked by religious and historic statues (today, all reproductions)–including several that are thought to bring luck if rubbed, so they shine brightly and draw long lines. The bridge draws artists, musicians, characters, tourists, and dogs. Side note, dogs are everywhere in Prague. We saw a guy get on the tram with a dog in one hand and a pizza in another; a couple in the Metro with a baby in a carriage and a wolf-dog hybrid that was wearing a literal cage on its muzzle … all calmly board the down escalator; a dog in pants and a hoodie. I could go on.
Here are some scenes from the bridge–at each end, it rises over land, not water, hence the colorful buildings and crowds of Christmas Eve revelers singing carols and drinking songs.
The bridge ends in Old Town, where the streets are even narrower, the buildings more colorful, and the sausages more plentiful. Because it was Christmas Eve, they were even giving away mulled wine. Ned’s expression suggests he was not impressed.
And, on that colorful street, we found the super cool, old school luxury car tour operators! Given that the temperature was dropping, the car was heated, and it hit most of the Prague drive-by sites in an hour, we hopped in and zoomed off!
Each building and site was historic–the oldest synagogue, the oldest tree, the oldest cathedral, the original theatre, the new theatre, the former site of the Stalin statue now a tribute to freedom (Czechs HATE communism with a voluble passion), the John Lennon wall, homes where Kafka, Beethoven, and Freud stayed, palaces, summer palaces, seats of government, and more. And, each building was gorgeous–colorful, muraled, corniced, gargoyled, art decoed, and tightly packed. Here are scenes from our whirlwind tour.
And, I mentioned the light. Look at the sky in these photos–it looks like a special effect!
Then, we arrived at the castle, closed for Christmas Eve but open Christmas Day … because Prague. So we made plans to come back the next day.
By the time we returned to the bridge, the sun was setting and a bright moon was rising. That meant it was time to start making our way to dinner, taking in a few more sights along the way.
And, some a little bit of both:
Based on the Taste of Prague blog, we had booked our dinner at a tavern, U Kurelu–completely on the other side of Prague and far from the madding crowds. Few places that aren’t tourist traps or ridiculously expensive hotel buffets are available on the eve, and U Kurelu offered the promise of Czech interpretations of American classics like nachos, hot dogs, and burgers; Bhan Mi sandwiches; and something called “Disco Fries”–all made with house-smoked meats. We hopped the eerily deserted Metro to a cold and deserted square, and walked empty streets past the television tower (which is decorated with climbing babies because Prague). The trip did not give off a Christmas cheer vibe.
But, U Kurelu did not disappoint. It was warm and welcoming, and our table was waiting. Or at least Anna Kress’s table was, so in the spirit of Christmas, we took it.
Service was wonderful: hip Czechs dressed with stylish Christmas joy. We ate way too much smoked meat of every kind–including smoked pork belly, which was addictive–and could have drowned in the Disco Fries (smoked turkey gravy and smoked cheese!). We played an improvisational game of Scattergories that left us laughing and gasping and after such a lovely Christmas Eve dinner, the walk back to the Metro seemed half as long and not eerie at all.
We ended the night as all Davis family Christmas Eves for time immemorium have: with a game of Shanghai. We were fueled by the holiday treats set out by Miss Sophie’s hospitable staff.
We are so grateful for the adventures we have together–everywhere you look, they are gifts that last, and there’s not much that can top that, so to all a Good Night!