I woke up on our first official morning in Prague to Dave saying, “Shit!”
Confused, I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s just midnight in DC and he forget to change his watch?” and said, “But it’s still dark out.”
“Um, I closed the curtains last night before we went to bed.” And thats how we found out they were blackout curtains. Womp, womp.
We jumped out of bed, showered and got ready as fast as humanly possible (well, as fast as possible for these humans). Even though we slept for close to twelve hours, my body ached with that haven’t-slept-in-days feeling and my head was so foggy. Dave was pretty agitated at having lost half of a day, so I tried to assure him that we had plenty of time and we could be flexible with our departure train for Vienna.
My plan was for us to walk through Charles Square (Karlovo Náměstí) to Wenceslas Square, then follow Rick Steves’ self-guided walk, which would take us from the National Museum, past the statue of Wenceslas and other notable spots. From there we would go to the Old Town Square, but with the
huge loss of time slight disruption to our schedule, we decided to head straight for the Old Town Square instead.
A few blocks from the hotel, I saw a cafe with iced coffee to-go and we made a pit stop. It was honestly one of the best iced coffees I’ve ever had! Since it was almost 1 p.m., we figured we should eat lunch in an attempt to get our bodies on track. We both had restaurants picked out, so we went to Dave’s choice, Mlejnice, and it actually turned out to be the same restaurant with traditional Czech fare I had in mind. (I kept referring to the nickname “The Mill” that Rick Steves uses so we didn’t realize it was the same place until we got there.) The Mill had the best goulash out of any place we tried, and we tried a lot! I added a side of spinach (still looking for those greens!) and Dave had a side of potato fritter balls.
Even though The Mill is tucked down a narrow alley, it’s only a block or two off the Old Town Square. My top priority was to visit the St. James church to see the legendary “thief’s hand.” The story goes that late one night a jewel thief tried to steal from the statue of the Virgin Mary on the altar. She grabbed his hand and would not let go. In the morning he was found by a group of monks who could not pry his arm from the statue’s grip and eventually were forced to cut off his hand. As a warning to other thieves, the hand was hung about 15 feet up from the ground to the left of the door before you exit the church, where it hundreds of years later it remains today.
Our next stops were the Church of Our Lady before Týn and the Jan Hus Memorial in the square’s center. We weren’t allowed photos inside the church, but I snuck one in. (Shhh!) The memorial is dedicated to the reformist, Jan Hus, who eventually was burned at the stake when he refused to renounce his beliefs. This led to the Hussite Wars, a Protestant uprising against the Catholic Church. (Photo of the memorial is in the panoramic below.)
At this point, the skies were about to open so we made a game time decision to buy tickets to the Astronomical Clock. An elevator took us up to the top and a narrow platform led us clockwise around for stunning views of the city. I thought it was much better than Petřín Tower.
On the way down, we winded around on a slow sloping walkway stopping periodically to read the historical placards lining the walls. I also noticed some odd repetitive graffiti; in several places people had written, “Cake is a lie!” I’m still not sure what that means … Back at the bottom the downpour had subsided, and the square was practically empty, which gave us a great view of the “twenty-seven crosses.” It is the location in the square where in 1621, 27 Protestants were beheaded for rebelling against the Catholic Church.
From the square, we walked north along the ritzy, tree-lined Pařížská Street, featuring Prada, Louis Vuitton and a fancier version of the WCs we usually encountered. The street leads to the Jewish Quarter where our next stop was the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Eastern Europe circa 1270. We bought our tickets and Dave donned the required (but complimentary) kippah. Like the Týn Church, pictures were not allowed, and this time I felt more obligated to follow the rules – maybe because I’m not Jewish? Back outside we passed by the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Ceremonial Hall. (We had been by there the night before on our walking tour, but since we slept through half of it, we were more than happy to see it again.)
After all the sightseeing, it was time to enjoy a different side of Prague – the Czech Beer Festival! We continued walking north and crossed the Vltava River to Letná Park, where we caught some cool views before making it to the festival. We paid the equivalent of $15 total, which covered both our entrance fees and five beers to share. It was a steal! Multiple tents housed hundreds of beers, food and music. It wasn’t yet Dave’s birthday, but he thought this was the best way to celebrate.
To continue the beer tour, we returned to the Jewish Quarter and went to the Prague Beer Museum. No, we were not doing more sightseeing. Despite its name, the Prague Beer Museum is actually a brewpub. We tasted a few different beers and shared a sausages plate before heading out to our next stop – dinner, finally! We hadn’t eaten since The Mill and had covered a lot of ground.
Our walk to the restaurant took us past the Powder Tower, which was the gate of the town wall in the 1400s, and then toward the New Town area. We picked another restaurant that served traditional Czech food, Restaurace U Pinkasů. It has an interesting history and was originally founded in 1843. Dave had schnitzel with potato salad and I ordered the meat roll, which according to the menu was the favorite course of brewer Josef Groll and first cooked October 5, 1842.
Since we were somewhat close to the train station, I insisted that we go there to buy our tickets for the trip to Vienna, even though it was pouring and the clock was nearing midnight. It was quite a trek and we were both happy once we landed back in bed! This time we set an alarm … to be continued.