Sunday, January 15, 2017

Prague Recap: Behind the Scenes

As you may have seen the (many) pictures on Facebook, we somewhat spontaneously went to Prague for a few days between Christmas and New Year's.  We were waiting on Matthew's schedule for the rest of the month and were keeping our fingers crossed that he wouldn't have anything added for this week since Jackson would be out of school.   Normally Matthew will get his schedule prior to the beginning of the month, but December was different due to the move & official activation at this location.  So we held our breath and decided on the 26th to risk a trip. To play it safe, we limited the distance we were willing to travel and stuck to driving, so that we could get back if needed.  Luckily, he wasn't called and we spent 4 nights in Prague!

I booked our hotel the night of the 26th and we drove the 6 hours on the 27th.  It still amazes me that we can take a spur of the moment trip to a place like Prague easier and cheaper than taking a beach trip from Atlanta.

Prague was everything I hoped it would be and more.  I fell in love with the red roofs and brought them home with me in the form of a painting which now hangs over our fireplace.  It's warm and cozy. :)

One of the most pleasant discoveries was how much more celiac-friendly the city of Prague is!  I always research before we go anywhere now, and still take back-up food in case of any issues or if we get stuck somewhere for longer than expected.  And I was so pleased to find at least a dozen restaurants/cafes with gluten-free options!!  I plotted them all out on the map before we arrived and made a note of which attractions were close to each.  Celiac has taken a lot of spontaneity out of our lives, but in Prague, we joked that we were able to "plan to be spontaneous" due to the number of restaurant options!!

I can't describe the joy on Brandtley's face when we read menu options to him and then he would look thoughtful and consider each choice before making a definitive selection.  You would think he was choosing a fine wine based on the tasting notes of a sommelier!

His joy just gave us so much joy too. And then it got even better.  One restaurant we visited is 100% gluten free. When we told him this, he thought for a moment and then realization dawned on his face as he said, "So I can taste your food too???" He spent the entire meal trading bites and trying our food and happily dipping his gluten free bread into the shared dish of olive oil on the table.

In case you're looking for gluten free options in Prague, I've listed everywhere we ate here.

We spent the rest of our time walking and sightseeing and just experiencing this beautiful city.  We found plenty of kid-friendly activities but also didn't feel like we missed out on the culture or gave up on activities we would have done without the kids.

[The one activity we skipped this time was the Nuclear Bunker tour.  It sounded fascinating but was a full 2 hours, primarily walking outside, and between the freezing weather & time slots available, it didn't work out for us this time.  We passed one of the tours on the street and stopped briefly to listen, which made us even more interested.  If we go back, this will be one of our top priorities.]

The first night we arrived late.  After checking into the hotel, we ate traditional Czech food at Svejk U Karla and then walked to Wenceslas Square, which is more of a long rectangular street than a square.  At one end is the National Museum with the statue of St. Wenceslas in front of it (sadly we could not see the beautiful architecture of the museum due to restorations that are currently underway).  Located just off the square is the Palác Lucerna, which was one of the first galleria-style "malls" in Prague, built in the early 20th century.  It houses shops, cafes, and the Kino Lucerna - a beautiful movie theater that is still in use today. We returned a few days later and saw La La Land - a very fitting romantic moving in a romantic theater.

The Lucerna also has a sculpture parody of St. Wenceslas riding an upside down (dead) horse hanging from the ceiling.  I had not realized before we visited that Prague has a number of startling pieces of artwork that make strong political or cultural statements and these were fascinating to me.

The Hanging Man statue representing Sigmund Freud who is supposedly debating whether or not to let go.

Haunting Memorial to Victims of Communism

Over the next few days, we saw the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, the Old Town Hall, Charles Bridge (where many movies, including Mission Impossible were filmed), the Jewish quarter including the old Jewish cemetery, hiked Petrin Hill for views of the red-roofed-city from across the river, visited the Strahov Monastery and its famous library, walked by the Castle & Cathedral (also across the river), Lennon Wall, and went to a puppet show of Mozart's opera Die Zauberflaute at the National Marionette Theater.

In front of the Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock - a fascinating accomplishment created in 1410. In addition to telling the standard Roman time that we are familiar with, it also indicates Old Czech Time (a 24 hour cycle that ends at sunset each day & thus differs daily), the month, astrological symbol, sun's position, lunar cycle, the 12 equivalent hours from sun-up to sun-down based on daylight hours per day, and also has moving figures that appear on the hour.  It's really mind-boggling.

Very decorative building next to the Clock

Old Town Hall

View into the Jewish cemetery which looked like another world in the center of the city. 

On Charles Bridge

Enjoying the view from Charles Bridge

View from Charles Bridge

Jesus was giving out free hugs on Charles Bridge

Book tower at the main library.

Inside the National Marionette Theater

National Marionette Theater

View from Petrin Hill

Exterior of Strahov Monastery

The Monastery Library (Also the setting of a number of movies, including James Bond)

Stopping for a monastic beer in the underground caverns of the Monastery

Monastic card houses

The boys were impressed by the guards at the castle

More red roofs from the Castle 

Lennon Wall (or John Lennon Wall) which was used as an expression of political activism against communism beginning in the 1980s. Students and activists would nightly graffiti the wall (particularly with Lennon lyrics) and it would be removed daily by the authorities. Labeled "Lennonism", it inspired protests. Today it's a symbol of peace.

View from Charles Bridge

There is a restaurant on the rooftop of the U Prince Hotel with fantastic views of the roofs surrounding Old Town Square.  We stopped by to warm up with a coffee and take in the view.

Other fun things:

Beer spas are a thing. 

You can take a city tour in an old car - similar to a horse & carriage ride, which we also saw. The kids loved seeing the old cars drive by.  We preferred to experience the city on foot, though.

Apparently cannabis is legal and makes a great combo with absinthe or beer???  We saw these and other similar products in convenience store windows throughout the city!  

We also took an afternoon side trip to Plzen, which is the home of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery where pilsner style beer was first created and which is one of the oldest continuously-operating breweries.  This was a great day trip! After a brunch in Wenceslas Square, we hopped on a train at the nearby central train station and for less than $20 roundtrip for the four of us, took an hour & a half train ride for a brewery tour.  The kids were fascinated and Jackson left with a new ambition to become an engineer to design brewery bottling plants.

We brunched at the sidewalk cafe Como (which has GF options!!) outdoor on Wenceslas Square under the awnings & heaters.

Inside the Prague train station

A plaque for Woodrow Wilson in the train station

Prague train station

On the train

The gates at Pilsner Urquell

Legend is that if you can throw a penny into the hole, you will have sons.  Jackson and Brandtley are both destined to have daughters.

In the underground caverns of Pilsner Urquell where we saw the actual beer in production in these barrels. 

Fresh taste from the barrel


As I type this, I have a hard time believing that we did all of this in just a few days!  We had a blast and enjoyed every minute of Prague!


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