Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Three – A Jewish History Lesson, Thai-ing One On, Seeing Red, Cellar Dwellers, Beware Of Flying Mice And Perhaps One Does Come To Prague For The Food
Since I didn’t know yet that St. John of Nepomuk really didn’t grant ones’ wishes, I decided to meet our friends Doug and Jackie at his statue on The Charles Bridge to start the day. They looked none-the-worse for jet lag, and our day was underway.
After hooking up with the rest of the gang, we walked over to Josefov (Jewish Quarter), which we had been told had some of the more interesting Jewish sights in Europe. The places to visit are located within a three to four-square block area, and you buy an admission pass that lets you visit six of them.
You must purchase a separate entrance ticket to the Staronová Synagóga (Old-New Synagogue). We bought the pass outside the Pinkasova Synagóga, where the hand written names of more than 75,000 Czech Jews who were sent to Auschwitz cover the walls.
Below the art are the names and dates of the children’s birth dates and date of death. A few of the children survived, but most of those who had art displayed here unfortunately did not survive. It was quite moving.
Exiting, we walked over to the Stary zidovsky hrbitov (The Old Jewish Cemetery).
I’m sure many of you have seen pictures of this place with its askew tombstones. It was quite fascinating to see this burial ground.
Remembering my miscalculation of the lunch hour the previous day, it was decided we would eat lunch at a normal time, so since it was the noon hour, and we were all famished, it was time to find a restaurant. I believe one of the hardest aspects of traveling with four or six people is deciding upon a restaurant, and once again, we started meandering aimlessly through the streets of Prague.
“Oh God, not a repeat of yesterday,” I thought. It was bad enough having three people mad at me, but five would be too much. Perusing menus, comments such as “does that look good?” and “well, that’s kind of expensive” could be heard uttered. The restaurant search might have gone on for a long time, but mercifully it was resolved shortly.
Fortunately, Doug and Jackie pulled out a Lonely Planet guide that had an interesting restaurant very near to where we were standing. Traditional Czech cuisine was not in the offing on this afternoon. The Orange Moon is a Thai restaurant located between Old Town and Josefov, and its menu of Thai, Burmese and Indian cuisine was spectacular (at very reasonable prices, too). We dined on such dishes as beef kabobs, stir fried beef with basil and chili sauce and a chicken salad with fresh mint, Galanga, lemon and fresh chili.
Of course, this was all accompanied by copious amounts of pivo. Love that pivo! We deemed Kim’s dish of fried rice noodles with chicken, bean sprouts, leeks and ground peanuts as the overall best dish. He must have liked it since he was nearly licking the plate afterward, and we could hear him exclaim on numerous occasions later in the day (and later in the trip), “Damn, that lunch was good.”
The group was on its way to Nové Mésto (New Town) and Wenceslas Square. To paraphrase The Who, “We met the New Town, but it wasn’t the same as the Old Town.” Knowing us, we would not get fooled again. Of course, there was a reason to walk to the New Town. We were looking for a specific museum that we were told was near a McDonald’s. We found one McDonald’s, but there was no museum upstairs, just a bunch of people raising their cholesterol counts to near deadly proportions. I had to run out before the addicting smell of their pommes frites drew me into a “Vortex of Unwanted Calories.”
We walked three quarters of the way around the block and happened upon another McDonald’s and a sign pointing us to our next destination, The Museum of Communism. There are a lot of witty propaganda posters with clever captions like one of Stalin that said, “They coined the term politically correct fifty years before the West caught on.”
After visiting the few rooms full of interesting and authentic artifacts, you can view a 15-minute film showing Prague’s history under Communist rule and the Velvet Revolution. It could have been quite an interesting film, but someone needs to edit it because the same footage is shown time and time again. We said good-bye to Doug (in front of his namesake store) and Jackie until later.
I believe if someone spent some money and worked on this project, this film could make a much more powerful statement. While in the New Town, we caught a glimpse of The Powder Tower and Obecní Dum, but it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were going to all get together later for dinner. In an event to avoid complete exhaustion (like yesterday), we decided to walk back to our respective apartments (by the way, Doug and Jackie stayed in Vinohrady, an area they said they enjoyed).
Kim and Mary decided they were going to take a little nap. Since my mom had once told me I had not napped since I was six weeks old, I had another idea. Our apartment was located very near Chram sv. Mikulase (Church of St. Nicholas).
I asked Tracy if she minded stopping in to the church (yes, I had learned a valuable lesson 24 hours earlier), and we went in. The church is quite lovely, and we climbed the stairs to view some Baroque paintings. Then, it was back to the apartment to relax.
I guess relaxing is different for Tom and Tracy. Refreshed after a 30-minute nap (well, Tracy napped) and nice shower, we were going to hook up with everyone at the downstairs wine cellar, The Noble Club, which the four of us had stopped by for a moment the previous evening. Walking down the stairs to the cellar and, in a startlingly similar fashion as I had 20 hours earlier, I knocked over the candle at the end of the stairs (you can actually see the exact candle on its website). Fortunately, it was not lit, or I would be posting this from Prague Prison.
Kim was already flirting with the wine girl (the lovely Denise) upon our entrance to the cellar, so I knew the evening was getting off to a good start. This vinotheque (located at Tržiště 371) offers several wines by the glass and has a nice selection of wines from around the world. The music was perfect (I can still hear Julie London singing “Fly Me To The Moon” as I am writing this).
We sat in a little room (thankfully, no smoking) that had about six or seven tables lit by candles. The entire place was charming, the wines Denise selected for us (a Zweigeltrebe 2003 Moravian wine and the Chateau des Ducs Bordeaux Superieur) were good. They also served (on a wooden platter) some bread, cheese (Swedish), tomatoes and green olives. Everything was perfect, but now it was time for us all to walk up to the Bellavista for what we hoped would be a fantastic dinner. The evening was gorgeous, and the Bellavista was pretty empty when we arrived a little before 9 p.m. We secured a spot on the patio that had fabulous Prague views. We had been in Prague for 50 hours, and Mary had not uttered one crazy line yet. This was about to change. Shortly after we arrived, our waiter came over, and Mary started the evening out with this conversation starter, “Do you ever get bats?”
“Bats?” our waiter asked.
Mary quickly retorted, “Yes, you know, mice that fly.” Fortunately, Jorge (our Bolivian waiter) stayed and filled our drink order, while Kim quickly checked Mary’s purse to see if she was dipping into the Ambien again (please see Italy Trip Report 2005). To begin, Kim, Doug and I sucked down another dark, draft, delicious Urquell. Then it was on to (arguably) the best dinner we had on our 28-day journey.
First of all, Kim’s grilled salmon with pesto was so incredible that I wanted to sing, “Salmon chanted Evening” but thought the better of it. Kim even had to take a picture of his dish, which became a reoccuring theme throughout the rest of our trip. His potatoes were also scrumptious.
Our dishes were rounded out by spaghetti with olio and garlic peppers, a grilled Kielbasa with Tuscan mustard and grilled chicken breasts with spinach salad and pine nuts. Every dish was fantastic; the wine was good and the pivo memorable (obviously). The Bellavista receives rave reviews from all of us. It’s not often you get great food coupled with a great view, but this is the exception to the well-established rule. We said goodbye to Doug and Jackie (who would be leaving for Salzburg in a couple of days). Our nightcap once again took us to the Irish pub down the street from our apartments, and we were in bed before midnight. I couldn’t figure out why, as my head hit the pillow, that I was flashing back to putting the wrong gas in our car in 2005. Then it hit me: Tomorrow, we would be picking up our first rental-mobile of the trip. God help us all!
Next: Day Four – License To Kill, Cutting Out To Kutna Hora, Dem Bones, Now That’s What I Call Stacked, Who’s Steven And Introducing Lady Garmin