Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Five – Sweet Peacock, Tracy Gets Her Gardens, A Farewell To Arm, Is That The Eiffel Tower, And Au Revoir To Prague
Although I slept well, I woke up at 6:40 a.m. with a case of Anthophobia, which is the abnormal and persistent fear of flowers. It is a phobia that only occurs for me when Tracy and I visit Europe. Every vacation, I promise Tracy we will find some nice and colorful gardens, and invariably every trip we had taken in the past seven years, the gardens I chose turned out to be terrible. Whether it be weather or just plain, bad maintenance, I could not catch a garden break. Just before we visited Chateau Villandry in the Loire, there was a heat wave that scorched the gardens.
In 2004, when we stopped by the Villa Garzoni Garden (above) in Collodi, Italy, it was a dilapidated mess. The more I tried, the worse my garden excursions became. No matter, I continued in my quest to find some beautiful gardens for Tracy.
Our first stop on our final morning in Prague was to be the Valdštejnský Palác Zahrada (Wallenstein Palace Garden), located only about five minutes from the apartment. After reading about the palace, I decided that if the gardens were a bust, at least we could witness the fountain with the woman sprouting water from her breasts.
One way or another there was going to be a bust. Incredibly as we walked in, there were gardens, but alas only a few flowers were blooming, yet the setting was stunning. I glanced over at Tracy, who actually had a smile on her face at a garden. A garden I chose! I think the Day One “Death March” fiasco was now officially a thing of the past.
It’s hard to describe, but cool to look at. As we strolled the large grounds, suddenly a blood-curdling shriek came from the corner of the far garden, located near a pond. I had not heard a scream like that since a woman saw me with my shirt off at the pool in 2005. We rushed over to see what the commotion was all about and came upon the most beautiful, blue peacock strutting his stuff.
Angelina Jolie doesn’t pose this well for photos, and there were plenty of tourista paparazzi filling up their memory cards with pictures of this guy, who mugged and screamed for about 20 minutes. He was doing his best Gloria Swanson imitation. “I’m ready for my close up.”
We exited the palace and ostensibly headed for the river. It was then I remembered overhearing a conversation at one of our watering holes about the Palacove zahrady pod Prazskym hradem (Gardens Below The Prague Castle). Sure enough, on the left, there was the little entrance.
It only cost a few euros apiece to go in, and as we entered Kim, Mary and Tracy looked at me with amazement. “This place actually has real flowers,” Mary said. Yes, I was riding a tour guide high, ladies and gentlemen.
It was only mid-morning, and we crossed the river to head over to Staromestské Námestí to see a few churches we had wanted to visit. First, we made a quick detour to the Kláster sv. Anezky Ceské (St. Agnes Convent). We did not take a tour, but we did visit some empty rooms, which gave us a feel for the place.
On the way out, as we headed to the Old Town, we made reservations at a restaurant that looked nice, and I had read some good reviews about it. It was nearly noon, and I wanted to hurry over to the Kostel Sv. Jakuba (Church of St. James). We scurried through the Tynsky Dvur (Ungelt Courtyard), which has a number of cute eating establishments, and got to the church in time to see its main attraction, the arm of some poor guy who tried to steal the jewels off the Sacred Virgin Mary, located near the altar. One of the stories I had read said that the Virgin Mary actually grabbed his arm, and the monks then cut his arm off. The shriveled and rather disgusting looking, withered arm (photo from internet) now resides to the left of the door when you leave.
Back in Old Town, the four of us stepped inside the Kostel Panny Marie pred Tynem (Church of Our Lady Before Tyn). This church started out Catholic and then became the main church of the Hussite movement. As stated earlier, the entrance is truly weird because of the building constructed in front of it, but the inside is quite beautiful.
Even witnessing the severed arm earlier could not take away our ravenous appetite, so we walked toward the street with the public market (Havelská). Kim had set a rule that we could not eat at a restaurant that showed pictures of the food, but ince by now we were incredibly hungry, we broke the rule and sat down at U Radnickych.
On the way, we came upon yet another church. Tracy recognized it from my pre-trip notes as The Church of St. Mary The Victorious, aka The Church of the Bambino. “I didn’t know Babe Ruth was that big in the Czech Republic,” I replied. Kim, Mary and could only shrug knowing they still had 23 days with me. Actually, the nickname comes from the fact that this is the home of one of Prague’s most famous religious artifact, the Prazské Jezulátko (Infant Jesus of Prague) or “Bambino.”
The Nuns from a nearby convent change the Bambino’s outfit (although I saw no Yankee uniform) on a regular basis (rather habit forming, don’t you think?). There is a museum of those outfits on the second floor.
Now it was off to The Petrin (don’t call me Eiffel) Tower. We got on the funicular to the top of the hill where the fake Eiffel stands, and about 2/3 of the way up we saw a place we knew we would be sitting at soon, an outside patio serving delicious, refreshing pivo. It cost 26 Kč for the round trip, and once on top, you have 75 minutes to explore the grounds and climb to the top of the tower (299 steps).
We decided to pass up the Museum of Jára Cimrman, the Genius Who Did Not Become Famous, in deference to our now hourly thirst for beer. We made the 75-minute deadline with minutes to spare and hopped on the funicular and rode it down 1/3 of the way to the Prague Pivoland (not its real name) stop. It was very relaxing to sit and reflect on our time in Prague. We agreed Prague more than lived up to its advanced billing.
Yes, the city was crowded, but as a group we have a pretty good ability to block out the crowds and enjoy a city for its obvious virtues, of which Prague has many. I remember reading on one post that a couple visited Prague and, after one day, became bored and wanted to move on. With apologies, they obviously must have been visiting Prague, Nebraska. Even with my frenetic pace, we had not seen everything. It was at that point that Tracy said, “I thought we were going to see the Loreta (Loreto Palace).” I knew it closed at 4:30, and there was no chance we could make it. All I could do was channel my inner Beatles and say, “We’ll get back, Loreta.”
Before dinner, we made our final appearance at The Noble Wine Cellar, and fortunately I was not a klutz because on this evening the dreaded candle I had knocked over each time was lit. Our last wine was a repeat of the Dornfelder 2006 late harvest vino. Kim, Mary, Tracy and I toasted our luck for the 322nd time.
We scooted across the bridge one more time (taking time to take a twilight photo of the castle) and dined for our last Prague meal at Chez Marcel, a French restaurant in Old Town. We had stopped in earlier in the day to make reservations (photo below).
My escargot starter and entrée of balsamic duck breast with mashed potatoes would usually be enough to satisfy me, but an apple tart with raspberry and chocolate drizzle finally sucked me into “The Vortex of Unwanted Calories.” It was well worth the journey. Kim, however, ordered the dessert du jour that had the group shouting, “Mon Dieu!” His chocolate/orange mousse with just the right amount of Grand Marnier was merveilleux. As usual, the plating of every dish at this meal was superb. Our waiter had been very friendly, and it turned out he was from Algiers. We had already met our Bolivian waiter earlier in the trip, Pasquale (aka Steven) was originally from Italy and numerous others we had encountered along the way here in Prague were from somewhere else. On that topic, in a moment of philosophical creativity as we all sipped our final drops of vin rouge, Kim sat back in his chair and mused, “The diversity of cuisine in Prague reflects the diversity of nationalities and cultures.”
As we pondered his sage ramblings, we took one more spin (and with the amount of wine we had consumed, spin was the operative word) around Staromestské Námestí, looked up at the beautiful Tyn Church and walked back to the apartment.
Although it was late, we were very excited, because tomorrow we would venture into the Czech countryside for one day and one night in Český Krumlov, a town that elevates cute to an entirely new level.
Next: Day Six – Bohemian Rhapsody, Bear With Me, Is She Alive Or Is She Memorex, Where Is Everybody, The Restaurant At The Bottom Of The World And The Wedding Crashers