Praguematism

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The Devil is in Praha. Was, at least. Prague. /ˈprɑːɡ/; Czech: Praha, [ˈpraɦa]

I wasn’t in the mood for leftover Slovak breads and fruit my mom packed from the previous hotel’s breakfast buffet. Three and a half hours on board a bus to Prague through lunch and surviving only on the complimentary onboard coffee, we finally arrived in Prague. Although about an hour away from the bus terminal by car, the Residence Bologna was only a ten-minute walk away from the famed Wenceslas Square.

 Staročeská Selská Pánev or The Traditional Bohemian Farmers Pan

Staročeská Selská Pánev or The Traditional Bohemian Farmers Pan

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The first order of business was dinner after quickly checking in. I zeroed in on the Staročeská Selská Pánev at the Hotel U Prince’s outdoor extension restaurant. The Traditional Bohemian Farmers Pan includes Pork Neck, a Pork Chop, Smoked Brisket, Sausages, White & Red Cabbage and Dumplings. Everything here sounds like a spell or some exotic potion and they taste just as magical. Our waiter, Jakub, highly recommended this Staropamen Lager, a local Czech beer to wash the meats down.

Kozel Beer

Kozel Beer

Bagety

Bagety

We made good of the remaining daylight to tour the immediate area. Sundown was at nine and we weren’t quite ready to hit the sack so we found ourselves sampling Kozel’s at the hole-in the-wall next to our hotel. We still found it hard to refuse the offer of a beer pair and ended up with no regrets. Tomatoes and Mozzarella with Pesto on a split Baguette made up the Bagety in simple and simply fantastic bites.

Prague Orloj

Prague Orloj

Breakfast the next day was heavy on breads and cakes but I stuck to the cold cuts, cheeses and fruit before heading out to our complimentary tour. Our rather eager guide, Margaret, directed us to the. Prague Orloj for the eleven AM chimes. The Prague Astronomical clock, a medieval astronomical clock–the third-oldest and the only old one still in operation, fell short of my Disneyland-It’s-A-Small-World-Attraction-Clock expectations. I was later pacified by the information that each hour had different and progressively interesting automations.

Old Town Prague (online source)

Old Town Prague (online source)

We swept the entire square with the full, enthusiastic detailing of the guide. There was the Church of Our Lady before Tyn with the towers lovingly referred to Adam & Eve — the bigger man shielding the smaller woman. In truth, they overspent on construction of the first tower and couldn’t make the second as grand. The massive Jan Hus Memorial imposes within the square as a symbol of reform and national rebirth. Nearby was the Baroque St. Nicholas Church, the interior of which was inspired by Paris’ St. Louis Des Invalides.

The Basilica of St. James the Greater

The Basilica of St. James the Greater

The Basilica of St. James the Greater Interior

The Basilica of St. James the Greater Interior

Meandering further into the circuitous streets of the Old Town, Margaret’s tone dropped theatrically somber as we reached the Bazilika Svatého Jakuba Většího . The Basilica of St. James the Greater features the Madonna Pietatis, the tomb of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice and, weirdly, the naturally mummified hand of a thief who tried to rob the richly decorated altar. Even more weird is how it was the statue of the Madonna that held the robber by the wrist until he was found the morning after the bungled burglary.

The ornately gothic Prague curiously gave birth to the Cubist movement and had proof in the Cubist House, now a hotel and restaurant replete with cubist pastries. Begrudgingly passing by without trying the food – methinks commissions have not been agreed upon here – we moved on to other attractions along the route.

 Smazak

Smazak

Cambrinus Beer

Cambrinus Beer

We broke for lunch and jumped into the nearest café. Why do just mozzarella sticks when you can breadcrumb-batter an entire block of cheese and bring it to a crispy golden brown with a deliciously oozy center? The people here do with a variety cheeses, usually Edam, in the Smažený Śýr or Smazak. Cambrinus, often ID’d as Jan Primus I, Duv of Brabant, is said to be the inventor of beer and hailed it’s king. A local namesake brew made the perfect accompaniment to the cheese.

The Infant Jesus of Prague

The Infant Jesus of Prague

 Church of the Infant Jesus of Prague

Church of the Infant Jesus of Prague

Vyzvat, Svatý! To je Karlo je! The Christian God made us in His image and the Infant Jesus of Prague is in the spitting image of our Senor Sto. Nino save for the fair skin and golden curls. The Pražké Jezulátko Church is dwarfed by our Basilica but is nonetheless magnificent with the ornate décor.

P-noy Taste of Asia Asijske

P-noy Taste of Asia Asijske

A distinctive sun design caught my eye from across the church and that it stood for the letter O in P-noy confirmed recall. P-noy Taste of Asia  Asijske  Specialty store boasted of not only “Filipiny” but of items from “Thajsko”, “Korea”, “Cina” and “Indie”, as well. We were greeted by the Czech owner, Martin Nizaradze, who, in the conversation that followed, spoke fondly of his wife, Myra, and of Philippine current events. Almost two weeks on the road and we thought we missed home enough to buy some Jack N’ Jill brand junk food.

 St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

We crossed over Charles’s Bridge to the Lesser Old Town and up a penitentiary of stone steps to the massive Prague Castle complex. Metropolitní Katedrála Svatého Víta, Václava a Vojtěcha or simply St. Vitus Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece dominating the collective. The massive mosaic above one gate depicting Judgement Day is both magnificent and condemning. Gargoyles on every buttress and rampart look down ready to pounce on the sinners below.

Charles’s Bridge

Charles’s Bridge

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Sunset on Charles’s Bridge

Sunset on Charles’s Bridge

Sunset saw us on the Charles’s Bridge on our way back to the Old Town. Brilliant golds turned fiery reds then beautiful purples as we slowly waded through the thick crowd past monuments, street artists and buskers. If you ever find yourself running short on Euros here, any of the summer classes your parents forced you to go to in your childhood would finally have some ROI.

Bohemia refers to the entire Czech territory in the historical concept and, to date, there isn’t a single flower crown in sight. The only thing that I can tie Bohemia up with the popular theme of care-free living — flower crowns, flowy clothes and all, is the loss of inhibitions brought about by the massive consumption of alcohol. Prague is even bigger on beer than our three previous locations with a Beer Museum, a Beer Spa and Beer Tours. The earlier tour made us miss the schedule for a craft beer tour and we comforted ourselves with the ready availability of any variant around the city. As mentioned in previous articles, beer is cheaper than water in Europe and this is where titular pragmatism comes in.

Vepro-Knedlo-Zelo

Vepro-Knedlo-Zelo

Krusovice Beer

Krusovice Beer

The U Modreho Hroznu Restaurant pulled us in with the promise of “traditional Czech dishes”, “Fresh Fish, Meat and Seafood”, “Slow Food”, “The Best Goulash in Town” and an open atrium. I ordered the Vepro-Knedlo-Zelo: Veprova Pecene, Knedliky & Zeli or Roast Pork with Dumplings and Saurkraut. Meats are almost universally wonderful here with restrained seasoning also limited to salt and pepper, allowing appreciation of natural meat flavors. Low heat over long periods of time keeps these wonderfully succulent. The Krusovice Beer was pleasant and unobtrusive, if not highly complementary of the savory sweetness of the pork.

Beetle Absinth

Beetle Absinth

Cannabis Beer

Cannabis Beer

The slow walk home proved interesting with the variety of shops lining the way. As with beer, Absinth was another big thing here with several a dedicated Absinth bar. Mexicos’ Tequila Worm sees it’s match in Prague’s Beetle and Centipedes. Selling of cannabis is still regulated but there apparently are leeways for infusions into beers, liquors, pastries, chocolate, candy and other edibles.

Czech Candy Bar

Czech Candy Bar

We woke up to what seemed a spruced up déjà vu of the breakfast the day before. I couldn’t be bothered with carbs before a flight and took whatever other slim pickings. I found myself going crazy at the airport vendor with what remained of my Czech Crowns. Local Cebu news announced the installment of Lady Osmena as acting mayor of Cebu City at that time. Among my loot was a chocolate-covered coconut and caramel candy bar and with that I found myself closer to home. But first, Paris!

The Sweet Tooth

On assignment for Sun Star Cebu Plus & Special section’s Food Issue, here are my personal picks for my dessert feature:

BOCAS Strawberry & Mulberry Tart

Strawberry-Mulberry Tart

BOCAS Modern Patisserie

A classic meringue base with local Mulberry Jam, Mulberry Mousse, fresh Strawberries — to be eaten with intact calyxes, whipped cream and caramel tuille with garnishes of Dragonfruit, whole Mulberries, Passionfruit sauce, Peppermint Geleé and freshly-shaved Pistachio. All components are artfully plated and it surprises with deliberate restraint on the sugar to allow one to appreciate natural sweetnesses of the fruit and the myriad of other flavors.

Carnivore Uni Ice Cream

Uni Ice Cream

Carnivore

Fresh uni is folded into a frozen custard base with a touch of Japanese seasoning and served on a sea urchin half-shell with fresh mangoes, a dash of sesame seeds and a Nori crisp. Wasabi cream and a soy reduction add punches of additional flavor as functional sauce garnishes alongside chocolate pebbles. The boundaries of the sweet-and-savory trend are pushed further to the edge here by the chefs no stranger to successful experimentations in many other seasonal offerings.

Ultimate Fujinoya Experience Bento

The Ultimate Fujinoya Experience Bento

Fujinoya.

Light Matcha Shortcake filled with an equally light Azuki Cream, No-Bake Cheesecake with Blueberry Sauce and the palatably rich Fujinoya Special Chocolate Cake are enjoyed in that order with assorted Meringues, cream and fresh fruits in between as a palate cleanser , all these with the most flavor-unobtrusive green tea to wash it down. The graduation from light to heavier flavors and textures are spot-on the Japanse sense of order and makes for a rather mindful dessert experience.

Mango Cheese Sulbing

Mango Cheese Sulbing

Sulbing Dessert Café

Snowy ice, already great to eat all by itself, is dished in intimidatingly large servings with assortments of toppings. The franchise’s nutty flagbearer, Injeolmi, takes a backseat to the local mango with its renowned rich fruit sweetness. The inclusion of cheesecake pieces transform the fruit with the savory notes while, in turn, its saltine, milky qualities are simultaneously played up for a compelling combination of flavors over the soft, icy texture.

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Basil Sorbet

The Pig & Palm

Limited to a single selection from the impressive dessert lineup at this island’s latest buzzword, the Basil Sorbet is my top pick. The aromatic basil registers a minty, peppery sweetness balanced by the creamy yoghurt mousse. Punctuations of tartness come from the lemon puree with texture by way of the malt meringue shards in this refreshingly light and downright delicious dessert one could definitely have seconds of.

Room For  Dessert Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Room For Dessert

Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Room For Dessert’s Soft Serve Ice Cream Specials are their social media stars with their undeniable visual appeal. The dark horse is their rather unassuming Cookie Dough Cheesecake. The guilty childhood thrill of sneaking a bit of the cookie dough from the mixing bowl merges with the weighty goodness of an old-fashioned cheesecake in an inarguably decadent treat. The cookie topping each slice makes a welcome dunker in the plain, black coffee it goes best with.

District on 53rd Coconut Binignit Gelato

Coconut Binignit Gelato

Distict on 53rd

Off the requisite eye-popping presentation, District on 53rd’ keeps it simple with a straight-up scooping. The comforting familiarity of the popular snack soup, binignit, gets elevated in gelato form leaning heavy on the coconut flavor. Saba bananas, jackfruit, taro, sago and other binignit ingredients are suspended in the dense, milky gelato base as they would in what’s usually a hot, sticky liquid. The intense flavor true to inspiration goes squarely on the tongue and melts away to leave a clean palate in this traditional dish with a twist.

Ahhh, Brrateeslaavaaaaaah

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Wasn’t Brastislava one of the shooting locations for the guts-and-gore movie, Hostel? Perhaps it was that factoid that had me wrapped in a sense of foreboding or maybe it was the Adult of the Corn driving our rental van. Funny, his name was Michael, too. Our jampacked Vienna schedule had us all nodding to his dated playlist through the hour and a half long ride. Apparently, Michael learned to rock.

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We checked into the Apollo Hotel and left shortly to make the most of the overnight trip. Located between the old town and the business district, the hotel was a brisk twenty minute walk in either direction but the spoiled group piled into Mercedez-Benz taxis to speed to the town square. In ten degree weather with frequent rain showers, we began the tour with Zmrzlina’s – the Slovakian equivalent of gelato, and began to lose the ability to appropriate distribution of vowels in our speech. A dozen flavors included classics like Lemon, the clichéd Bubblegum and the adventurous but very spot-on Red Bull.

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Man At Work

I jokingly refer to Cebu as the city where streets have no sidewalks but downtown Bratislava beats us with actual stone brick-paved, free-for-all narrows that even squeeze in outdoor seating for cafes and restaurants. What are even more amazing are their bigger roads that host pedestrian, private vehicle and public transport traffic including road level trams.

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Old Timer

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Charles IV at Bratislava Castle

Ten Euros got us a seat on the Old Timer, a tour bus specially designed to mimic a vintage motor coach. From the Slovak National Theater and Slovak Philharmonic, we pulled out along the banks of the Danube. Church upon beautiful church breaking for the postmodernist inverted pyramid of the Slovak Radio Station. There was also the Presidential Palace, the ancient City Wall and other remarkable sites culminating in a stop at the hilltop Bratislava Castle with a spectacular view of the entire Little Big City.

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Dark Chocolate Zmrlina

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Statue of Roland

We had more Zmrzlinas on our return to the heart of Bratislava where we hopped on a smaller Old Timer to go through the cobblestoned streets and alleys of the Old Town. On the expansive Main Square stands the Roland Fountain, the city’s oldest. Legend has it that at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s, the statue at the very top spins and those who see it will be granted their most earnest wishes. The van meandered almost impossibly through the barely car-width alleys to take us along St. Martin’s – the coronation cathedral of Hungarian kings, St. Clare’s Church, the last remaining well-preserved town gate of St. Michaels, the popular Venturska Street and the be-all-and-end-all Executioner’s House. Aside from offing heads, he was in charge of the city’s sanitation (disposing of consumer byproducts along with the human bodies, why not?) as well as the city’s brothel. Imagine that.

Svatopluk

Svatopluk

Misa Starloslovenskej Kuchyne

Misa Starloslovenskej Kuchyne

Budwieser Budvar

Budwieser Budvar

The Sunnier-Side Up came by the Svätopluk I ordered for dinner at the Original Slovak Restaurant — chicken breasts baked with peach halves and cheese. Misa Starloslovenskej Kuchyne is my new supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Translated to “plate of old-Slovakiay cuisine”, it is way more than just the mouthful it is named with inclusions of roast pork, chicken, sirloin slices, sausages, bacon, dumplings, potato and potato pancakes. As I mentioned previously, beer is cheaper than water around these parts. Going local, I asked for a Czech beer and was served the original “Bud”, the Czech local beer Budwieser Budvar.

Zlaty Bazant Special

Zlaty Bazant Special

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Slovak Zlaty Bazant ’73 Golden Peasant

Daylight was up late and so were we with a nightcap at the Moose Bar across our hotel. The bartender introduced all his local brands adding notes on each of the ABV’s with their strongest , the Slovak Zlaty Bazant ’73 Golden Peasant at only 5%. I took the opportunity to do research and tried the Krusovice Kralovsky Pivovar Czech Premium  Beer, the half white-half black Zlaty Bazant Special,  the Edelweiss Weissbier with the Zlaty Bazant Alcohol-free Lemon Beer to wash.

Bratislava Breakfast

Bratislava Breakfast

Restaurant at the Apollo Hotel

Restaurant at the Apollo Hotel

Breakfasts in Bratislava are beautiful. Or, at least, mine with assorted cold cuts, cheeses, olives, sundried tomatoes & white grapes assembled from the inclusive buffet at the stately restaurant of the austere Apollo. We still had time to burn before our bus schedule for Prague and spent it at the hotel’s Salt Cave.

Salt Crystal in the Apollo's Salt Cave

Salt Crystal in the Apollo’s Salt Cave

Salt Caves were a popular spa treatment among the Czech royalty in their heyday and us indio peasants lapped up the experience. Basking in the the roomful of varieties of salts from around salt mines in the region was said to have similar effects to a few days breathing fresh seaside air.

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I wouldn’t take a Czech’s word on a five-minute walking distance again as we found ourselves pulling wheelies three long blocks to the bus terminal. Next stop, Prague!

All photos by Michael Karlo Lim. For more photos, go to www.pornografeed.wordpress.com or http://www.facebook.com/michaelkarlo .