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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!