Defenestration in Prague

Prague, Czech Republic

Our hand-written weather forecast card placed on our bed during last night’s turndown service said to expect snow and highs around 3 degrees Celsius today. But when we opened the curtains this morning, we found only partially cloudy skies and temperatures considerably warmer. Perhaps luck would be with us.

We opted against the Mandarin’s 24-euro breakfast and instead walked down the street for a quick egg sandwich at Bohemia Bagel. Our first stop of the day was the Prague Castle, the largest castle in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s 570 meters long and an average of 128 meters wide, covering an area of about seven football fields.

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Our tickets allowed us entrance into essentially all of the complex buildings, including the grand St. Vitus Cathedral, whose foundation stone was laid in 1344. One of its last doorways was completed 1953, making for one long, 600+ year construction project.

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Next, we checked out the Bohemian crown jewels and other artifacts in an exhibit called Story of Prague Castle. Just next door was the Old Royal Palace, one of the oldest parts of the castle, dating from 1135. We entered into Vladislav Hall, a vast, cavernous space used for banquets, coronations — even indoor jousting matches — that has recently served as the backdrop of the swearing in ceremonies of Czech Republic’s presidents. Our favorite tidbit though: it has also been the site of several defenestrations, that is, the throwing of people out of windows.

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We warmed up inside the Convent of St. George, which now houses an art collection from the National Gallery. Directly adjacent is the red-bricked Basilica of St. George. On our way out, we visited Golden Lane, an alley lined with colorful cottages that once housed the castle’s goldsmiths. Today, it houses tourist shops hawking soap, t-shirts and other crap. We passed and instead made our way to the castle’s entrance for another tourist spectacle: the 12 noon changing of the guard ceremony.

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The walk down the castle steps wasn’t nearly as bad as the walk up, and offered a sweeping view of Prague.

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We crossed the Manes Bridge and cruised through the Stare Mesto neighborhood to Grand Café Orient, the city’s only Cubist café with a retro and authentic feel to it. The ham and cheese baguette and goat cheese salad was solid — as was the Kavi Grand Orient, a potent coffee beverage with espresso, Bacardi, Kahlua and whipped cream.

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The café is housed in the House of the Black Madonna, whose top three floors contain the Museum of Czech Cubism. It’s a modest collection of paintings, sculptures and some really sweet furniture.

With the sun starting to set, we made our way past tubs filled with carp (sold live for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner) toward Wenceslas Square, once a medieval horse market. Its wide boulevards are now lined with department stores and shops. We checked out the Christmas Market, which was much of the same, before walking back to the hotel.

A perfect day in Prague wouldn’t be complete without beer, so after resting and changing at the hotel, we took the #22 tram a couple of stops to Pivovarsky Dum, a local microbrewery. The New York Times told us that there would be no chance of getting a table, but we went anyway.

There wasn’t much English being spoken when we arrived and the brash maitre de curtly informed us that the wait would be an hour, but we stuck it out — ended up waiting only 20 minutes — and were rewarded for our perseverance. A sampler of the pub’s brews included banana, vanilla, coffee, wheat, light and sour cherry. They were all really good and complemented our beef goulash and roast pork and potato dumplings well. We felt very Czech.

For dessert, we took the tram to Café Savoy, a recently restored café originally built in 1893. With glowing crystal chandeliers overhead, we had a glass of port and split a piece of chocolate cake. Right next door was Olympia, which was good for one last night cap, a glass of draught beer and shot of becherovka, a potent mixture that kept me warm for the entire walk home.

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