In which mulled wine warms my soul

Prague, Czech Republic

Our alarm either didn’t go off or we slept through it. Either way, we had a late start this morning. The day before Christmas is more religious and important here in Europe, so much of the city, attractions and restaurants were closed. That provided a good excuse for a coffee and muffin at the Starbucks overlooking the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, an absurdly mechanical spectacle with figurines that come alive every hour on the hour. “That’s an intense clock,” an Aussie sitting next to us said as dozens of tourists gathered and the clock struck noon.

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We walked a few blocks to Josefov, the city’s former Jewish ghetto. The Nazis purposely left several synagogues and the cemetery intact here — what they said would become part of the “museum of an extinct race.” We visited the Old-New Synagogue, which completed around 1270, is Europe’s oldest working synagogue.

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Outside, we peaked through the wrought-iron gates into the Old Jewish Cemetery, Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish graveyard. Built in the 15th century, its crumbling 12,000 stones are in complete disrepair. The small site is said to contain about 100,000 graves, piled in layers due to lack of space.

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With a light rain falling, we walked back over the Manes Bridge and up to the Castle. It was largely quiet inside as we retraced our steps from yesterday. A hotel map guided us to Novy Svet, a picturesque cobblestone lane said to be the most beautiful in Prague. To reward ourselves (and warm up) we had a cup of hot mulled wine at a small, family-run café there.

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Petrín Hill is one of the highest points in the city. Since we were nearly at its 318-meter peak, we pushed onward (or upward). Unfortunately, the weather turned sour, which spoiled the view. Our walk home was interesting — having lost the paved trail, it involved mud, dead rabbits and hobos living in sewer drains. We were back inside by around 16:30 and after a visit to the fitness center, got ready for an early dinner.

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The hotel had recommended Luka Lu, a Croatian restaurant just a few blocks away. It was strangely decorated (the highlight being a baby doll hung from the ceiling) but the home-cooked food was simple and authentic. We both opted for non-pork dishes — chicken stuffed with gorgonzola and spinach, a nice steak grilled medium — with a large caesar salad to start.

For dessert, we made one last trip to the Christmas Market. The trdelndelík (sugar donuts) were just too good not to have one more. We wondered if perhaps Crate & Barrel or Williams Sonoma might sell trdelndelík kits before packing up for our trip to Vienna tomorrow.

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