Prague and Amsterdam are the most recent, and even they were 2 years ago. I’ll be honest, they were both amazing but for different reasons so I have decided to write about both in separate blogs.
Prague – Czech Republic
For my dad’s 65th birthday, we went to Prague (myself, the man and my parents) we all stayed in the same hotel but were lucky enough to spend some days exploring and seeing this amazing place.
Our hotel was wonderful, it was an eco hotel so very good for the environment and had (without doubt) the oddest breakfast options i’ve ever seen. Each morning was a buffet style of breakfast, with the usual, cereals, meats, cheeses, coffees etc and then there were the “mystery toureens” which over the days were filled with a variety of what I could consider standard breakfast items (bacon, eggs) and some more esoteric offerings, such as some kind of spinach soup, a mushroom stew and roasted potatos. All very lovely and a great way to prompt breakfast conversation!!
It’s full of history, and quite a lot of depressing history too but it was a place which was happy from our wanderings, they were open about the issues that has happened but without being mournful about it.
We were lucky enough to be staying fairly close to the centre (probably about a 15 mins tram away) so that meant we could explore but also be far enough away from the hen/stag areas which was a bonus, it tended to be that we would meet in the Hotel for breakfast – which was an adventure in itself – and then split up for a day of wandering then back together for the evening meal.
My dad’s meal was at a restaurant called Pět peněz – which is apparently something to do with school times as the walls are covered with old school reports and photos of the staff and (I’m assuming) friends of the group behind it, which is lovely, a really comfortable cozy restaurant with absolutely GIANT portions! Those who know me know I can eat like there’s no tomorrow but even I couldn’t handle it all! We’d gone to celebrate my dad’s birthday and we all got delightfully stuffed full and drank far too much – dad and I discovered Hills Absinthe, which I’ve later found out is over £100 over here for the bottle (;-0) so we were all in very good spirits, the waitress was fun, had one of the filthiest laughs i’ve ever heard and when I went to get the cake set up as dad’s surprise, she grabbed it, ran off to the kitchen and insisted they added cream, candles, sparkly things and pretty much everything else haha…..he was thrilled we were so “low-key”. If anyone is heading out there, this is a wonderful place to eat!
The clock in the main square is truly superb, I had to get some official info as whatever I write will not do it justice.
“The Orloj is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism itself has three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; statues of various Catholic saints stand on either side of the clock; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months. According to local legend, the city will suffer if the clock is neglected and its good operation is placed in jeopardy; a ghost, mounted on the clock, was supposed to nod its head in confirmation. According to the legend, the only hope was represented by a boy born on New Year’s night.”
The maker of the clock was blinded so that he could never replicate the work made, and in response, he broke the mechanism which meant the clock was broken for over 100 years until they found someone talented enough to work it out and get it sorted.
Wenceslas square overall is beautiful, many wonderful if somewhat depressing buildings juxtaposed with bright coloured buildings in yellow and orange. There’s a lot of restaurants but we didn’t really experience them, they seemed incredibly expensive and apart from the nice views as you ate, there didn’t seem to be enough to make it value for money, the man and I being simple people meant we were happy to wander the small streets near the square or the Charles Bridge and we managed to find a really great little open fronted cafe which sold freshly cooked sausages and hot dogs. We were really lucky when we found it as we were perusing behind a german couple who insisted on treating the woman behind the counter really rudely, not answering her questions but pointing, or grunting in response to questions. I don’t know if it’s just because ive spent so much time in customer services but this really ticked me off, so when it came to our turn, we were both probably overly polite and asked her if she was ok, I think she appreciated our niceness as she was nothing but kind and courteous to us, despite the fact we were eating just sausages in buns, they were blooming superb!
One of the things we did on the first full day in the city was a walking/boat tour. We had wanted to glean a little bit of info and local knowledge and then wander round ourselves but the tour went way further than that, the guide we had was great, from Prague and an historian (who’d also worked around Europe and was full of fun stories!). We went on a river cruise, around part of the castle, to the cathedral (in the castle – I mean 16 km squared of space) and to the Jewish area of the city, where I found the saddest thing I think i’ve ever seen….the street markers.
These show the name of the person (or in some instances, families) who lived in a house (generally now pulled down and in the case of this marker, the Oriental Hotel has been built where this man’s property was) and was taken by the Nazi’s to a death camp, in this example Dachau.
This isn’t even the worst of it, because unfortunately, after the Nazi’s were defeated and the Jewish population started to rebuild within Prague, the Communists arrived, which prompted another mass exodus/decimation of the population there.
The (I suppose) oddest thing to me is that these are tiny street markers, smaller than the average kitchen tile and people just walk all over them day in day out, probably without even noticing them.
The man is a fine arts type of man (well he has a masters) so we decided that we’d go and try to find the main art gallery in Prague, luckily this was near a bagel place that I’d been told was superb and a must try so thought this was a good way to bookend the day. The Gallery was close to the end of the bus line and an expo building which we didn’t get much of a chance to look round, but was close enough for us to walk and explore. I would say that the walk into this area took us through what I would say were the most “typical” eastern Block type of housing areas, very uniform, very utilitarian and not the most cheery of houses, but from the glimpses inside I managed to glean that what something looks like on the outside doesn’t stop the magic of individuality on the inside. Anyway, I digress, we were actually really lucky as there was an exhibit on about screen printing and the like, which is what the man actually studied so it was wonderful to walk around and see things that I have no idea about but to get educated about it as well. We saw some wonderful pieces, including some Paul Revere (who S didn’t know about so I managed to do some educating too haha!) and some really wonderful art. There was also a sculpture section, with a Rodin and some more modern Czech artists, including one (which I’m gutted I didn’t capture on film as I have no idea what it is actually called) of 3 plain heads, each with different facial expressions to focus you on depression and mental illness and the pain/fear it causes. I can honestly say, without even seeing the name, as soon as I saw this, I KNEW exactly what it was and it was odd to see something speak so clearly to my brain which when I showed S, he did see but it didn’t speak to him the same way……shows he is lucky with the lack of mental illness!
The two bird pictures above are from an American artist who wanted to make scientifically accurate pictures of animals during his expeditions around the world, the reason that the flamingo is in that specific position is that he wanted to be truly accurate with scale etc but didn’t want to pay the extra it would have cost to add more paper……that’s my kind of bargain hunting 🙂
The third image is called Hydrogen Man. I don’t know why it spoke to me the way it did but this was after the Hydrogen bombs had been dropped and speak volumes to me about the pain and confusion involved.
The last is The Virgin, by Klimt. Another artist that really speaks to me and my soul. I think it’s the mix of bright colours yet a melancholy vibe which appeals. Either way, I feel glad to have seen these in real life.
The last place we went to in the Art Gallery was the Slav Epic, by Mucha which is (as the name very accurately suggests) Epic. It is massive, has an entire room given over to it, which when we went to see it, was quite dark and incredibly cold (better for the artworks I’d have thought) but they are just insanely large. The story behind it is fascinating and I would definitely recommend it if people are heading there.
We did go to the bagel place and unfortunately had really awful experiences there so I won’t rant about it (I did that on tripadvisor which made me feel better!) but trust me, if you’re in the area of the gallery, it’s well worth the (definitely) less than 10 pounds entrance fee.
Ok, last place I’m going to talk about for Prague is the Zoo. Now I understand people aren’t all fans of zoo’s (S was one, the last zoo he went to had bears rocking back and forth, not sufficient light or space and overall a horrible place) but I loves me a good zoo and from my reading before we went away, I knew that this zoo is third in the world (behind San Diego and Berlin) in re-homing, conservation and education, so I knew it wasn’t going to be awful but boy was I pleasantly surprised.
Not only was it cheap to get in (and I do mean cheap, there’s an annual ticket option, which if we lived there, we would have) but the park itself is beautiful, there’s a lot of space for the animals and they seem to take a lot of pride in keeping happy, healthy animals. The cat house has been recently refurbished and I got closer to a lion and a tiger than I ever thought possible.
We wandered for most of the day, just talking, laughing and every few minutes stopping to gaze at the amazing area. The cafe’s sold beer, which initially I thought was a really bad idea but actually, it was wonderful to see families, with parents having fun but without the need to be hammered.
The Polar bear enclosure was simply amazing. There was a pool for them to swim in and as you can see, one of the bears was really camera friendly while he was having a dip!
The zoo had also recently had the birth of a new orangutan so I had to go and see, and I was not disappointed. The tropical house where they are housed was gorgeous, full of palms and a little stream, lots of trees and ropes around for the apes to play on, and the oddest thing was the bats flying free around. You’d be stood gazing at the Orangs and then feel a whoosh as a bat flew past. It was amazing and somewhere I could probably spend hours, unfortunately the park was closing so we didn’t have much time there. But certainly, I’d recommend it to anyone.
I have looked at the plans for their next developments, which is a total remodelling of the Polar bear area (including an underwater walkway a la Sealife centres – how amazing does that sound) and a PANDA house!!! Yep, they are currently in discussions with China and if this does go ahead. I will be there…..and buying a season ticket.
On our penultimate evening in Prague we just wanted a quick easy meal so the 4 of us decided to try the chinese next to our hotel. It ended up being a really funny evening as the waitress was terrifying, we drank far too much rough wine (which was a lot better after the 3rd bottle) and we had some yummy food – which a lot of it we weren’t sure exactly what it was but still, was yummy! When we left the restaurant, we decided to have 1 more drink in the bar and my dad introduced me to Slivovich, which is a Plum brandy…..potent and something that went down really well that evening, not sure if I can handle this frequently!!
All in all this was a really brilliant holiday, a wonderful place, where both myself and the man want more time to explore, a great celebration of my dad’s 65th (and retirement) and the first holiday myself and the man went on. It will always have the best memories and would recommend it to anyone.