Every year it is tradition that my husband and I go away somewhere as a surprise trip for my birthday. It is also tradition that I accidentally find out where we are going before my birthday.
Of course with the #take12trips challenge under our belts (as if we needed any further excuses to go travelling somewhere) and my birthday combined we wanted to go somewhere romantic, new and with lots to do: Prague.
With its fairy-tale castles and Old Town, its reputation as the birthplace of Classical music, its cobbled streets and courtyards that were made for afternoon wanders, not to mention its delicious and cheap food and beer, we knew Prague would be a hit.
Touching down early Saturday morning, we soon reached our hotel, the Residence Green Lobster, an achingly beautiful hotel with period features and large rooms. But the best part of the hotel was the view:
After hastily dumping our stuff off in the room, we decided to spend the day meandering around the capital, eager to see its renowned architecture.
Within a few minutes’ walking however we were already enchanted with Prague’s charm – every house, mill, shopping centre, pub, restaurant, nook and cranny is lavishly decorated with spires, statues, mosaics, plaques, even random trinkets. London’s famous for its Tower Bridge and Millennium Bridge, but in the face of Prague’s architecture, and in particular its Charles Bridge, I think my capital might have to watch its back.
Charles Bridge, built in the mid 14th century, connects Prague’s Lesser Town to its Old Town. Measuring 621 metres long and 10 metres wide with 30 statues lining its walkway, it is commonly listed as an excellent example of Gothic-style design.
In many ways, wandering around Prague makes one feel like they are pacing through history. Its Old Town has been around for centuries and witnessed German occupation during World War II, Soviet takeover and eventual independence, and its introduction into the European Union. Countless historic and cultural figures have called Prague home too, including Kafka, Dvorak, Smetana, Beethoven, Kepler, Einstein and Emil Zatopek, and the numerous plaques on buildings and stories told by locals reveals their legacy continues to live on in a city that faces increasing modernisation.
If the exhaustive list of composers wasn’t a clue, classical music is kind of a big deal in Prague. Mozart wrote some of his best work whilst living in the capital, Beethoven wrote several of his symphonies under the patronage of Prague nobility, and Dvorak spent much of his career performing in Prague. Naturally, all the historic buildings and churches in the capital tout classical music concerts to visitors on any given day of the week, but there was one place in particular I wanted to visit to listen to a concert: the Rudolfinum.
Originally Prague’s first House of Commons building until German occupation, the Rudolfinum was lovingly restored in 1992 and is now home to the Czech Philharmonic. Tickets for their performances can be difficult to acquire, but luckily the extremely talented Parnas Ensemble, made up of musicians from the Prague Symphony Orchestra, perform roughly five nights a week at the Rudolfinum and are appealing for both seasoned classical music lovers and amateur appreciators alike.
After stopping at the ticket kiosk and engaging in some light-hearted haggling with the attendant, we emerged from the Rudolfinum with our tickets and ready to explore more of Prague’s Old Town.
After several hours of walking, John and I were exhausted and looking for somewhere to relax and sweeten us up. A few minutes later fate dealt us a slightly dodgy hand as we we literally stumbled across the Choco Cafe. With the sweet nutty scent of cocoa beans drifting in the air, shelves groaning under the weight of hearty-sized cakes and people fighting for a table, we knew we had struck gold. As seasoned Londoners we had the queueing and table-racing shindig down to a tee, and as soon as it was our turn we raced, elbows out, bags blocking people to our sides, to our table.
Next came the hard choice: choosing which slice of cake. The chocolate hazelnut bundt cake, the seven-layer chocolate cake, chocolate and blueberry swirl cheesecake – the choice was agonising. In the end we went with a slice of the chocolate and marzipan cake teamed with hot chocolates containing a hint of toffee. The dense, soft chocolate cake layers sat precariously on layers of spongey chocolate mouse, topped off by a thin but richly sweet almond marzipan.
As you can tell, we chose well.
Having run out of space in our stomachs and eaten enough sugar to make a dentist wince, we toddled off in search of the Dancing House, one of Prague’s most modern and unique buildings.
Officially known as the Nationale-Nederlanden building, it’s design of two people dancing has also given it the American moniker ‘The Fred and Ginger Building’ after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Given its proximity to the Old Town and its numerous drinking establishments however, we concluded these nicknames were insufficient. Instead, we conferred and decided the building looked like it had enjoyed one too many of Prague’s beers and was thereby deemed Drunk Building.
As evening fell and we slowly meandered our way back to the hotel, it soon became clear that even under the muted tones of night, Prague maintained its charm.