Four nights in the capital of the Czech republic, a country that has changed its constitution frequently. It’s a short two-hour flight to land in a modern airport that works well. No vestiges of communism here. We stay at the Angelo hotel on Radlicka in the Andel district of the city.
We christen the first night with a meal in a traditional Czech pub, the Zlaty Klas. After several pints of Staropramen and Rozel Dark, we feel compelled to try the signature starter: Zabijackova Svetia Tlacenka Octem a Cibili, which the menu translates as “Hogkilling light headcheese with vinegar and onion”. It turns out to be sloppy salami in vinegar – just edible, but not delicious. The chilli gravy however, is superb.
The following day we head into town and it’s a pleasure to wander around the cobbled streets. Wenceslas Square is unremarkable and the old National Museum with its dramatic interior is closed for restoration until 2015. In the Old Town, the Powder Gate provides a gothic entrance from the east for a scenic stroll down Celetna towards the river. The Old Town square is beautiful – art galleries featuring the famous local artist Alfons Mucha, the Hotel U Prince, where we stop for some rather chewy duck, and the town hall clock tower, which we climb for brilliant views. On the hour a guy dressed in a mixture of a harlequin and medieval suit plays a trumpet voluntary at 200 feet, whilst the astronomical clock baffles tourists with its rather pointless range of dials signifying not a great deal.
Tucked away in a little square near the Charles Bridge in Betlemske Namesti is the Naprstek Museum of Asian, African and American cultures, an eclectic collection of obscure ethnic material that provides a peaceful diversion. The bridge itself is superb – low stone over the picturesque Vltava River, framed by gothic buildings and the Royal Palace on the hill. We round off the day in Namesti Republicky with dinner at the Czech-French La Gare, featuring a rather delicious veal stew in a giant pastry Yorkshire pudding.
The next day we grab the tram, which works well, to the Royal Palace on the hill. Changing of the guard is the reward for a hike up the steep cobbled streets. Inside, St, Vitus’ Cathedral dominates with its enormous flying buttresses and staggering stained glass windows. An easier walk down the hill clutching warm mulled wine leads to Malostranska, and the beautiful Na Kampe square on the western side of Charles Bridge. Here you can walk right up to the water’s edge – unusual for a built-up city, and perhaps even more surprising given the major floods of 2002. Kafka’s museum amuses tourists with its dual pissing iron man water fountain – particularly the pensioners it seems. Lunch is an excellent Czech-Italian affair under the bridge at Casanova.
An afternoon stroll over the bridge is a delight despite the cold, but a diversion to the National Theatre is unrewarding – it’s less impressive up close than it appears on the skyline. A welcome Pilsner Urquell (the Czechs invented the stuff after all) at the Restaurace U Supa in Celetna sequels nicely into a pre-jazz dinner at Bily Konicek, the local equivalent of Ronnie Scotts, and just round the corner from the frankly bizarre Sex Machines Museum.
On our final day we strike out north for the zoo, taking the consistently reliable Metro to Nadrazi Holesovice, and a bus over the river again to its high vantage point. Two polar bears frolic hilariously in the water, and a male silverback gorilla stares scarily in defence of his harem, looking for all the world like a human in a gorilla suit. Lunch back on the west bank under Charles Bridge is a disappointment at Patrona – stringy goulash and an average salad – overpriced and marred by smoking guests (smoking bans have yet to reach Prague). We revert to our first-night haunt, the reliable Zlaty Klas, for a final Viener Schnitzel and chilli gravy.
Prague is superb. Everything works, including the people. They are thriving. It’s clean, the transport works, the bars are ubiquitous, the restaurants are clean, and the people are great. Add fascinating history and good architecture, and you have the formula for an excellent city break.