not enough time in Prague: Strahov Monastery

not enough time in Prague: Strahov Monastery

Our last day in Prague. We rode tram 22 up to the Strahov Monastery, perhaps my favorite place in Prague (so far).

We began with a visit to the Strahov Monastery Treasury with its collection of liturgical items and other art.

Lunch at the brewery, then to the Library. You can’t actually enter the library rooms, but the exhibits in the hallway are fascinating, and you can take pictures (for an extra fee) from the doorways—awe-inspiring enough!

A glass of home-made iced lemonade (tasted more like orange) at Bellavista while we enjoyed the views, then a trip downhill through town.

 

not enough time in Prague: Mucha and Vysehrad

not enough time in Prague: Mucha and Vysehrad

Our first priority for Monday was a visit to the Mucha Museum, something we didn’t see in our prior visit in 2011. The 30-minute film was very informative, and his works–including his sketches and photos–are just stunning.

One of the things I love about Prague is the tickets themselves are works of art.

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A bus ride up the hill to Vysehrad, where we roamed the park. The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul was stunning.

In its shadow is the cemetery where many famous people from Czech history lie, including Alphonse Mucha.

The views from Vysehrad are stunning, and it wasn’t as crowded as the Strahov Monastery was.

Dinner was at the Michelin restaurant Le Degustation next to our hotel. We opted for the six-course meal with the wine pairings. A very expensive outing, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

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not enough time in Prague: the Jewish quarter

not enough time in Prague: the Jewish quarter

We started off Sunday with a trip to the street market to pick up a few souvenirs, then got serious about our sightseeing.

We began our tour of the Jewish quarter at the Maisel Synagogue, which houses a museum of Jews in the Bohemian lands from the 10th through the 18th centuries. The synagogue itself dates from the 16th century, but has been renovated and updated. The exhibit inside is beautifully simple.

Next, the Pinkas Synagogue, which serves as a memorial to the victims of the Shoah (Holocaust) from Bohemia and Moravia. Grouped by community, the names of victims have been handwritten on the walls. The original inscription of the 78,000 names took five years. After the fall of the communist regime, the names were restored, a project that took three years. Following flood damage in 2002, the names were restored once again.

The first floor of the Pinkas Synagogue contains a gallery of children’s drawings from Terezin concentration camp, a kind of art therapy directed by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis in which children expressed their memories and their hopes for the future. The majority of the child artists died in concentration camps. Many of the 4500 pictures, later found and donated to the Jewish Museum in Prague, have been collected in a book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

Last, we strolled through the Old Jewish Cemetery, adjacent to the Pinkas Synagogue, which dates from the 15th to the 18th century.

Our ticket (about 15 euro) also included the Klausen Synagogue (Museum of Jewish Customs and Traditions I), the Ceremonial Hall (Museum of Jewish Customs and Traditions II), the Spanish Synagogue (History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia II), and the Old-New Synagogue, but we were already overwhelmed and decided to save those for another trip.

After an emotional day of sightseeing, we settled in for dinner at the restaurant down the street recommended by the desk clerk at our hotel: Restaurant U Cerveneho kola (the Red Wheel). We had tried to go there Friday, but a film crew had the street and restaurant closed down. Later, we got pictures of the crew trailers, but we never figured out what the film was.

After dinner, we settled in at the Banker’s Bar adjacent to our hotel. A little pricey, but fancy cocktails are just that way.

not enough time in Prague: two days of roaming

not enough time in Prague: two days of roaming

We spent Friday, our first full day in Prague, roaming with Cary while Anne finished up her work commitments. We visited the Lucerna Palace gallery to see David Cerny’s statue of King Wenceslas riding an upside-down dead horse—a must-see for every visitor to Prague! The gallery also had an exhibit of political cartoons, many of which we were able to understand, given the current state of world affairs.

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We also discovered and rediscovered several “hidden” gardens—one of my favorite things about this city!

A first for us: the Kafka statue, also by David Cerny. The 42 stainless steel plates rotate, creating shifts and patterns before the head returns to its “normal” position.

Our attempt to see the Klementinum Library was a bust; it was closed to visitors for renovations. The English teacher in me was sad at the closure, but glad they were renovating to take care of things.

After a busy day, Anne was able to join us for dinner at a brew pub.

From there, we went in search for gelato and stumbled onto candy making at the Chocolate Museum/Store. (Many stores in Prague are also “museums.”)

After Anne and Cary changed hotels and joined us at the Hastal, we took off for a walk along the Vltava River. Like touristy nerds, we took pictures every hundred or feet or so, as the view shifted.

We crossed the river before the Charles Bridge and wandered through the art shops. Outside the Kafka Museum, we encountered another David Cerny creation: two men peeing on a map of the Czech Republic. Like the Kafka head, these mechanical men are created of layers that twist and turn.

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We then joined the crowds on the Charles Bridge as we returned to “our” side of the river.

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We enjoyed a steak dinner at the Crazy Cow restaurant (Texas-themed), then dropped by the James Joyce pub (apparently a local hot spot) near our hotel for drinks to top off the evening.

 

not enough time in Prague: our arrival

not enough time in Prague: our arrival

As always, our trip to Prague to meet up with long-time friends began with travel adventures. We just missed the bus to the airport, and with a 32-minute wait until the next bus and road construction all the way to the airport, we opted to take a cab. Then our flight was delayed. The good news: it cut our 5-hour layover in Barcelona to just 4 hours. (That was nothing compared to our 7-hour layover on the way home! It took us forever to find the outlets to recharge our devices—at the bottom of the plexiglass towers. And there is a low ratio of drinking places to travelers. We found out later that you can take the big blue bus to Playa Catalina – maybe a 40-minute ride costing about 6€ per person each way.)
Almost 12 hours after we left our apartment, we arrived at our hotel in Prague.
Note to first-time visitors to Prague: do NOT just flag down a cab. They will gouge you! We used a car service arranged by the hotel: they added the 25-euro fee to our hotel bill. If you need a cab while out and about, have your hotel or restaurant call one for you.
We checked in to the Hotel Hastal in Old Town Prague and immediately went to find something to eat. The desk clerk at our hotel recommended a restaurant just around the corner, but it was closed. They were filming a movie on that street: lots of folks in period costume, end of 19th century.
We turned around and wandered a couple of blocks until we found a restaurant offering pizza and burgers – Texas burgers! We had just ordered when I noticed our friend Cary heading down the street – he had come to our hotel to meet up with us but had missed us and headed back to their hotel. So he joined us for a beer while we ate our pizza and burger. The best burger I’ve had since we left Texas!
The hotel is lovely – 5th-generation family owned. It’s not exactly a “boutique” hotel—the rooms are too big—but it has charm throughout. Mucha prints and photos from the early 20th century line the walls. You have to arrange with the front desk for air conditioning. The keys are real and clunky—you leave them at the desk when you leave the hotel.


Breakfast was the typical bread and cheese and meat affair, but with scrambled eggs and last night’s leftovers, including soup and roasted vegetables. Assorted coffee is available from a machine in the lobby at all hours, except during breakfast, when you have to pay extra for anything besides basic coffee. Supposedly, the line for the coffee machine interferes with guests trying to check out.
Avoid taxis (see note above)—but public transportation in Prague is easy. The tourists stands offer transit passes. You can get a one-day ticket for about 2 euro.

passing the day in Parma

passing the day in Parma

Our last day in Bologna, we went two train stops past Modena: Parma.

At the station, we stopped to ask a carabinieri where we could get good pizza. He was very friendly and helped us navigate our way out of the station and into town. A coffee break to get our bearings, then onward.

First stop, of course: the duomo: the 11th-century Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

Then the pink baptistry. Construction on the pink marble octagon-shaped baptistery was begun in 1196.

The museum at the Bishop’s Residence was included in the combination ticket. Its treasures date back to the 12th century.

Helpful hint: you can buy postage stamps at any tobacco store, but mail boxes are hard to find.

Pizza at Ristorante Pizzeria la Duchessa in Piazza Garibaldi, formerly the Piazza Grande under the shadow of the Palace of Podesta.

A stroll through the open-air market and the local grocery, where we picked up Nocino. On the way back to the train station, we stopped at a little market and picked up some Parmesan cheese to bring home.

market cheese

With planning, we could have visited a cheese factory, which would have made the trip complete.

 

more than you could hope for in Modena

more than you could hope for in Modena

A 25-minute train ride, €15 per person round trip, and we were in Modena, with its tree-lined streets and quiet ambience.

First stop: Enoteca Ducale. A real find, in several ways, and we just happened to stroll past it and back up to go in. A tasting of several balsamics, and of course we went ahead and purchased. One of my rules: if you find something you like and want, get it then – you’ll likely not find it again, and you certainly can’t count on finding your way back there, especially on a day trip.

Then to the Piazza Roma, followed by the Piazza Grande and its duomo.

Headed toward Mercato Coperto Albinelli, we found a hat store, and Todd bought a Panama hat (not a Stetson, although they carried them – humorous to us Texans).

A stroll through the mercato. Then a second stroll through the mercato. We could have had lunch there, but it would have involved too many decisions, so we proceeded to the restaurant recommended by the balsamic guy.

What a lunch at Danilo Ristorante! We opted to eat inside, and that was the best decision we could have made. We were quite obviously the only non-locals there. Nonna adopted us. She’s worked there 32 years. She had an English-speaking waiter help us with our initial order, then she took over. After we had finished lunch, she brought us a plate of cookies—made fresh by her that morning—and she convinced us to order dessert. The tiramisu was a life-changer. Then she brought marinated cherries, and wouldn’t leave us alone until every one of them was gone. Then Nocino, the house-made walnut-coffee liqueur.

But we weren’t done yet. The couple sitting behind us beckoned us to follow them. An older couple and four of us, we took a chance. Professor Arrigo Guiglia and his wife took us through the Jewish quarter and talked about the war, then took us to a private Jewish museum on Via Francesco Rismondo and gave us a private tour. So many treasures, it brought tears to my eyes. And he and his wife were so welcoming and giving, even though they spoke no English and Mark’s Italian was basic. This is the kind of thing we treasure about our travel adventures.     

Mark and Vicki headed back to Bologna while we went to the Ferrari Museum. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco while Todd toured. Review: interesting, but not worth the €16 admission.

Back to the train station and back to Bologna. All of Modena was easily walkable.

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