While we may have worn some tread off of our shoes the day before as we trekked around Prague, today was another busy day and more trekking. We decided to do a walking food tour with our guide Lucie. I’ve done food tours in other countries and always find it to be fun as you get more of a ‘how the locals eat’ experience, learn about traditional foods and since we were eating out at fancy Michelin restaurants for dinners, getting back to some basic typical Czech dishes was the goal.
Lucie picked us up at our hotel, The Augustine, located in ‘new town.’ New town is certainly a misnomer if you are thinking there’s no history or architecture. ‘New town’ was started outside the city walls by Charles IV in 1348. So, you might wonder if that’s new, then what is old for ‘Old town.’ Old town is a few hundred years older, being established in the 10th century. So, it was with a laugh that we adjusted to what ‘New town’ really meant.
A few stops in New town included the Church of Our Lady beneath the Chain established in 1169, St. Nicholas Church, built between 1732-1737 (a miracle in itself as most of these churches take many more years to complete!) and the French Embassy since 1919, previously the Bequoy Palace originally built in 1667.
Turning a corner we came to ‘The Lennon Wall.’ When John Lennon died in 1980, this was a meeting place for Czech citizens to mourn his death and celebrate his life. Youth, artists, activists painted pictures, wrote slogans, painted graffiti as the wall became a symbol of freedom of speech. At that time, Prague was still under communist rule. It became a common place where people came to protest the government, communism and to vent their frustrations and hopes. The communist government painted over the wall regularly, only to have the pictures and graffiti reappear over and over. The draw of freedom is strong and the Lennon Wall continues to carry messages of hope and peace.
Wandering down near Kampa, we stopped at the Grand Priory Water Mill. The original mill dated back to the 15th century and is no longer working. Sitting on the small pier is a Vodnik, also called a water sprite or water demon. In Slavic mythology the water sprite loves to drown humans who are bathing after sunset or on a holy day. The Vodnik lives in the rivers and lakes but loves millponds best. Myths aside, it’s a cute spot for a picture.
Finally, climbing up the steps to get on the Charles Bridge, it is again very crowded. The bridge construction began in 1357 and was completed 45 years later in 1402 allowing for easy passage over the Vitava river.
There are numerous statues on each side of the bridge honoring saints and knights, as well as a small brass cross with five stars above it. This marks the spot where St. John of Nepomuk was thrown off the bridge at the behest of King Wenceslas in 1393 as the two had some religious disagreements, as well as suspicions by the King regarding his wife. The story says you must reach for the stars to have a wish come true. To do that, place all five fingers on each of the five stars and make a wish. The wish will come true in one year and one day. I made a wish every day we crossed the bridge. I can use all the help I can get.
With over 30 statues on the bridge, you could spend hours learning about each and the legends that follow many of them. The St. John statue, another popular one to rub for good luck, was under refurbishment so we didn’t get the chance to rub that one for the luck that you will return to Prague some day. No worries though — I know how to book a ticket on Delta Airlines. If I want to come back, I most certainly can.
St. Norbert, St. Wenceslaus, and St. Sigismund
Long ago, above the doors would be a symbol that would let you know the business of a particular shop. Once Lucie pointed them out, we didn’t see very many, but I liked the shoe cobbler.
Our first food stop was in Lahudky where we enjoyed open faced sandwiches. Bob tried the potato salad, egg, tomato, and brie while I tried potato salad, ham, cheese and egg. Definitely not a typical American open faced sandwich and it surprised us how delicious it was.
We grabbed our water bottles and continued our walk stopping briefly at Cafe Truhlarna for a coffee.
Beyond the food stops, Lucie knows and loves her city and there was no shortage of conversation and information. We learned more in 4 hours from Lucie than we learned in 8 hours from the guide the previous day. In fact, when she discovered we hadn’t been to a few places, such as Wenceslas Square, she simply incorporated additional historical stops into our already packed schedule.
Five minutes from Old Town Square is Wenceslas Square. It is a popular shopping area and bustling with restaurants. The square itself is utilized as a place for protests or gatherings, as well as celebrations. In 1918, the declaration of independence was read here. Based on childhood memories, I guessed the old carol, ‘Good King Wenceslas’ was part of this history. The song was originally a poem by a Czech poet and then set to music in 1853. It tells the story of King Wenceslas seeing a poor man in winter on 26 December, the day of the Feast of Stephen, and making sure he was fed.
The tour continued as we enjoyed the architecture along the way. The Estates Theatre was built in 1783, and currently offers performances of drama, opera, and ballet.
We walked into Kolacherie to have a taste of a traditional pastry, Kolache, and within 22 seconds, the owner, in his Texas drawl asked what state in the US we were from. We enjoyed a few minutes learning that the Kokache had been introduced in Texas by Czech settlers in the 1800’s. The owner moved to the Czech Republic and opened Kolacherie’s. We stood outside as there isn’t really room to sit down inside, and bit in to our delicious fruit filled pastries. It’s always fun when we find ‘stray’ Americans thriving in another country.
Our morning ended when we again crossed the Charles Bridge and got lunch at Pilsner Urquell Original Restauranat. The food is classic Czech cuisine which is exactly what we wanted. Bob ordered goulash. Finally! We were having real goulash not like my grandma used to make! And I ordered, on Lucie’s advice, Svickova na smetane. What’s that you ask?
As Lucie explained, it is a dish that takes hours of preparation by slow roasting beef and serving with vegetable puree. The beef is covered in a cream sauce, topped with cranberry sauce and served with the delicious knedliky. Knedliky are little dumplings made from stale bread or potato or wheat flour and then steamed. They also served excellent Pilsner to go with our meals. Service was great though I’ve read reviews where service might be slow sometimes. Unfortunately, the food was long gone before we realized we had failed to take a picture! But here’s their url where they have some nice pictures of traditional dishes: pour.cz
I highly recommend taking food tours when you are visiting other countries. It’s enjoyable to spend time visiting local neighborhoods and learning about the history and food in a less touristic way.
Sometimes, you just gotta remind yourself to ‘hang on’ and so this funny little guy is still hanging!