Thursday, June 27, 2019
Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 2)
So it turns out that the Corinthia (and yes, I can't help but think of Ricardo Montalban saying, "rich Corinthian leather" in a Cordoba ad because I'm that old) has a spectacular breakfast spread, one full of nosh and nostalgia. See that plate up there and the pastry at almost 6 o'clock? I hadn't had something like that in years, but it's plum, with that delicious deep divot the fruit itself, and it's exactly what our grandmother had waiting for us when we drove up to visit on Friday nights after my parents got off from work when we visited her in Dunmore. Call me Czech mated.
Then there's the one pastry with all the poppy seed filling, not really the kolache I still make, but that flavor is so singular. And the poppy seed roll at 11 o'clock, another thing I forgot from childhood, when dinner-style rolls made an appearance on Sunday mornings, too. That's damn fine fried egg, faking it's poached, and pickled fish, and bacon, as you have to partake of pig every meal in eastern and central Europe or the pigs might take over.
You Got Cathedral in My Castle
This morning we get to take our first Viking-led city tour. You get broken up into groups, get hearing devices so you don't have to stand atop your tour guide to get the info, and off you go, battling amongst all the other tour groups, some of whom are very aggressive. It could turn into rugby.
But it's hard to fight when you get sights like these, as we spend the bulk of the morning in the Prague Castle complex high above the Vltava River (enjoy that consonant blur of "vlt"--its German name is Moldau), with all sorts of century's old history plus it's where the Czech president resides now, too. Also note, it's a nice weather day, at least for now, despite being relatively chilly, low 50s or so. There's a royal guard marching about, tons of tourists, and even glamour wedding shoots--it's hard to tell if this is a real couple or something for a fashion spread, if you ask me. (So many act at being married it gets tricky.)
Those are the doors of St. Vitus Cathedral behind them, worthy of a photo all on their own. St. Vitus is not just the patron saint of spastic dancing, it seems, but a big deal to the Czechs, even if he was Roman. It took them six centuries to get the massive building finished even if wars made them stop and start, and good King Wenceslas is entombed there, too. It's just the first of many Gothic cathedrals we're going to stare up at. You can see why god seemed like something to these people, given what they built to honor him. Just don't spend too much time thinking about the circularity there. Follow those pointy spires up to heaven.
It's impressive inside, too, of course, with what's happened recently at Notre Dame not far from anyone's thoughts. Here's hoping we don't burn too many more historic sites down.
We will want to learn how to make stained glass by the trip's end, too, after seeing so many varieties of it.
There's all sorts of history I could relate, which our guide did very well, but I figure it's just best to post pictures and point and say you need to see it for yourself someday. For instance this is the Golden Portal, the main entrance until the 20th century.
And then some spots might be more interesting to me, like getting my photo taken in front of every representation of St. George we could find. He takes down all sorts of dragons, it seems, some fierce, some more like bagpipes with tails. Although the townsfolk must have been just as happy if he defeated a bagpipe, I'd guess.
As anyone who knows a koruna* about Prague realizes, its most famous spot is Charles Bridge, which was completed in 1402, decades before Columbus was a twinkle in a rhyming jingle's eye. It is beautiful, indeed, as you can see from this shot from a distance, all arch and grace. It actually slightly S-curves to make it harder on possible invaders.
*The Czech currency, for while they are part of the European Union (I mean, what country would be dumb enough not to want to be part of it if they were in Europe?), they aren't on the Euro yet. Right now the exchange rate is about 22 koruna to a dollar, so everything seems really expensive, and then you realize how cheap it is. And by it I mean beer.
Given Prague was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire for a bit, it's not a surprise there's a lot of holy hanging out on the bridge--30 religious-themed statues, to be exact. You know, ones with horrible Turks who had to be fought during the Crusades, etc. But they can make for fun photos.
And then there are the views from the bridge, not the least of which is of the Old Town Tower.
Or two slight variations of the same shot off the other side of the bridge into Little Town, with more statues for your graven image enjoyment.
Or the rest of Prague, pretty as a postcard, which I'm sure this shot is somewhere. Clouds are coming in.
We did walk around more than that, but I don't want to share every photo out of 100s. You're welcome. I mean, I'm the kind of guy who finds manhole covers gorgeous, and causes pedestrian back-ups trying to photo them. (The streets of scenic Prague teem, I tells ya.)
We almost picked up a doll, but we worried there might be strings attached.
We got to see buildings described as Fred & Ginger
and buildings lurking in other's reflections.
And then we got to Old Town Square just in time (Viking knows how to get you where they need to when) for Old Town Hall's astronomical clock to do its hourly clang that brings the apostles out for a parade.
Turns out they just take turns appearing behind windows; we found the death figure to the clock face's right that "tolled" the bell more impressive, but they wouldn't let us take him home to add to our Halloween displays. I mean there was a worker right up there to help us. Or maybe he was a mannequin too. Good thing we didn't have any absinthe or we would have been really perplexed.
And now we get to the George Eats sections of the day. For lunch we kind of randomly if it turned out wisely wandered into U Medvídků, partially as those clouds rolling in decided to start spitting a bit. As you probably know, Eastern Europeans favor pilsners and lagers, so since the previous night was a Pilsner Urquell evening, it made sense to go for the classic lager Budvar, a name that might look all-too-familiar. For yes, it's what Budweiser is based on, but that's sort of saying I'm based on George Clooney. Plus anything that comes from a tap source like this one has to be delicious.
Refreshing, crisp, clean--why don't we make beers like this in the U.S.? I know some microbreweries do lagers properly, but why does mass market always go down to price instead of up to quality in our country? Oh, wait, I forgot who our elected president is.
I didn't have this amazing coil o' sausage, Roger did, but you certainly don't get something like this in the U.S. either.
I instead went for Bramborové knedlíky plněné uzeným masem s hlávkovým zelím, which, no, I didn't even try to pronounce or I'd still be ordering. What that is is potato dumplings filled with cabbage and smoked meat, and was all sorts of delicious.Gravy. There aren't enough dishes floating in gravy.
And Chryss got to have something called Old-Bohemian "Kuba" (baked barley with mushrooms, garlic and marjoram), which proves there is vegetarian food even when you get an order a sausage acting like an anaconda on your plate. I don't have a photo, sorry.
For supper we opted to go in a completely different direction, as our DK Top Ten Prague guidebook recommended Ichnusa Botega Bistro. Plus, a seafood semeed a good way to help our pork abatement program. A quick Lyft ride to the interesting Little Quarter location and we were seated in the front room that doubles as the daytime deli and wine shop--its that kind of a neighborhood joint. Our waitress knows English well and Sardinian food even better, guiding us through the somewhat unfamiliar dishes, even with props--she bring over a bag of uncooked fregola so we know what it is. And then there's this flatbread pane carasau, lathered in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt that you can just keep eating as it's so darn thin.
We washed it down with this, er, full-bodied Sarndinian wine; Cannonau is Grenache (yeah, we had to have a whole different language experience amidst being lost in Czech, too).
A bit rustic and not too heavy, it played well with our seafood, and not just the ones with a bit of tomato worked in to the sauce. For instance, this lovely orange (there's a lemon for juicing, but it's orange in the salad), fennel, salmon yumminess.
I did go for the fregola, which came with all sorts of seafood atop, all cooked just to doneness, which often fails to happen with a dish like this. That is, each item was itself and not a muddy mess.
So, yes, we were all hoping to make our next trip be one to Sardinia. Did we dessert? Well, wouldn't you? Two for four people makes you feel like you're all working together and not pigging out, after all. One as this semifreddo,with the amazing cushiony consistency that's so singular. Plus gooseberry atop.
The other something, a seada, is truly Sardinian, if, of all things, sort of dumpling-esque, so perfect for Prague, too. Some honey atop, but then the citrus zest adds acid and inside it's stuffed with cheese and that's semolina for the dough. Truly unique.
Speaking of, that lovely waitress also was wise enough to point us in the direction of a distinctly Sardininan after dinner pour, Mirto de Sardegna. Think amaro, but made from myrtle, a tad sweet and a lot spicy. I wanted to smuggle the bottle home. What a lovely evening at Ichnusa.
So we braved the cold and crossed the Vltava and hung about Old Town Square, quite empty at almost 10 pm. Indeed, we saw a cleaning crew complete with cobblestone zambonis head out--it is a surprisingly clean town for all its bustle. Viking has a shuttle bus loop from the Corinthia to the square, given the hotel isn't walking close, and soon we were headed happily to our beds. But it was this beautiful at night alight, so we were glad we had such a peek.
Go back to Day 1 Ain't Europe Grand (Tour)
Go ahead to Day 3 Ain't Europe Grand (Tour)