Sunday, March 25, 2007

Prague-Kogo Restaurant

Kogo Restaurant, Havalska 27, Prague 1

This is an Italian place, right off the same square as the market on the edge of Old town. The restaurant is split in two by an exterior corridor. The side on the right does pizzas as well as the regular menu and appears more casual. We eat in the one on the left with white tablecloths.
There is a large pasta selection and decent wine list, but it seems expensive (like most wine everywhere here.)
We have the antipasti platter which comes with small hunks of cheese-parmesan, gorgonzola, and something plain. There's also mortadella, prosciutto, olives and small salad. They nicely split it on 2 plates for us. There’s a bread basket with bread like little pizza dough pillows and it’s good.

Mom has the mixed grill-pork, chicken, sausage, beef, etc and I have the grilled sirloin which is a very thick piece of meat, grilled a perfect extra rare (even though I’ve ordered it medium). I eat every bit of the cooked parts and there is still a very rare (almost raw) piece of the center left the size of my fist.
We also have eggplant, roasted, which comes with tomato and melted cheese and oddly, slices of hard boiled egg in the layers. Still, it’s quite good.

We have a couple of wines by the glass ( a Montenegro red and a Rubrato) but decide to leave without having dessert when the 4-top next to us all light up cigarettes and smoke us out of the room. The server apologizes but tells us Czech law prohibits them from not allowing smoking (could this be true?). Credit cards are accepted. Total about $75.

more misc photos

After the monastery, we walk back toward the palace, downhill, stopping for our daily latte and strudel at a place called Cafe Zlata Hvezda. The coffee is fine but the strudel is a disaster- it’s over-microwaved, tough and drowning in choc syrup.

We walk back across the Charles Bridge, pausing for a moment to watch a man setting up his marionette, but don’t stay to watch his show. We have sausages again for lunch, and this time I count my change.

After lunch, we walk across the street, unencumbered by heavy coats left in the room, and use our tickets to the Mucha museum that came with out package. This is a lovely little museum dedicated to this famous Czech Art Nouveau artist. The drawings and paintings are stunning. There’s even a movie which chronicles his live playing in the back of the museum.

March 10, 2007- Strahov Monastery

In the morning, we take the tram #22 across the river and up the hill behind the castle to the Strahov Monastery.
The main draw here are the famous libraries. There are two; one called the “Philosophical Hall” and the other called the “Theological Hall”. The Philosophical hall is the “newer” of the two, having been built at the end of the 1700’s and has bookcases reaching 50 feet in height and a painted, barrel vaulted ceiling. The Theologial Hall, on the opposite side of a courtyard, was built some 100 years earlier but mirrors the other one with bookcase lined walls and barrel vault ceiling.
Philosphical Hall

Unfortunately, the rooms are roped off so one can only peer in through the doorway. Gray haired ladies patrol like hall monitors, just waiting for someone to step out of line and (gasp!) take a photo without having paid a fee for the privilege. There is a fascinating “Cabinet of Curiosities” filled with all sorts of dried sea creatures, closest to the Philosophical Hall.

Back outside, we wander around a bit, peek into the little Renaissance Chapel (which was closed) and decide against visiting the Picture Gallery (filled with religious art) or the Miniature Book Museum (which looks more like a gift shop). Just beyond one of the monastery walls at the back of the complex are steps which walk down toward town. There’s a small vineyard and a fantastic view of Prague.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Restaurant David

For dinner we take the tram back across the river and walk up to Restaurant David, around the corner from the US Embassy and the Alchemist hotel.

We arrive and must ring a bell to be admitted. We hadn’t made a reservation and we are greeted with a look of shock when we admit we don’t have one, but we're still given a table. I’m unable to tell if the look was serious or not. As it turns out, the gentleman who answered the door is the only one we see all evening serving food and my guess is that he was a tad bit over-worked.
It’s a small restaurant with two (maybe 3?) little dining rooms and they are about ¾ full. The room we're in is filled with foreigners, some American, some British, and a table of 2 Portuguese couples who are clearly having a fantastic time. Later, an American woman at a table across the room is so loud that I by the end of the evening I feel I know her entire life story, what she likes to eat and drink, and what she does not like to eat and drink. I'm horrified- she's such a cliche of the typical "ugly American tourist" I just want to cringe.

The menu looks modern and creative for Prague. I say "for Prague" only because I have not been particularly impressed by what I've seen on menus so far. Not intended to sound snobby.

We order the fois gras appetizer to share and mom orders a glass of Clos du Choi du Roy Sauternes (150kr) to go with it. The server seems a bit disappointed when we do not order a bottle of wine, as there are decanters sitting on each table, obviously meant to entice diners to order full bottles.

Before any food or wine arrives we are served a little amuse bouche of some sort of unknown liver terrine. It's rustic and good.

The foie gras comes with caramelized apple and red onion marmalade and turns out to be a good sized portion 390kr. I love fois gras torchon. The caramelized apples are in the center of the triangular torchon and the red onion "marmelade" is the color of beets.

For my entrée I order rabbit roasted w/polenta and bacon -450 and a glass of unknown french cabret-190kr.
Mom orders veal with morel mushroom cream sauce and gratin potatoes-590kr
Both are very good, with generous portions we cannot finish. No room for dessert. Too bad we could not bring home the leftovers. With 2 small waters, the total bill is slightly over 2000 kr Credit cards are accepted.

My rabbit dish at the bottom of the photo.


Would you hurry up and take the freakin' photo already???

The tour ends at the boat dock so we have to walk back. Yes, as usual, we eventually get lost. Finally, we get to Wenceslas Square and stop at one of the many sausage stands. We buy a sausage and it's excellent. The sausage and a bottle of water cost only 70 kr.

The experience is marred only by my being shorted 100kr, or about $5. I know it happened at the sausage stand because I gave them a 1000 kr note and when we got back I only had 800. I thought I had counted it, but in my haste I obviously miscounted. We didn't stop anywhere or spend any other money. It's a valuable (and expensive) lesson. I never think it's a good idea to stand and count a bunch of money in public. On the other hand, if you don't you risk being shorted.

Four Words

On the way back to the hotel we stop at the kiosk for the tour company. We get a free tour of the city with our package and it turns out to be with a local company called "Premiant". The tour we are offered is the "Prague Panoramic" which is a 1 hour bus tour combined with a 1 hour walking tour of the castle district (with no entrance into anywhere that needs paid admission). Unfortunately, we've already seen everything they offer just by walking around on our own. So, one of the tour touts offers to let us switch out the tour for the "Vltava River Cruise with a Drink" tour valued at the same price (390 kr or $20). Great, we think.

We go back to the hotel and switch rooms to the “junior suite”. This room is essentially not different from the other one and might be smaller. It is, however, on the exterior of the building, so it gets lots of natural light and we have what turns out to be the only balcony on the building. We decide to keep it.

At 2:30 we board a claustrophobic mini-bus which drives us in circles, complete with guide and narration, until we arrive at the river boat docks. We're then given tickets for our "free drink". The "cruise" moves excruciatingly slow down the river to the Charles bridge and then back up. We could have walked it faster. The tour is narrated by a recording that repeats everything in 6 languages and provides absolutely no useful information.

I have 4 words for this experience; Massive Waste Of Time.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cafe Lobkowicz

There are a number of cafes at the top of the hill and we stopped at the Café Lobkowicz which is inside the Lobkowicz Palace, near the North end of the Palace complex.
This turned out to be an excellent choice. It was quiet, close to empty (not usually a good sign, but today it was) and had an amazing view of the entire city from the terrace.
We each had a latte (90 kr ea) and shared a bowl of tomato soup (85 kr) and a grilled mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich (195 kr). All were excellent.

St. Vitus Exterior

Exterior of St. Vitus cathedral. If it looks a little funny, that's because I've stitched together 4 photos to make one. It was impossible for me to get far enough away to get the whole thing in one shot.

Exterior mosaics on side of Cathedral, below.

Rear view of Cathedral

The Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral

Once we get to the end of the bridge, we decide to follow a (modified version) of a walking tour in our guidebook and then head uphill toward the castle area. During the walk, we get to see the famous “John Lennon wall” On the way we pass by Restaurant David and check out the menu, deciding we will return for dinner.

We walk up and up and up, eventually arriving at the top. We check out St. Vitus Cathedral. It is possible to go inside without paying. If you want to go further than 20 feet in however, you must buy a ticket. We decided to forgo the ticket, enjoyed the view from where we stood and then exited to admire the outside.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More Charles Bridge Photos

Prague- March 9, 2007

In the morning after breakfast at the hotel, we’re up and out early, determined to find the Charles Bridge and walk up to the Palace. We’ve booked our two hour tour with the hotel concierge, which turns out to be one of those local minibus tours where everyone wears headphones speaking “20 different languages” for an hour on the bus and then an hour walking tour of the castle area. We’re not exactly thrilled about this, but we have until 2 PM to decide to bail out of we want.

Our first stop is back at the market we found last night.

We continue walking, this time actually following a map and find ourselves in Klementium Square. I turn around, and there is the Clementin Hotel, a place I considered staying. It’s a 13th century building, one of the oldest and thinnest in Prague.

Through the narrow streets, and suddenly I can see the tower at the edge of the bridge. Finally! We are not lost!

It’s a beautiful morning and we are blessed with clear, cold weather and a relatively empty bridge. The souvenir vendors, painters, and sketch artists are just beginning to set up shop. It’s filled with perfect opportunities for photos, including one of me (with my new hat) and the castle in the background!

Great Cafe and worst meal of the trip?

Of course, we get lost trying to find the Charles Bridge. In fact, today, we never do find it! However, we stumble across an outdoor market in Havelska square, a couple of blocks off Old Town Square (henceforth referred as OTS). It’s mostly filled with tourist souvenirs, but it also has some fruits, vegetables and flowers. The vendors are closing up shop, but I a score a cute (and warm!) black wool hat with a green flower for 200 kr.

We wander back through OTS, and as the sun is setting decide it’s time for a coffee break. There are about a dozen restaurants lining the square, and given their fantastic location, they have equally fantastic prices. A quick check reveals a cup of cappuccino for 130 kr ($6.50). I look at my notes and see a recommendation for a café in Tyn Square (a.k.a. the Ungelt) called Café Ebel.

The square is charming, and only one block from OTS, it’s a quiet respite from the hordes. Café Ebel is different from all the “traditional” cafes we’d been frequenting. There’s blues playing on stereo, tattooed servers in casual dress, and they roast their beans daily. It’s more like a college town cafe and it’s very homey and comfortable. As it turns out, they have 5 locations in Prague, but the one we go to is at #2 Tyn Square. We each have a cappuccino (60 kr here) and share a wonderful bowl of homemade vegetable cream soup.

By the time we leave, it’s dark and we walk back through OTS where all the buildings are brightly lit. I’d been given a recommendation from a coworker for a restaurant called U Pince, right off Wenceslas Square, so we walk over to it to check it out. They are already busy so we make a reservation for 8:30. When we return, we are almost seated in the bottom dining room, but are then shuttled upstairs to make room for a party of 12 Italian tourists. Upstairs, we are ignored for 5 minutes and then finally seated in one of the small dining rooms at an unclean table with no menus. We wait for 15 minutes (no exaggeration, I timed it) and are never approached, never given a menu, and the table is never cleaned and set. In fact, though the dining room is full with other people, no one is eating, nor is anyone else served while we are there. We figure that even if we are ever given a menu, it will take at least an hour to get food so we get up and leave.

I have another recommendation for a restaurant called U Radnice, off OTS, which is supposed to have great pork and dumplings in a big restaurant with communal tables. The restaurant is almost empty, and ignoring my misgivings, we decide to stay anyway. Instead of allowing us to sit at one of the bigger tables (all empty) near the front, we are sat in a hidden back corner next to two other women who are eating and smoking. Yes, we should have asked to be moved but we didn’t. Mom orders pork and dumplings and a glass of red wine and I order duck leg and dumplings and a glass of beer. The wine is undrinkable, the beer of course is just fine. The pork is mediocre and my duck is cooked beyond recognition to the point where there is barely any meat on the bone. Our introduction to Czech “dumplings” reveals them to be akin to slices of white bread. It’s a rude awakening. The meal is about $30 and gets both our vote for the worst of the trip.

Prague-More Old Town Square Photos

Tyn Church in Old Town Square, taken on a different day.
Narrow streets lead toward Charles Bridge.

I love this quirky little building, above, for it's tiny balcony and fanciful details.

Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock

Before they can ring the bell again, we head out into the streets to get our bearings. It’s chilly and overcast and though our goal is to find Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge, we immediately go the wrong way. Yes, getting lost is a theme here.

Eventually we end up in front of the Municipal Building, a landmark which puts us on the map and allows me to figure out how to get to old town square. The buildings are beautiful here- a mix of art nouveau, medieval towers, and 18th century baroque. As we get closer to Old Town Square, I am stunned at the crowds of tourists here. It’s winter and I can only imagine that summer would be wall-to-wall bodies. It must be insane.

We arrive in Old Town Square just in time to see the hour change on the Astronomical clock. It’s certainly amusing watching the apostles pass by and the skeleton clang his bell, but there is a big crush of people here, all looking up at the clock, so beware pickpockets. The square is enchanting, even with all the tourist trappings. It’s easy to imagine what life would have been like here in the 15th century when the clock was built, or even later when some of the brightly painted mansions which surround the square were built.

Hotel Palace Prague

Before we left I purchased a 4 night package on for the Hotel Palace Prague. It included 4 nights in a double deluxe room with upgrade to Junior Suite if available, dinner for two in the hotel's “Gourmet Club Restaurant”, two tickets to the Mucha Museum, a two hour city tour, all taxes, and other complimentary do-dads. I paid $815 total for this and I think it was a fantastic deal considering that similar packages on the hotel’s website start at about $300 per night.

We arrive in the center of Prague at the Mustek station, go up the long escalator to the top and come out at the top of Wenceslas Square closest to old town. There are multiple exits for this station about a block apart so it took me a moment to get my bearings on the map. Once I figure out where we are, it’s only a 2 block walk to the hotel.

The Hotel Palace Prague is a historical hotel right across the street from the Alfons Mucha museum. It’s a member of the “Leading Hotels of the World” so it has to meet certain standards. Thus, the entire interior has been renovated. We check in and they do not have a Junior Suite available. If we are willing to share a King sized bed, we can have one tomorrow.

We’re shown to our room and it is lovely and fairly spacious but has no view except that of an interior lightshaft. There are two big closets in the entryway across from the bathroom, a small safe, and a comfortable chair along with a work desk. The beds are very comfortable and have 3 big down pillows each. The bathroom is all grey and white marble with decent amenities.

At check in, we’re given our restaurant voucher, a voucher for two welcome drinks in the bar, and a voucher for 25% off another meal in the restaurant. Once we’re in our room, the bell rings 3 more times, each time with someone bringing us something else (a plate of petit fours, a book about Alfons Mucha and our tickets to the museum, a boxed set containing two tiny cups and a full sized bottle of the Czech liqueur Becherovka). We also get a free newspaper daily and I opt my favorite, the International Herald Tribune. We’re supposed to get a chilled bottle of sparkling wine, but we never end up ordering it.

Before they can ring the bell again, we head out into the streets to get our bearings. It’s chilly and overcast and though our goal is to find Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge, we immediately go the wrong way. Yes, getting lost is a theme here.