It was already dark outside when we pushed open a heavy wooden door to enter a rustic brewery. While life on the street was dying down around this hour, inside appeared to be the contrary. The room was spacious to accommodate many. With its candle holders from the ceiling and warm light, the brewery radiated a welcoming atmosphere. If music were to be playing, the sound must have been lost within the loud laughter. We were seated in a booth in the corner. We could hear the autumn wind blowing around the thick fieldstone walls and sometimes leaves, which the wind had picked up, pattering them against a glass window.
To warm up, we ordered mushroom soup served in bread. When I took off the bread-lid, a whiff of garlic and pepper escaped. We ate in the flickering light of two white candles that were already burned down halfway. When our waiter made his round to our table a second time, we all ordered a small glass of dark beer. He laughed a deep laugh and he slammed his fist on the wooden table. “Men drink big glasses of beer.”, he announced in a Czech accent. Then, he crossed off my friends’ order, replaced the “small” with “big” and brought back the changed order.
Throughout the night, we began to understand what he meant. The guests drank beer like water and with every glass, the conversations seemed to get a tick funnier. We watched a table of twelve people ordering shots, but the waiter came back with thirteen. He gave every guest a small glass, keeping one for himself, raising his glass to a loud “Prost”.
We mingled in the bustling part of Old Town Square in Prague. The mixture of various architectural styles tells a story about the importance of the principal public square. The Gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn has ruled over the plaza since the 14th century with its towers over 80 meters high. The pink and white Kinsky Palace, which was added in 1755 in a Rococo style, and tall buildings in orange, green and blue frame the square. Most of them have been changed into cafes and restaurants. With seating possibilities outside, the many small tables and wide umbrellas reached far into the plaza. On the opposite side, horse carriages were lining up. The old-fashioned two-person carriages were filled with soft blankets to snuggle up in during the autumn weather. Over daytime, street musicians and performers hoped to hear the money clinging into their instrument boxes and hats, which lay neatly in front of their performance.
A big crowd came together to marvel at the Prague’s greatest treasure since 1410: the Astronomical Clock. (Also on the Old Town Square.) At first glance, the clock appeared as two circles with golden metallic rings and lines. A closer look revealed its decorative ornaments on the side and symbols that inform about the movement of the sun and moon as well as time. Below is a calendar keeping count of the day. In the Middle Ages, the mechanical masterpiece was considered one of the World Wonders.
In the Old Town, we explored hidden courtyards and small streets. There are tiny stores behind every corner. We found one that showed the Czechs’ passion for beer goes far beyond the drinkable liquid, as it was manufactured into cosmetics such as body lotions and soaps.
It is impossible to escape the smell of cinnamon and sugar. The trdelnik, a popular street food, is made from pastry dough rapped around a metal stick and roasted right above the fire. A real treat! (I recommend to stay away from ice cream or whipped cream fillings as they melt immediately from the hot dough and create a big sweet mess.)
The 500 meter long Charles Bridge, the signature stone bridge from 1357, picks up the colorful goings from the Old Town Square. Street musicians play their compositions and artists sell their colorful art. Like an outside museum, the bridge displays statues and monuments. Above it all towers the fairytale-like Prague Castle.
The Prague Castle is the cultural heart of the Czech Republic. The outer walls guard a complex of towers, churches and palaces. With its 570 meter length and an average of 128 meter width, the castle landed a Guinness World Record as the largest ancient castle in the world. Its early beginnings are dated back into the early 9th century under the name of Prince Sobeslav. Yet, its architecture has undergone many changes as four more additions followed in the 12th century. A must-visit for history geeks!
On top of the hill is a beautiful restaurant Na Baste overlooking the park below. I strongly recommend it as you can sit either outside or inside. In autumn, the yellow and golden leaves set a magical atmosphere. I have to admit the restaurant is only worth going if you are willing to experiment with the traditional cuisine. (Otherwise, the menu is rather disappointing.) I ordered potato pancakes with red cabbage -one of my new Czech favorites.
As I stumbled onto the first courtyard, Prague’s Castle Guards marched in lockstep toward my direction. The men in blue uniforms, with a rifle resting over their right shoulder, kept a straight face. (The front man tried to suppress a smile.) Eventually, the two groups of three came together and marched side by side off the plaza.
My personal highlight was the St. Vitus’s Cathedral, a pivot point of religious life in Prague. The building is flooded by colors as light breaks through the stained glass windows. On a sunny day, the walls light up in purple, gold and blue. Its high ceiling seems unreachable, making me feel small -insignificant and part of something big at the same time.
My piece of travel candy for you
On a final note, here’s an insider tip. Try to find places to eat where locals go and stick to the traditional Czech cuisine. Not only is it cheaper, but you’ll also receive a true Czech travel experience. My favorite place to go to is Novomestsky Pivovar –The New Town Brewery Restaurant, a stylish old brewery, where the food is simply delicious and the people are great!