Valentine's Holiday in Prague

February 18, 2011

The view from our room on the sunny day of arrival

Finally - we made it to Prague! Visiting the Czech Republic has been on our must-see list from the moment we moved to Europe. Aside from hearing all the rave reviews, I must admit I had a bit of a more personal reason for going - my family history. Not knowing much about that side of my family, I was told my maiden name was of Slavic origin. As someone whose ethnicity was often questioned (I was once asked if I was of Asian decent - as a 6-ft-tall blondie, yeah, that makes sense) and was always missing that 'where I came from' element in my life, I was curious to see what I'd find here.

Aww, flowers, champagne and fruit my honey had waiting for us

When we arrived on that beautiful Saturday morning, it was crisp and sunny. After a bit of relaxation from a hectic morning rushing to the airport, and enjoyment of the fruit and champagne my husband ordered for our arrival, we set out to explore the city. We tend to be the kind of travelers that just meander and get a bit lost (often unintentionally) rather than embark on tours and museum visits. I'm sure we missed some major landmarks, but this is the way we like it.

The amazingly detailed & designed buildings...

..and beautiful colors reminded me a bit of Barcelona

Now, I'm not much of a history buff, but the oldness of the city showed itself in every blackened facade and crumbling walkway stone. It was very clear how touristy this city is with the juxtaposition of what was preserved and what was abandoned. While I saw some of the most beautiful architecture I've ever seen, it was impossible to ignore the equally abundant run-down, broken and graffiti-covered buildings on nearly every corner. Perhaps part of it was the weather, but this gave the city a heavy, almost depressing quality.

The Cinderella-esque spires of the Týnský chrám, or Church of Our Lady before Týn

Day two meant more city sight-seeing, only this time with a constant light snowfall. While it made for a magical setting, it was tough to stay warm enough all day on foot. This was our second Valentine's holiday spent in snow and I've decided that next year we might have to fly south and enjoy a sunny, island break from the dreariness of winter. I'm definitely a convert to actual seasons, but have found one can get quite restless after a few months of persistent grey landscapes and frigid temperatures. 

Old and new architecture come together

Despite the freezing temperatures, we decided to brave the cold and trek up to the Prague Castle. I have since found out this is the largest castle complex in the world. Beyond just it's imposing shadow on the river, the views overlooking all of Prague are amazing.

The iconic Charles Bridge (Karlův most) and beyond, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad)

The rooftops of Prague

The changing of the guards, & the rather unwelcoming gate, at the entrance to the castle complex

On our walk around the neighborhood of the castle, we were assaulted with tourist traps left and right. One of the most basic was the ubiquitous Starbucks presenting itself just as the cold got to be too much. Luckily, we discovered this great little stand right next to it that offered not only hot Glühwein, which sadly has long-since disappeared with the holiday markets in Germany, but the most delicious sweet pastry called Trdelník. Wrapped around a rotating stick, it's grilled and then rolled in sugar and nuts. This might have been my favorite Czech discovery. 

Hmm, Starbucks or Czech specialties ... tough decision

In a somewhat unorthodox decision, we decided to spend Valentine's day on a train out to Kutná Hora to see the kostnice Sedlec, also called the Bone Church. Aside from giving our feet a rest on the hour ride out, we knew it was a one-of-a-kind place that we couldn't miss. This Roman Catholic chapel is unlike no other, as it's decorated with bones of over 40,000 people who died in the 14th century plagues and the 15th century Hussite wars. 

The bones are quite a spectacle

From the descriptions and photos online, it paints a very macabre and frightening picture of this place, but honestly, it's more awe-inspiring than anything. I didn't find it to scary or creepy. Unlike anything else, it was definitely worth the visit. 

The chandelier is made with every bone in the human body

The artist's name in bones in front of his massive handiwork

After a day looking at the remains of dead people, we did have a more traditional Valentine's plan - a seven-course tasting menu dinner. At first I was a little apprehensive about such an extravagant meal, but I got over that as soon as the first amuse bouche melted gloriously on my tongue. It was such a notable experience, I plan to dedicate an entire post to it, so stay tuned!

One of the many amuse bouche from Valentine's dinner - lobster risotto fried in coconut with Parmesan foam

Our final day in Prague brought the sunshine back just in time to snap a few glorious photos before catching our plane home. While I wish the sun had stuck around a little more, the city was a gorgeous one that was worth touring in rain or shine (or snow!). 

Just another ornately gorgeous building

The Astrological Clock and Týnský chrám

I had high hopes of being able to at least speak a few words of Czech whilst there, especially considering my Czech heritage, but a language filled with so many consonants and so little vowels proved too big a challenge for my western-language-filled brain (case in point, the word for 'Thursday': čtvrtek. Seriously?!). In the end, I felt satisfied I was able to mumble a few 'thank yous' (Děkuji - "Dye-koo-yi"), if only after hearing the correct pronunciation from several Czech people. Phew! And I though German was difficult.

Partly in an effort to feel connected to a heritage older and more definable than just 'American', I had also hoped to see some resemblance to the people of this country or names similar to my maiden family name. Other than a pair of almond eyes here and a high cheekbone there, I found less of myself in this apparent country of my origin than I expected. Perhaps it's due to the globalization that has taken hold in so many more countries than just the United States, but it seems harder and harder to identify oneself with only one country or culture. As someone who is becoming more of a global citizen herself, I can't help but feel both saddened at the lack of a true 'home' - in the sense of location, culture and heritage - and excited at the prospect of learning and adopting ways from around the world.    

Flying into the sunset, we headed home...
until our next adventure!

*Daily Drop Cap by Friends of Type via Jessica Hische