Sunday, August 1, 2010

Prague, Czech Republic. July 23 - July 27

After working in London, I took off for my yearly vacation. When I talked to my girl friends in Europe (Vicky in Amsterdam and Katrina in London) about my upcoming trip, we decided to go to Prague because none of us have been. We had so much fun exploring Prague and goofing off. Added to that, we were constantly working with 4 different currencies (yes, FOUR!). Prague is not converted to the Euro so it's still using the Crowns. Vicky is on the Euro, Katrina is on British Pounds, and I'm on US Dollar. I constantly had to bust out my iPhone and convert the money for everyone. It was too funny.

Katrina and I left from London and met up with Vicky who flew in from Amsterdam at the airport, and went to the hotel together. On our way into the city center, we agreed that although the buildings are beautiful, we still felt a sense of the former Russian regime, that military vibe. It made us want to march on a square or something. :D

The hotel we booked was very inexpensive and right by the Old Town Square. We were stunned by how big our room was, its centralized location, and the complimentary breakfast that was abundant. We felt like we were staying at a room in a castle or something because we had chandeliers in our room!

The reception recommended a Czech restaurant for us to try called Kolkovna. We ordered two different appetizers including Chef's selection of meat, and cheese marinated in beer. Here's Katrina, Vicky, and I ready to chow down.

Czech beer is famous, so we ordered 3 kinds of beer to try: light, medium, and dark. None of us drink beer much at all, but we agreed that they were delicious.

For the main course, I tried rabbit legs. They were delicious.

For dessert, I got this pear braised in wine with mascarpone cheese and caramel. OMG it was heavenly!

Our first encounter of the Tyn Church on our way back to the hotel.

Someone left a HUGE wine bottle in front of the hotel door, so we goofed with it. Haha!

View from our room the next morning. We were right next to the St. James Basilica with its beautiful facade.

After breakfast, we went exploring the city. First stop was the Powder Tower. We noticed a lot of buildings in Prague are black, which is kind of depressing. We learned later that those were built with sandstone, which contains iron, so they turned black when they become oxidized.

Right next to the Powder Tower was the Municipal House, where the document granting the independence of Czechoslovakia was signed in 1918.

Then, we went to the St. James Basilica right next to our hotel. Prague churches are built with beautiful and intricate baroque style.

BUT, St. James Basilica has a dark history...there's a shriveled arm of a 16th century thief dangling inside! Ewww!!! We had no idea we were sleeping right next to an arm. Why do they keep this up anyway?!

Finally, the beautiful Old Town Square!

It was about 12 noon, so we raced over to the Astronomical Clock to watch it chime in 12. This medieval clock was not used to tell time; instead, it marked the phases of the moon, seasons, and Christian holidays.

We hung around on Old Town Square some more.

The beautiful chandelier inside St. Nicholas church on the Square.

Our first encounter of the famous Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle on the hills.

Vicky and I on the Charles Bridge!

We walked to the other side of the Bridge and saw this place that looks like Venice and had a quick lunch by the canal.

Looking at the medieval gate at the other side of the Charles Bridge.

We then went inside the other St. Nicholas church (much larger than the other one we saw earlier). It's stunning inside!

Katrina's tour book said that Mozart once played these organs.

Heading back to Old Town. Here's the Tyn Church with its full-on Gothic exterior (but with beautiful baroque interior). Notice the right tower is slightly larger than the left. We learned later that it was meant to be a male and a female tower, where the male tower is slightly larger to protect the female and to illustrate the male/female energy like ying/yang. We saw this throughout Prague.

This stand was baking something and it used a fan to blow out the aroma onto the square. This was a great marketing strategy because it smelled soooo gooood. We decided to try it.

Afterward, we decided to go on a hop-on/hop-off tour around the city. We passed by the famous "Dancing House" designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry.

When I was in Taiwan in May, my godmother told me about a restaurant in Prague that's in the basement right on the Old Town Square. Well, we found it and decided to have dinner there. I had another traditional Czech dish, schnitzel with home made potato salad.

The next day, we went on a tour at the Prague Castle. Here's our first encounter of the massive St. Vitus Cathedral. As soon as I came up to it, I had the same thought going through my head as when I first saw the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona: OMG THIS IS INSANELY HUGE!

Vicky kept telling the guard to smile, so he decided to close his eyes instead. Haha!

The gate to the Prague Castle, where Nazi troops marched through in 1938 during their invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The breathtaking view of Prague atop the Prague Castle. We couldn't believe we were finally here!

The beautiful facade of the St. Vitus church. We didn't go inside because the line was super long, plus they didn't allow us to take photos inside.

Roaming around inside the castle compound. Noticed another building with the male/female towers.

The intricate carvings on the doors of St. Vitus. This reminded me of the Notre-Dame at Petit Sablon in Brussels because it has carvings going around the door like the St. Vitus.

I found out that there's a Cartier exhibition here at the Castle. I was super happy because I saw the "Cartier and America" exhibition while in San Francisco this February. Again, I was blinded by the blings. After seeing the exhibition in SF, I had a much better understanding of Cartier's styles throughout different eras, so while walking through this exhibition in Prague, I was able to identify his work more distinctively. It amazes me how Cartier used gemstones as his paint to construct beautiful jewelry masterpieces. A few pieces I saw at the SF exhibit like the Tutti Fruiti collection, and Maria Felix's famous snake and crocodile necklaces were on display here as well. There was also a brooch that was loaned from this exhibit to a new film that Madonna is directing about the Duchess of Windsor titled "W.E."

Later that night, we went on a Jazz Boat cruising down the Vltava River. We found out that jazz is huge here in Prague. We came upon several live jazz venues with excellent jazz music. Being a big jazz lover, this was a pleasant surprise.

Cruising down the river while enjoying some fine jazz tunes with the Charles Bridge in the background. Can't beat this!

Cheers! Sangria somehow became our official drink here in Prague. :)

The Prague Castle at night. (As I always say) I wish I had a better camera!

Back on the Old Town Square, there were white X marks below the bell tower. These mark the execution places where 27 Bohemian noblemen were beheaded in 1621.

On our last day there, the weather finally got warmer, so we decided to visit the Charles Bridge again. It was such a lovely day as we sipped on sangria (what did I tell ya?) while strolling around Prague without a map. :)

Katrina was going back to London that evening, so we hung out on the Old Town Square some more. One morning after we woke up, Vicky somehow decided that we were "Charlie's Angels." Naturally, I'm Lucy Liu (no, really?! LOL!), so Vicky is Cameron Diaz with shorter legs (as she refers to herself. Haha!) and Katrina is Drew Barrymore (a redhead). Because everything in Prague was "Charles" this and "Charles" that, being "Charlie's Angels" made total sense. For our last photo together, we decided to goof around the Square and did a Charlie's Angels pose. We asked this Italian guy to take a picture of us, and he didn't understand English much. But, as soon as we posed, he said "Ah, Charlie's Angels!" We laughed so hard when he said this!

We felt that Prague is a very romantic city, but with some dark and gruesome history. The beheading places, the arm hanging inside the church, the invasion of Nazi German, and the reign under the Soviet wonder there's a "Ghost Tour" every night going on.

Vicky went back to Amsterdam the next day, and I went on to Munich, Germany for the last part of my vacation.

See the complete photo album of Prague here: