01 November 2013

Flashback to August: Prague

I am catching up on blogging since stepping away for a little long while.  So, these updates are a long time in coming.

Prague is a dream.  I've been lucky enough to visit the city three times now and each time the staggering beauty of the place flattens my heart and makes my breath catch in my throat.  The architecture is stunning with pre-WWII buildings, spires and cobblestones weaving their way around the city revealing unique little surprises around every corner.  The Vltava river snakes through the center of the city allowing for bridges of never-ending beauty to span from shore to shore, connecting one amazing neighborhood to another.  The people, after many years, finally warming up to the tourists who flock to this corner of Europe to eat, drink and be merry and envelope themselves in the rich history of the place.

I arrived on a Friday afternoon and met up with my friend, Sarah.  We were both there to present at a Festival and were excited to be in Europe together for the adventure.  After a bus ride downtown from the airport and lugging our suitcases down one street to another, we finally checked in and came upon the most exquisite apartment I secured for our week-long stay in the city.  It was gorgeous with lofty ceilings, yummy beds, a gourmet kitchen and a massive amount of space for us to play and work in.  The apartment is located right in the heart of the Old Jewish Quarter and overlooks the Jewish Cemetery...a spot in Prague that is rich in the history and heartbreak that makes this part of Europe such a remarkable place to be.

We were both hungry and so after quickly un-packing, we headed over to a lovely little gallery/restaurant, Nostress, for dinner.  We had vino and ate some of the most delicious food we would have all week!

The next morning I got up and immediately went out for a run along the river.  The path from the apartment led me straight along the water and I enjoyed getting out into the fresh air to shake off the beer and get to the know more of the city on foot (it also helped that I had a training schedule to keep for my upcoming marathons!).  I returned "home" and Sarah and I headed out for our first day in town. Under a searing sun - it was incredibly warm until the last day of our stay - we walked and talked and walked, popping into shops and cafes and gathering groceries for the rest of the week.  We kept having to do math in our heads as the exchange rate made beer cheaper than water and vegetables a steal!  We couldn't believe the prices we were encountering.  After gathering our provisions, we headed back to the apartment to settle in and discuss our upcoming presentations.

That evening, we decided we should shake off our jet-lag by participating in what the locals do best!  We took a walk over the river to this huge park where there is most amazing outdoor beer garden.  We ordered a few pivos and sat out under the stars along with hundreds of our closest local friends.  Other people from our organization (folks from across the U.S.) showed up and we had a great time getting to know one another.  It's amazing how you sometimes need to cross an ocean to get more in touch with the people you work with!  We stayed until the pivo was downed and we made our way back to the apartment to sleep and dream of our adventures.

On Sunday the Festival kicked off and Sarah and I headed out to meet our colleagues and other festival participants.  The opening was to be short-lived, however, as temperatures during the day had soared near the 34 degree mark and allowed for storms to brew.  Just a mere 30 minutes after the Festival gates opened, a massive downpour began accompanied by fierce lighting and gale-force winds that ripped tents and signage from their posts.  We were hustled from the Festival tents into a stronger building that would shield the participants from the elements outside.  We waited for around two hours and then the decision was made to delay the official opening until the following day.  Sarah and I, soggy and disappointed, headed back to our abode to hunker down for the night and prepare for the next day.

The next morning shone bright and I headed out for another run.  Soon after returning home, we quickly realized through a flurry of messages that the opening was further delayed due to damage to the festival grounds and while Sarah and I were disappointed, we were also excited to get another free day to explore the city and what it had to offer.  I had done a fair amount of research on cafes in Prague and so we headed out on foot to explore and search out good coffee in the town.  As a side note, the first time I was in Prague was in the early 90s - no Starbucks.  Five years earlier in 2008 - one Starbucks.  In 2013, I was seeing them everywhere!  We wanted anything but the 'bucks and so we made a conscious effort to seek out those places that would provide us with alternatives.  We wandered and poked our heads into shops, stopped and ate when we felt like it.  At some point on one day, I can't remember which now...this is why I don't like waiting so long to post...we found the most amazing pub that featured koalas everywhere....Tlustá Koala (translated to "Fat Koala").  It is a British-style spot and we managed to go during a very off-hour time.  We pitched up and shared a pint while admiring the dedication to "saving the koalas" that seemed to be everywhere!

That evening, we headed over to the Festival grounds to see the delayed opening and enjoyed catching up with good friends.  We headed to bed early as the skies darkened for yet another fierce storm as we knew it was going to be a long week from that point out!

The next morning Sarah and I had to work early so we caught the tram and made our way to the Festival grounds for the first day of our workshop series.  It went really well and then we had the afternoon to decide what we wanted to make out of our day.  We knew we had the next day off so we had lunch at the Festival and wandered around to see what was happening.  We had also sent out an invite to our friends who were in Prague to invite them over for a pasta dinner at the apartment on the Thursday night of that week.  I was busy planning the menu in my head and Sarah and I continued to chat and swoon over the sights Prague had to offer us.

Most days consisted of the same patterns.  However, we did experience two gems of spaces that, the next time you are in Prague, you must check out.  One day, I encouraged Sarah to go for a long walk hike with me over to the other side of town to check out a most wonderful cafe - Muj Salek Kavy.  If you are in Prague, you must go.  The gazpacho I had was incredible and all of their coffee is fair trade.  This is a cafe that takes community and coffee just as seriously as the other and it shows.  The staff was friendly and helped Sarah make a most informed decision about her dessert choice...they did not steer her wrong!  Another space that has a special place in my heart is the Cafe Savoy on the river.  It is a neo-renaissance cafe/wine bar and is a perfect place for sitting outside for an entire afternoon on a lovely sunny summer day (right, Sarah?!?).  If you like gorgeous decor with amazing food to go along with it, this is your spot.

Some other spots to check out during your time in the city...(because you know you are going!)...

Astronomical Clock (a must-see)

A pivo at a spot along the river...pick one...there are many!

The Farmer's Markets - there is even one along the Vltava River
Kampa Island (a nice place to stretch out on the lawn)

Ride the trams!

The week passed in a blur once the Festival really got going.  It was a whirl of presenting and exploring, wandering and getting caught up in it all.  The last night of my stay, we got a huge group together to feast on dinner at a local restaurant, re-telling stories from the week and celebrating our new-found connections with one another.  Prague is an amazing place and I can't wait to go back!

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