Back to Prague – third time’s the charm

tl;dr: Sausage, cheese, beer and hiking.

If you are anything like me, you had great plans for this year including all the travels and fun things. But of course, they were canceled during our unfortunate little spring break (has a better ring to it than corona lockdown, doesn’t it?)

Nonetheless, as soon as European borders started to open up again, I just had to go somewhere. My last days off were around Xmas, so it was about damn time for a well-deserved little vacation.

Country of choice? The Czech Republic, with Prague as my destination. I had been to Prague twice before, but I really liked the city and its surroundings. So why not give it a third try for a little getaway.

Saturday – day 1 – waking up slightly hung-over at 6 in the morning

Things never go according to plan. I wanted to go home early on Friday after work, pack my bags and be relaxed and well-rested for my trip. Well… the sun was shining and we had drinks in the office on our rooftop terrace. One thing led to another and suddenly it’s 10 in the evening and you are 6 beers in. Oh well. Life happens.

Waking up 6 didn’t feel too good to be honest, but I wanted to be at the airport on time because I had no idea what extra corona measures they would have put in place at Schiphol airport. Once I arrived I realized its absolute mayhem. No distance, no fixed lines. People swarming around like agitated bees. After the initial chaos, I arrived at my gateway too early for my 9 am flight. Sporting my facemask didn’t really help to get me into vacation mood. A double espresso and the complementary KLM in-flight breakfast (cream cheese sandwich and stroopwaffle cookie) was the pick me up I needed.

Face masks as a fashion accessory

The first thing that immediately struck me while I took the public transport to the city center was the colorfulness of face masks in Prague. With a very sudden mask requirement even for walking outside in public early on in the corona outbreak, hardly anyone was prepared. In no time a community website was set up that connected people being able to sew with people that needed masks. You could get in touch with the makers, discuss the designs, patterns etc. This resulted in a lot more colorful environment than just the throwaway surgical masks that you see for example in Amsterdam. For many, masks quickly became somewhat of a fashion accessory rather than just a necessary evil.

The search for sausage

After I got myself to the hostel and dropped my stuff in the empty dorm room, I went out for lunch. I had my mind set on a greasy disgusting hot dog from one of the sausage stalls on Wencesclav square. Utter disappointment… They removed all the stalls from the square. Not a sausage in sight. Probably it’s for the better. Supposedly each of those hot dogs shortens your life by at least a week.

I went to Restaurace u Pinkasu. A place with a beer garden in a side street of the busy city center which I remember from previous trips. Spicy sausage baked in beer sauce with a red cabbage salad. I also ordered a beer – I’m on vacation nonetheless.

One thing that I forgot was that they do not serve small beers in Czech. If you order a beer, you’ll get half a liter. You can order a “schnitt” though, which means you’ll get the same-sized glass but only half-filled with extra foam. Just to rub it in that you are weak and shouldn’t have ordered it in the first place…

Afterward I went with my former colleague Michal, his friend and the dog for a nice long walk. We ended up at the Pawel Adamowicz viewpoint in Prague’s Zizkov district. Which offered quite a nice view over the whole city.

The giant Vitkov statue on top of the hill somehow reminded me of a horseback-riding pirate

After our little walk, we ended up at restaurant U Slovanske Lipy where all three of us went for the weekend special: Roasted deer neck in rosehip sauce with plum jam and grated gingerbread, accompanied by Carlsbad dumplings. Game always makes me happy. Even when it’s boiling hot outside.

We went for a few more drinks at Lokal Hamburk and Da kohouti before having to seek shelter from the rain in Kasarna Karlin in an old army barracks’ swimming pool.

One final beer at Cerveny Jelen before calling it a day. Somehow I got lost in there…

Movie idea #247: Oceans’ 14 starring yours truly trying to steal the secret sausage formula from the basement vault

Sunday – day 2 – Going for a hike in the countryside

All that beer and sausage doesn’t sit well with my waistline so Michal and myself set our minds on going for a hike. With most cafés and places opening later on Sunday I ended up getting somewhat of an egg McMuffin and a coffee at Ugo Slaterie. Everything is closed…

After taking the train to Roztoky we walked through the forest (which was actually kind of nice and cool) to Unetice. One good thing about a country that just loves beer is the fact that there are small breweries everywhere.

Lunch at Unetice brewery: Potato dumpling filled with minced smoked meat, as well as sauerkraut and fried onions

Continuing our hike we passed Uholicky and conquering the mountain we ended up at the train station at the river bank. Nice little hike of 16km in total. Not bad for a Sunday.

Oh yeah and we got ATTACKED by a GIANT POISONOUS SNAKE! Which was tiny… and not poisonous… and already occupied eating.

Well, you just keep doing what you are doing little fellow

After the hike, I headed back to the hostel, had a shower, and spent some time reading at Mamacoffee. Dinner ended up being a “Kraft dog” at a place called, well, “Kraft Dog”. It was okay but had too much cheese for a dog in my opinion. The brioche was too crispy. And what’s up with this unnecessary charcoal coloring…

Beef sausage on a brioche bun with barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar, guac’ and some jalapeno

Spent some more time reading at Craft House Prague while having a stout, before going to Vinarna a sudu. It’s supposed to be a “wine bar”, but was more a hole in the wall. Well, at least in Czech they fill your wine glass to the absolute brim. No harm done.

Monday – day 3 – Flowers, climbing, and lots of cheese

My day started with breakfast at Kavárna Pražírna. Good coffee and probably the healthiest breakfast I had during my time in Prague. A hummus sandwich on wholegrain bread with roasted vegetables. All bundled up like a little Christmas present.

For whatever reason, I have always been a sucker for botanical gardens. Hence, I went to the Botanical gardens of the faculty of Charles’ university.

The facility is kinda small, so I had set my mind to go to the proper Botanical gardens of Prague. Now that’s a huge place to be at. Don’t know for how long I wandered around there. But the weather turned a little stormy and it felt super nice to walk around in the shade of the clouds.

And then there’s of course art. At least every time when I see a sculpture I don’t understand I assume it’s art.

First thing that comes to my mind is the AT-AT from the Star Wars battle on Hoth… Really, just me, huh?

Looking at all those greens made me hungry and I went to Dlouhaaa Lokal. A place I had visited every single time when I was in Prague. It’s an old beer hall-style restaurant with nice down-to-earth grub and beer.

Pickled Czech Camembert with lots of spices, garlic, paprika, which sat in oil with hot pepper. In terms of funkiness it reminded me a lot of kimchi actually.

Some savoy cabbage soup with croutons which was nice and garlicky with hints of caraway seeds.

And then a rather disappointing shopska salad. It was quite salty, was missing onions and they use feta instead of proper Bulgarian cheese. Maybe I shouldn’t toot my own horn, but my shopska recipe is a lot nicer.

As I recently got into bouldering, I thought I might as well check out a local place for some additional exercise. UltraAnt Climbing club is a little grungy place in the dead center of Prague. Met some really fun nice people there.

The difficulty in this Czech bouldering place is a lot higher than in Amsterdam… and the route setting is super chaotic but fun

Ending the day at the Prague beer museum, which is more of a pub than a museum to be fair. I chose for the beer flight tasting menu number 5 (bartenders choice) consisting of Uneticke (nice little lager with hints of banana), Mariska (fruity IPA), Real deal (tastes like an IPA, but more sturdy, hoppier), Primator (Weizen/wheat beer, also very strong banana taste, very well rounded), and the Porter (dark roasty, tones of coffee and light hints of chocolate).

Did I mention I could live off pickled cheese for the rest of my life?

Tuesday – day 4 – Hiking, more pickled cheese, and a little festival feeling

Every time I went to Prague I also went to Divoka Sarka – a nature resort somewhere between Prague and the airport. Pretty much all tourists pass by it, but you’ll only find local people there. After having breakfast at Cafe Neustadt I took public transport to Sarka.

While walking in the middle of nature I found a sweaty heavy-set dude hiking by himself on top of a hill in a puddle of sweat, asking me for directions to McDonald’s. You can’t make this sh*t up… 😀

For lunch, I went to Nad Šárkou & Liboc – a small little brewpub close to the entrance of the nature resort. What’s for lunch? Beef soup with liver dumplings, and an assortment of pickled cheeses, and their Kapr APA (somewhere between IPA and APA).

By now we can talk about pickled cheese being a substance abuse problem in my life…

I met with Michal in the afternoon and we went to T-Anker for dinner. I had minced meat steak with potato salad. Felt like a weird hamburger without the top bun.

Turns out there was a down-tempo electro DJ playing at Stalin, which is the colloquial name for the place where the giant Metronome is standing. (They blew up the original massive Stalin statue with 800 kilos of TNT after the fall of the Soviet Union – take that communism!). It was the first time ever since the ‘rona that I was in a festival-like environment. Carefree people. The whole area buzzing with people’s energy. Weird, familiar, and oddly satisfying at the same time. And ever since we are all told to keep our distance and cover our faces, it comes with a big adult-sized portion of guilt being there. Curious times we are living in.

Had one (very see-through) Long Island ice tea there that knocked me out cold…

Wednesday– day 5 – Relaxing, culture and some fancy food

I had no real plans for Wednesday and woke up ever so slightly hung-over. What better way of a pick-me-up than coffee and waffles? So I went for coffee and waffles, at a place called “coffee & waffles”… Even though I didn’t expect much, given it looked quite hipster-ish, I was actually impressed. The savory waffles had a nice crispy edge to them while being super fluffy in the middle. All topped with eggs benedict, avocado, and raw salmon. And they definitely weren’t skimping on the salmon. Pretty damn good to be honest.

Nothing better for a German on vacation than to indulge in a big portion of 2nd World War guilt. I went to the Pinkas Synagogue with their huge old Jewish cemetery in the back. Quite impressive if you ask me. The fact that they just stacked all the gravestones together in desperation and need for space made things even more real than the thousands and thousands of names in the synagogue itself.

After some reading and coffee at Kofarna Café, I went to lunch at a Thai place called NOI. I had set my mind on the Som Tam Thai green papaya salad. With lots of chilies, garlic, fish sauce, lemon, tomatoes, peanuts, long beans, and lettuce. Zingy, fresh, light, and crisp. Quite some spice, lime, and fish sauce in the dressing but felt very well balanced all in all. I washed it down with some homemade lime and mint ice tea.

For the next few hours, I was just laying in the sun on Petrin Hill. Reading, nodding off, nothing to do. Not a care in the world. Guess that’s what vacation should feel like, right?

Before going to Prague, I checked up some nice restaurants and saw that Hergetova Cihelna was serving a 4-course degustation menu with wine pairing. Don’t mind if I do! As I arrived quite early in the evening, I pretty much had the whole place to myself. Sitting at the riverbank, watching people and boats. And then food was served.

First course: Beef tartar with red onion, capers, egg yolk, Parmesan, and toasted onion bread.

Nice mellow clean flavor with a hint of mustard. The toasted onion bread was way too crispy though. Felt like they fetched that from yesterday’s breadbasket.

Rose: Saint Louis de Provence, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah (France).

Second course: Tiger prawns pil pil with garlic, olive oil, chili, parsley, and toasted baguette.

That tomato oil was heavenly and had some nice subtle spicy kick to it. The prawns were cooked on point.

White: Palazzi, Pinot Grigio, DOC, Trevizo, (Italy).

Third course: Slow braised Cantonese leg of duck with stir-fried bok choy and jasmine rice.

Oh man. I tried to pierce the duck leg with a fork and the meat just “slobbled” off the bone (I’m very aware that that’s not a real word, but you know exactly what I mean). Nice sweet and salty five-spice flavor on the sauce. The bok choy acted as a filler but didn’t bring anything extra to the table.

Primitivo, Itinera, Puglia, (Italy) – right up my alley. That’s my kinda wine!

Fourth course: Baked pineapple with vanilla ice cream, rum-caramel sauce.

I love me some pineapple! But this one could have been either ripend a little longer or otherwise baked slightly longer. It was too woody to pull apart with spoon and fork. The rum caramel sauce was fitting nicely tough and in combination with the ice cream and pineapple, it wasn’t overly sweet.

Port Dow’s – red tawny/ruby.

After my early lunch, I went home to charge my phone, before heading to another hostel which was supposed to have a beer tasting. I arrived at the hostel reception and asked the girl working there about the event. She looked at me like I was trying to buy a 2nd hand toilet seat from her… Turns out the beer tasting was canceled a long time ago (corona) and they just never took the time to change their website. So I went to wine bar Vinárna Vínečko instead. I spent the evening reading. Even though it was super noisy, everyone was talking Czech and it felt quite easy to ignore it. That’s the good part of being on vacation in a country where you don’t speak the language. It’s all white noise around you.

On my way home I was craving a hot dog. With all the little stalls on Wenceslas square gone, where should I possibly get my drunken sausage fix? I stumbled upon “Parky’s Hot Dog” and ordered a Mr. Grilled with crispy onions and fries. With freshly fried fries, I decided to burn the top of my mouth. Smart me – that’s what you get for being too impatient and greedy.

Thursday– day 6 – Relaxing and ending the trip with Czech staples

My last day started with a little breakfast at Mama Coffee. Flat white always does the trick and for some sustenance (as if I haven’t had eaten enough in the last days) I added a spinach potato empanada. After some reading, I kept strolling around in the city. No real plan actually, just getting lost on purpose.

Michal and I went for lunch at restaurant Hoffa. We both had stewed beef neck in red wine sauce with parsnip puree. The beef was a bit on the chewy side but reminded me quite a lot of the beef roulades that my mom makes for Christmas.

The afternoon I spent hanging out on Petrin hill in the sun. Reading a bit and working on my non-existing tan.

I wanted to end my trip to Prague with another round of typical Czech delicacies. At Hlučná Samota I ordered the traditional Czech pork sausage jelly terrine. Always fun if the waitress gives you that look if you are really sure about your choice. Following up with the explanation “well, most of the foreigners hate it”. The terrine was actually quite nice. Pretty much tastes the same as the aspic you get in Germany as topping for bread. Just a tad thicker. What takes a bit more getting used to, is the Czech bread which often contains caraway seeds.

And then as a main: Two types of fried cheese, with tartar sauce and boiled potatoes. Can’t leave this country without having the famous fried cheese. For decades it was the only vegetarian dish available.

After all the food I called it a day and headed back to the hostel for my final night in a bunk bed.

Early the next morning I had to catch my plane back to Amsterdam. Quick breakfast at a metro station. Sausage roll and a plum compote swirly thing.

Total damage?

All in all, I spent €615 and 55 cents in total, which comes down to 16,449 Czech crowns. (Damn, that sounds like a lot…) Of which €125 for the KLM flight from and back to Schiphol and €82 for 6 nights’ accommodation at Ahoy Hostel.

Hint: If you are getting money from an ATM, avoid the ones from EuroNet and whenever the ATM wants to charge you 5 bucks transaction fee, just hit the cancel button and look for another one. A lot of banks will actually give you cash without the transaction fees.

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