So, Jacob didn’t sleep too well last night due to me having a weird dream about zombies and punching him in the night. He was not happy. I went and got a coffee in the hotel bar as he slept in this morning, but after an hour or two we were ready to go, and he had forgiven me for my unconscious assault.
Our first stop was the “National Monument Vitkov”, which sits on the tip of Vitkov hill in the Žižkov district, a ten minute walk from our location. I had heard that it offers astonishing views across the Prague cityscape, and was thus extremely eager to climb the seemingly never-ending stairs and feast my eyes, and my camera, on the rows of houses below. I didn’t realise, however, that the monument has the third biggest equestrian statue in the world, which is just as impressive as the wonderful sights in every direction. Unfortunately, the Ceremonial Hall was closed, but we still thought it was a fantastic way to start the morning.
Going via the train station to visit the snack kiosks outside (all priced around CZK. 100-150), we walked to the “National Museum” to catch a glimpse of the building, as well as the treasures inside. It turns out we should have done some research, as it’s actually been closed for reparations, and won’t be open for another year or so. Not wanting to be disheartened, we popped next door to “Narodni Museum’s New Building” to see their two exhibitions: Noah’s Ark, and Light of Life. For CZK. 140 entry (student ticket), it wasn’t the best museum I’ve visited by a long shot, yet still remained enjoyable. The Light of Life walk was the highlight, and offered some cool interactive stands such as the ‘Map of European Parks’, where I found the Peak District, and scrolled through pictures of home.
We had high hopes for our next stop; the “Cold War Museum”. We didn’t realise how hard this place really is to find, with no signs or directions offered, but this is actually quite a good thing. Hidden in the basements of a luxury hotel, the Cold War museum is a series of rooms within a fallout bunker, and you’re taken through them all in a small group with an absolutely fantastic guide. He was dressed in full regalia, and after trying on one of the jackets, I couldn’t believe he’d managed to keep it on; to say it’s warm down there is an understatement, but it’s so, so fun. It’s only CZK. 140 for students, but the full price isn’t much more; the first room was a history of the hotel and posters of Cold War propaganda, and it turns out that it was built for Communist leaders, high ranking officials of the Warsaw pact, and for the secret police to listen in on the Western guests staying in the hotel rooms above. The next room was a surgery suite, with full horror film aesthetic. The dentist chair sent shivers down my spine and look more suited for torture than anything else, but thankfully we moved onto the escape tunnel and communication room pretty swiftly. The latter featured some really cool machines, which were used to send and receive messages of the upmost importance, and dictate the war for the Czechs. My personal highlight was the weapons room, which gives a little history of each gun, before the guide starts thrusting AK47s into your arms and encouraging you to take photos. I loved it.
After cooling off, we grabbed a slice of pizza from one of the millions of street kiosks (all are CZK. 40) and walked to the “Astronomical Clock”. Now, this is something I did research, and I was excited to see the oldest operating astronomical clock in existence…it was also closed for reparations. Seeing it behind some plastic sheeting wasn’t really the same. Annoyed, we roamed around the area and stumbled upon a sweet lovers haven in the form of “Captain Candy”, which is an old school pic’n’mix style shop with all the sweets in treasure chests. I only got one or two things, but it’s really expensive for what it is. Don’t let your kids in here if you want to repay your mortgage, just buy some haribo in a spar shop and run.
Not wanting to spend any more money, we omitted the “Jewish Cemetery” from our list for the high admission fee (you can’t just pay for one thing, you have to pay for an entire tour: the price for the whole day is very reasonable, but we just wanted to spend half an hour wondering about, so for us it wasn’t ideal) and went to the “Charles Bridge”, connecting the castle with the city. It’s an amazing feat of architecture and the views are absolutely stunning; if it wasn’t so busy, I’d have taken hundreds more photos than I did. The “Old Town Bridge Tower” is an astonishing gothic style building that would impress most, and I’d definitely recommend a stroll around each end. We found the “John Lennon Wall”, once a source of irritation for the generation of communist leader Gustav Husak, and now a symbol of love and peace for ours. There was an outstanding musician playing “Imagine” on the acoustic guitar, and to top it all off, we had a pint at the “John Lennon Bar”.
Dinner. We’d eaten next to nothing all day besides snacks, and walked over 10km. We were hungry – I had heard rumours that “La Republica” is the place to be if you’re into your beer; with over 50 international beverages to choose from, it’s a favourite with the locals and the tourists, and for bloody good reason. It also happens to serve authentic Czech food, which was what I wanted more than anything else.
We walk into the packed restaurant, full of diners enjoying both the company of one another, and the live music blaring from talented instrumentalists upon a balcony. We took our seats and ordered two pints of ‘Augustijn Blond’ (CZK.125). The menu tells us that they work closely with local producers, and even have a relationship with a duck farm to ensure their ducks are well bred and cared for, not pumped with vaccinations or growth enhancers. Jacob ordered the pork knuckle with homemade horseradish and gherkins (CZK. 395) – I contemplated the half roast duck with pancakes and dumplings, then see the pork on a table nearby. There was no way on Earth I wasn’t going to order it.
With a side of pancakes and cabbage, it arrived ten minutes after we’d ordered (and had our first shot of Slivovice, an eye-wateringly strong traditional plum brandy that burns a hole down your oesophagus). Hands down, this was the best meal of our travels, and the best roast I’ve eaten in my entire life. I had no idea what a pork knuckle was, but it turns out it’s slow roasted pork falling from the bone, encased in a blanket of crackling that retains all the juice of the meat and flavour of the marrow on one side, and remains crunchy and salty on the other. The gherkins cut through the fat to leave your tastebuds craving more, and cabbage and bread rounds the meal off as perfect. Nothing more, nothing less. The potato pancakes were fluffy and perfect for piling full of tender pork and tart cabbage for a mouthful of heaven.
So far, this is our top food recommendation of the trip. I urge you, beg you, to go here. Also make sure to check out ‘BarBar’, a beer brewed with honey and malt – it’s delicious.
Tomorrow, we’re seeing the castle, the Kafka museum (one of my favourite authors), and hopefully beating the rain to Petrin Hill. Wish us luck!
Photos of today can be found – HERE