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By Nathalie Taylor
Special to the Village News 

Bold and Beguiling Prague


Last updated 8/21/2018 at 6:08pm

Historic buildings are found near the Vltava River.

As I sat on the terrace of Prague's Golden Well Hotel, high above the city, and adjacent to the Prague Castle Gardens, the air was alive with the scent of flowers. Birds, sheltered by thick leafy trees, filled the air with their varied songs.

This was my first visit to Prague, and my 94-year-old mother accompanied me. As soon as I set foot on the cobblestoned streets, I felt both thrilled and at ease. It was like experiencing a dream – a masterpiece of a dream. Each encounter was electric – Prague Castle, Strahov Monastery, cathedrals, cafés...

Photographs cannot capture the essence of Prague. No photograph can preserve the charming ambiance of the city, or the genuine warmth of its people. No photograph can preserve the scents of fresh bread, or fragrant flowers, or birdsongs. A static photograph reveals nothing of the scents or ambiance. But I was experiencing it all – a static photograph of Prague come to life.

Our pristine room at the Golden Well Hotel was furnished with antiques and works of art. Its sweeping view of the red-tiled roofs and stucco edifices extended as far as the eye could see. At night, when the lights popped on throughout the city, it was stunning.

The complimentary breakfasts were exquisite. A table laden with an array of fresh baked breads, cheeses, pastries and other breakfast foods, greeted us each morning. We were also given a menu with tantalizing choices. My favorite item was the expertly prepared Scottish Smoked Salmon and Quail Eggs with crème fraiche. My mother savored the Crepes with blueberries and clouds of whipped cream.

In the evenings we were surprised by treats left on our nightstands – always some marvelously decadent dessert – served under glass. After a long day it was a joy to step over the threshold.

As guests at the Golden Well Hotel, we enjoyed several meals at Terasa u Zlate Studne, the hotel's terrace restaurant. Chef Pavel Sapík and his staff are stars, and their talents are reflected in the sterling quality of the culinary works of art, especially the desserts. One of the most engaging desserts is the dreamy Chocolate Ganache. Once you take your first bite you won't come up for air until it's completely consumed. After we had been sufficiently dazzled by our dinners, we relaxed and enjoyed the view, high above the beguiling city of Prague.

My mother has mobility issues, so the hotel concierge booked a car and driver for the duration of our trip. It made the entire experience a seamless wonder. No fighting for a bus seat – no hot, crowded streetcars. Miroslav, our driver, always arrived early and waited for us at the end of the cobblestone walkway with his black air-conditioned Mercedes. He deftly negotiated the narrow cobblestone streets and found ways around traffic snags. He always ferried us to intriguing destinations. Miroslav would stand by the car – in his crisp white shirt and black slacks – waiting while we explored a castle, cathedral, or just a local shop. To be treated in such a grand fashion was a delight to both my mother and myself.

The Vltava River flows through Prague, and the pedestrian Charles Bridge (1357), spans the river. Gothic gate towers – massive and masculine – stand at either end of the bridge. Miroslav dropped us off at the Old Town tower, we walked across the bridge, then met him at the Lesser Quarter (Malá Strana) tower. The Charles Bridge is not just functional, no, it hosts a festive street party teeming with vendors, musicians, tourists and residents – all who seem to enjoy themselves equally. We slowly walked the bridge, taking in the rush of color and music. Vendors, who were backed up against the stone balustrade, peddled original paintings, hand-made jewelry, and other artisan works. We succumbed to the wiles of an artisan or two, and, with our purchases in tow, paused to watch the river traffic – tourist boats, pleasure crafts and a barge or two.

Prague is known for its Baroque architecture, and the Church of Our Lady Victorious (1613) is representative of this style. The arched ceiling soars high above the spiral gold columns and gilt icons of the altar. Hushed murmurs of visitors echo from the ceilings and stone walls. Subdued light made for a holy atmosphere where many came to pray, or pay tribute to the effigy of the Infant Jesus of Prague.

St. Nicholas Cathedral in Malá Strana is another splendid example of Baroque architecture. More ornate than the Church of Our Lady Victorious, its sanctuary is massive, and the ceilings are works of art adorned with frescos of angels and saints. In every corner, niche, and curve, something ornate and lovely catches the eye.

Miroslav waited patiently while we strolled around the 12th century Old Town Square, which is encompassed by massive buildings. It was overwhelmingly extensive, but we took deep breaths and slowed our pace, to absorb the magnificence. The Astronomical Clock is a wonder. Built in 1410, it is housed in the Old Town Hall. Each hour, various figures peek from two windows, then delicate bells chime...ding, ding, ding...and then the show is over. Týn Church, with its two towers and many spires, dominates the square, rising above the other buildings. Pastel-hued buildings with scalloped and stepped-gable roofs add gentle color to the scene.

Týn Church dominates Old Town Square.

The Café Louvre is an historic café that oozes creativity. Among notable guests were Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein. It was as if the ghosts of their creative and witty encounters permeated the café's aura. My long-time friend Rick, and his wife Alena, (residents of Prague), spirited us off to this marvelous place. High above the bustle of Prague, this café boasts its own bustle. Aproned wait staff scurry about, and the cacophony of sounds and scents smack of success. The café was a bit warm, but magnetic and chic. I ordered traditional Czech Beef Goulash with Carlsbad Dumplings. Outstanding! Oh and – by the way – they boast a fabulous chocolate layer cake.

From our hotel room window I watched the sunlight illuminate the copper spires, then bathe the red-tile roofs with a muted afterglow. There was an uncommon juxtaposition of sounds – the echo of scrambling traffic and the myriad of bird songs. From my viewpoint, high above the city, a thousand years of history reached to every direction – each building with a story to tell – each building with inexpressible secrets. I was fortunate to decode a fraction of the secrets during my time in Prague – this "city of a thousand spires" – this city of wonder.

This article was published February 8, 2018.


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