2.5 days in prague



DAY 1

Our (early bird) train departs from Budapest Nyugati, one of the city’s four train stations (good thing we checked which one we were leaving from first!). The train ride to Prague takes around six to seven hours, and I take full advantage of this extra sleep time. Due to delays, we arrive around 3pm, and are positively hungryyyy. We sit down for lunch at Maitea, a highly-praised vegetarian restaurant. This time, Dad is the one to get a veggie burger, which he says is “so good that it has reconciled [him] with vegan food”. Whatever that means. I get a vegetarian svičkova, which consists in soya slices with a cream sauce, served with dumplings  and cranberries. It’s divine, and just what I needed after that long train ride.

We then take a walk around the more touristy area of Prague. Some of the things we see on our way:

The Spanish Synagogue – Built in the Moorish Revival style, it is the newest synagogue in the area of Budapest’s so-called “Jewish Town”.

The Rudolfinum – This beautiful concert venue built in 1885 has been home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra since 1946. Before that, the neo-renaissance building was used to host the country’s parliament for twenty years. Its largest auditorium, the Dvořák Hall, is one of the oldest concert halls in Europe and is renowned for its acoustics.

Vojanovy Sady – Peaceful park near the Franz Kafka museum.

Municipal House (Obecní dům) – Beautiful Art Nouveau building on the Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), next to the Powder Gate. For a bit of history: the site of the municipal house used to feature the Royal Court palace, but the latter was abandoned in 1485, and demolished in the early 20th century. The building we see today was designed by Osvald Polívka and Antonín Balšánek, and inaugurated in 1912. It houses the Smetana Hall, a famous concert venue, and artwork by artists like Mucha. If you want the full experience, grab a drink at the American Bar, a small but extravagant establishment in the Municipal House’s basement.

We get dinner at an Italian restaurant, whose pizza was decent, though not Mezzaluna-level. For dessert, however, we head back to the Municipal House and sit down at its restaurant, Kavárna Obecní dům, to grab dessert and tea. This place has a full-on dessert cart, but I’m pretty set on eating my first strudel of the trip, so I order just that. The outside is perfectly flaky and the apple filling is very fresh, with a subtle hint of cinnamon (Europeans always know how to use cinnamon in moderation  – can’t say the same about Americans, though).



DAY 2

We enjoyed our time at Kavárna Obecní dům so much last night that we decide to return for breakfast. The restaurant offers breakfast combo menus, or you can pick items à la carte. I get the basic breakfast, which comes with an assortment of toast, as well orange juice and tea, with an extra hot chocolate. The toast tastes a little too much like diner rye bread for my taste, but the hot chocolate is just divine. Think a block of melted dark chocolate in a teacup.

Bellies full, we head to the Mucha Museum, a smallish space dedicated to the Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). While I did enjoy my visit, I think this museum is a little sad/dated and can do much better. Perhaps it lacks funding?

On our way out buy our train tickets to Berlin, we stop at Harddecore, a concept store that carries beautiful pieces made in the Czech Republic and its neighboring countries. I especially like their tasteful jewelry and ceramic pieces. We also walk by the eye-catching Jerusalem Synagogue, whose bold colors stand out from the pastel-ness of the rest of Prague.

After leaving the train station, we somehow manage to cross over the train tracks into the other side of Prague, a neighborhood called Vinohrady (literally: “place for vineyards”, which it was originally). It’s more of a residential neighborhood, which means no tourists (really, none). Vinohrady reminds me of Paris’ 16th arrondissement, with its gorgeous off-white façades. We stroll around for a few minutes, walking by Sady Svatopluka Čecha, and arrive at Moment Cafe, a vegan food spot that had been recommended to me by another blog. This place brings me right back to my college years in Montreal, when we would get lunch at Café Santropol and I would volunteer at Midnight Kitchen before class. Moment is clean and cozy, and would be the perfect spot to catch up with friends (or catch up on work). There are animal rights pamphlets spread out here and there, and I wish more of them were in English so I could read them! Anyway, onto the food: Dad gets an amazing coconut milk pumpkin soup, and I a giant fake egg wrap. For dessert, he orders a fresh apple smoothie, and I a slice of decadent chocolate cake.

Nearby, we come across a beautiful building that appears to be some kind of mall. Once inside, we realize it is a large, open interior design store called Stockist. The latter carries the big names in design, such as Hay and Muuto, and while it isn’t anything you wouldn’t find at other design stores, it’s still a really inspiring space.

We take the metro near Peace Square (Náměstí Míru), where you can find the imposing Church of St. Ludmila. We get off at Vyšehrad, a historic fort believed to have been built sometime in the 10th century. Entrance inside the fortress is free, but you have to pay for each building you visit within it (tickets are really cheap, though). The present form of Vyšehrad as a fortified residence is a result of Baroque remodelling. I recommend climbing up the battlements first, as they offer a nice view of Vinohrady (the neighborhood we were just in!).

Since it’s in the shade, we cool down as we stroll through the Vyšehrad Cemetery, where can be found the tomb of multiple important Czech personalities, such as Alphonse Mucha and the composer Antonín Dvořák. This is the most beautiful cemetery I have every visited. It’s not too big, not too gloomy, not too cramped, AND features colorful and incredibly detailed arcades. That said, I’d still prefer to be cremated.

If I thought the cemetery was beautiful, I’d yet to see its neighbor, the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. The latter is, hands down, the most gorgeous religious edifice I have ever set foot in. From its ornate pink exterior doors to its oniric ceiling, the basilica is a unique blend of Gothic, Art Nouveau and Baroque styles. Nearly every façade of the interior is covered in romantic, Mucha-inspired decorations by painters František Urban and Marie Urbanová-Zahradnická. It’s truly a transporting experience, and I was looking up so much that my neck hurt by the time we got out of the edifice.

Other things we see in Vyšehrad include the Brick Gate (Cihelná brána), the Tábor Gate, the Leopold Gate, The Rotunda, the amphitheater, Galerie Vyšehrad (micro contemporary art gallery), and the Gothic Cellar (mini museum about Vyšehrad’s history).

We take the stairs down to the edge of the Vlatva River, and then stop to get an ice cream at Puro, a quality gelato place. After passing by Cyril and Methodius Cathedral and the architecturally-notable Dancing House, we pop into a handful of really nice shops:

CZECHDESIGN – Features an assortment of goods made by local designers.

Papelote – Precious little stationery store selling locally made notebooks and pencil cases in many colors, as well as fancy pens, pencils and erasers. Great place to purchase gifts for friends!

Artmap (Knihkupectví ArtMap) – Wonderful bookstore dedicated to art, fashion, design, and the like. You’ll find books both in Czech and in English.

Lemarket mimi – Adorable children’s shop that has a nursery in the back, where children test the toys that are being sold in the store. Such a cool concept for free user testing.

K-A-V-K-A – Another art-focused bookstore.


We decide to improvise for dinner, looking for an authentic place where Dad can find a non-vegetarian version of the svičkova I had yesterday (Me: “But what’s the point?”). We serendipitously end up at U Dvou Kocek (‘The Two Cats’) a 400-year old, tavern-y known for serving traditional Czech food. As usual, I’m craving dessert, so we stop by the Grand Café Orient for something sweet. The latter is located in one of the upper floors of the House of the Black Madonna, an iconic cubic-style building designed by architect Josef Gočár. If it’s nice outside, which it was very much so for us, I recommend getting a table on the balcony, which gives you a nice view of the street below. We share a perfect banana split (with chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla, of course), ending the night on a great note.


DAY 3

This is a very important morning: it’s the morning I have the best chai latte in my life. Chai lattes are usually my backup plan when I go to a cafe that doesn’t offer hot chocolate, decaf mochas, or matcha lattes. And, usually, they’re not my favorite thing in the world. The chai I get at Urban Cafe, however, is nice and creamy, not too aggressive on the spices, and just the right amount of sweet. This light-filled cafe features a beautiful green wall and a communal table, where Dad and I enjoy our hot drinks with delicious buchteln, fluffy buns filled with plum jam.

On the same street as Urban Cafe, we find Vegan World Market, a mouth-watering vegan supermarket that has all the products you could ever ask for. Nooch? Veggie burger? Facon? Pastries? They’ve got you covered.

We then meet up with friends of Dad’s, who happen to be Prague locals. The four of us take the tram up to the Prague Castle. Before visiting the castle, we walk past St. Vitus Cathedral, which is sadly too swarmed with tourists to visit. Because it’s still relatively early, we somewhat manage to avoid the crowds while visiting the Prague Castle itself. Once inside, Elena (a Prague native) acts as our makeshift guide, and does a terrific job of telling us about the castle’s history. I learn, for instance, that its Vladislav Hall – 60 meters long – is the largest secular hall in all of Central Europe. After the castle, we step inside the Basilica of St.George before taking a stroll through the impossibly crowded Golden Lane (Zlatá ulička). The latter originally housed goldsmiths in the 17th century, hence its name, and now consists in a row of small colorful houses. I manage to visit the interiors of some of the houses, a few of which are furnished as they might have been way back in the day.

Our next stop is the less crowded Lobkowicz Palace (Lobkowický palác), which is also part of the Prague Castle complex (though admission to the Palace costs extra). Built in the 16th century by the Czech nobleman Jaroslav of Pernštejn, it was opened to the public in 2007. The museum displays a selection of pieces from the Lobkowicz Collections, including many portraits of the family, as well as decorative art and original manuscripts and early prints of composers such as Beethoven and Mozart. I really enjoyed the audio guide, which provides background on select pieces in the collection, and also talks about the history behind the palace itself, and how it came to become a museum.

A short walk down from the castle takes us to the Prague National Gallery. Prague’s National Gallery is actually spread out across different buildings in the city, and the building we go to first is the Waldstein Riding School (Valdštejnská Jízdárna). There, we see a retrospective on the Czech painter František Kupka (1871-1957). The exhibit focuses a lot on Kupka’s abstract paintings, which I’m really not a fan of (I don’t like his color application, and really don’t think these works deserve the recognition they receive). Upstairs, however, there is a small gallery displaying Kupka’s illustrative works, notably of a series of studies depicting women in Ancient Greek attire.

Then, we say goodbye to Pierre and Elena, and visit the Trade Fair Palace location (Veletržní palác), which houses 19th through 21st-century art. It’s a really cool building, but most of its permanent collection is sadly currently closed. We do, however, get to see the temporary exhibit "Koudelka: Invasion 1968 & Archival Footage By Jan Němec". The powerful photo and video footage of this exhibit depicts the sudden invasion of Soviet troops into Prague, which is considered a national tragedy in the country.

For our last dinner in Prague, we head out to the Manifesto Market, an outdoor food and design market using shipping containers that reminds me of how Dekalb Market used to be when it first started. After walking around all of the booths, we settle on Kapara, a Mediterranean street food spot. Dad gets the classic falafel pita, and I order the cauliflower pita, which brings up fond memories of Lydia W. making her infamous roasted cauliflower on Sunday mornings. Both are delicious (but the cauliflower is nowhere near as good as Lydia’s). For dessert, I get an incredible vegan chocolate cake from Ollie’s.