The streets are quiet and almost empty as we walk towards The Charles Bridge at nine. What a contrast to last night with its crowds and many languages. We buy some tickets for the metro/tram in a kiosk, in case we'll be too lazy to walk home.
The are a few clouds and a crisp coldness. The first traders have settled on The Charles Bridge, where they sell colourful pictures and caricatures.
The saint sculptures on the bridge are almost completely blackened with soot and dirt except a few spots on St. Nepomuk's base. Superstition says it will bring good fortune to touch, and there are two golden and shiny spots.
The building of Charles Bridge began in 1357. For many years it was Prague's only bridge across the river Vlatava (Moldau), and today it is one of Prague's most important sights.
We cross the bridge and take our time as we walk up to the castle. The castle is yet another important sight and difficult to miss as it lies high above the city. If you haven't the stamina or energy to climb the hill, you can go by tram (#22). Actually we enjoy the walk and the beautiful houses on the the way.
The castle is a complex of buildings, yards, churches and galleries. We just walk about looking at things from the outside. The cathedral is closed until 12 o'clock, but churches don't interest us much anyway. The mini-houses in the Golden Lane are charming, and we see the prison tower, which must have been not quite as charming. The view from the parapet is impressive.
Click for larger image
More and more tourists arrive; most of them in groups with a "lead dog". We descend the stairs towards the river. Should we take a tram? No, the weather is too nice, so we walk across the bridge Manesuv Most to Staromestske námesti, the old city square. An espresso and a rest in a "paneria" is nice. Helle enjoys a cake and despite being in the centre of the tourist area it is quite cheap.
On the last stretch before the hotel lie the tourist stalls in Havelská. When big snowflakes start falling, the shopkeepers get busy covering the exposed merchandise.
It feels good to be home and rest the feet. The advantage of staying in the centre is that you CAN just go home, and you don't HAVE to plan everything like a picnic.
Wenceslas Square and Nové Mesto
The hotel is 3 minutes walk from Wenceslas Square. It is called a square, but is in fact more like a 750 metres long boulevard. This is where the Czechs gather, when something big happens - like for instance the demonstrations during the velvet revolution in 1989.
We buy a Czech hotdog at one of the many hotdog stands. The bread is big and soft. From a cornice pigeons keep a sharp lookout for crumbs. Poverty also shows its face; a man is sleeping on a bench, and a shabby guy searches the wastebasket and grabs a piece of bread.
Tall buildings with hotels, casinos, jewellers and fashion shops flank the square. We turn right, before we reach The National Museum at the end.
The neighbourhood changes almost immediately. It gets more shabby and the shops sell more useful items - with "Erotic Video Center" as an exotic exception.
The district closer to the river and the main street Národni is cosy with well-maintained houses, small shops and cafés. We drop in at the book-café Café Rybka in Opatovická 7.
It is a cosy place. Students are having beer or café latte, some speak Czech others broad American. The waitress is kind and smiling. A big espresso costs 28 CZK, and half a litre of Staropramen lager 25 CZK.
Among the many serious books on the shelves is a novel by a Dane, Peter Høeg. He's best known for Smilla's cold senses, but the Czech title means nothing to us.
We stroll through the streets towards the river. An old lady is walking her dog, or maybe it is the other way round. She's bent, uses a stick and rests her left hand on her back. It is slow walking.
The dachshund wearing a coat trots a bit and then waits for Mom. Then up for another 10-15 metres before waiting again. The dog obviously knows the way and the pace.
Back in the old town, Staré Mesto
Following Národni from the river we drop into the department store, Tesco. There are no immediate temptations so we settle for a bottle of water. In Rytirska 11 near the hotel is a small café with a gallery, Cafe Galerie u Vavrysu.
The price for a pint has increased 44 % to 36 CZK, but 1.44 euro is approved none the less. The beer is the good hoppy Urquell. The waiter is polite and attentive and speaks several languages. There are guests from several countries; a Spanish couple with a small kid, an American couple drinking beer and six loud youngsters speaking Flemish and playing cards.
We walk around the corner by Havelská to make a reservation at the Italian Ristorante Pizzeria Sherry. We have had our fill of Czech dumplings. The waiter's English has a big potential for improvement, so I switch into Italian to save time. However that doesn't improve communication one bit, because his Italian is almost as bad as mine; but when he realises that we're are only two - "solo due" - he says it is no problem and shrugs.
After a late siesta we enter the Italian restaurant Sherry.
The red Montepulciano is uncorked with solemn concentration; wine is a luxury and much more expensive than beer. The branded cork is left on the table - maybe to verify that it is genuine and not faked. After antipasti (bruschette with tomato and mozzarella) we have skewers with grilled chicken beef and pork tenderloin. With this a tomato salad and hand-cut fries.
We leave most of the meat. Not just because we are full, but also because it is so dry that it must be flushed down. When the waiter asks if there was something wrong with the meat, he gets the dry truth. However this was just the overture - now the farce begins in earnest.
The grappa farce
We order espresso and grappa. The waiter returns with espresso and two large glasses. The coffee is excellent. I sniff the grappa and say: "It smells kinda sweet!". Helle sips and says: "…and tastes like vermouth." And it IS sweet vermouth.
We complain: "This isn't grappa - it is vermouth." The waiter claims that it IS grappa, a very special kind, because they don't have "clean" grappa, and he can show us the bottle. "Yes please", we say, but the bottle never surfaces.
Now we get stubborn. They cannot be blamed for not having grappa, but we don't like being taken for fools. We get the attention of another waiter: "This isn't grappa - non č grappa!" - "Oh yes it is", he says. Resignedly I ask if we could see the bottle.
After a moment he reappears with an apology, two new glasses and a bottle of German or Czech firewater. The other bottle is "no good", he says and asks if we would like to taste this one instead?
The brandy is velvety and excellent. I go out for a smoke and ask for the bill as I pass the counter. Outside some Asian women pass by. They are wrapped in thick furs and look with disbelief at me wearing a thin pullover. They probably don't know that European smokers are hardened for all kinds of weather.
Helle has paid the bill when I return. We weren't charged for the skewers. Good, they didn't deserve it. From the amount however I realise that the red wine at 450 CZK wasn't on the bill either, and that must be a mistake.
I go to the counter and tell the waiter that they have made a mistake with the bill. He looks very tired, until he realises that the mistake was to their disadvantage and not ours. I pay for the wine, and in gratitude he offers a drink on the house - whatever I want.
We have two grownup brandies and get into a milder state of mind. The guy asks where we come from and says that he is from Slovenia near Trieste. That explains the halting Italian. We sip the brandy and go home with another experience added to the collection.