Before we even got to Prague, we knew that we needed to go to the Prague Castle. There it was outside our airplane window on our approach to the airport, sitting on top of a ridge overlooking the entire city. As we got out of our taxi at the hotel, there it was above us, urging us to visit. We just had to see it.
When we first arrived at our hotel, the clerks provided a list of tours offered by licensed, local guides. So we jumped at the chance to take a tour of the castle with a personal guide and booked a three-hour walking tour (“a three-hour tour” … you’ll thank us later for that ear worm) for the following day.
We came downstairs bright and early where Eva was waiting for us. She offered us a choice: walk and enjoy the views or head straight for the castle and tour the inside. We chose the walk and started our trek up the hill. Young and vibrant, Eva talked while Judy and I huffed and puffed our way up the steep incline. She pointed out the many type types of architecture in Prague, ranging from Gothic to Baroque to Renaissance. We found out she was an architect, which fed the inner wanna-be-architect in me. Our first stop was the Strahov Monastery, which afforded wonderful views of the river and the old city beyond, despite the gloomy gray skies.
Next we walked past the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through a charming neighborhood that included the smallest house in Prague, onto the expansive grounds of the castle.
Avoiding the crowds gathering for the palace’s changing of the guard, we ducked through a side entrance into the main square outside the cathedral. Eva pointed out the rich history of the classic Gothic church.
Remembering a cartoon book I read in my early teens about the building of the Notre Dame Cathedral, I relished in the intricacies of the flying buttresses and gargoyles, and was amazed to learn that while originally planned in the 13th Century, the Cathedral wasn’t fully finished until the mid-20th Century! You could even see the differences in the stones through the ages. We continued down the hill through Prague’s oldest vineyard, bidding Eva goodbye right where – and exactly three hours after – we started. All-in-all, it was a great introduction to Prague history and architecture from someone who really knew her stuff and was incredibly charming. Starved, we had a late lunch at a riverside restaurant Eva had recommended just as it started to rain.
The following day, after a morning stroll in the old town, it was time to pamper ourselves. We took full advantage of the Ecsotica Spa at our hotel, the Alchymist, having booked their “Fairytale Afternoon” spa and dinner package. Descending the steps into the grotto-like spa, the receptionist gave us each a glass of prosecco while she told us about the spa and its features on a brief tour. We enjoyed a swim in the underground pool and a cleansing private sauna. Then, we were led to inner sanctum of the spa for our 90-minute couples’ massage. Judy and I are huge fans of massage therapy, having learned the value of a good, relaxing time at the hands of a professional muscle manipulator, but this was something completely different. For one, the room’s décor was in the manner of old Bali, with ancient looking teak massage tables, tropical flowers and heady aromas. Our massages were traditional Balinese deep tissue rub downs; at one point, the therapists even climbed up on the tables to ensure they applied appropriate pressure on our backs! Too soon, however, the massages were done, and we had about 30 minutes before our dinner reservation that was part of the “Fairytale Afternoon” package. We returned to our rooms to shower and dress, and then headed downstairs.
Up until this point, we had only eaten breakfast at the hotel. But the hotel restaurant was fantastic! The package included an excellent three-course meal with wine and an after-dinner drink. The food was incredible and the service impeccable. We laughed and smiled as we enjoyed each other’s company, and quietly dished about the other restaurant patrons.
The next day, Thursday, we were up early to get some pictures and make our way to another kind of spa experience. Thursday was the coldest day of our visit, but also the clearest, so we walked down to the river and got some excellent shots in a park and along the waterfront.
From there it was just a few short blocks to Spa Beerland, Prague’s Number One Beer Spa.
Wait…what? The American couple who joined us on our food tour had told us about this unique experience and we had to try it out. Once again, spa itself was downstairs in a very private room for our one-hour experience. The hour-long package included 25-minutes in a beer-hops-and-malt-filled hot tub, a sauna followed by a very brisk cold-water shower, and time to relax on a straw bed while eating fresh beer bread. Of course, unlimited beer flowed from taps in the room so you could drink beer to your heart’s – or stomach’s – content. The receptionist told us the beer bath is very good for the skin and metabolism. I cannot vouch for that, but I can tell you that the experience is nothing like we’ve ever experienced before and completely worth the price of admission (which was still quite affordable). We paid for the deluxe package that included the larger of the rooms…big enough for a small party with its three hot tubs and spacious straw bed for relaxing. I’ll let your mind wander from there…
Back to reality, we had one other quest to fulfill on our Prague adventure. The Czech Republic is known for its crystal, and we had come with our minds set on buying crystal aperitif glasses to round-out our wide-ranging bar collection. We had shopped dozens of stores and finally found a set we liked. It was time to break out our credit card and make our purchase… The clerk very carefully wrapped each piece in layers of bubble wrap and boxed up our find. Having fully met our Prague goals, we made our way back to the hotel to pack for our return flight. We were ready to come home, but certain that Prague is one of those places worth a second visit.
If there’s one thing we’ve come to count on in our travels, it is German efficiency. Trains and planes run on time. So we were quite a bit surprised when our flight from Prague departed late. We had a tight connection in Frankfurt, but one that Lufthansa said was well within their window of acceptability. We RAN nearly across the entire Frankfurt airport to catch our connection to Dulles, only to be loaded onto a bus that took us to our plane located mere steps from the flight we just got off! Apparently, there was a last minute “equipment” change that necessitated the histrionics. The good news is that we made our flight and enjoyed an uneventful ride home. The bad news is that our bags did not arrive with us. Since, thanks to Global Entry, we breezed through U.S. Customs and Border Protection, we were early to baggage claim. We were surprised to hear my name announced over the PA system with a request to see the Lufthansa rep. He let me know our bags were delayed, would arrive the next day and be delivered to our home. This was GREAT customer service in my view…we didn’t have to wait until all the bags came down the carousel before realizing that ours didn’t make it.
We grabbed a cab for the ride home. The adventure continued when the brand-new hard-sided composite bags were delivered the next day. They were BOTH broken. To say we were a bit miffed is an understatement. All’s well that ends well, however. Judy contacted Lufthansa and after a few quick weeks, we had a full refund for the cost of our bags.
The moral of this story…when traveling, stuff happens. But it’s no use ruining a trip just because your bags don’t make it or you miss a connection. Roll with the punches, be firm but nice with the folks trying to help, and let things work themselves out.
There’s a whole world out there, just waiting to be explored. Isn’t it time you booked a trip?