Archive | August, 2011

Prague goes French

21 Aug


Francouzská
restaurace is a French restaurant we visited while in Prague…

Table for 10, which means 10 drinks at once, plus wine carafe. I would never attempt it but, our brave server did and unfortunately lost. Of all things, wine goes down. Nooooo! It’s ok, we mourned a little but when it’s replacement came we were all happy again. Our server apologized profusely – poor lady really felt bad when, to us, it was just a minor delay to order.

I started with the duck Foie Gras. Served with perfectly toasted bread and caramelized red onions. At first I hesitated on the onions but once I tried it all together it was delicious. Even my “picky eater” sister liked it.

As main course I had the duck breast, also really good. Served with orange and a Grand Marnier Sauce. All main dishes come with 3 sides: potatoes, and different vegetables. That night we got creamy potatoes, white asparagus, and artichoke. Yes, I tried all 3 and cannot tell you which was my favorite. I would go have them again.

From the other plates at the table, I tried the Coq au Vin – this is one of their most generous portioned plates, the Fricase the Guinea, and the Beef Cheeks were so tender you almost didn’t need a knife.

Wine carafe was enough for four glasses, and good pairing to our dinner.

Oh, and their coffee, I LOVED! I had a “piccolo”, which is like an espresso, it’s thick and strong – exactly how coffee should be.

It’s located near the National Centre so you have a nice view when waking by.

Another good restaurant to try while in Prague.

Carlsbad, Czech Republic

19 Aug

Cute little town, about 2 hours, or so, from Prague.
Lots of hotels, and shops – a lot more expensive than where we were staying but, if you have the money, you might want to stay here for a day or two.

There are spas, thermal waters, and the Grand Hotel Pupp, where Queen Latifah’s character stayed in the movie “Holiday”, is located here.
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Even if you’re here for the day, like we were, you can enjoy the thermal waters. There are fountains, all around the city, specifying how hot that water is.

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You can buy ceramic kettles to fill and drink from them. Apparently these waters have a lot of different benefits, and you see just about everyone, young and old, drinking from these all around town.

Very picturesque, good photo spot – if you have the time.

Pilsner Urquell – what we drink in Czech!

16 Aug

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In Czech they drink and love their beer. Most of the restaurants and hotels have a contract with Pilsner Urquell and this is what’s served – draft, obviously. Your selection, regular or dark.

I’m not that much of a beer drinker (sorry!) but, must say, I was pleasantly surprised when I tried this one. It’s served in big Pilsner glasses, cold, and it goes down smooth. You can have a regular size one or large (like a 2 in 1). Another plus, this beer doesn’t seem to hit you (get you drunk) as quickly as other beers. This one is made to enjoy it.

So, after all the beer I’ve seen, and drank, my (new) brother-in-law took us to the Pilsner Factory. Here you get to see how beer was made when they started, in barrels and cold caves, and how things have evolved to modern times. You get to see how they wash the bottles, fill them and close them, ready for retail. Same thing with cans.
Interesting fact, here, in Czech, they charge you 3 crowns when you buy beer, for the bottle, when you bring this back, for recycling, you get your 3 crowns back. Smart!

Oh, and yes, on the tour, you get to ‘sample’ the beer (you can choose between small or large cup – you’d be surprised to know some do chose the small one), right in the caves where it used to be made.

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Tour is about 1.5 hours, and it’s available in Czech and English. Check for other languages.

Cool tour, if you’re a beer lover, plus there’s a souvenir store right outside where you can get good, affordable gifts to those who share your love of beer.

Sites of Prague

15 Aug

The newlyweds arranged a day tour around the city for us.
Our guide (Jorge) speaks Czech, English, Spanish, and Russian.
He took us through Old Time Square, right next to the Astronomical Clock. This is called The Center.

Jorge told us a bit of Czech history, right at the beginning, the rest was portioned through different parts of the tour. We went all through Old Town, saw the Jewish Town, and Little Town, and, of course, Charles Bridge. What impressed me most on the tour was the following:

* Charles Bridge, and it’s view of the city.
This is a must when visiting Prague. No matter which way you look, it’s a ‘photo’ view. There are artisans, selling jewelry, hair accessories, and more.
There’s a bronze plaque on the bridge showing a man being pushed, to drown, from this same bridge. This is a statue of John of Nepomuk. John was a bishop who apparently went against the King. Accused of treachery, he was tortured and killed. His body plunged right were his statue now stands. For those who believe, it is said that, if you touch this plaque with your left hand, it means you’ll return to Prague.

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* Lunch at Restaurant Konirna (horse barn)
It was outstanding. I had the chicken, wrapped in ham, with mushroom risotto. I’m not lying when I say, it was one if the best things I ate in Prague. Plus they speak English.

* President’s palace.
Every day, at noon, you can see the long change of the guards ceremony, at the entrance. We went later but were still able to see the quick change of guards. They are very serious, focused, and ceremonial.
Another fun fact, if the flag, to the right, when entering the palace, is up, this means the president is in.

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* St. Virus Cathedral
I think Gothic is my favorite style of architecture.
Right behind the castle, you will find this gothic monument – absolutely impressive. Hand painted windows, gargoyles guarding outside, beautiful high ceilings. This is an amazing work of art, one you must see with your own eyes.

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* Lennon’s wall.
When Lennon was killed, they did a symbolic tomb by painting his face ‘graffiti’ style on the wall. Now, unfortunately, people have not respected what the wall was made for and just do graffiti of anything, as on many other walls around the city. Still, pretty cool to imagine all the people gathered around commemorating Lennon.

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* There’s a place with a lot of locks. These were put there by couples promising each other eternal love. Wonder how many of these are still together…

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* Wallenstein Garden
Here we saw an albino peacock – beautiful, probably, once in a lifetime view.
There’s a pond where you can feed the ducks, statues and fountains.
At the end you will see a wall of that, from afar, looks like it’s made of skulls. Once you get closer it looks more like stalactites but this is man-made. Pretty cool!
Right next to this is the aviary for exotic birds.

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A Very Special Day in Prague (and in our hearts)

14 Aug

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So this is what a Wedding feels like…
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to other weddings but, it’s always been friends, or cousins getting married, not ‘immediate’ family, when you’re right in the middle of everything.

I helped plan a little at first, until they decided to have the wedding in Czech, after that, I dedicated myself to planning a bridal shower for my sister, and find the perfect gift for her. Mission accomplished on both. Yay!!!

Still, even after all that, looking at dresses, flowers, invitations, etc, it seems like it still didn’t hit me that my ‘baby’ sister was getting married. That was until the night before, at 2:53am when I, all of a sudden, woke up with a knot in my stomach. Don’t know what exactly I was feeling, excitement, a bit of sadness (she’s all ‘grown up’ now), nerves for her? Who knows… What I do know is that it didn’t take me long to go back to sleep knowing that she’s extremely happy, that it’s true what they say “I’m not losing a sister, I’m officially gaining a (amazing) brother”, and an extended family who loves her.

7am Alarm goes off. Breakfast with the family and right after, getting ready mode.
Hair, makeup, nails, dresses, the usual… What I found funny was getting a flashback, while doing my hair, of my friends and I doing the same thing in the gym’s bathroom, in high school, for our pin ceremony. All of us doing each other’s hair and makeup, laughing, and being silly. Guess good moments bring happy memories back to us. 🙂

1pm I make my way downstairs where my sister is getting ready. She looks absolutely beautiful and happy. Photos are being taken all over in the suite by the photographers and family members. Can’t wait to see her wedding album, with all pictures taken, it will sure be a vivid memory of that day.

An hour drive to Chateau Dobříš… We arrived and wait for the ceremony to start. Not hard waiting when you have beautiful gardens to admire. That amazing green from the gardens, contrasting with the perfect blue summer sky. They couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place or day to get married.

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4pm Ceremony begins. Groom walks with his mom, she has the most amazing smile on her face. Then my dad with the bride. I can’t help get a little teary eyed but compose myself as soon as I see her laughing – my dad always clowning around with us. 🙂
They exchanged their vows both in Czech and English. So cute seeing her already adapting to her ‘new’ family life. Now they’re husband and wife, and like my brother said on his speech, “our family grew” and we couldn’t be happier.

6pm We’re headed to the reception. Really cool place with a sort of little cave type of room/ lounge for drinks. Then we went to the dining room for some great Czeck food – among the plates, Svičková, one of my sister’s favorite. After the wedding cake we went back to the ‘cave’ for dancing – salsa, merengue, ballenato, techno… The couple had a great selection of music, keeping all their guests dancing, laughing, and, of course, so happy we got to celebrate this important day with them.

As I sit here writing this I smile, knowing that they were definitely made for each other and that they found their “happily ever after”. May we all be so lucky.

A Beautiful View of Prague

12 Aug

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Old Town Hall & Astronomical Clock

If you are looking for a picture perfect view, pay to go to the top of the building.
Either by stairs or elevator, you will find yourself at an open 360 degree scenic view. You will see the center of the plaza, the church with the Madonna, part of The Prague Castle, and more.

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You will also see everyone looking up, appreciating the clock’s construction, and observing the procession of the Twelve Apostles: on the hour, every hour, a small trap door opens and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples, while the skeleton of death tolls the bell to a defiant statue of a Turk.

It’s fun to see everything from the top, and looking for the people in your group that stayed down. We even got to see a Bride and Groom, taking their wedding pictures.

Also you can have some pictures taken, on a clock background, with clothing from that era. Not sure how much these were but, instead we opted for a souvenir postcard from a machine right outside. This takes your picture, let’s you chose from different backgrounds, and greeting messages. Cost: 80 crowns for 1 postcard or 200 crowns for 3. Fun and cute souvenir to have.

Hotel U Prince – The Terrace (Prague)

10 Aug

On the 5th floor at the Hotel U Prince, you will find their restaurant, also known as The Terrace. Here you will find a good view of Old Town, Prague Castle, and surroundings.

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That day was quite an experience. We are enjoying the view, ordered our food… As soon as we’re served, I feel a thing hit my head, it was a seat cushion that flew on me. Black clouds and terribly strong winds almost blew away the terrace cover. Everyone was rushed downstairs, just in time. As soon as we got inside ‘all hail broke lose’ literally. Heavy rain, and hail came pouring down. We all had to carry our own plates, drinks, everything, while the staff, and some of the men eating there held everything from blowing away. You know it’s bad when even the staff looked concerned, and doesn’t do anything to hide it from their guest. But, thankfully, no one got hurt and, like I said, it was an experience.

Servers worked quickly downstairs to accommodate us. They improvised a table inside for us, and another for the other couple that was still there (everyone else went to the bar). They apologized for the inconvenience and we resumed our dinner. I ordered the Chicken Stir Fry. Plates here are not big, but I was satisfied with mine. Chicken, peppers, mushrooms, and some seeds. The prongs with boiled potatoes were good too, and you can choose between 6 or 12 prongs. The Chicken plate with vegetables, was another winner. If you’re very hungry, avoid the caprese salad. This was all lettuce, 3 mini cherry tomatoes, and about 2 mini mozzarella, and a lot of onions. Those in our party who ate it said it was good but definitely not enough.

For drinks you have a wide variety to choose from: frozen drinks, cocktails, Martinis, shots, coffee drinks, and non- alcoholic mixes like the Coconut Dream which I was told was delicious. I had the Tiger Milk: kaluha, dark rum, creme the cacao, and cream, served in a mini martini glass with mint leaves. Not too sweet, so it was perfect for me.

Since portions weren’t big, and we couldn’t go out because of the rain, we ordered dessert. Tiramussu was served in a Martini glass – very pretty, Creme Brûlée was big enough for two, although so good you might not want to share, and the Strawberries with Mascarpone was light, fresh, just perfect.

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After the long walks around ‘Old Town’ this is the place to go to relax, enjoy the view, and some good food and drinks. Just check the skies before you go upstairs, remember, if it looks like rain, stay away, unless you want a story to tell, like me.

Dinner @ u Sadlu – a must do in Prague!

7 Aug

Literally a few steps away from pension Balbin.

I loved this restaurant. You are greeted by an armored statue, to set the Gothic/ Medieval tone of the restaurant inside. It’s sort of cave, you go down the stairs and are greeted by the server or the bar, whichever you see first.

Decoration inside is with more armored details, flags, big candle chandeliers (like the ones you see in movies). Lights are dim, tables, chairs, and other furniture is dark wood, giving it a more rustic/ old era feel.

To start they give you some bread and, instead of butter, they serve it with a mixture of potatoes and what I think was bacon fat – it tasted just like lard – you will either love it hate. In my case, one small bite was more than enough, and never again.

Menu is good for everyone. They offer chicken, beef, pork, fish, vegetarian dishes, and more. Main plates, sides, and desserts are translated to English, everything else, good luck… Fortunately our server was super nice, patient, and did his best to understand what we wanted. We were very grateful for that.

I ordered the goulash, and everyone at the table was eating from my plate. This is one of their typical dishes and I don’t think you can ever go wrong with it. Also tried the skewer dish, meat and chicken were tender and so well seasoned. For that plate we had special effects… Right before coming out, they turned off the lights and out comes this dish with blue flames – really cool. Also cool, the smile on our sever’s face when he saw that we liked it. Ok, back to the food. The beef with bacon and beans was outstanding. So tender, flavor was amazing, and even with the bacon it did not taste greasy at all.

This is one place you should put on your list when visiting Prague. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.

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My first meal in Prague @ U Stare Posty

7 Aug

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We were told this place serves typical Czech food, in a typical Czech environment.
As soon as you walk in there’s the bar. Beer is the drink of choice. The beer advertised is Pilsner. When you ask for beer that is what you’ll get, and in a barrel looking-glass. Now, I’m not really a beer drinker but, after my first one here, it was my drink of choice while in Prague. Very surprised with how well it pairs with their food. A perfect match.

They have inside and outside seating. Note that smoking inside is still allowed here, for this reason we chose to sit outside. The tables are covered so you’ll be protected from the sun plus will enjoy the occasional breeze (depending on what time of year it is).

Our server was nice but not too friendly. His english was very limited and was very difficult to order. This is one example of what i mentioned on my previous post… Some of the sections in their menu are translated to English but others are not, making it almost impossible for tourists to choose what to eat. Thankfully we had someone who speaks the language help us. Unfortunately our translator had to leave and we were “lost in translation” again. Our orders got mixed up, and us, not understanding them, and not familiar with their food, went with what was put in front of us. Once we tasted the food realized that 3 plates were switched but luckily, everything was delicious so no one cared about not eating what they ordered. Still, it would have been nice if the server would have been more helpful, instead of saying “I don’t remember what you each ordered, I just bring food out”. Guess we’re spoiled at the States, where severs take note of who ordered what and where everyone’s seated.

Again, luckily all the food was really good. From their typical Czech food section we ordered the goulash – beef stew with potato dumplings, Potato pancakes with sausage and sauerkraut, potato covered Brie baked until the cheese melts, and more… I ordered the Pork trio with 3 different types of cheese. These are 3 pork tenderloin, one with blue cheese on top, the other with Brie cheese, and a third cheese (not really sure which kind but was delicious and perfectly melted on top of the meat). As a side, I had their boiled potatoes. That is one thing you HAVE TO try while in Prague. You might think, why is she telling us to order such a plain, boring food? That’s what I thought until I tried them. Their potatoes are different, creamy, flavorful, they don’t even need butter. Still I had a side of tartar sauce, which apparently is very common there.

Bottom line, if you can familiarize yourself with the food, or have someone who can translate for you, I do recommend trying out this place, the food is worth everything else.

We’re in Prgue! And I’ll tell you where to stay

3 Aug

In Prague you can find all sorts of hotels: small, touristy, antique, over the top… There are also what they call Pension. These are usually more affordable, with less commodities (i.e. restaurant, 24 hours front desk, etc) but when you just want a place to sleep these are the way to go and save for the many other things there’s to do.

We were lucky to get a recommendation for Pension Balbin. Located at 15 minutes (walking) from the main square, this is a great option to stay in Prague. You can choose between different rooms, single, double or even have an apartment (different settings too). To check in, go up the stairs (it’s a workout, especially to get to the fifth floor where the reception is) or take the elevator. The later will be very useful when traveling with elderly people, disabled, or just coming back to your room tired of all the walking and sightseeing. But note, it’s rather small and aged, since the building is from the late 1800s. This makes the Pension more special and quaint.

Pension Balbin offers daily breakfast, and all staff speaks, at least a little bit of, English.

Every room is very comfortable. You get your own key to come in and out of the Pension at whichever time you want. Remember to lock your door, with the key, when coming in or going out. One thing worth noting, rooms do not have air conditioning so, if you are traveling on the summer time or get really hot, ask for a fan, they can provide one if not all are being used in other rooms.

Rooms do have phones, and TV. If staying at one of the apartments, instead of in a room, you’ll even get cable, which was great for us – we got to see the NBA Finals games. Although not so great watching The Heat lose. Only sad moment while in Prague.

Anyways… Back to our Pension. If you need a computer they have one, for guests, behind the reception. They also sell water, beer, wine, and snacks.

We had an amazing week in Prague, and having pension Balbin’s comfy beads at the end of each day helped us be ready for the next.

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