My local experts Jitka Simkova, owner of Prague Walks.com, together with her colleague Karel had given me a great introduction to Old Town Prague. The day was getting late now and the air was definitely getting cooler.
We had turned around in the middle of the Charles Bridge and started walking eastwards again. As Karel had another appointment he said goodbye, and Jitka and I continued our walk through the narrow streets of Prague. We strolled through the cobble-stoned Karlova Street (also referred to as Charles Street) that was teeming with people. I marveled at the many bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Many of the shops sell marionettes, a typical Czech souvenir. Jitka added that years ago one would have mostly seen imported Russian matroshka dolls, but nowadays Czech crafts and the tradition of marionette-making have returned. The Don Giovanni Marionette Theatre is also located on this street.
Karlova Street is also part of the Coronation Route, or the Royal Route, that Czech Kings took for their coronation proceedings. The route started at the medieval Powder Tower, passed through historic Celetna Street, across Old Town Square and then Karlova Street to the Charles Bridge from where the royal procession went through Lesser Town on the other side of the Vltava River, finally all the way up to Prague Castle.
On a side street we stopped at the House of the Golden Snake which Jitka explained was the first coffee house in Prague in the 17th century. As we were walking through the streets I commented that I had been reading that Prague is now the sixth most popular urban tourist destination in Europe, after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Barcelona. This was not at all surprising to me because Prague’s extensive historic architecture, the many sights and the great entertainment opportunities make it a world class tourist destination.
Steps away I looked up and saw a sculpture of Siegmund Freud hanging in the air, about five or six stories up. Neither one of us had an explanation for this surprising sculpture.
As we were walking through the old streets of Prague Jitka also pointed out the Police Headquarters which is a building that many people have very dark memories of. Even Vaclav Havel, the first democratic president of the Czech Republic, was incarcerated here. My expert guide mentioned that the country has seen a lot of change in the last 20 years, morphing from a Communist one-party state under Soviet influence to a free-market oriented Western democracy. Most of the changes have been good, but some people in the Czech Republic have had problems adjusting to the new changing times.
Jitka also explained that beer making and beer drinking are great Czech traditions. The most well-known Czech beers are Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser (the original Budweiser, not the American brand brewed by Anheuser-Busch). In keeping with this theme, our destination tonight was a typical Czech beer hall called �U Medvidku�, which means �By the Bears�.
We entered this large building which stems back to the 15th century, and took a seat in the corner by the window. Dozens of locals were spread out in this 550-seat restaurant which has a very cozy feel due to the vaulted ceilings. Jitka explained that this is one of the most historic restaurants and beer halls in all of Prague.
Milan, the restaurant manager, came over, and started to give us a tour of this historic establishment. We walked through another room with vaulted ceilings where an accordion player was playing a tune that sounded very much like �Roll out the barrels� that had the entire crowd singing and clapping with him. People here mostly seemed to be locals and they were definitely having a great time!
We came into the microbrewery portion of the restaurant where Milan explained that the restaurant brews two types of beer on site: Old Gott, a lager beer with 5 % alcohol, and X33, a dark malty beer with a 12.6% alcohol content, according to Milan and Jitka, the strongest beer in the world. Only 800 litres of Old Gott are brewed here a month, and 250 litres of the strong X33 beer. Milan had me taste the X33 variety, and given that I don’t usually drink alcohol, I started to feel light-headed very quickly. I did though really enjoy the sweet heavy taste of this brew, and Milan added that women usually prefer the X33 beer while men indulge in the Old Gott brew.
Then our restaurant guide Milan took us upstairs into the attic which holds a large room with impressive Gothic-era wooden truss ceilings. Milan explained that this is the cabaret room that can be rented by private groups for special events. Back downstairs we checked out U Medvidku’s store: a large refrigerator holds an extensive selection of Czech beers, according to my experts the most outstanding beers in the Czech Republic. Pilsner Urquell is, of course, famous all over the world, as is the original Budweiser beer. Other brands on display include Red Drak (the red dragon), and Kelt, a dark yeast beer with hemp.
I was also intrigued by a display of beer cosmetics. Jitka explained that beer makes a great cosmetic ingredient, and not long ago the first beer spa was opened in the Czech Republic. Apparently Czech doctors recommend drinking two beers a day to stay healthy. Jitka added that members of the Czech nation are the biggest beer drinkers in the world, ahead of the Bavarians, who are actually not a nation. Finally, she indicated the �beer is the Czech Herbalife� which made me laugh out loud. Obviously brewing and drinking beer is an essential part of the Czech national psyche.
On our way back to our table, Milan showed me the large storage tank that holds Pilsner Urquell, one of the main staples at the U Medvidku Beer Hall. I also watched how beer is drawn from the tap in the expert Czech manner. Then it was time to order dinner and I requested Milan’s advice. He suggested that we try a few typical Czech dishes: pork tail with garlic, potato pancake and marinated cheese, with a delicious fruit dumpling for dessert.
The meal was delicious, and the marinated cheese, despite its very strong smell that reminded me of Limburger, tasted great, and I enjoyed my first foray into Czech cuisine. Milan had put two additional pints of beers on our table, and despite the fact that I normally don’t drink alcohol, I seemed to develop a bit of taste for this Czech national drink. Jitka and I had an enjoyable conversation about life in Prague and shortly before 10 pm we were ready to head home.
Jitka took me back through the narrow, romantic streets of Prague to Wenceslas Square and headed home. I decided to take a brief walk through Old Town which looked so appealing in the warm soft glow of the night-time street lights. The streets were still teeming with life; locals and tourists were out and about, enjoying Prague on this Monday night. The night-time view of Old Town Square, anchored by the landmark buildings of the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, was priceless. Prague definitely lives up to its reputation of being one of the most beautiful cities in the world.