PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC — Step into the world’s largest time capsule.Prague is ancient. Prague is ultra-modern. Prague is made of the moments that changed the world forever… We had 48 hours.
I am no stranger to Prague. Along with Amsterdam and Paris, the undefinable Czech capital is one of my favorite places to find myself in Europe. There’s a buzz here that is hard to explain. The city can be at the same time postcard-perfect, grungy, insane, posh and intoxicating. Anyone can find something here to love.
But this was Molly’s first visit. Despite the fact that it’s just an easy four-hour drive from Munich, we never made the trip together. Early winter is my favorite time to be here. The cold air somehow makes the views of Prague Castle over the Vltava River somehow crisper and the chill is a good excuse to cozy up by an open fire with Gluhwein or chase away the day inside one of Prague’s many, many insanely perfect pubs and bier halls.
So, what better way to escape for a late November weekend? We arrived in the late evening and chased down some drinks and pool at one of my favorite dives ever: Mega Sportbar Fortuna. This epic pool hall started its life as an opulent bus station, became a horse riding club in the pre-communist times, shifted to an underground meeting hall thereafter and finally ended up with some three dozen professional billiards tables under its dusty chandeliers.
This is Prague playing tricks with time at its finest: the opulence of the feudal era, the despair of the communist — and a modern ending of beer and fun. It’s also HQ for me in Prague: beers put you back a mere 1.20 euro and you can shoot until your heart’s content for a mere 5 euros an hour. Bliss.
The next day, we were ready to step back into the middle ages. First a savory breakfast in the Old Town Square, we made our way under stormy skies across the famous Charles Bridge, soaking up the views and gypsy jazz as it floated over the cobblestones and icy Vltava rapids below.
Prague Castle is an epic backdrop that sits above the red clay roofs of the Mala Strana, or “little village”, below. This is where most of city life took place in the middle ages — and, although immensely touristy, the place where you can still feel those dark, mystical times.
We spent the day exploring the many sites of the castle, including the opulent cathedral and less than posh old residence. The famous “Golden Lane” is a wacky little enclave with a dozen miniature sized homes (try 40 square meters and 6 foot ceilings) lining one side of the castle complex. This is where Franz Kafka lived and worked for a time, although the early days of the lane were even darker — a display of innovative but evil-looking weapons and the infamous west tower prison and torture chamber prove the viciousness of the medieval ages.
That evening we truly stepped back into the middle ages. The Medieval Tavern in a back alley of Mala Strana is some half a dozen cellars and dungeon-like rooms that snake down into the bedrock beneath the castle. Along with the dark, candlelit atmosphere, the dinner featured not only traditional Czech fair, but also a medieval show — featuring a belly dancer, strong man and even a fire eater. Talk about dinner and show.
From the shadows of communism to the fire and ice of medieval Europe, Prague once again delivered an anachronistic deluge of culture, tastes and beauty. The only question is what the future holds for the next visit.