As with last year, we decided to celebrate the Snook’s birthday at the end of July by heading off on a big summer vacation. The only problem was that I had just arrived back from a work trip to the US, and while I made my short connection in DC, unfortunately my suitcase did not. Oh well.
Fortunately I had other suitcases and enough underwear to head off without it. 😂 We caught the “Alex” train from Munich to Prague at 12:43pm on Monday and spent nearly six hours watching the beautiful countryside roll past.
That evening we crossed the Vltava river and pulled into Prague’s main train station.
Our hotel was the Falkensteiner Hotel Maria Prag, just a short walk from the station. It has been newly done up, apparently, and it was really conveniently located for getting around. After checking in, our first goal was dinner so we headed (up a big hill) to The Tavern.
Yummy burgers and Czech beer! We were pretty happy. And wow, food and beer are cheap here.
The “square” is actually a long boulevard with the Czech National Museum at one end. It’s the site of many famous historical events, including the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It’s named after Saint Wenceslas, aka Václav the Good, the patron saint of Bohemia. (And yes, the one from the Christmas carol! I had that song in my head for days.)
There were a lot of pro-Ukraine flags and signs in Prague. ❤️🇺🇦
We followed the tour and slowly made our way down the square, learning about famous points along the way. At one point we ducked into the Lucerna Arcade to see a special artwork – Statue of King Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Dead Horse. This is by surrealist artist David Černý.
We also wandered through the nearby Franciscan Garden. There were a few other tourists and locals having their lunch in the sunshine.
Another stop along the way was the Powder Gate, one of the 13 original gates to the city. Now it separates the Old Town from the New Town. It feels a bit odd to see this medieval tower from 1485 alongside modern cars.
Just past the Powder Gate is Municipal House, a stunning Art Nouveau civic building that houses a concert venue. We ducked inside to have a look around. (Trivia: It’s also where INXS filmed the “New Sensation” video!) There were a LOT of places we passed along the way advertising classical concerts for tourists, so my tip if you go to Prague is to do your research ahead of time and book something in.
There was a steady stream of tourists heading towards the Old Town Square.
The Old Town Square is ringed by buildings in lots of different architectural styles. I liked this very decorated one.
Here’s the Snook looking across the Square to the Old Town Hall. The Square is also where the Prague Easter and Christmas Markets happen.
The column coming out of Rodd’s head is the Marian column, with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top.
I love the spires on the Church of Our Lady before Týn. It reminds of some castle from a Disney movie… a bit Gothic and scary. I’m slightly regretting that we didn’t go in, as it’s where Tycho Brahe is buried.
After exploring the Square itself, we turned back towards the Old Town Hall for our next landmark…
See that crowd of people gathering to the left? If you ask any person about going to Prague, they will invariable mention the astronomical clock.
The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest clock still in operation. We managed to time our visit to noon so we could see the little figures go around and Death come out to strike a bell.
As you can see, it’s a massively popular tourist stop! Once the chiming was over (which was honestly a bit anticlimactic if you ask me), we followed the crowds down Karlova Street through the Old Town towards the Charles Bridge.
The Old Town Bridge Tower is very imposing. Construction it was started in 1357! For many centuries, Charles Bridge was the only means of crossing the Vltava River.
Just off to the side of the Bridge Tower is a statue of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. He’s the one that started building the bridge, and who it’s named after.
Time to head across!
The bridge has lots of status on it, and it’s the final stop on the Rick Steves tour. One of the most famous is John of Nepomuk. The story goes that Nepomuk was the confessor of the Queen, and the King wanted him to divulge her secrets. Nepomuk refused, so the King had him chucked over the side of the bridge into the Vltava, where he drowned. Poor Nepomuk! At the base of his status is a bronze relief with a dog on it, which has been rubbed gold by thousands of visitors over the years. (It’s said to bring good luck.)
On the other side of the river, you can just see Prague Castle up on the hill. (We were saving that until the next day.)
And that’s the end of the audio tour! We had worked up quite an appetite, which was perfect as we had a very special reservation to get to back in the Old Town.
This is the Church of St. Salvator, which we passed along the way. Nice support of Ukraine!
Over in the Jewish Quarter we found this statue of Franz Kafka. Kafka was born in Prague, and there are a lot of tributes to him.
Our destination for lunch was La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, a Michelin-star restaurant that we saw on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show. We went for the full tasting menu, with the Snook getting the wine pairing and me going for the non-alcoholic.
For the amuse-bouche, they brought us beef tartar with tuile crackers, salad, and a sort of savoury macaron with fennel seed. I had seen Bourdain rave about the tartar so I was excited to try it, and it did not disappoint. I also remember really liking the salad leaf, which had some intense dressing on it.
And how beautiful is that lacy tuile cracker! I have no idea how you make something as delicate as this. (We both seem to remember the waiter telling us it was made from potato starch.)
The first course was “Golden beet, tomato, ramson.” If you’re wondering if that sauce has a lot of butter in it, you’d be correct. 🤤
Next was “Trout, toast, horseradish.” That’s not trout skin; that’s a piece of very thin, golden, salty toast on top.
Third course was “Duck, sweet corn, cranberry.” I believe the cranberry was actually that pinkish powder on the side.
Last savoury course was “Pork, mushrooms, pasta.” The pork was hiding under that beautiful silky sheet of pasta.
Dessert was “Dark beer, blueberry, basil.” It looked a bit like a strawberry, with the green dots of intense basil. Rodd described it like a beer zabaglione. (He also said it gave him mild trypophobia.)
They also brought us a few small bite-sized bits to end the meal, including a little frozen dessert and a plate of fresh fruit.
That was a lovely way to spend an afternoon! ❤️
Lest you think we eat nothing but Michelin-starred meals on these trips, I should probably share our dinner as well. For that we went to an old local pub where the fare was decidedly less fancy.
I was craving vegetables so I had a salad (that was nevertheless covered in meat!) and the Snook had pork with two different types of dumplings.
On our way back from dinner, we discovered the Head of Franz Kafka statue. Each slice is meant to rotate, but it wasn’t working for some reason.
The next morning we headed to Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world. We braved public transport and caught a tram up to the castle, where we had to wait in a long security queue to get in.
This is Kohl’s Fountain in the second courtyard. (He’s a good sport, isn’t he?) ❤️
One of the most important parts of the castle complex is St. Vitus Cathedral. It’s the largest and most important church in the country.
The inside is just stunning, with soaring Gothic arches and lovely stained glass windows.
I particularly liked that second window there from “The New Archbishop Chapel,” which was designed by the renowned Czech painter Alphonse Mucha. (More about him later.)
The Cathedral also houses the Tomb of John of Nepomuk, so we got to hear the story again of how the King chucked him off the bridge.
The rosette window is called “The Creation of the World.” It was designed by Frantisek Kysela in 1925 and took over two years to be completed.
The facade on the south part of the castle is called the Golden Gate, and it joins the south tower to the transept. It’s decorated with a mosaic of the Last Judgement and has a fancy golden gate up high.
We also ventured down to the Golden Lane, which is a funny little street of brightly painted shops. The street originally was the quarters for the castle guards, but later the houses were occupied by normal people (and some famous ones like Kafka). Note: You have to pay a couple extra euros entry fee for this.
There’s an exhibition of armour along the upper story of many of the houses. My favourite was this inexplicable Chicken Knight. 🐔
After checking out some more parts of the castle, we decided we were getting tired and in need of some lunch. Here’s a final view of St. Vitus Cathedral and those gorgeous flying buttresses.
This is where our fun MOAT ADVENTURE begins. We left Prague Castle by what we thought was the same door we came in at, but once we got outside we realised that was not the case. Somehow we got turned around inside. (It’s a big castle.) So we pulled up Google Maps and started wandering. Eventually we found some stairs down into the moat itself, which we figured we could follow until we got around to a bit we recognised.
Yeah, that didn’t work so well. 😂 We just could NOT find a way out of that damn moat! We wandered for probably the better part of an hour and discovered multiple dead ends before we finally found a path that curved back up to where we’d originally entered.
Yeah, that moat is HUGE. It’s a whole forest, and it’s very deep.
Rather than head straight back across the river, we headed west towards Letná Park. Along the way we discovered Queen Anne’s Summer Palace….
…which had a lovely formal garden.
Letná Park has beautiful views back down the Vltava. That’s the Charles Bridge far in the distance with all the little arches. We had a very specific thing we were trying to find…
The Prague Metronome! This is a a 75-foot-tall (23 m) functioning metronome that “may” be the largest metronome in the world. Unfortunately it wasn’t in operation when we were there, but at least we got to see it.
We had done a lot of steps at this point so we were looking forward to some refreshment at the Letná Lookout Beer Garden… but I gotta say, I was little disappointed. Plastic cups!? Maybe Munich has spoiled me.
This was a much better reward – a chimney cake! (Or trdelník, as they’re called in Czech.) We’d read that Good Food made the best chimney cakes in Prague, and we were not disappointed. We both got pistachio cakes, but mine was filled with ice cream. SO GOOD.
We were craving beef, so for dinner that night we headed to Bílá Kráva, a “French” steakhouse. It was lovely! We had a sort of sampler platter with three different cuts and a couple different sauces. Highly recommended.
One more day of sightseeing in Prague meant a visit to the Mucha Museum! I knew he had a very fruitful collaboration with the actress Sarah Bernhardt, but it was fantastic to actually see these prints in person.
The Museum had other less well-known artworks from Mucha as well, including some of his paintings. I also enjoyed seeing the photographs from his studio. My favourite was of the artist Paul Gauguin playing the harmonium pantsless. 😂
Our next destination was down one of the back streets in the Old Town…
That’s right. We went there.
There were actually quite a few people there, but they were mostly giggling 20-somethings. The, uh, historical context around some of the exhibits was quite interesting. But overall it was fairly tacky and gross, which may be why we scored “Cold” and “Frozen” respectively. 😂
We had a beer tour to get to, but on the way there…
We finally got to see the Franz Kafra Head in action!
We booked in for an evening tour with Beer Prague. We had a lovely host (Vašek, I think?) who took us around to three different mini-breweries and we tried 9 different local Czech beers.
The last stop had food to help line our stomachs after all that beer. I honestly can’t remember what it was though. Sausages? And some sort of cheese with bread? Was good though.
The only other guests were a Canadian couple – Jacqueline and Ron – and honestly the four of us were such chatterboxes that our lovely tourguide pretty much gave up on teaching us anything and just led us around to beer. It was like hanging out with old friends. Great night!
The next day it was finally time to head towards a place the Snook has been dreaming about for two years – WALHALLA. To get there, we first caught the train to Regensburg. After checking into our hotel, we went for a wander.
Regensburg is a city on the Danube in Eastern Bavaria. It’s a very popular stopover for tourists on river cruises, and the town center is exactly what you expect a medieval Bavarian town to look like. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, in fact. One of the major landmarks is the Stone Bridge (Steinerne Brücke). It’s nearly 900 years old!
The Bridge Tower (Brückturm) at the south end of the bridge has a clock and a museum in it. For many centuries the bridge was open to traffic and thus was seriously damaged, so in 2008 they made it pedestrian only.
From the Stone Bridge you get a great view back towards Regensburg Cathedral. You can also see here a bit of the famous Donau Strudel. These are the whirlpools that form in the water due to the currents created by the bridge pylons. Evidently they’re actually quite dangerous even for boats!
We had a lovely evening walk through the city. Isn’t it pretty?
We crossed the river again a little farther downstream at the Iron Bridge (Eiserne Brücke). It was a warm night, and there were folks swimming (safely far away from the Strudel!).
Looking further downstream, we could see where the river cruise boats dock for their city visits.
One of the really amazing landmarks in Regensburg are the remains of the Porta Praetoria, Germany’s most ancient stone building. This was part of a Roman military camp dating from 179 AD!
I mean, Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor when this was built. It’s mindblowing to think how well constructed these stone edifices were to survive nearly 2000 years.
Just a very pretty house in Regensburg where Goethe spent the night once.
For dinner we circled back around and over the Stone Bridge again to the Spitalgarten, a large biergarten right on the Danube.
The Snook ordered a grilled fish…
…while I went for a cordon bleu.
We were feeling pretty happy.
Especially when we shared this dessert of berries and cream!
Just a nice evening stroll back to our hotel…
We were staying in the Goliath am Dom, so named because it’s literally across the street from Goliath House, a 700+ year old house with a 400+ year old giant painting of David versus Goliath. Nice hotel; can recommend.
We enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the hotel the next morning. And guess what – it was this guy’s birthday! 🎂
We ventured out on another free audio tour, this time the Lauschtour from the local tourism board. The city was looking very festive in the morning sunshine.
The birthday boy decided he needed a more colourful shirt. I really can’t argue, especially as I made that one for him. ❤️
The tour takes you all around the heart of the city. We passed loads of groups of river cruise tourists along the way.
The tour was very informative. We learned about the tragic history of Jewish people in Regensburg over the centuries. It even pointed out the “Judensteine,” medieval Jewish tombstones that were vandalised and actually mounted on the facades of fancy houses. The memorial shown here was created by artist Dani Karavan in 2005 to commemorate the foundation of the Regensburg Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis on the Kristallnacht in 1938.
The next stop was Regensburg Cathedral, which is undergoing some restoration work at present. It’s 502 years old, and the spires make a handy landmark pretty much anywhere you go in Regensburg.
Again with the gorgeous, soaring Gothic arches!
The Cathedral also houses the largest hanging organ in the world.
We finished the audio tour and then it was time to get to our ride – the Walhalla Schifffahrt.
We boarded the boat and grabbed some seats outside in the sunshine for the trip to Walhalla. It’s actually a monument, a “hall of fame” of famous Germanic people built high up on on the river bank. Rodd found it somehow ages ago and we just thought it sounded like a cool place to visit.
The trip to Walhalla takes about 45min. Here we are about to pass under the Donaubrücke Schwabelweis.
What’s that, high up on the hill? It’s our first glimpse of Walhalla!
This is how it looks as the boat pulls up to the dock. It’s a neoclassical building like the Parthenon, set pretty high up. It was built by Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I, grandfather of Ludwig II who built Neuschwanstein) in the 1830’s.
The boat stops at Walhalla for about 75 minutes, so we knew that’s all the time we had to get up there and back down again. I’ve seen conflicting accounts of how many steps there actually are – this site says 358, but this one says 479. And that’s not even counting the path to get up to the steps! I was a bit daunted.
It took us about 10min to make it to the start of the steps. I am already dreading the inevitable knee pain.
But hey, the view is already gorgeous.
Here we are at the very last set of steps. Sweaty. Note: these steps are pretty steep, and there are zero handrails.
Look at this absolute snack. Happy birthday, Mr. Snook. ❤️
Seriously. There are no hand rails.
But the view is SPECTACULAR.
We walked around the perimeter, with its stunning colonnade.
The ceiling is nice too.
Love the pattern of the shadows.
The columns also beautifully frame that amazing view.
It costs an extra couple euros to actually go inside the memorial. There are like 130+ busts and 60+ plaques, all commemorating famous Germanic people. (It uses language rather than nationality, as it was built before the formation of the modern German state.)
I took a few photos of the busts. “Wolfie!” I cried, seeing our buddy Mozart there. I also got Wagner and Bach next to each other, with Kepler up above. I also liked that Einstein‘s was done in a more modern, abstract style. (You can see the full list of busts on Wikipedia.)
One thing I quickly noticed was how few women there were. I only counted a couple, mainly queens or nuns. I was touched to see that one of the more recent additions is Sophie Scholl, who was active in the White Rose resistance group and was executed for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at Munich University. The text of the plaque underneath says:
In memory of everyone who courageously resisted against injustice, violence, and terror of the Third Reich
It was soon time to head back down to the boat, and then up the river to Regensburg. The return trip actually takes slightly longer – about an hour – because you’re going against the current.
Back in Regensburg, our final outing was Rodd’s birthday dinner at Sticky Fingers. We were seated outside on the cobble-stoned pedestrian street, and we started off with cocktails.
Soon musicians came by to serenade everyone. The Snook was dubious. 😂
We went for the “Die Grosse Hafenrundfahrt” option (“The big harbour round tour”) with five courses selected by the chef. Most of them look to be on the menu, but a couple (the fish and the dessert) were seasonal I think. I thought the food was great but the Snook was less impressed. They were very busy though, and we waited a long time between courses so maybe that was a factor.
Still, a night under the stars with my favourite person is never wasted. It was a lovely way to end the trip.
And hey, when we got back to Munich the next day, my delayed luggage was finally waiting! 😂 #winning