Viking’s Danube Waltz (7): The Pleasures of Prague

Viking’s Danube Waltz (7): The Pleasures of Prague

June 7-9th: Prague, Czech Republic

“You Must Remember This…”

con­clud­ed from part 6…

PragueTwo full days in Prague, an option­al extra on the Danube Waltz Tour, costs an addi­tion­al $1500 per cou­ple, and includes three nights at the very hand­some new town Hilton. Break­fasts there are the same com­pre­hen­sive assort­ment from nuts to soup that we encoun­tered aboard ship. The coach ride from Pas­sau, Ger­many, takes four hours through the his­toric Sude­ten­land, the dis­pute over which end­ed in the fate­ful Munich Agree­ment of 1938, last stop on the road to World War II.

Viking starts you off with a com­pre­hen­sive guid­ed tour of Prague, using a coach with walk­ing inter­vals. The city struck us as as the most pros­per­ous we’d seen. And the grot­ti­est, with a lot more rub­bish about than Pas­sau, Vien­na, Salzburg, Bratisla­va and Budapest. Every­thing I could hope to tell you about Prague, an archi­tec­tur­al won­der, you can find on the web, so this report is restrict­ed to what we saw on our own and rec­om­mend seeing.

Mucha and Lobkowicz

PragueAt the charm­ing Mucha Muse­um you’ll find many images by Alphonse Mucha, who defined art nou­veau and made Sarah Bern­hardt immor­tal. His pre­cise lith­o­graphs dec­o­rat­ed every­thing from bis­cuit tins to cig­a­rette ads, and he was a pret­ty fair oil painter too. His small, one-floor muse­um with a fine 30-minute video is well worth a stop.

Mucha devot­ed the sec­ond half of his career to patri­ot­ic themes dur­ing the Czech nation­al reawak­en­ing 1900-18 and the repub­lic 1918-38. He was a local fig­ure of repute, so the Gestapo arrest­ed and ques­tioned him, then let him go. Alas he died in the ordeal, aged 78. He’d be pleased with the revival of his coun­try, albeit trun­cat­ed since the divi­sion with Slovakia—certainly the Czech Repub­lic is one of the most pros­per­ous in the old east­ern bloc.

Palatial…

PragueThe Lobkow­icz Palace is part of Prague Cas­tle, restored to the fam­i­ly after the Bol­shies were thrown out in 1989. The present Count has spent half a life­time and lots of mon­ey find­ing and restor­ing the art trea­sures. This proved a per­fect place for a con­cert of flute, vio­la and piano, Bach, Beethoven, Vival­di began. Then the great Czechs Dvo­rak and Smetana, whose “Moldau,” is the nation­al con­cert piece. It sound­ed as good on one piano as it does with a full orches­tra. This is one impres­sive coun­try, thanks to nation­al hero Vaclav Hav­el, who brought it back to life in 1989.

Dining amid splendor

With the aid of Yelp and some locals, we were delight­ed with the restau­rants we chose for din­ner on two evenings, which we can rec­om­mend with every con­fi­dence. No Euros here: the Czechs are reluc­tant to give up on the koruna. ATMs, which snort up world cur­ren­cies and spit our crisp koruna bills, are everywhere.

PragueCafé Impe­r­i­al, Na Poříčí 15

Suzanne’s hor­ror over the size of her mar­ti­ni (yes, that was the drink as deliv­ered) was the only bad news at this place. Yelp it and you’ll see what we mean. Barbara’s mar­i­nat­ed foie gras was spec­tac­u­lar. The chick­en roulade with Ital­ian sausage and bar­ley risot­to out of this world. Though busy, the ambi­ence and ser­vice were equal to the food.

At Café Impe­r­i­al you dine in big Vic­to­ri­an easy chairs sur­round­ed by porce­lain mosaics and art nou­veau ceram­ics. The bill is enough to keep your socks on. Din­ner for four, includ­ing three drinks and a bot­tle of wine, came to $80 includ­ing the tip. Yes, that is twen­ty dol­lars per person.

Casablanca North

Blue Duckling/Little Blue Duck, Malá Strana

PragueHon­est to gosh, the piano play­er gave a good imi­ta­tion of Sam at Rick’s Café Améri­cain in Casablan­ca, play­ing As Time Goes By. Remem­ber?

Rick: (Bogie): “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine…. You know what I want to hear.”

Sam (Doo­ley Wlson): “I don’t think I can remember….”

Rick: “If she can stand it I can. PLAY IT!”

I half-expect­ed Ilsa/Ingrid and Victor/Paul to walk in that very moment. There were no Nazis in the cor­ner singing Die Wacht am Rhein. There was no Laz­lo to drown them out with Le Mar­seil­laise. Sim­i­lar atmos­phere, though. Just no Moroc­can arch­ways, and no fright­ened Peter Lorre look­ing to escape Ger­man clutches.

BlueDuckling

Yes, $57

The cab­bie said this was one of the most expen­sive restau­rants in Prague, and the bill real­ly rocked us. Two bot­tles of wine (one a blend of Caber­net and Czech grapes with unpro­nounce­able names that could pass for a clas­si­fied bor­deaux. Two cock­tails each. Starters and duck entrées for four plus bot­tled water, cof­fee, dessert and tip. It came to a stag­ger­ing $57 per per­son. The entrées includ­ed one duck dish list­ed under “veni­son,” pos­si­bly because the duck had wad­dled under the deer when the lat­ter was shot.

Also, the cab fare back with tip was $8, which will get you through two traf­fic lights on Park Avenue. If you get the impres­sion you can dine like King Wences­laus in Prague for very low num­bers, you are right. We could have spent a week sam­pling the bistros.

Avoid Heathrow Terminal Transfers!

No mat­ter where you fly from, and where you’re going, avoid any route requir­ing you to change ter­mi­nals (typ­i­cal­ly from 5 to 3 or vice-ver­sa) at London’s Heathrow Air­port. It took us most of an hour, with lengthy walks, long queues, a shut­tle bus, a tran­sit train and com­pli­cat­ed secu­ri­ty lines. For­mer­ly on inter-ter­mi­nal trans­fers, you were bussed in a sealed shut­tle and passed through with­out anoth­er dose of frisk­ing. Not any more, prob­a­bly because of enhanced secu­ri­ty against the lunatics we have to share the world with.

Heathrow is  a vic­tim of its suc­cess. Many years ago when the essen­tial deci­sions were tak­en, the present scale of air trav­el was unfore­seen. North Lon­don is crowd­ed, yet each time anoth­er huge invest­ment was made, it became the more dif­fi­cult to aban­don Heathrow as Britain’s chief air­port. Now after many years of dither­ing, a long-await­ed report will decide between expan­sion at Heathrow and expan­sion at Gatwick. It had bet­ter be the latter.

(Note added five years lat­er: They made the wrong choice….)

2 thoughts on “Viking’s Danube Waltz (7): The Pleasures of Prague

  1. thanks for a great arti­cle. have you done any oth­er riv­er cruises?
    regards, joey

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