She Said, She Said: Prague
By Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old World as thirty days would allow, recording their favorite places and activities along the way. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their installment, logged from Prague.
The train ride from Berlin to Prague was one of the most scenic of our trip. The route winds through the dramatic Elbe River Gorge, where ancient castles and fortresses perch atop rocky cliffs, and then the spires of Prague appear.
Music: One of the biggest surprises in Prague was the music. It was everywhere we went. Street entertainers performed Wagner, rock music, and gypsy tunes to appreciative onlookers. One crowd stopper was a brass band dressed in military-style suits with large fringed epaulets and big brass buttons playing the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine atop Charles Bridge Tower. Near the entry to Prague Palace, a small ensemble in traditional garb played folk songs. And covered walkways provided amplification as well as rain shelter for musicians who entertained diners at canopied outdoor eateries all over town. We were also impressed by the number of scheduled concerts in stunning settings, including the grand Lobkowicz Palace, the baroque St. George’s Basilica, and the gold-capped Estates Theater where Mozart conducted the first staging of his opera Don Giovanni.
Old Town. This was our favorite neighborhood in Prague. Just across the Charles Bridge, the Old Town area offers a wide selection of entertainment. You can shop for souvenirs like “bohemian” jewelry and colorful marionettes, climb the famous clock tower in Old Town Square and then catch the glockenspiel (the clock works), eat street food or in gourmet dining rooms, and go clubbing, all in the space of a few blocks. However, what really sets the Old Town apart isn’t the quantity of activities but the quality of the atmosphere. Cobblestone streets are lined with architecture that looks like it belongs on a movie set. Ornate, detailed and colorful, these ancient buildings now house black light shows and sidewalk cafes. You’ll find yourself marveling at a gargoyle or elaborate carving only to find it belongs to a Starbucks. Day or night, the Old Town is a great place to take in Prague’s unique mix of old buildings and youthful culture.
Aria Hotel. Music is infused into every aspect of life at this elegant five-star design hotel, starting with its décor, which includes cartoons of musical personalities and musical notes on the tiles and carpets and subtly embroidered on towels, robes, carpeting, stationary and even the nightly turndown note. In fact, the Aria Hotel might be the world’s only hotel with a music director/concierge on staff, a musicologist who can suggest choices from the hotel’s extensive music CD/DVD lending library and concerts around town. Each of the hotel’s 51 rooms and suites has a different music and musician theme. We stayed in the Beatles room, where an iPod was loaded with Beatles songs and the night table held books about the Fabulous Four. We loved the hotel’s location, on a quiet street, within walking distance of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. One of the nicest amenities was complimentary private access to the neighboring baroque Vrtbovská Garden, one of Prague’s most sought after wedding venues and a hidden delight for photographers.
Prague Castle: Almost every tourist who comes to Prague will make the steep climb up to Prague Castle (either on foot or by tram). That’s because the castle isn’t just a castle. The complex houses multiple palaces that now house art museums with rich collections of Czech and European works, and ancient churches such as St. Vitus Cathedral, where many former rulers are entombed. Also here is a row of small 16th century houses, Golden Lane, with displays of weapons and a chance to shoot a crossbow. And, of course, there’s the Old Royal Palace itself. The ancient stone building has survived many regimes, from the kings of Bohemia to the Hapsburgs. Today, its grand Vladislav Hall is still used for official ceremonial events such as presidential inaugurations. Its beauty is quite different from many of Europe’s more glitzy estates. The gothic architecture and vaulted ceilings give the space a kind of Lord of the Rings meets King Lear feel.
Prague at Night: Prague is a city worth staying up for—and most visitors do. As the sun sets–around 10 pm in summer—tripods are set up at vantage points along the banks of the river and on the Charles Bridge to catch the beauty of the exquisite architecture bathed in light. Shops and restaurants were still hopping at 10 p.m. and visitors and locals continued to parade across the Charles Bridge and through the Old Town and Malá Strana areas, popping in and out of art galleries, jewelry, antique, crafts and souvenir shops. At frequent intervals, groups formed to catch impromptu street concerts and watch magic acts and dancers. Our last night in Prague, there were spectacular fireworks going off over the Prague River. People stopped along the Charles Bridge to watch, but not for long; the street entertainment was much more compelling.
Shopping: Pařížská ulice, which translates to ‘Paris Street,’ is the 5th Avenue of Prague. Coming right off the Old Town Square, its upscale stores and beautiful architecture are worth browsing, even if the prices are beyond your budget. The Pařížská ulice specializes in luxury goods and brands such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier, etc. Also coming off the Old Town Square is the New Town area, which is actually a historic commercial district dating back to the 1300s. With the energy of New York’s Times Square, New Town is a lot more crowded than Pařížská ulice but also a lot more affordable. I bought a shirt there at a store called ‘New Yorker,’ which carried clothes made in Germany. What a world.
For more information on Prague, visit usa.czechtourism.com
Next stop: Vienna.
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and has been published in the Riverdale Press and Elegant Lifestyles. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and will be studying political science at the University of Chicago this fall.