Ah, Prague. A city so breathtakingly beautiful that you could almost wander around all day and forget to think about food, and just revel in the fresh air and romance of it all.
Well. Only almost.
But that's what I had to tell myself at the time. Prague has a thriving gourmet scene, but many of the marquee players were well out our budget this time around. And we got unlucky at 2 Bavarian eateries we tried -- one wasn't serving food in the mid afternoon, and the other served food that was distinctly....meh.
Above: Prague by day -- view from the gardens of Prague Castle
Above: Prague by night -- view from Charles Bridge
Above: Babs peering at the Astronomical Clock in Old Town; St Vitus Cathedral at dusk
Ah well. Aside from sights, Prague did at least deliver on that one other thing for which it's known for the world over: cheap beer.
Touristy bars will charge €2-3 or more for a pint, but locals will not be caught dead paying more than €1. Apparently if you head out into the suburbs, the price keeps dropping every 20 metres.
Staropramen is the beer that's brewed in Prague itself, and after some wandering around we managed to find a basement bar that served €1 pints.
Pivnice Pod Petrinem isn't the prettiest bar, but it's fiercely local. The bar crew look like bikers, the patrons are dressed in an even mix of office clothes and paint-splattered work overalls, and everyone is chain smoking. And judging by the event flyers at the entrance and the posters on the wall, the bar is very well plugged into the local underground scene.
Perhaps a little too well plugged in for my taste.
Most first-time visitors will invariably end up at one of the atmospheric underground taverns around Old Town serving steins of beer with meat and stodge.
If you want beautifully executed Czech cuisine at a great bite-for-buck price, head over to Bar Bar. We were peering at the menu outside when an evidently regular diner said to us "just go in, it's really really good".
Even through there's African themed art on the wall and a few amusing Golem TV-light box installations (left), the restaurant has a lovely understated vibe. As does the food. Until you put it in your mouth.
The duck leg with potato dumpling was excellent -- crispy on the outside, moist and well seasoned on the inside. But the real surprise of the evening was the spaghetti. When's the last time you ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce, herbs and parmesan, and said to your dining companion, "Holy crap you have to try this" ?
Another find was Chabad Kosher Shelanu Restaurant & Deli, a good place to fortify yourself with pastrami and corned beef sandwiches as you're exploring the Jewish ghetto. (If you're going to be in Prague on a Friday night, call ahead if you'd like to partake of their Shabbat dinner.) When out and about, don't miss the heart-wrenching Jewish cemetary, a gothic mess of gravestones because people were buried 12-layers deep.
Admittedly, I've had better pastrami in New York, but yet again, this site in Prague presented its own sight to behold: a Chinese guy managing the restaurant.
A Prague-tical Travel Tip
If you're taking a train to Prague, it's worth checking to see if a JLV service is available from your originating city.
We went to Prague from Zagreb, and paid €100 each for seat-only tickets for a 14-hour overnight journey. We were told we would have to switch carriages (I can't even remember where) as our train would split at 3am. The best part was that our tickets were the old-school completely (illegibly) handwritten kind.
I had pretty much given up on sleep and comfort for the night, and was just hoping we'd get to the right carriages to actually end up in Prague.
Evidently higher beings were feeling generous. When it came time to board, we asked a train conductor to decode our tickets and point us to the right carriage. He said "well actually for just €20 more per person you can get a 2-person sleeper carriage all the way to Prague. None of this changing carriages nonsense". (Pictured left)
With A/C, power sockets, a private sink, and a shared toilet and (fully-functioning) shower to boot.
I couldn't have been happier to hear in the morning that there had been track delays overnight and we'd be a couple of hours late for our arrival.
Pivnice Pod Petrinem
Prague 1, Malá Strana, Czech Republic
+420 257 007 327