Saturday, 28 January 2017

What a weekend!

Last weekend was my birthday, not just any birthday, but the big 5-0.  And Emma had told me that because it was a big birthday she was planning to take me away for the weekend, but wouldn’t tell me where.

Bright and early on Friday morning, we were up, having packed the day before for somewhere cold, and loaded the cases into the car.  Emma had told me the weekend before that where we were going had been -11°, so I was suspecting Scandinavia, not helped by the kids all hinting that it may be Norway.  Also, the fact that Emma had bought travel money and I knew that it wasn’t Euros also led to me thinking that it was going to be Norway/Sweden/Finland.

However, I was very wrong.  Once we were in the car and on our way to Gatwick, Emma let me see photos that she had downloaded (don’t worry, we were stationary and parked at the time) of where we were going.  And whilst I vaguely recognised the location, I still had no clue, so Emma had to put me out of my misery.

So, ladies and gents, I have just returned from a fabulous birthday weekend in Prague in the Czech Republic.  I was gobsmacked!

Once we had arrived at Gatwick, checked in and had lunch, we made our way to the gate and boarded our SmartWings flight to Václav Havel Airport, taking off only thirty minutes late.

We landed in a very snowy and cold Prague at 1830, and with the luggage already on the belt by the time we got to baggage reclaim, we were out, met by our transfer driver and heading to the hotel, arriving at about 1930.

Having checked in and unpacked, we then decided to have a bit of a wander and find somewhere to eat.  However, I was certainly glad that I’d packed both scarf and gloves as the temperature was -6°!  We had a wander around and then made our way up toward the very historic Wenceslas Square.  There was snow, it was crisp and even.  Thankfully, it wasn’t deep!  We also had to have the inevitable photograph with at the Wenceslas Memorial

It's just a pity that the National Museum was obviously having some building work done and was surrounded by hoardings, hiding the magnificent architecture from view.

We took a gentle stroll back to the hotel and on the way decided to have dinner at a restaurant called Como.  However, despite the temperature being -6°, Emma had been speaking to people about the restaurants and bars supplying blankets and having heaters, so rather than go inside, we ate on the terrace, Emma making use of the blanket whereas I stuck with the mulled wine to keep me warm.


After a good night's sleep we were up bright and early and, after a good breakfast, stepped out into the -9° city and made our way to the Old Town Square, located in which is the Old Town Hall.  This building had been almost completely destroyed in May 1945 during the Prague uprising when the population of the Czech capital rose up against the German occupiers at the end of the Second World War.  It has since rebuilt, including the Astronomical Clock, the world’s oldest, having first been installed in 1410.

Having made our way to the top of the tower and taken some fabulous pictures of the whole of Prague from the top, we then started making our way towards the Charles Bridge.  But there was one slight detour, as we made our way to Tiffany’s, so Emma now has pictures of her stood outside Tiffany’s in Paris, London, Rome and Prague!

We then made our way along the very icy and snowy path next to the Vltava River and, after a coffee to warm ourselves up, made our way across the Charles Bridge and to the top of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower, where we took some more pictures.  And as if proof were needed about the crazy Brits, we also saw a group of English lads, clearly on a stag do, also making their way across the bridge, but wearing far less than we were in the freezing temperatures.

We then went on a little bit of a trek as I had seen lots of people wearing Ushankas and although there were lots of cheap and nasty ones for sale in the numerous souvenir shops, I wanted to try and find an authentic one.  Having googled where to find one, I saw that there was a shop in the Andĕl area of Prague.  However, having walked all the way there we couldn’t find the shop, so gave up and had lunch instead.  It was only as we were walking back to the New Town that we found the shop, an army surplus store, and it was closed, so I never did get my hat.

Once we got back to the hotel, we chilled for a while and then got a taxi to U Emy Destinnové, the restaurant that Emma had booked for my birthday dinner. And what a birthday dinner it was!  Fois Gras, followed by Filet Mignon (made with bison as they did not have beef fillet), a delicious dessert, complete with candle, all washed down with some nice red wine and topped off with an Irish coffee.

The portions had seemed quite small and we had concerned that we may leave hungry, but were proved wrong and left the restaurant to get the taxi feeling very full.  Then it was back to the hotel for a nightcap before bed.

Earlier in the day, I’d googled local Czech spirits and the result that I got was for one called Becherovka.  So once back at the hotel I asked if they had any and was pleased that they had.  Strong but nice, although Emma wasn’t keen.

The following day was my actual birthday and I was awake bright and early.  Emma had arranged for a champagne breakfast to be delivered to the room, and sure enough it arrived.  However, the way in which we knew it had arrived was not the gentle tapping on the door, but the loud crash!  When Emma opened the door, she found one of the hotel staff staring at the mess of breakfast that was spread across the carpet of the landing outside our room.  It appeared that a wheel had fallen off the trolley that she had used to transport the food, hence the mess.  But it didn’t take them long to replace the food, although I think that they thought that we were expecting more people, judging by the amount of food.  However, we made a pretty big dent in it!

Once we had eaten, we then needed to ensure that we walked it off, which we did by making our way to Prague Castle.  It was a pleasant walk through the snowy Prague, although the temperature was at -7° and there was a biting wind, and when we crossed the Vltava we saw that there were large parts of the river that were frozen.  I was quite envious of the Castle Guard, who looked quite warm stood in their Ushankas and fur-lined greatcoats, although how long they would stay warm when stood completely stationary in those temperatures, I’m not sure.  But we did witness a “changing of the Guard”, so I suspect that they are only stood there for about an hour.

The castle was fascinating, with lots to see, but it was still bloody freezing, so we had to stop a couple of times on our tour to top up with hot drinks.  I think that Emma particularly enjoyed Golden Lane and I discovered that at one point, Franz Kafka had lived here.

The tour ended at St Vitus Cathedral, which was absolutely enormous.  In fact, we had been looking forward to visiting this as we thought that it would be warm inside.  Wrong!  If anything, I actually think that it was colder in the Cathedral than it was outside!

After the castle we had a gentle walk back to the hotel for a quick power nap before we went to dinner at a restaurant that was right next to the hotel.

This restaurant was a real surprise and hidden gem.  From the outside, it was simply an archway with one or two guys handing out what looked like takeaway menus.  However, an old school friend of mine had messaged us to say that we should visit his favourite restaurant in Prague, UModré růže, which was the one right next to the hotel.

We were led through the arch, through a nondescript door, down two flights of stairs and through two sets of curtains into a fabulous 15th Century cellar, decorated with armour, shields and swords.  The food was basic Czech fare, but both filling and delicious and I, for one, appreciated the complimentary slivovitz at the end of the meal.

On our last day in Prague, we were up early for breakfast, packed and then walked to Ss Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in the New Town.  In 1942, when Czechoslovakia was under Nazi occupation, the de facto Governor was a man named Reinhard Heydrich.  On 27 May 1942, two soldiers from the Czechoslovak Army-in-exile assassinated Heydrich during Operation Anthropoid.  After the assassination, the Germans launched a manhunt.  The two soldiers involved, Jozef Gabčík and Karel Svoboda were finally cornered in Karel Boromejsky Church, as the cathedral was then known, and were killed when the Germans assaulted the church after a brief siege.  There are memorials on the outside to those who died and a museum in the church crypt.

The walk there was bracing to say the least!  The temperature was -9°, but the wind whistling off the Vltava made it feel an awful lot colder.  And, to cap it all, when we got to the cathedral we discovered that we’d decided to visit on the only day that it was closed!

We spent a little while wandering around Prague, found a nice restaurant for lunch and then wandered back to the hotel to wait for the transfer to the airport.

Having got to the airport nice and early, checked in and found somewhere to eat, we were all ready for flight.  However, things did not go according to plan!  We were due to board at 1900 and fly at 1950.  However, there had been freezing fog at Gatwick during the day, so all flights to and from the UK were subject to delay.  Unfortunately, the Prague authorities failed to keep everyone informed, so even 30 minutes after the gate was due to open, we were still sitting with in the departure lounge with no information.  And to make matters worse, the t'interweb was telling us that our flight that was due to land at 2055 was now “expected” at 2330.

Thankfully, the delay was not as bad as expected, and we took off only one hour and forty-five minutes late, arriving one hour and twenty minutes later than we should have originally landed.

Having got back to the car, in the positively balmy 2°, we got home just before midnight, with time for a coffee before bed.

So, as the title says, what a weekend!  And thanks to Emma, I will always remember my 50th birthday.