HTME – October :: Top 10 Reasons to Visit Prague

Happy Halloween everyone!!! As a treat this month’s Happiness Through My Eyes is debuting on this fantastic holiday. For those of you new to HTME, several amazingly talented photographer friends of mine have teamed up to create a blog circle posting about the happiness in our lives once a month. The fantastic part is that these ladies are literally spread out all over the world! This month I link to the fantastic Ana Quiroga in Barcelona Spain. Ana and I share a love for food, tea, and Le Creuset! She has an incredible photographer’s eye and I adore her creative style! To see her happiness this month click HERE.

I always thought birthdays were about presents and cake. Sure there was plenty of celebration involved too, but it is only later in life after marrying an incredible intelligent {albeit full of himself} man that I realized birthday celebrations could be something more. To my husband D, birthday’s are all about the experience. Anything that could give you a great story {ie:“So there was this one time in Prague when we locked ourselves in a room for an hour to see if we could escape…”} is so much more fulfilling than anything tangible. So began the tradition of celebrating birthdays with an experiential vacation.

For my birthday this year I chose Prague, a HUGE bucket list travel destination! We chose to drive the six hour journey in a rented car, stopping at Esso stations along the way through Germany to get gas. I was all kinds of excited as neither of us had been this far east. D had done spectacular research on things to do, architecture to see, and restaurants/bars to stop and replenish our energy. So I came up with the top ten reasons to visit Prague to share with you this October! There was definitely an abundance of happiness to be had on this fantastic vacation!

I’m really not sure how we managed it, but our Air B&B apartment accommodations were one street over from the Rodeo Drive of Prague. Out my front door and down the street was a five star hotel with a five star heated parking garage {complete with a car wash!}. My jaw hit the pavement strolling past Tiffany’s, Gucci, Fendi, Jimmy Choo {shoes!!!}, Hermes, and La Perla, just to name a few! There was a moment where I cursed my suitcase and everything in it because I knew whatever I wore, I’d look like a hobo in any of these stores. I went inside a few, determined to ignore the disapproving sneers at the holes in my comfy flats and my north face rain jacket. While I was unsuccessful at beating back the stares, the shopping was glorious. So many beautiful things, even if you just walk past the windows!

The most quoted phrase from my husband on the trip was “The Eastern block this…..” and “The Eastern block that….” or “Welcome to the Eastern Block….” which was soon shortened to “The EB”. The culture of Prague is unlike anything I have encountered yet on my travels. The language for starters is fascinating. It has been a long time since I visited a country where I had trouble pronouncing “Hi” and “Thank You”, much less remembering them. Also the currency made me feel like I was spending thousands and thousands of dollars… as one hundred Czech Krone {100 Kč} = $4.58. So I’m pulling out 1000 Kč bills from the ATM feeling like I’m draining my bank account only to do the math and find out that the equivalent is about $46. Ha! Definitely an awesome part of the adventure.

Dude, Prague is OLD…. Like amaze-balls old. Prague was founded in the 8th Century by Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the Přemyslid dynasty. During the 14th century, the Holy Roman Emporer Charles IV reigned until 1378. My brain explodes at the thought of how much history this city contains. How many souls wandered these streets and the stories they could tell…. The Czech Republic {formerly Czechoslovakia} has been a crucial territory during both World Wars, the Cold War, and the Velvet Revolution suffering from destruction and bombings and bloodshed. I was amazed to see how much beauty the city still holds, as the major landmarks seem untouched, simply weathered by time. If you are at all a history buff, the city is your ticket to historical paradise.

Enter the best bar experience OF MY LIFE. Folks who know me are aware of how fancy pants I am when it comes to cooking and tending bar. Nothing ordinary for this girl, only complicated drinks like lavender martinis, vanilla passions, cherry chocolate bourbon soda, and tangerine gimlets strike my fancy. I have often thought, “If only there was a bar that served ONLY fancy pants drinks. Where nothing is ever simple, and flavors run wild.”. Well, I am ecstatic to tell you that my dear sweet husband found the bar of my dreams. The Hemingway Bar sits one block off the river near the Charles Bridge. You have to make reservations in order to get in, and I high recommend that you sit at the bar to witness the most incredible mixology/bar service of your life. Right away I was tipped off to the stellar branding as we sat at the bar noting their slogan “Fine Mixology and Luxury Spirits”. Simple, timeless, & classic. The staff is all male dressed in slacks collard shirts and suspenders. They all have an air of 1920’s speak easy charm. I had died and heaven is really a bar…..

Our bartender, Peter, is simply the best. Menus were brandished seemingly out of no where upon our arrival as we were greeted and helped into our seats. My first drink was the ELIZABETH HADLEY RICHARDSON which contains the following: El Dorado 12 years old rum, Sandeman Port Tawny, Creme de Griottes chocolat from Gabriel Boudier, star anise tincture, and spray of Xante, paired with a chocolate chip cake for tasting in it’s own mini cake plate complete with glass cover. I was floored. I didn’t know ANY of these ingredients. Watching Peter work his magic was like watching a mad scientist chemist. The drinks were mixed in beakers or shakers of various sizes. Flavors and alcohol were added in different size pony & jiggers or eye droppers or spray bottles. Cocktails were stirred with long swivel spoons and various size ice cubes, every one tasted by Peter himself before it was served to ensure quality. Each signature cocktail had it’s own particular glass, and garnish. It was the most elaborate display of mixology I had ever seen. Watching him shake the drinks was my favorite part, as he had a style and flair all his own.

The Hemingway even does a special presentation on absinth as they stock 43 different kinds from several countries. Their bar stock alone is enough to make anyone’s mouth hang open agape. They stock over 200 rum varieties, 16 types of gin, 14 types of vodka, 15 different tequilas, 14 blended scotch whiskeys, 62 whiskeys separated by country and region, a variety of vermoths, bitters, ports, and the most impressive champagne list I have born witness to. Did I mention you can also order cigars in the smoking section downstairs?

So if you should find yourself in Prague, The Hemingway Bar is a MUST EXPERIENCE. Every drink we ordered was fabulous and watching Peter mix the cocktails was even more enticing. He even made me my own signature cocktail based on my pallet preferences! We were sad to leave knowing we would never have another bar experience like this one ever again. I give five starts to this bar for achieving high class atmosphere and first class drinks.

Oh the doors. They speak for themselves, literally. With so much decor and detail I was able to add at least a dozen or so to my fenestrations collection! Some of the more ornate doors guarded embassies while others welcomed individuals into places of worship. There were so many that I could hardly put my camera away before spotting another one and pulling it all back out again!

D is also a huge fan of puzzles. He is always playing logic games and I envy his ability to think outside the box. He found the Mind Maze and it was one of the most fun experience I have ever had on a vacation! Mind Maze is a live action adventure game where you are locked in a room for 60 minutes. Using only your brain to solve logic puzzles and find clues the goal is to find your way out of the room in the allotted hour. D and I thought it would be the ultimate team building experience….. and how right we were! We chose to do the alchemist’s chamber mind maze, which looked like something out of Harry Potter. I am proud to say that we were able to find our way out of the room in the given amount of time! We worked well together and he figured out some bits and I figured out others. I’ll admit I was really nervous that he would figure everything out first and I’d be standing there gawking at his brilliance. Parts of the maze were super challenging and once we figured things out there were many times where we felt stupid and had the “ohmigosh DUH!” moments. If you like to solve riddles and puzzles, this is another MUST DO activity while staying in Prague. D and I left the Mind Maze on an adrenaline high that lasted us the rest of the day!

I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t want to give anything away to future players. Be sure to make reservations in advance. The maze can be played in a group of two to five people. The staff is super nice and they will give you hints over a walkie talkie if you get stuck and need help. Are you game?

While in Prague, be sure to walk across the bridge up to the Prague castle. The castle really isn’t much other than it’s a rather large complex with gardens all around, but the view down on the city is well worth the hike. My breath caught in my throat upon first glimpse of the marvelous city of spires. Also, the walk along the river is quite scenic offering different vistas along each side of the valley.

I definitely experience some of the best meals of my life while on this vacation. I have to hand it to my husband as he did the research knowing that I like fancy pants cuisine way more than I enjoy fancy pants cocktails. Most of these evenings I left my camera at home to enjoy the meals without the added pressure of photographing everything and worry about poor lighting. The following two restaurants were my favorite and I will explain each in turn.

LA VERANDA – Elišky Krásnohorské 10/2, 110 00 Praha-Josefov, Czech Republic +420 224 814 733
AH-mazing food. The best quail and pumpkin risotto I have ever tasted in my life. This restaurant is Michelin rated with an excellent wine list. Their dessert menu is also to die for. It has a cozy atmosphere and be sure to sit upstairs if you can. It also happened to be right next door to our apartment. Score!

GRAND CRU RESTAURANT & BAR – Lodecká 1181/4, 110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město, Czech Republic +420 775 044 076
Best meal of my LIFE. Astonishing French cusine served only they way the French can. I had the largest Halibut steak I have ever seen. My husbands lamb with fig was melt in your mouth scintillating! This restaurant is known for its wine stock {over 1000 different kinds!} so we had a wine pairing with every course. These paired wines were absolutely outstanding! I highly recommend getting the cheese course before your dessert. And as always, NEVER pass up a French dessert! Their resident sommelier was extremely informative and knowledgeable about every wine that was served at our table that night. We could have stayed at this restaurant forever with its warm glow and insatiable aromas! As this place is extremely sought after, call in advance to make a reservation to be sure you get a seat!

There were many other amazing places we ate along with food from street vendors and local bakeries! A Czech bakery is a must for breakfast with their delightful Turkish coffee and kolaches!

Prague is a city of architectural wonders…. One that practically rivals Paris in it’s ornate Renaissance / Baroque styles. The you have modern marvels like the “Dancing House” by renown architect Frank Gehry, that leave you breathless in awe. There is more of a juxtaposition of styles in this lovely city of spires. Every where you look there is grandeur, everything you see has such exquisite detail that you find your self staring unabashedly. I was also quite fond of the colors that adorned the buildings and rooftops in Prague, as the palette is unlike any other. Boulevard upon boulevard of tall hand carved town-homes…. almost too much beauty to take in at once!

All I wanted for my birthday was to have an iconic shot of the Charles Bridge that I took myself. In true pro photographer form, D and I got up at 5:30 AM to make our way to the bridge. I could scarcely believe how empty it was! This particular tourists attraction is usually packed with people and street vendors alike which makes it practically impossible to get a clear shot during the day. It was so peaceful in the wee hours of the morning, just me, D, and the bridge {plus or minus a few other photogs}. I was super excited to shoot while manually focusing as the light was too dim for auto focus. It was such a dream to get the shots I wanted! If you are a photographer and are looking to get this shot, getting up early is the only way to do it!

Don’t forget to follow the blog circle around the world! Visit Ana’s blog in Barcelona and see her happiness HERE.

Until next month’s happiness… Wishing everyone a lovely November and Happy Halloween!

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