As you may remember from my excitement before the festivities, I decamped for the holidays this year. Normally, Christmas is a high-octane time in my house with my partner's children, their assorted boyfriends and girlfriends and other friends and family members joining us for a few days. It's always lots of fun but there's inevitably stress involved too. Because last year had been overly filled with stress already, my partner and I decided to run away this year. We shirked our responsibilities and decided to take time out for ourselves, somewhere far away.
We went to Prague for a week and had lots of self-indulgent fun and much-needed rest and relaxation.
It was our first visit to the city (and indeed to the Czech Republic) and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone contemplating a few days away.
1: The city is very beautiful. Situated on the Vltava River, most of the medieval buildings that line its narrow winding streets miraculously escaped the devastation of WWII and there are architectural delights everywhere. From a fairytale castle that dominates the entire city to Art Nouveau buildings that rival Paris and even Communist and Cubist styles; your eyes will constantly boggle.
2: The people are friendly. Prague relies hugely on tourism, which means that people in bars, restaurants, hotels and shops speak good English and everyone we met was super smiley and eager to chat.
3: It's very affordable.
Even though Prague has got more expensive in recent years, it's still possible to enjoy good food and great beer and to stay in a quality hotel for a fraction of the cost that you would pay in Ireland.
Wandering around the Jewish Quarter of the city
Tip: if you're planning on visiting the Jewish Cemetery, don't queue at the main entrance. There's an office just around the corner where you'll be served much more quickly. You can buy a seven-day ticket here which covers entry to the Spanish Synagogue as well as several other locations. We visited the cemetery and the synagogue and enjoyed both.
|The Jewish Cemetery: a place that resonates with history|
|The Spanish Synagogue|
We stayed in the Hotel Maximilian in the Jewish Quarter where we enjoyed a fantastic standard of service. Our rooms were comfortable. The staff couldn't have been more helpful. The breakfast was amazing and served until 11.30am every day (12.30 at weekends). We also booked one of their pamper packages which meant that we enjoyed a massage followed by champagne on one of our evenings there - bliss!
Taking a tour with Sandeman's Free Prague Tours
Our tour guide was an experienced theatre actor with a passion for Kafka and he brought the history of this centuries-old city vividly to life. (Just in case you think these tours are free: they're not. It's simply that there is no set fee. You pay what you think the tour is worth.)
Visiting the John Lennon Wall, cooking sausages over a brazier and exploring the Kampa area
We both love John Lennon and the Beatles so we made a pilgrimage to this wall which has assumed great significance in Prague over the years. In 1980, when John Lennon died and Prague was still behind the Iron Curtain, someone posted Lennon-inspired graffiti promoting peace and freedom. This was seen as a challenge to the authorities and was quickly painted over, but just as quickly replaced. The tradition continued and people add their thoughts and images to this day. We both made sure to add some artistic creations of our own.
It was cold as we made our way to the wall and we saw a café with braziers outside selling sausages. So, we bought a sausage and cooked it on a fork over the fire. This was actually at lunchtime on Christmas Day, so you could say that charred sausage was our Christmas lunch!
Spending a few hours in the Mucha Museum
Czech artist Alphonse Mucha was one of Europe's most respected and creative Art Nouveau artists and this simple museum contains many captivating examples of his work. If you like Art Nouveau, prepare to be inspired!
The food and the beer
As you might have already anticipated, we made sure to treat ourselves to lots of good food. We tried Czech specialities such as Prague ham, goulash and dumplings from food stalls at the Christmas markets and from some of the many excellent restaurants in the city.
These are the ones we liked best:
Sansho: this trendy eatery is a casual place where the emphasis is on creative cooking using fresh Asian-inspired flavours. We loved all the savoury food but weren't as impressed by the desserts
Cotto Crudo: this fancy Italian is located in the Four Seasons Hotel, which gives you some indication of the fine dining on offer.
Kampa Park: we went here for dinner on Christmas Day (well, we needed something substantial after our lunch of shared sausage !) and absolutely loved it. The food is fantastic. The service is professional and friendly. And the views (make sure you get a seat on the terrace under Charles Bridge) are stunning.
|This was the view from our dining table|
These are some of the many things we loved about Prague - a city that made Christmas 2014 truly special.
And because we skipped Christmas this year, I'm hoping that the excitement and novelty of next year's festivities will override any potential stress involved!