Wednesday, December 12

praha :: day 5 :: karlovy vary, u fleku aka best beer in the world

monday, we get up early and wait for our tour bus to pick us up so we can make the trek out to karlovy vary, a beautiful little "spa" town 2 hours outside of praha. it is known for its "healing" mineral/spring water and famous wafers. the tour bus is very inefficient and makes several circles within the city to pick up other tourists. our tour guide is bad, explaining the old town and new town areas like this: "over here, is old town. it is oldest town. and here, is new town. it is newest."

as we get further away from praha, it starts to snow.

our first stop is the becherovka factory/museum. obviously one of those stops a tour group picks so you can spend money. we go inside and are told the history of the herbal liquor, and the guide yells "no photos!" while taking us through the cellars to see barrels where this is stored.

at the end of the museum tour we have our becherovka tasting. pictured above is the museum guide. she is very mean and yells at you to hurry up and finish your drinks so she can pour you the next one and get you the hell out of there.

while watching a short film on the history of becherovka, we sip 3 different kinds, each tasting worse than the first.
after getting liquored up in the morning we walk through town to go to lunch. it starts snowing/raining again...but the town is breathtaking!

these are some of the "springs" from which you can drink the mineral water. some are as hot as boiling water!

lunch is at the hotel thermal, and it sucks. the food is blah - i would rather have skipped it and found a local eatery. by the time we are done with lunch we only have 2 more hours of free time. we are given a ticket to the heated pool but no one actually has time to take the dip in the mineral water.

so instead we race back through the town to look at all the springs and shop. this is me sprinting.

several little stands along the road sell hundreds of these little cups. they come in all colors, shapes and sizes, but each has a little spout from which you can drink your water.

we buy boxes and boxes of these delicious wafers. they are the size of your face! the vanilla ones come toasted. it's thin, crispy and airy. the inside seems to be filled with sugar but somehow it's not overwhelming.

after a 2 hour drive back into prague, we go to dinner at this tiny fish house listed in lonely planet. of course, dinner starts with a beer.

this fried carp is very tasty but it takes nearly an hour for them to bring all our food!

after dinner we walk to the famous u fleku pub down the street. it's nearly 10:30 and the place closes at 11, but it's still packed! it's famous for a special brew that you can only get here. it's sort of a dark beer, but it tastes amaaaazing; i don't normally like dark beer either.

this is the u fleku beer, above. i am still kicking myself for not buying some to bring back. i have 2 of these in 30 minutes!

after dinner we stop by a bar on the way back to the metro and have more beer. of course!

our last stop is KFC by our house for some chicken strips and mashed potatoes. for some reason there is a bowl here called "fuller creamy". we're not sure what this means but the picture looks delicious?

Friday, November 30

praha :: day 4 :: hot dogs and pakistani food

of course, i only call them "hot dogs" because i'm being american. they're not really hot dogs. that would not do them justice. they have these stands everywhere and these things are the most delicious, succulent, greasy sausage sandwich things you could ever eat. my favorite part is the "mustard" they give you. it tastes more like a sweet combination of mayonnaise (?) and mustard.

i'm not sure which one i end up eating. but it is soooo good.

eating is not the only thing we do on this day. there is also some drinking and productive sight seeing. we get up at 3:30pm because of the late night on the charles bridge, and take the metro one stop away to see the "dancing building", a famous piece of architecture in prague.

after a quick stop where we stand on the tiny island in the middle of this busy intersection taking pictures of this building in the dark, bleak, gray sky, we leave in search of food. we only end up at the sausage stand after 2 failed attempts at finding "vegetarian" restaurants listed in my lonely planet book. one had been abandoned - or maybe it moved, who knows i can't read czech, and the other i never found until too late because we walked in the wrong direction (it seems that this city does not bode well for those who dare to cater to vegetarians in a big meat-eating population).

(metro stop, namesti republicky)

by now we are completely sick of the typical heavy goulash/meat plates that when, combined with beer, induce major food coma. i must eat something different for dinner.

my friends and i end up at a pakistani restaurant called mailsi. it's a little out of the way in a neighborhood called "zizkov", which i had read was the up and coming middle class neighborhood of prague (in my mind, i equated this to silverlake/los feliz/eagle rock so i instantly gravitated towards it since the beginning of the trip) inside, the space is unassuming and warm. it's 9:30 already and there's no one else in the restaurant except a small group of 3 in the back, speaking english in low voices. ex-pats?

the owner (?) greets us; his english is great and i think we feel more at home here than we have been this entire time on the trip. a small boy runs around the restaurant helping him with our orders (his son?) we settle on our drinks (i choose the "budvar") and begin to ask him questions about the food. he graciously explains the differences in the curries. there are some on the menu i have never seen before, obviously because i've only ever had indian food.

like bread on the table: papadams accompanied by assorted pickles, yogurt, and something like chutney

we each order something a little bit different so we can all try everything.

first, we start with appetizers.

fried potato, samosa, and something like onion rings. delicious

fresh naan for the table

delicious rice, and so pretty. i like to call it christmas rice.

creamy yogurt-y curry. this one is very sweet.

curried spinach with lamb -- absolutely amazing.

similar to a beef keema sort of dish. i love anything with potatoes.

tomato-based curry with chicken. i love tomatoes also!

my absolute favorite of the evening - the "mailsi" curry recommended by the owner. very creamy and heavy but like nothing i've ever tasted before.

i love that everything is placed on these heating trays.

behold! the glory of my pakistani feast

i don't even know how but somehow we manage to order some dessert (mango ice cream and rice pudding) before dragging ourselves back to the tram and going home to finally sleep at a decent hour.

Saturday, November 24

praha :: day 3 :: street food and protests, ghosts on the charles bridge

due to a late night and jet lag preventing me from getting more than 3 hours of sleep, destructor and i go back to bed after breakfast and do not wake up until 4:30pm. it's already dark when i wake up, and i jump up exclaiming, "@#$%?! it's 4:30! let's go let's go let's go!!"

but go where? i didn't care as long as we didn't end up wasting the whole day. we frantically throw on all our layers, and promptly jump on the 9 tram so we can "get off somewhere random" and explore. we end up on one of the main streets by stare mesto (old town), and the first thing we do is buy a random pastry looking thing with a sausage in the middle. all i know is that it starts with a "b" and the rest of the letters are something like "zcljiewaiijklzjljfdjalslkjfd"...??

we go inside a nearby tesco so we don't have to eat in the cold. it's very greasy, and is like biting into a giant thick hash brown with a sausage in the middle. yummy.

then, we see several people waiting in line at this little stand:

so we get in line too. it turns out she's making some sort of delicious pastry.

however, while waiting in line we hear several police sirens and are alarmed by a mob of people marching down the street towards us. everyone is in heavy jackets and some are in ski masks. what is this? i try to take pictures but at this point feel a little vulnerable getting in people's faces and snapping photos when i don't even know what this protest is about.

one of them yells, "tesco!!!" and many follow and pour into tesco. we had just been in there moments ago. what was this??

it is finally our turn to order the delicious pastry. i ask the lady if she knows what they are doing, and her english is suprisingly good because she says in a very annoyed voice "they are @#$%ing anarchists"...something something "nazi".

did she say..."nazi"?

we get our pastry - i don't know why we only order one but it is sooo delicious.

we slowly head down the street but stop in our tracks when we see an entire van of police jump out and trot in single file through an alley, presumably into the next street.

hmm. we decide to figure this out later and continue our lovely evening walk, despite the apparently politically charged demonstration we just ran into.

(it turns out that this is an antifa demonstration because november 10th is the night of kristallnacht. we later piece this information together from photos of subway stickers promoting the rally and researching on wikipedia. to find out more click here and here - very interesting)

i find this amazing, quaint little nook hiding in the back of a building that is an "original souvenir" shop. the store is full of hand painted easter eggs, floor to ceiling.

eventually we go back and meet up with the rest of the group. before heading out again for dinner i ask the front desk if they know anything about what just happened near stare mesto. they give me some sugar-coated answer and say "don't worry, the police are out tonight so is okay."

that's nice.

at dinner, i have goulash that is made with completely unchewable beef. that's okay, because our beer orders make up for it. i attempt to order a half blonde half dark beer and feel pleased when the waiter actually understands and confirms "half half?". auspiciously, our beers - when placed next to each other - make up a nice spectrum of light to dark beer.

beer spectrum photo courtesy of bitesize

after dinner we go to the charles bridge for the view. this is a very famous bridge and is stunning at night. despite the cold, i can't help but be charmed by the experience of walking on this bridge, everything around me dark except for the interspersed lamps and the prague castle in the background.

before we go to lavke, a club recommended to us, we go back to the friendly bar we discovered the other night. i have a velkopopovicky kozel; i get the "cerny", a delicious dark beer. (the wikipedia entry for this is in desperate need of an update)

anyway, the club is interesting but thus far my experiences have felt like i was back in the ex-pat social scene in beijing. the night before, another club felt very international/ex-pat-ish mixed with a little bit of santa monica. not so exciting.

minnie mouse and i had planned a "charles bridge at dawn" moment a long time ago, so after clubbing and eating a second dinner, we all walk back to the bridge. it's about quarter to 6am and freezing cold, but we think the sun will rise soon. we had heard the views were beautiful. we pass the time by taking pictures of belvedere looking like a headless ghost. (he has a long coat so that if he pulls the collar above his head, it works)

i also pose like a gargoyle.

then, 2 drunk dudes show up and ask us if any of us are from prague and when we say no they ask if we would be offended if they threw this bench (which they had been dragging for some time, it appears) over the bridge. we say no and offer to take a video for them. they scream something like, "1234 woohoo new york!!" and heave the bench over the bridge into the river. what? drunk americans.

however, soon it became clear that no amount of goofing off would make the sun rise faster. i had previously thought about checking the sunrise time but the demonstration had distracted me. by 6:30, it is still dark. finally, we decide to head back to the hotel. at least by now the metro is running again. how sad! nearly an hour in the dark and cold and no payoff. but the experience was still beautiful, because there is no other time you could stand on the charles bridge like that, surrounded by only the darkness and glowing yellow light from the lamps, and no people.

back at the hotel breakfast service has already begun. we eat and then crawl into bed just as the sun finally begins to rise.