Sightseeing Central Europe, Part IV: Slovakia and Czech Republic

Well, life’s been busy this summer and I seem to have fallen behind on my blogging. I’m heading off to Ireland with my mom tomorrow, so I figured now’s a good time to play some catch-up. There’s one last leg of the Central European trip that I haven’t shared yet- Slovakia and Czech Republic…

The next capital city we visited on our tour was Bratislava, Slovakia and it turned out to be one of my favorites! What made it even better, was that we were in Bratislava on what would become a historic day for Slovakia: election day. During this year’s election, the people voted 45-year-old Zuzana Čaputová for president, who’ll serve as the first woman president and the youngest president in the country’s history.

We took a walking tour with an incredibly knowledgeable, local guide named Filip Kulisev, who’s known internationally for his spectacular photography. He led us through Bratislava’s Old Town down cobbled pedestrian streets, sharing his knowledge of the beautiful city. We started off at the Danube River and the bridge known as the “Most Slovenského národného povstania” or unofficially, the UFO Bridge.

One of the first things I noticed as we strolled along was how under-crowded and clean the city was. Compared to Vienna, where we felt like sardines herding through the city streets in jumble of other tourists, Bratislava was relaxed with a blend of locals and visitors, evidently existing in harmony.

Though tourism seemed slower in Bratislava, it definitely had all the beauty and charm of the more popular Central European cities, while having its own unique allure.

The obligatory, not-so-candid, European alley photo. 🙂

The city of Bratislava was once fortified with a moat and two rings of stone wall. There were four gates that allowed access into the city but Michael’s Gate, built in the 13th century, is the only that has been preserved.

There were plenty of picturesque squares and buildings to admire, such as Primate’s Square, featuring an old linden tree that was planted back in 1896…

…and St Martin’s Cathedral, the coronation site for many kings and queens, including  Maria Theresa of Austria…

…and the old Slovak National Theatre building, constructed in 1886.

There are a few statues paying homage to famous icons who visited Bratislava during their rise to fame. A bronze statue is dedicated to storyteller and author Hans Christian Andersen, who is said to have traveled to Bratislava in 1841.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is remembered at the Pálffy Palace, where he played a concert when he was only six years old.

My mother and I enjoyed the free time we had in the city to walk around shopping and admiring the sights. She even had a chance to work on her iphone photography skills.

So many cute cafes…

Naturally, before we left the city I had to sample some of their gelato since it was such a lovely, sunny day. This one was chocolate hazelnut and it was amazing.

Last but not least, we made the final stop of our of Central Europe in Prague, Czech Republic (or Czechia).

I have to say that out of all the cities we visited, Prague definitely had my favorite street food.

You might have guessed that my favorite street food was trdelník, the pastry cones stuffed with ice cream or berries. Though it originated in Prague, this yummy treat is not traditional in the Czech Republic. Evidently, Trdelník was introduced in 2010 as a street food offered only in the tourism districts. Since then it’s become very popular and is highly-coveted by tourists and foodies alike, probably because they’re delicious and photograph so well. Another favorite of mine and my mother’s was the crispy baked potato skewer. They were cooked to perfection right before our eyes and reseblemed something in between a potato chip and a french fry. We only wished we would have gone back for seconds.

Prague, also known as “the City of a Hundred Spires,” was such a cool place to explore. Despite heavy tourism, even in the off-season, you could practically feel the culture and history in the air. We started our sightseeing in Old Town Square near the gothic style Church of Our Lady before Týn.

The Old Town is also home to a very old and special clock. The Prague Astronomical Clock, or Prague Orloj, was built in 1410 and is the oldest, operating medieval astronomical clock in the world. Check out the video below to see and hear her in action.

The Charles Bridge, crossing the Vltava river, is another of the city’s most popular attractions. An assortment of 30 Baroque-style statutes line the historic bridge, which is strikingly beautiful at sunset.

Some of the statues are rumored to bring good luck to anyone who touches them.

Crowds flock to the bridge day and night while a variety of performers and arts and crafts vendors set up shop, hoping to entice them.

The Prague Castle complex is another stunner and quite impressive as the largest ancient castle in the world.

One of its most notable structures on the castle grounds is St. Vitus Cathedral, arguably the most famous church in the country.

Constructed in 1344, the interior of the massive, gothic cathedral is just as remarkable, with its net-vaulted ceilings and colorful stained glass windows.

If you’re wondering who might have funded all of the beautiful glasswork, look closely at the panels for clues cleverly depicted in the imagery. For example, in the panel below you’ll see that the figure in the bottom right corner is holding a pretzel. The significance? This stained glass panel was likely donated to the church by a wealthy pretzel baker.

Just outside of the castle is a statue dedicated to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who founded Czechoslovakia and is known as the Grand Old Man of Europe. He’s basically the George Washington of the country and is highly respected and honored in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia for his pursuit of independence and democracy.

No doubt Prague is chock-full of significant historical monuments and classical architecture, but we also took some time to visit some of the city’s more modern and zany attractions. First up was the Lennon Wall, created in the 80s after the assassination of John Lennon. This street art installation started off as a few poetic lyrics spray painted onto the wall with an image of international superstar and peace activist. Today the wall has an entire new look and is constantly changing with new paintings and ideas that generally represent love, peace, and harmony for our world.

We also visited the narrowest street in Prague, measuring only 19.6 inches wide. Only one person can travel through at a time, so a tiny traffic light was installed.

And then there was “Piss,” an interesting robotic fountain and controversial work of art created in 2004 by Czech artist David Černý. The statues actually move and shoot water from their, ahem…junk, down into a pool of water that is shaped like the Czech Republic. Apparently, you can text message a name to the statues and they will spell out said-name with their stream. What a time to be alive!

Even the less historic and less popular parts of the city were amazing.

After the sun set we returned to our hotel, bellies full of street food, but before long we grew hungry again. We ventured out for something to eat and stumbled into an awesome, cozy little restaurant called Restaurace U Voraře. The other patrons all appeared to be locals and the staff spoke very little English (which is totally expected and okay) but the food really spoke for itself! We ordered a simple burger with fries and arugula salad to share. We were also served a pitcher of water infused with lemon wedges, orange slices and mint leaves. Every sip and bite was fresh and delicious. The ambiance was also great with fun, music themed decor that included a piano mounted to the ceiling.

We finished up our tour with a farewell dinner at a homey bed and breakfast owned and operated by a local Czech family. Here we mingled with others from our group who had become new friends while we were served a traditional, hearty meal. We were also introduced to Becherovka, a fragrant, herbal Czech liqueur developed in 1807. Made from a secret blend of herbs and spices, Becherovka boasts 38% ABV and was originally intended to be used medicinally as treatment for a variety of ailments. I thought it was pretty tasty with a strong cinnamon/peppermint/ginger flavor and couldn’t resist taking a bottle home.

It was a wonderful way to end our wonderful sightseeing tour of Central Europe. I hope you enjoyed following along. Thanks for reading!

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