I love travelling. My wife loves travelling. My kids love travelling. In fact we spend over 2 months a year travelling around the world. I have visited 145 cities in 25 countries on 4 continents. I say this not to show off but to set the stage for this article and the subsequent ones that I am planning to write.
I figured that I should share my experiences of travel, the cities I visit, the hotels I stay at, the places I eat at etc. I felt that even though I am not a writer, I would be borderline qualified to start writing about travel.
For this first article, I will start with the beautiful and romantic Prague – the capital of Czech Republic in Europe. Initially I thought I should go back and start from the beginning of my travels which started with a major 15 day tour of Egypt back in 2007 and then work my way forwards. But then, even though I have all the photos from back then, my memories of the experiences are hazy to say the least.
So it would only make sense to start writing about the latest trip and then work my way backwards as much as I can.
In mid 2011, my wife booked us a trip to Prague. It was actually suposed to be part of a 21 day driving tour around Europe which got cancelled because I felt it was too much driving and a lot of days to take off from business. We did a 11 day driving tour in 2010 which was spectacular, though. Bhavani always wanted to stay at the Buddha Bar Hotel and so after a little research she booked us for 3 nights along with flights back and forth from London.
There was guy at the airport with “Bonigala” on a placard to receive us. This guy was huge and instead of taking the heavy suitcase from my hand, he offered to take the smaller hand luggage from Bhavani and he promptly took us to a brand new BMW. It took us a 40 minute drive to get from the airport through small little towns, winding narrow streets and then through really narrow streets to finally to Buddha Bar hotel.
The lobby was quite tiny compared to a lot of other 5 stars hotels that we stayed at. I reckoned that was because this was a boutique hotel. There was a lime green translucent Buddha seated in a notch in the wall behind the welcome desk and the whole lobby was painted dark red with very subdued lighting. The two guys at the counter were very friendly and checked us in with a minimal amount of fuss and one of them proceeded to show us to our room on the 3rd floor. We went up a very night clubby looking elevator up to the 3rd floor to come out into a very dark and tunnel like lobby. It was very dark and each room could only be recognized by a lighted foot mat in front of the door with a large number lighted up on it.
THE HOTEL ROOM
The moment we entered the dimly lit suite room, we were instantly transported to a magically oriental dream. The decor was nothing like I have seen elsewhere. I have travelled to more cities that I can remember and have stayed at all kinds of hotels – right from the backpacking dorms to the best suites in 5 star luxury hotels. The bad had a magical looking back with a huge golden dragon embossed on a red plaque bordered by polished mahogany wood and ambient yellow light emanating from behind! But this was quite a pleasant surprise. Excited we followed the porter who gave us a guided tour of the room and all it’s high tech gadgets and amenities which included remote controlled curtains, remote controlled individual lights and lamps, remote controlled individual ceiling speakers and you get the point.
The bathroom was splendid and was almost as large as the rest of the suite. Again the furnishings were quite modern and some of the amenities were futuristic. These guys installed the Japanese remote controlled commodes with automatic wash and dry features! The mirror infront of the exotic bath tub (had tiled exterior with a dragon running all around) had a TV that came to life magically as you lowered yourself into the hot scented water.
Downstairs, the Sidhartha cafe was an opulent affair with huge designer chandeliers, hundreds of glowing Buddha statues lining the walls, bespoke leather sofas, a superbly designed bar, bohemian-oriental colors, polished glass and more. Sitting in the cafe and sipping on an ElderFlower Cocktail was quite an experience. One of the guys behind the bar – Madja – was super friendly and offered to take several photos of me and my wife.
The food menu in the Siddhartha Cafe was a bit of a let down and during our stay we tried to eat there twice and were disappointed both times. On top of that, the Cafe closes at 10PM sharp – perhaps in an effort to ensure people go to the Buddha Bar Restaurant downstairs. The breakfast, however, was a different story altogether and was superb with champaign, light and fresh made to order eggs, sausages, mushrooms, a selection of cured meats (including Iberica Ham) and wide selection of breads and croissants – all served by loverly looking waitresses in very short skirts!
On our first day, right after the lovely breakfast, we headed out to the Old Town Center – one of the historic sites that is a must on any body’s tour list.
THE OLD TOWN CENTER
A few minutes walk from the hotel down a narrow cobbled street, through an arch into a court yard with some restaurants, we come out into a awe inspiring Town Center which is a historic part of Prague with buildings dating back to 1270! In the center of the Town Center is a statue of religious reformer Jan Hus, who for his beliefs was burned at the stake in Constance.
Featuring various architectural styles including the gothic Týn Church and baroque St. Nicholas Church, the square is an oasis for travelers wearied by Prague’s narrow streets. Among many churches, tourists may find the Astronomical Clock on this square, while the tower at the Old Town Hall offers a panoramic view of Old Town shop.
The Astronomical Clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. Just looking at the intricacy of the mechanism of the clock is quite enlightening.
In the afternoon, we took a short cab ride to the famous Prague Castle and the beautiful Schwarzenberg Palace. When we arrived at around 11AM, there were already hoards of tourists standing in the huge empty square in front of the Castle gates. To the right a few yards in front was the Palace and it’s very unique architecture of rich black-and-white sgraffito decorations on its walls.
Inside the castle gates is the main foyer that leads to the museum and to the left you reach St. Vitus Cathedral.
St. Vitus Cathedral is magnificent with it’s splendid facade and majestic spires rising high into the sky. I can understand how in the 12th Century, this might building would have put the fear of god into people. The cathedral doors are detailed with carvings and figurines. Inside is a massive high ceiling with superb stained glass windows lining on either side. It was little too crowded to really take in the splendour so I snapped a couple of quick pics and exited with my wife in tow.
From the Cathedral, we walked down the cobbled steps (too many for my taste) and headed towards the famous Charles Bridge which was build by King Charles IV in the 15th century. Hoards of tourists walked lazily from one end to the other. The imposing stone statues flanking the bridge on either side were spectacular and from the bridge you get a thrilling view of the Vltava river.
Newly marries couples come to the bridge just to take photos and there was love in the air. A street musician played on the glass harmonica and a couple of artists sketched caricatures of people.
OLD FORD CARD TOUR
Back in the old town square I hired an vintage Model T Ford car (1940) and we took a ride around Prague. The car was in superb condition and the driver was a fun guy. The sun was a little fierce when we started out but toned down a little later making the ride quite pleasant.
PRAZSA SHOPPING STREET
In the evening we went to the famous Prazsa Shopping street which is lined by all the major luxury brands including Prada, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chopin and more. We were in paradise as we went from shop to shop. In the Burberry shop my wife bought a couple of t-shirts.
The next day, we took in the other side of town – the Palladium.
FRANCESCO RESTAURANT & CASINO
If I say that this was the best restaurant I have had the pleasure of dining for quite a while, I would not be exaggerating!
HARD ROCK CAFE
In the evening we went back to the old town center and were delighted to see Hard Rock Cafe.
We ended the last night of our stay in Prague on a romantic river cruise.
The next day we flew back home. It was sad to leave Prague. Such a beautiful and romantic city with great sights, history and peaceful freedom. I and my wife decided to go back in a couple of years time!