The Castle We are on our way after Dan gets another welcome gift from TSA: a puff test - whatever! Our free almost-business class seats aren't too bad: we have leg room and the seats are larger than crappy coach seats. Unlike our crappy exit row seats from London to Prague. Our lovely hotel, The Alchymist, happens to be a hundred feet from the American Embassy. Great! So our cab is pulled over and sniffed by a pooch and searched by a soldier! Note to self: don't catch cabs back to the hotel.
Vivaldi We are staying in Hradčanz (The Castle District), and The Alchymist is right in the shadow of, well, the castle! Very pretty. Our friend Stan has mapped out lot's of walking routes for us and we head out right after breakfast. The weather is beautiful: warm and sunny.
We couldn't have asked for anything better. After spending a good portion of the day goofing around the castle we check out the Little Quarter, the area between The Castle and the river. Vrtba baroque gardens are exquisite. Later in the afternoon we catch the funicular to top of the Petřín Hill. Turns out there are no views of the city because of the trees… But the park is nice and we enjoy it until all of a sudden it starts to POUR. We huddle with some random people under an awning until it lets up enough for us to hustle back to the hotel.
We have tickets to a concert - Vivaldi's Four Season - in the Basilica of Saint George, part of The Castle collection of churches and abbeys. It is magnificent, with wonderful acoustics. We enjoy our VIP seats in the freezing cold church with no heat.
The Golden Pear We meander the picturesque streets of Hradčany, and discover a great little restaurant which ends up being our favorite of the trip: The Golden Pear. We get glares from other patrons since we weren't super dressed up, but the food is great and our waiter - a wanna-be sommelier - is super friendly. So who cares about the patrons!
Next is Karlův Most (The Charles Bridge) and Staré Město (The Old Town). The day is a stark contrast to yesterday: it is cold and rainy… thank goodness for $2 umbrellas!
We climb the bridge tower for fabulous views of the castle, walk around the beautiful Staroměstské Náměstí (Town Square) and have lunch right by The Town Hall's astronomical clock, except that we miss its announcing of the hour because we are too busy with our crappy food. Woops. Our hotel's spa calls to us, especially with the constant cold: treatments and the setting are great, but the sauna is too hot and the pool too cold.
Hotel Flora With the rest of our stay in Prague continuing to be cold and rainy, we are not super happy to see the blue skies again on our way to the airport. We arrive to Venice, and look! Its raining. Whatever…
Our first night in Venice is the worst hotel experience we have ever had in all of our travels ever… in the history of ever. Instead of the promised room, we are shuffled to this crappy room in an annex building! The room is on top of a seafood restaurant so it smells like fish, it has holes in the ceiling filled with rolled up toilet paper, half of the lightbulbs are burned out, etc. We hate hate hate it. First thing the next morning we are off looking for a new hotel, and we happen to stumble upon my first hotel choice in Venice (it was fully booked when I was making reservations) and they happen to have an open room. We are ecstatic. After a huge fight with the crappy hotel - they eventually charge us for the entire stay - we move to Hotel Flora. We have a beautiful room overlooking a nice courtyard. We are much happier.
"Go Home Americans" Venice is everything we expect: cute and all, but super super touristy. After dinner we try to get lost on the island to get away from the hordes of asian tourist. And that, we did. We walk and walk and walk - the tiny streets are adorable - but where are we? We ask, no one knows! Eventually, thank god for the graffiti we both noticed on the way into town (It said "Go Home Americans"), we realize we are on the north shore going east, and not the south shore going west. Woops!
We are total tourist the next day and visit all the major
sites and bridges. For dinner, we get talked into one of
the many touristy restaurants on the Grand Canal:
Assana: "I'll have the shrimp."
Waiter: "Shrimp? No!"
Assana: "Ok, how about the clams?"
Waiter: "Clams? No!"
Waiter: "Calamari? No!"
WTH?? Not the best culinary experience. Walking back thru Piazza San Marco every coffee shop has a string quartet playing Vivaldi! We love it and instead of hovering we decide to sit down for some hot cocoa while we enjoy the music. They charge us €15 per hot chocolate, and another €40 for music. Should have just hovered, like everyone else!
Glass Candies Everyone in Venice claims that their family is part of Murano's glass business. They all want to take you to their family's workshop...except that all the boats end in the same place! We watch some glass being blown, then swim our way out of the 10-12 showrooms filled with gaudy glass work. OMG! I don't think we can pick ANYTHING we like even if they paid us. Though later we buy one plate from a much smaller shop… that, and all the glass candy on the island for Koohy, just in case we ever see him. Compared to Venice, Murano is real. People live here; you see normal everyday things (we never find out what the deal is with the local pastor carrying chairs and pots'n pans into the church!) We spend the whole day hanging out… meanwhile more glass candies are made and we buy them! Going back to Venice we take the water bus, snag ourselves a great spot to stand and enjoy the sun, the ride and the view back to the main island.
Thanks For Nothing Back in Venice we continue our search for a tasty restaurant, and we find one! Finally! A little hole in the wall, away from the tourist. We share a table with a bunch of italians, and a french couple upset about the no-creditcard deal, and have a good italian meal. None of this "Tourists menu" crap. On the way back to the hotel we see a guitar player dude setting up on Ponte Dell Accademia. We want to listen, so we wait… and wait… and wait… and wait! Geez! Bored, we tip him before he plays anything and leave.
One more Pear We have one more night in Prague before heading home. Wishing we were staying at The Alchymist, we head to The Charles Hotel. Our room is spacious, but it is no Alchymist. At least we have dinner reservations at The Golden Pear, and this time we are more appropriately dressed! It is a fabulous night of eating and drinking great wine: a nice end to another great trip.
Kew Gardens Seven hours in Heathrow? I don't think so! We hop on the Underground - "minding the gap" - and visit Kew Gardens. The weather is perfect - thank goodness we stopped in London for its fine weather.