There are some experiences that change you forever. My bead tour to the Czech Republic in early March was one such experience. I began making and selling jewelry with my youngest sister Robin more than 12 years ago. So, it was fitting that I shared this adventure in beads with her.
Robin and I parted ways in the jewelry business when she had her first child and relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland for her husband’s job twelve years ago. She and Simon, a professor of geology at the University of Edinburgh, have called Scotland home since then. My trip began in Scotland catching up with her family of four and recovering from a “wee bit” of jetlag. Then the Cathcart sisters hit the road.
We decided to spend two days in Prague before beginning the business part of our visit. I’d done my research and booked us into Hotel Residence Agnes, TripAdvisor’s #1 hotel in Prague. The reviews were amazing and the prices reasonable. Everything said about the hotel was true and then some. We arrived very late Saturday evening at Vaclav Havel Airport where we were picked up by the hotel’s van. At the hotel, the greeting was exceptional warm and friendly with an immediate offer of a glass of wine to refresh us. Wine in hand, we sat down with the receptionist who confirmed our guided tour for the next day, arranged by the hotel, and oriented us to the city on a map. He gave advice on sights, music events and restaurants and offered to make reservations for whatever we chose. Wine finished and orientation done, we followed him to our pleasant, comfortable, quiet room where we fell immediately fell asleep.
The next morning’s tour of the city began early so we were up and eating by 8. Breakfast at Hotel Agnes was a mostly European style buffet with meat and cheese, fruit, bread, yogurt and fixings, and a selection of breakfast pastries. The warming dishes also offered selection of cooked eggs, sausages and beans (for the Brits). Three attendants were on hand to offer custom omelets and to prepare and serve beverages. Like the receptionist the night before, they were warm and friendly, asking what our plans were, etc.
After a several emails with the hotel prior to our stay, I agreed with their recommendation of a city tour guide who they booked for us. The cost was the same as the larger tours found on line. We lucked out. Robin and I were the only people on the tour that Sunday when Renata picked us up in the lobby. After the hotel staff ensured we had bottles of water for the road, their shuttle drove us up to the castle to begin the tour.
Early Sunday, the grounds of the castle were empty and quiet, except for the bells of St. Vitas Cathedral. Renata mentioned that the Cathedral was closed on Sunday unless we were interested in attending mass. As a Catholic, I was pleased at the opportunity to attend church, and still be a tourist. The Czech mass meant we had a rare opportunity to hear the cathedral organ and it was amazing. Not many people, particularly no tourists, were in church so our visit was basically a private tour of an suburb example of gothic architecture.
Following mass Renata began a more typical tour of the castle grounds that were now teaming with tourists. After meandering through the castle and stopping to take stunning panoramic photos of Prague, we walked down the hill to area near Charles Bridge. All the while Renata kept up a stream of informative but not overwhelming commentary about the buildings, churches and museums that we passed including the history of the city. The tour included lunch at Lokal U Bile kuzelky. I enjoyed beer, potatoes and onions, and smazeny syr (fried cheese) with a side of tartar sauce, a very common and popular Czech dish. While delicious, especially the potatoes, the food was heavier than what I was used to. Still when in Prague…. Over lunch Robin, Renata and I shared family stories, talked about work, politics and culture. It was extremely interesting to talk with her about the fall of communism and the general pride the Czech people feel in being part of Nato.
After lunch, we leisurely strolled over the Charles Bridge into the area near the Astronomical Clock, which Renata advised us to see early the next morning before the square became packed with other tourists. We strolled through the Jewish Quarter and finally back to our hotel. All the while Robin and I were amazed by the architecture of the buildings. We would turn a corner to discover one building better than the last. Five hours had never passed so quickly and pleasantly.
Back at the hotel and true to form, we were warmly greeted at the desk and offered wine. They inquired about the tour and our plans for the remainder of the day. Based on their successful tour recommendation, we took them up on the offer to book tickets for that evening’s performance at the Spanish Synagogue followed by reservations for dinner across the street at V. Kolkovne. We loved having someone arrange the evening for us. The Synagogue was stunning and the acoustics perfect. The program billed the evening as Bolero, Carmina Burana but included Dvorak and pieces from Evita, Porgy and Bess and some Hebrew songs. Early in the performance, Robin, who had been a little less enthusiastic about our musical evening, leaned over and whispered, “This is really good. I’m glad we came.”
When the concert ended we headed over to V. Kolkovne another traditional Czech restaurant. Robin was super adventurous and tried the rabbit with dumplings. I stuck to something I knew, beef with a side of potatoes. Svickova na smetane is marinated sirloin in a lovely sauce made from root vegetables, topped with cranberry jelly and whipped cream. The meats were quite good but that’s it. Neither of us could stomach the dumplings and the potatoes were a disappointment after the lovely ones at lunch. We were discovering that Czech food was a bit too heavy for us to stomach. Our lack of appetite did not endear us to the surly waiter. Our hotel had warned us that the waiters were not terribly friendly, but that the food was good traditional fare. Score one on the food but the service was the worst I have ever experienced. But back in our happy place, the Hotel Agnes lobby, wine flowed upon our return and until we went to bed.
Monday was our second and last day in Prague. After another delightful breakfast in the hotel and more inquiries about our plans and offers of assistance, we headed out to see the Astronomical Clock. We decided to wander around checking out the overly abundant garnet jewelry stores and visiting antique shops until the Museum of Design opened. Renata had mentioned it the day before, and we were both keen to go. As it was Monday, the museum was closed. With no real backup plan we walked back over the Charles Bridge to find a little square with pop up market. It was close to lunch but the line for the sausage stall was too long and neither of us was very excited by the prospect of more meat. Instead, we grabbed a glass of warm honey wine. It was very tasty but it packed a punch. Back up the hill and in the castle we decided to stop in the Lobkowicz Palace and tour its museum. We discovered a gem. The Lobkowicz family recovered the building after the fall of communism and turned it into a museum to showcase their collection and family history. As one might expect of a family museum, the collection was eclectic, portraits (lots!!), weapons, ceramics, musical instruments and a smattering of furniture. The museum also had a small restaurant where we thankfully enjoyed more familiar fare, light on meat and heavy on veg.
Our last night in Prague ended like the other two, over wine in the hotel lobby. We turned in early because the next day the real adventure began. Keith Dudman of Bananas4beading was picking us up at 8:30. We were headed an hour north to the area around Jablonec nad Nisou, seat of the Czech glass industry.