We had chosen to stay in a hotel not far from Prague Castle, close enough to the Charles Bridge with easy access to all of the main attractions, but far enough away from the tourist hordes
. The hotel which the management was very proud to show off in assistant manager-lead tours, is in a beautifully renovated 15th century monastery. Not many signs now of the building’s original use, but the local monks were renowned (among other things) for their ability to brew good beer and on our first night in the hotel, we were suitably welcomed with a programme of beer tasting. A beer (a pilsner sekt called “Samp”), unique to Prague, that is a mix of beer and champagne seemed somehow very appropriate to the building’s current use!
Our guide for a two day walking tour of Prague, was Peter Hodal, a young Jewish father of three daughters who teaches 20th century history at Charles University, runs a Jewish kindergarten as well as offering one of the most relaxed, entertaining and informative tours we have had anywhere. The title of this blog entry was one of his jokes – summing up just about every Jewish holiday in one-easy-to-remember phrase! Despite the challenging weather conditions (although stops for hot, spiced wine and hot chocolate also helped!), Peter lead us effortlessly around the main sights of central Prague, on both sides of the river, through alleyways and back streets so that we avoided the worst of the crowds. His was the recommendation to visit “The Princely Collections” at the Lobkowicz Palace. This palace, adjacent to Prague Castle is still in private hands
. It belongs to the Lobkowicz family, who for several hundred years, upto the Nazi occupation, were amongst the richest and most influential families in central Europe. The castle and its contents, along with several other estates around the Czech Republic were finally returned to the family after the collapse of communism. Lobkowicz Palace is worthy of a visit for several reasons, but not least among them is the priceless commentary on the audio guide provided by the current head of the family, William. William hails from Boston where his family fled when the Nazis arrived, but that perhaps has just increased his hilarious pomposity and apparent sense of entitlement (as well as his pseudo-English accent) as he describes his family history from the 16thcentury until the early 90’s when the family regained what was “rightfully” theirs. There’s even a plug for the family charity just in case you feel inclined to make a donation to help them out. Peter told us that wealthy Americans line up to take tea with “Prince” William in the castle, at $4500 a pop, cookies extra!! Not wishing to hog the limelight completely, William allows his elderly parents to provide a small part of the commentary. His mother focuses on the family’s eccentric obsession with dogs, but the most priceless moment in the commentary comes with William’s faux-English accented “thank you, mummy” as he takes over from her again. Fortunately, we were the only people in the room, so nobody to witness us rolling around the floor, tears streaming down our cheeks!!
Then, in what can only be described as the most apt end to the day imaginable, we were eating dinner in the hotel restaurant when in walked “Prince” William Lobkowicz (easily recognized from the many photos in the palace) complete with wife and of course…….a dog on a pink leash!!
We thought that a long weekend in Prague in early December, would be a good opportunity to experience a bit of traditional Christmas in advance of the "real thing" in the summer sunshine of Sydney. And we certainly weren't disappointed! As we arrived in Prague, the daytime temperature struggled to reach -10°C (around the mid-teens F) with a recent heavy fall leaving the city covered in 30 cm or so of fresh snow. Sightseeing at such low temperatures (it was closer to -15°C as we left the hotel one morning) and with thick snow under foot has its challenges, but there is absolutely no denying how incredibly picturesque and attractive it made the centre of Prague look, a city that already doesn’t need a whole lot of help to make it look picturesque and attractive!