Prague St Nicholas Church and Charles Bridge

Prague St Nicholas Church

Prague St Nicholas Church

On our 7th day in Prague, we changed our cadence a little bit.  Instead of doing sightseeing, lunch, more sightseeing and then break, we put the break right after lunch.  That way, we could do the whole rest of the day in sequence without taking a break: a visit to Prague St Nicholas Church, then a long walk over the Charles Bridge, an early dinner at Kamenny Most Restaurant on the eastern bank of the Vltava River, and then some night-time picture-taking of the Prague Castle and the Bridge.

If only I had known at that point that we could take a tram to Malostranske Namesti (aka Lesser Town Square), where St. Nicholas Church is located!  Unfortunately, at that moment I didn’t know that, and as a result, we took a taxi from our hotel, which turned out to be another overpriced taxi ride! (remember, I told you how to avoid getting ripped off by taxis in Prague)

Anyway, we don’t sweat overpaying for something here and there.  The point is to enjoy ourselves and not get too stressed over missteps.  Besides, arriving at St. Nicholas Church was no misstep.  After a diet of Gothic and Romanesque art earlier in the week, it was refreshing to see some ebullient, over-the-top Baroque architecture and statuary.  To be exact, St. Nicholas Church is breathtakingly beautiful.

I’ll admit it, in St. Nicholas Church, I was a typical tourist, snapping off dozens of pictures.  But how could I not?  Every detail was so beautiful.  I’ll tell you, photographing the pulpit, for example, was a challenge.  All that gold made such a glare that all I got was a shiny blur.

So when you leave St. Nicholas Church, if you circle around to the left (or south), you will find yourself on Moustecka Ulice, the street that connects this square with the Charles Bridge.  There are numerous attractive cafes and shops on this street, so if you are not in a hurry to get to the bridge, there is plenty to keep you busy!

As you pass down the street, you see in front of you the western tower of the Charles Bridge.

West Tower of Charles Bridge

West Tower of Charles Bridge

From there, we just took a leisurely walk across this 14th-century pedestrian-only marvel.  Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who thought this might be a splendid way to spend an afternoon!  Being out over the water with the sightseers and the vendors and street musicians was great fun.

As you see in some of my photos above, the views from the bridge of the rest of Prague are stunning.  But the bridge is best known for the many statues of saints that stand along the bridge’s sides (here is a full roster of who’s who on the Charles Bridge).

The statue of Saint Anna is my favorite – something about her smile just really won me over.

When you get to the east end of the Charles Bridge, you once again step into a bustling square, surrounded by the Saint Saviour Church, St. Francis of Assisi Church and a statue of King Charles IV, after whom the bridge is named.

We were very early for our dinner reservation, so we killed some time resting after our long walk in the hot afternoon sun, with a cool drink at a nearby sidewalk cafe.  The sun was just beginning to wane when we sat down at our riverside table on Kamenny Most’s terrace.

We enjoyed a very nice dinner.  I had a sort of mixed grill made up of a duck wing confit, smoked ham, and grilled sausage with new potatoes.  The bottle of red wine we shared, a varietal I’ve never heard of before called Zweigeltrebe, was hearty with a little spice to it.  And for dessert, I enjoyed a lemon sorbet that was artfully presented with a lime slice and a slender cookie (which reminded me of a Stella Doro cookie).

As we were eating, I was concerned that we might still need to kill some time after dinner before it would be dark enough to take our night pictures of the Castle.  But by the time we climbed the stairs back to the street and headed to the spot with the best view, a street called Smetanovo nábřeží, the sky deepening to purple, and we started snapping.  I think I got two good ones: one with the sky still quite lavender, and then one later on, when the sky was nearly black, and the Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge were set aglow by the lighting.

Posted in Beverages, Churches, Czech Food, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Prague, Wine | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enjoy Life

Enjoy Life

Enjoy Life

Enjoy Life could be an exhortation you hear on public television spoken by a self-help guru like Dr. Wayne Dyer.  Or it could be an invitation you read in an essay of Henry David Thoreau.  But today what I am talking about is merely a brand, a wonderful, miraculous brand.

I hope your cynic-meter didn’t shoot up when you read that last sentence.  Believe me, I have a bit of a cynic in me when it comes to honestly looking around at the consumer culture of which we are all a part.  But when you are talking about a product or a brand that you truly believe in, the cynicism melts away, and it’s all about speaking from the heart.  It’s all about enjoyment and delight.

And those are just two of the things I feel when I think about Enjoy Life.  You may think calling this brand “miraculous” is complete hyperbole.  But if you are dairy allergic like me, or if you suffer from probably any food allergy, you have experienced the following scenario.  You read food labels like a fiend, and are constantly disappointed as you find that over and over again, all the packaged foods you would love to eat are off-limits, with the ingredients that make you sick among their listed ingredients.  Then, when you find even one thing that you CAN eat, you smile from ear to ear.  You can’t believe your good fortune.  Maybe you even want to shout or sing, it makes you so happy.

OK, maybe you don’t get quite excited about finding allergy free food as I do.  But Enjoy Life is a brand that is worth getting excited about.  I first learned of their existence just a few weeks ago, at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference.  Included in the copious bags of swag we received upon registering for the conference were about a half dozen different samples of Enjoy Life products.

And when I say “samples,” I don’t mean like one cookie, or a handful of chips, or one snack bar.  I mean a whole box of cookies, a bag of lentil chips.  Wow!  I was so excited, I wanted to ditch the first conference event, and just spend a couple hours doing some serious sampling.  As it was, there was so much good food at the conference (95% of which I could eat, by the way), that I hardly had a chance to dig into my swag bag during that weekend.  (OK, in the evening while unwinding with some mindless tv, I did munch on a few cookies – but otherwise, there just wasn’t the opportunity). I did find a way, though, to fit most of the swag, including all the Enjoy Life products, into my luggage and bring them home with me.

On the way home, I arrived in Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport to discover that my flight was delayed by several hours.  The airline offered some snacks for us to munch on while we waited, but of course these were all dairy-full – mini Snickers bars, that kind of thing (I did help myself to a can of lukewarm Coke).  Sitting there, I strategized.  I had bought an Italian hero (sans provolone, of course) at an airport restaurant, but I was saving that for the airplane ride – if I ate it now, by the time the airplane got halfway to New York City, I would be starving.

Wait a minute…  I remembered that there was a bag of chips among my swag.  I reached into my suitcase and pulled out a bag of Enjoy Life Dill & Sour Cream Plentil Chips.

Enjoy Life Dill & Sour Cream Plentil Chips

Enjoy Life Dill & Sour Cream Plentil Chips

I tore the bag open and started munching.  Crunchy, salty, and they did taste like they had sour cream in them!  What, are these really allergy free?  I probably read the back of the package seven times, so delighted I was at how good these tasted.  I was reluctant to believe my good luck.  But by the time I had finished the bag (who knew I had been so hungry?), I was convinced.

When I arrived home, one of my first priorities was to find Enjoy Life’s products in my local markets and health food stores.  And to be honest, I have had to work to find their products.  Their cookies have been the easiest thing to find – Whole Foods has them in all their locations.  The only place that I have found the Plentil chips thus far has been Westerly Market in the west 50s – I got a bag of the Plain and one of the Dill & Sour Cream varieties, as well as a new variety called Margherita Pizza (good, but they don’t taste like pizza to me).  I am still looking for the Garlic & Parmesan variety.

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Prague Castle: Beyond St. Vitus Cathedral

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Our day at Prague Castle got off to a splendid start with an exploration of St. Vitus Cathedral.  Once we had seen that incredible edifice, there were still many other sights to see, and many more hours to explore the rest of the Castle complex.

Before I get into all the details of the rest of our day, I want to address the question of how you get to Prague Castle.  The main metro/tram hub at Malostranska, on the map, looks tantalizingly close to the east end of the castle.  However, I warn you that, while a short distance as the crow flies, this is a brutal uphill climb.  And when you enter that back end of the complex, there is no ticket office nearby to my knowledge.  So if you came that way and wanted to see all the remarkable sights at the Castle, you would have to walk the entire length of the castle – not the worst thing, but chewing up some of your day – to get to the ticket booth.  And without a ticket, all you can do is walk around and look at the buildings from the outside, which for me would be frustrating.  Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, the best option for getting there is to transfer at Malostranska to Tram 22, take that two stops to Prazky Hrad, walk two short blocks (downhill) to the 2nd courtyard, and you’re ready to buy your ticket and start your day at the Prague Castle.

So after we had seen St. Vitus, we were feeling like a break for a beverage would be a welcome thing.  Luckily, just east of the cathedral in the fourth courtyard is U Kanovniku, a nice cafe with outdoor seating.

We found a table with a bit of shade, ordered cold drinks, and contemplated our next move.  St. George’s Basilica was right in front of us, but I had thought our next stop should be the Old Royal Palace.  Therese, however, had a different idea.  She had seen the entrance for the Story of Prague Castle nearby, and since she always likes to get historical perspective, the story behind places she is visited, she wanted to go there next.  As family travel itinerary developer (a role for which I am handsomely remunerated), I try to be open-minded to what Therese calls “changing the plan,” so I followed her impulse.

In the Story of Prague Castle exhibit, there was no photography allowed.  Nevertheless, we managed to snap a photo which gives a sense of the kind of thing that was on display there.  There was a large diorama of the castle grounds in the middle of one of the rooms of the exhibit.

A Diorama of the Prague Castle and its Stages of Development

A Diorama of the Prague Castle and its Stages of Development

Different materials were used to represent different stages in the development of the hilltop site.  The building and renovation of the various buildings undertaken during succeeding centuries and the kings and other nobility who were responsible for making the Castle what it is today are described in very colorful fashion throughout this exhibit.

Next we tackled the Old Royal Palace.  I have to say, I was rather disappointed here.  Certainly, the main Vladislav Hall is impressive with its cavernous size and Gothic vaulting.

Vladislav Hall in Old Royal Palace

Vladislav Hall in Old Royal Palace

But there are few rooms off this large room that are open to the public, and there is not that much to see (by contrast, I felt there was much more on display in the Story of Prague Castle exhibit).  The Land Rolls Room with its coat of arms painted on the walls was interesting, and an exhibit of plaster casts of the architectural details of Vladislav Hall were pretty cool.

And the diet room where meetings of the nobility were held is beautiful with its throne.

But probably what I loved most of all were the many antique keyholes and locks in the palace’s doors.

And there were nice views from the windows of the Royal Palace, both of other sections of the castle complex and of Prague itself.

Our next stop was St. George’s Basilica.  This sacred building, diminutive in size compared to St. Vitus Cathedral, was overrun by huge tourist groups when we were there.  We did our best to appreciate it.  A Romanesque church in origin, it has maintained the original straightforward rectangular shape, and some medieval murals on the main arch and above the altar can still be viewed.

I took some pleasure at the Latin inscription below the tympanum on the south portal: Sancte Georgy, ora pro nobis deum et matrem eius. amen. (Saint George, pray for us to God and his mother, Amen.)  I like the fact that George is written with a Czech spelling, ending in a “y.”

At this point, we had seen a lot and there was some question as to what was left to see.  I consulted our ticket and looked around.  We checked out the Golden Lane, and the Rosenberg Palace to conclude our time at the castle.  The former is pretty touristy, a bunch of small shops that look like they were lifted from a Disney village (Therese said it reminded her a lot of the street in Mont Saint Michel, lined with kitschy souvenir shops, that you have to pass through to get to the abbey).

In the Rosenberg Palace, I expected to see more about the women who took up residence there over the centuries.  Instead, there was some of the usual stuff: a glorious ceiling mural in the main entrance, some glorious 18th century furniture.  Then there was an exhibit of plaster casts of gargoyles from St. Vitus Cathedral that I thought was lots of fun (you know me – give me a gargoyle that’s half man and half chicken, and I’m happy).

Our time at the Prague Castle was nearly done.  Now all we had to do was exit through the east end and stumble down the steep walkway to Malostranska to pick up Tram 5 back to Namesti Republiky where our hotel room beds waited to provide us with some post-castle relaxation.  We made it to the square and the tram without too much incident, our minds full of the day’s fun (this had been, after all, our first full day in Prague, and with this, our trip was off to a great start).

That evening for dinner, we had made reservations (with the Hilton Executive Lounge Concierge’s recommendation) at Cafe Imperial.  I will cut to the chase and tell you that the decor at Cafe Imperial is gorgeous; however, the food was not so great.

They just didn’t know what to do with my allergy at this restaurant.  For my appetizer of beef tartare, they gave me dry toast to substitute for whatever dairy-laden bread usually accompanies it.

Beef Tartare Appetizer

Beef Tartare Appetizer

Then I ordered rabbit for my main course.  In my conversation with the waiter, I had thought they would substitute the usual buttery sauce that goes with the rabbit for something like an au jus.  Then the dish came: a big piece of rabbit totally dry, with a side of french fries.  ????? We spoke with the waiter further, and eventually they brought me a plate of vegetables sauteed in oil to go with it.  So, as composed by me, this is what the dish utimately looked like.

Main Course at Cafe Imperial - Rabbit with Vegetables and Fries

Main Course at Cafe Imperial – Rabbit with Vegetables and Fries

With a glass of nice red Czech wine, I was able to get the dry rabbit and bland vegetables down.  But this was definitely one of the worst meals I had in Prague.  A small bad mark on an otherwise extraordinary day in Prague.

Posted in Castles, Churches, Countries, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Dinner, Lunch, Museums, Prague, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

St Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

My second day in Prague with Therese and Eileen was devoted to a trip to the Prague Castle.  Of the sights we saw there, the one that made the greatest impression was the monumental St Vitus Cathedral, the largest church in the Czech Republic.  This is not to say that the rest of the buildings in the castle complex didn’t impress me – they did, and I will devote a separate post tell you about the rest of the castle.  But to begin, I want to tell you about the Cathedral, to give the building its due.

If you take Tram 22 to the stop closest to Prague Castle (which is called “Pražský hrad”), and walk two blocks south, you will enter the castle complex via the Second Courtyard.

Prage Castle Second Courtyard - Therese and Eileen at the Fountain

Prage Castle Second Courtyard – Therese and Eileen at the Fountain

This is entirely germane to our talk about the cathedral, because before you turn left and walk through the gate to St. Vitus, you want to check out the Holy Cross Chapel, which is in the middle of this courtyard, and contains the St. Vitus Treasury, one of the most extensive such collection in all of Europe.

Prague Castle - Holy Cross Chapel

Prague Castle – Holy Cross Chapel

They don’t allow you to take any photos in Holy Cross Chapel, but I am still very glad we didn’t miss that – all that gold and silver was really splendid (reliquaries and monstrances and all that kind of cool stuff).

Once you have done that, you are ready to enter the cathedral itself, and be wowed.

The present cathedral building, begun in the 14th century, was only finished in the 20th century, with a huge amount of work done from the mid-19th to early 20th century (inspired undoubtedly by the wish to complete the building by the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the cathedral in 930 by St. Wenceslas).  The modern architects who oversaw the construction of the western half of the cathedral have done a remarkable job in integrating their work with the older parts of the building.  For example, the stained glass windows in the nave, while decidedly modern, nevertheless in color and general impression fit nicely into the neo-Gothic style.

St. Vitus Cathedral Modern Stained Glass Window

St. Vitus Cathedral Modern Stained Glass Window

My favorite part of this end of the cathedral was another window, designed by the artist Alphonse Mucha.  If you’ve been following my posts about Prague, you’ve probably already read what a revelation it was for me to become acquainted with Mucha’s work while we were on this visit.  Well, this window in St. Vitus gave me my first inkling that I was going to gain an appreciation for this artist’s work far beyond what I expected.

Mucha Stained Glass Window

Mucha Stained Glass Window

As I focussed in on the details of this gorgeous window, I said, “hey, you know this is not Gothic at all – in fact it’s quite Art Nouveau in style!”  Therese took a close look at it and said it was more Art Nouveau transitional – a mixture of that older style with the new Art Deco style.  The lower middle panels of the window especially caught my imagination.

Mucha Stained Glass Detail

Mucha Stained Glass Detail

The fact that Mucha chose not to adopt a neo-gothic style in his treatment of the figures in his window doesn’t matter to me – I could look at this window for a long time and never get tired of it.

Beyond the Mucha window, there were other parts of the cathedral that also caught my attention.  For example, the Wenceslas Chapel is quite intriguing.  I’m sure part of what makes it so is the fact that it is closed off to the public, and visible only through an open doorway.  But it is unquestionably an extraordinary room.

Even the garish Baroque tomb of local saint John of Nepomuk (who was martyred when he was thrown from Prague’s Charles Bridge) is worth seeing, positioned as it is in the middle of the side aisle, rather than in a chapel.

Tomb of John of Nepomuk

Tomb of John of Nepomuk

Before leaving the cathedral, I saw some carvings that I found quite delightful, in the fencing in front of one of the modern chapels.

We exited the cathedral the way we have come in, via the western portal and turning left, got a view of the cathedral from the south.

The southern portal, which is part of the old section of the church, with its 14th century Mosaic of the Last Judgment, is extraordinary.

St. Vitus Cathedral, South Portal, with Mosaic of the Last Judgment

St. Vitus Cathedral, South Portal, with Mosaic of the Last Judgment

As we walked east towards the fourth courtyard (and a refreshing beverage), our last view of the cathedral was of its 14th century east end.

St. Vitus Cathedral, from the East

St. Vitus Cathedral, from the East

We didn’t know it at that moment, but we had already experienced the highest point of our time in the Prague Castle complex.  Nevertheless, as we contemplated our beverage and the next sight, we had most of the day still ahead.

Posted in Churches, Countries, Czech Republic, Prague | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

So Delicious Cococcino

So Delicious Cococcino

So Delicious Cococcino

So Delicious Cococcino is the latest excellent product from a company that is, in my opinion, one of the 3 best companies creating dairy free products today (the other two being Daiya and Tofutti).  And enjoying this coffee drink continues a love affair I have had with the So Delicious brand that goes back nearly 20 years.

I remember vividly shopping at my local supermarket in Flushing Queens around 1995 and finding a carton of what was then called Soy Delicious frozen dessert for the first time.  I was a big fan of Tofutti’s “ice creams” back then, but it was great to find an alternative.  And I thought that Soy Delicious’s chocolate flavor was just a bit creamier and more chocolate-y than Tofutti’s (sorry, Tofutti!).

When I moved to Brooklyn in 2002, my supermarket of choice became a Whole Foods Supermarket in Manhattan’s Union Square area, and it was at this Whole Foods that I became acquainted with the So Delicious’s Purely Decadent line of frozen desserts.  For the first time, us dairy free folks could enjoy the same sort of crazy delicious frozen dessert combos that dairy eaters enjoy from brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dasz.  What a treat it was to eat their varieties like Chocolate Peanut Butter Zigzag, Chocolate Obsession and Rocky Road (sadly the Rocky Road variety, with its white chocolate swirl and chocolate covered nuts, has been apparently discontinued!).  To this day, when I want a beyond amazing frozen dessert experience, I seek out a Purely Decadent pint.

It was also around that time that I first noticed So Delicious branching out into the world of coconut milk based products.  I’m sure I tried out their coconut milk yogurts (or if you prefer, cultured coconut milk), but I’m not a big yogurt eater.  Frozen desserts are more my thing, and I was excited to see what their coconut milk “ice creams” were like.  Sadly, my first experiences were not all I was hoping for – these first coconut milk based desserts were not on the same level as the Purely Decadent line.

However, I’m happy to report that over time, the coconut milk ice creams got better.  And now, when I am looking for a frozen dessert, I will often pass up the Purely Decadent soy ice cream for a coconut ice cream.  Favorites include the Pomegranate Chip (great contrast of tangy fruit with sweet dark chocolate chips) and Mocha Almond Fudge.

To change gears a bit here, I want to remind you that I am not a huge coffee drinker.  For me, it’s maybe a once a week thing – I will accompany my wife to the coffee shop for a caffeinated beverage on Friday afternoons, as the symbolic beginning of our weekends.  But recently, I was in Las Vegas for the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, and included in our swag bag for the conference was something I had never seen before: an 11 ounce carton of So Delicious Cococcino Latte.  I was so thrilled.  Later I stopped at the So Delcious table at the conference to talk about this new product.

So Delicious Sponsor Table at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference

So Delicious Sponsor Table at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference

Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to try the Cococcino at that point.  You see, there was so much good dairy free food (and drink) at the conference that I never got around to drinking the coffee drink.  And then, with the TSA regulations being what they are, I could not take the drink with me on the airplane home to NYC.  So once I did get home, I was on the hunt to find the Cococcino.

And I did have to hunt a little bit.  I looked in the packaged coffee drink sections of a couple of markets with no success.  Weeks later, when I encountered a So Delicious table at the NY Wine & Food Festival, I told the fellow manning the table of my plight, and he gave me a free quart container of Cococcino (yay!).

So Delicious Station at the NY Wine & Food Festival

So Delicious Station at the NY Wine & Food Festival

Imagine my thrill to finally be able to try this new drink.  And what do I think of So Delicious’ coffee drink?  It’s great.  For hardcore coffee drinkers, it may be a little too much like a milkshake.  But for Starbucks lovers and people like me who love an occasional chilled caffeinated beverage where the coffee is tempered by lots of good coconut milk and some sweetener and seasonings, this is perfect.

After my first tasting of this new delight, I went to a Whole Foods, and discovered that I was just looking in the wrong place for the Cococcino!  They keep it in the non-dairy milk section, with the almond and rice (and hemp and coconut and so forth) milks.  So now every week I go to the store and get myself a four-pack of Cococcino.  So Delicious, you’ve done it again!

So Delicious Cococcino Mocha in Pack of Four

So Delicious Cococcino Mocha in Pack of Four

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Andanada Restaurant; or, Following In My Own Footstops

Andanada Restaurant

Andanada Restaurant

When we entered Andanada Restaurant, I realized that it was, in fact, not the first time Therese and I had been there.  Here I was, planning one of the days of her birthday weekend, crafting a seamless transition from a movie at Lincoln Plaza Cinema (we saw Birdman – she loved it – I thought it intriguing but uneven) to a splendid dinner.  Andanada is just a block from the movie theater, and we love Spanish tapas, so I thought eureka!

And then we walked in and sat down, surrounded by Andanada’s wall murals of bulls and fullfighters, and it was obvious we had been there before.  Not that that was so terrible, though.  As we bounded through the tapas menu, our server brought as a complimentary starter, a deconstructed version of the traditional Spanish omelet, made with potato foam.

Reinvention of the Spanish Omelet

Reinvention of the Spanish Omelet

The Spanish omelet can get kind of tired – I know I’ve had more than one that was dry, and consisted of little more than egg and potato – so experiencing it a new way was so fun.  The light creamy mix of egg and potato with crumbled bacon was delightful.  And the fact that it was complimentary made me think of an authentic Spanish restaurant – in Spain, tapas is usually free, just a way to keep you ordering (and paying for) drinks.

Andananda, which is named for the top tier of seats at a bullfight, aims to be authentic – edgy and simple but also sophisticated and fresh.  Our first tapas, the shrimps with garlic pictured above, the best of that quintessential Spanish tapas that I have tasted, leaned more toward the former, but I was not complaining.

The second tapas that I tasted, one of cod with tomato and olive tartare topped with red onion and frisee, had some flavor going on, but overall, it didn’t speak to me.

Cod with Tomatoes and Olives

Cod with Tomatoes and Olives

Maybe it’s because I’ve had a number of seafood tartares of late, and this one had nothing to distinguish itself.  But it was pleasant enough, and made way for the star of the evening.

Iberico Ham with Tomato Bread

Iberico Ham with Tomato Bread

That would be the Iberico Ham with toasted breads covered in olive oil and tomato.  If you’re going to eat pork, why not eat this amazing ham?  The slices had a rustic look to them – you could see that they had been carved individually from the pig leg with a knife, probably an old gnarly looking knife the chef got from his grandmother.  Ah, this fulfilled the Andanada philosophy.  A nice piece of crispy bread with some of this rolled up ham on it, and I was ready to sit on a hardwood bench and watch a dilettante in a colorful costume skewer a wild animal.

Oh, and did I mention the sangria?  I was puzzling over what wine to order to go with our tapas, and then we saw they had sangria and we figured, why not?  Why not, indeed.  You know how you hear that people use the second-class wine to make sangria?  That is obviously not the case at Andanada.  This red sangria was full of first-class Rioja flavor, and had just a touch of sweetness to it.

My only regret in having such a memorable dinner at Andanada is that, next time, it will be harder to convince myself that I’ve never been there before.  Well, in this case, I will be happy to repeat myself.  New York City may have its fair share of tapas restaurants, but it only has one Andanada.

Posted in Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, New York City, NYC Restaurants, Restaurants, Reviews, Spanish food, Tapas | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Municipal House Prague and Mlejnice Restaurant

Municipal House Prague

Municipal House Prague

Municipal House Prague lies directly adjacent to the Powder Tower, on the western edge of Prague’s Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky).  When we arrived in Prague, I knew very little about this building which played such an important part in Czech history.  Then we stayed in the Old Town Hilton just a block off of Republic Square, and it made perfect sense to visit the Municipal House.

So on our third day in Prague, our day started with the Vital Art Nouveau 1900 exhibit on the House’s second floor, and continued with a guided tour of the House.  We had to pay extra for photo permits (which was the case at a lot of sights in Prague, by the way), but it was worth it.  The guided tour began in Smetana Hall, the House’s concert hall that is also the sight of a seminal moment in Czech history.  On October 28, 1918, Czechoslovak independence was declared in Smetana Hall.

Did I mention that this hall is stunningly beautiful?  This was just the start of a wealth of stunning.  The tour took us through the halls ringing Smetana Hall, starting with the women’s salons to the south.  The confectionery is where women could take refreshment – it has a full bar and a seating area.

The Oriental Room next to the Confectionery is filled with awesome textile touches.  I’m pretty sure Therese wanted to snatch one of the pillows (ok, I was the one who was tempted).

Did I mention that the whole building is decorated in Art Nouveau style?  Being from New York City, where we have lots of great Art Deco architecture, I am not that familiar with Art Nouveau, but by the time we were done touring the Municipal House, Art Nouveau was my favorite architectural style.  And it didn’t hurt that a whole room, the Mayor Hall, was designed by Alphonse Mucha, an artist who became a favorite during this trip (more on that later).

Adjacent to the Mayor Hall are two other halls, Palacky Hall and Gregr Hall, large airy men’s salons with large murals covering the walls.

The Municipal House was, for its time, a very advanced, modern building, with elevators.

Municipal House Elevator

Municipal House Elevator

We enjoyed the tour of the Municipal House so much.  And our tickets entitled us to buy-one-get-one drinks in the American Bar, which is in the basement.  We thought, why not?

And you know what?  Just like the rest of the building, this bar is just perfect.  Why would we ever want to leave?  We didn’t.  We each had our two drinks.  And relaxed.  But I had my itinerary to follow, that dynamic tyrannical itinerary.  Oh well.  So we did eventually move on to lunch.

And I know Therese was a bit doubtful of my idea to go somewhere else for lunch.  I mean, we could’ve eaten lunch at the restaurant next to the American Bar.  But I had picked out a restaurant for lunch that would take us near to where we going after lunch.  I had a progression planned.  And we only had to walk into the Mlejnice Restaurant, where we had lunch, and immediately all three of us said, oh yeah, this is the place.

The Mlejnice interior is full of character, it just feels like something from another era.  We sat down and looked around and said, oh yeah.  We liked it.  I ordered duck breast with blueberry sauce, which was not as sickly sweet as you might imagine it would be.  It was actually really good.  Eileen ordered a pork tenderloin skewer that looked fabulous (Therese’s lunch was laden with cheese chunks so I won’t show you that).

The next stop was the Mucha Museum.  Yes, a whole museum devoted to the art of Alphonse Mucha.  Before we went to Prague, all I knew of Mucha was his posters of pretty ladies.  And sure, there is a lot more of that.  After all, Mucha (for example) had a deal with the actress Sarah Bernhardt to create posters for her performances.  But there is much more to Mucha, and the museum displays the many sides of Mucha’s output.

For example, I had no idea that Mucha was Czech.  His culture was very important to him, and a large portion of his work is of Czech and Slavic themes.  In fact, his great life’s work, the Slav Epic, is all about the history and culture of the Slavic peoples, and we would visit that later in the week.

To finish up our third day in Prague, we had dinner at Kolkovna Celnice.  I have to be honest: the main appeal for this restaurant was that it was so close to our hotel, less than a block away.  After having a full day of sightseeing and an afternoon rest, we like to not have to go far for our dinner.  Kolkovna Celnice was perfect in that regard.  In many other regards, it was passable, or if you prefer, mediocre.  I had my first taste of goose there, a goose leg confit, and my first taste of Czech beer as well.  The downstairs non-smoking room where we ate was evocative of a German Ratskeller.

By the time we finished our dinner, the restaurant was already emptying out.  Our third day had been a huge success, and there was lots more fun to come.  But not much would rise to the impossibly high standard set by the Municipal House – in fact, Eileen said that it was her favorite sight of the entire trip.

Main Entrance to the Municipal Hall with Mayor Hall Balcony and Exedra Above

Main Entrance to the Municipal Hall with Mayor Hall Balcony and Exedra Above

Posted in Beer, Czech Food, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Guided Tours, Lunch, Museums, Prague, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment