The City of a Hundred Spires

What do you know about Prague? If you’ve never been there, take a short trip with us to discover why this city makes such an intriguing holiday destination.

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic. While its history stretches back into ancient times, it truly began to thrive in the 14th century, when it was transformed into an imperial capital by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

According to myth, one of the rabbis of Prague created a clay creature named a ‘Golem’ which was supposed to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic attacks. The clay was taken from the banks of the Vltava river, and was brought to life by Hebrew incantations. There are lots of stories surrounding the Golem of Prague, but nobody knows what truth there is in the legends.

charles_bridge

Prague’s rich past and architectural gems are bound to keep you fascinated throughout your stay. Here are just a few examples of what the city has to offer:

Prague Castle

Prague Castle is the largest medieval castle in Europe (over 70,000 m2). It is the most important cultural and historical monument in Prague, even housing Bohemia’s Crown Jewels.

An old legend says that if a usurper places the crown on his head, he will be doomed to die within a year. The last time this supposedly came true was in World War II, when high-ranking Nazi official
Reinhard Heydrich is said to have secretly worn the regalia. In less than a year he was assassinated by British-trained Czech soldiers.

When visiting Prague Castle, it is worth taking a stroll through the beautiful gardens and trying to find Golden Lane. This street, inside the castle walls, consists of a few tiny, colorful houses – most notably No. 22, where Franz Kafka wrote his masterpieces.

According to the stories, the lane was once home to alchemists who sought to turn ‘base metal’ into gold, which is how it gained its name.

The Astronomical Clock

ASTRONOMICAL-CLOCK-DETAIL-PRAGUE_CZECH_REPUBLIC_1_1024x1024While visiting Prague, you must not miss the world-famous Astronomical Clock. The third oldest of its kind in the world, this treasure was installed in 1410 and still works today. People are amazed watching its procession of Apostles, parading figures and unique demonstrations of time.

The clock shows the sunrise and sunset, the zodiac calender, phases of the moon and, of course, the actual hour. It is best to watch it at noon, when the clock really comes to life.

The Franz Kafka Museum

One of the greatest Czech writers was born near the Old Town Square in 1883. You may recognize his name; it is, of course, Franz Kafka. In the Franz Kafka Museum you can see some of his first edition books along with his correspondences, photos and animations, which have never been shown before.

The Petrin Observation Tower

A mini-version of the Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Observation Tower was erected in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition advancing Czech technological achievements. The metal structure is 60m high, and you can climb the 299 steps to reach the top. You can capture wonderful views of the city if you chose to walk there uphill through the park, or you can always reach it by the funicular railway.

The Charles Bridge

From the Petrin Hill you are able to look down across the city to the stunning, pedestrianized Charles Bridge, the construction of which was begun in 1357 under the auspices of the Czech Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. As the only way across the  Vltava river until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the most important connection
between Prague Castle and the Old Town.Prague_charles_bridge_kampa (1)

The most famous of the 30 statues on the bridge is that of Bohemian Saint Jan Nepomucky, which people believe brings you good fortune when touched; so, when you walk past it, don’t be shy!

Places to eat

After your sightseeing you will be starving, so why not go to one of the many traditional restaurants, cafes and bars in Prague?

A great example is Pod Slavinem in Old Town Square, which has a friendly atmosphere, and extensive menu and reasonable prices, making it an excellent venue to experience the delights of Czech cuisine and to sample the internationally-renowned Czech beers.

Denisa Frauenbergova

An interview with Raymond Blanc

For the 8th edition of our eZine, we interviewed the star of BBC Two’s Kew on a Plate, Raymond Blanc…

In person, the renowned chef Raymond Blanc comes across just as you see him on TV – a man passionate about the craft of cooking. His enthusiasm for the pleasure of honest food prevails throughout his restaurants, inspiring his team to produce endless culinary delights.

Raymond dislikes the sensationalism of earlier TV cookery shows, believing that viewers have become more sophisticated.

“Consumers are much more discerning and thinking,” he says. “They have a better understanding of seasonality, provenance, and the ethics of food production and consumption. This has had a huge impact upon retailers.”

Shunning foodie fashion for its own sake, Raymond is inspired by the same principles that he was taught by his parents as a boy in France – primarily, the use of fresh, local, good-quality ingredients.

Using such produce not only gives the dishes a great flavour but lessens the impact of food transportation on the environment. True to these ideals, the menu of each Brasserie Blanc restaurant is tailored to reflect local ingredients and specialities.

Raymond’s view of a chef’s business focuses on inclusion. He believes all aspects of life and society should be integrated within the public dining experience. His restaurants use local suppliers as much as possible to support the community from which each Brasserie draws its customers.

Brasserie Blanc at Milton Keynes
Brasserie Blanc at Milton Keynes

As an award-winning chef, Raymond aims to teach his trainees about the purity and nobility of the produce, to show that good food is really important, and to help society reconnect with the values of food.

When we mentioned that some restaurants have been caught secretly serving factory-produced food, Raymond acknowledged that there will always be cheats, but he believes most people are honest.

“Respect for one’s self, one’s skill and one’s customers will prevent passing off brought-in food as homemade,” he says. “I can give you the absolute guarantee that at Brasserie Blanc every dish is made from scratch on the premises!”

To close, we asked Raymond: “Which do you consider the three most essential herbs in a kitchen garden?”

Of course, the subject lies too close to his heart for a simple answer, but we eventually ended up with basil, lemon grass and hyssop – with Vietnamese mint and lavender kept in reserve!

At the time of our interview, Raymond had recently been on TV, reviving the use of forgotten ingredients at Kew Gardens. So, it was no surprise to hear him championing the fantastic produce growing on our own doorsteps.

As he says, “It’s time to embrace it!”

James Martine