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7 Educational Travel Highlights from a Winter Weekend in Prague

February 21, 2013 Erin Stern No Comments
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It was by sheer luck that I landed in Prague on a snowy afternoon in January. Why luck? Because it was a freshly fallen snownot a day old dingy onethat sugared the rooftops and city walkways and made Prague look more radiant than I ever imagined.

Armed with a puffy jacket, two layers of socks and unrelenting optimism, the biting wind and the colorless sky tried to mar my first impressions of The City of a Thousand Spires, but couldn’t. Because in a battle of nasty nature versus a city like Prague, beauty always prevails.

Known for its wide range of architectural detailing, Prague is a place of an impressive display of styles like Art Nouveau, Baroque and Cubism, among others varieties. Capitalizing on its nickname, “thousands” of spires reach towards the heavens in an otherwise agnostic society. It’s simply stunning.

Naturally, my adventure began by announcing my tourist status to the locals as I snapped hundreds of photos on my first walk through Namesti Republiky (Republic Square) to the Old Town Square and over the Charles Bridge.

1. A Quiet Charles Bridge

One perk of visiting Prague in the dead of winter includes a nearly vacant Charles Bridge. There’s actually room to roam around and touch the statues, one that seals your fate back to Prague and another that is considered good luck. Another perk is when you’re still jetlagged and fighting sleep, but you skip a very earned opportunity to nap in order to get just a few more hours of exploration time in. And the moment you step onto the bridge as dusk has settled and in the twinkling lights above, snowflakes start to fall. The “alleged” tiny flecks are barely visible in this photo, but you can pretend the dust on your computer screen are magical little snowflakes.

After this I ate some fried cheese and called it a night.

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2. Glass Painting at the GOF + FA by Manto Gallery

While Day 1 in Prague was wildly successful, Day 2 was even better. The real agenda for my visit was spending the weekend with some very deserving teachers and their friends and family as a thank you to them for showing their students the power of educational travel. So in true Global Conference style, we hosted a welcome reception at a beautiful glass gallery right in the heart of the Old Town.

Here, we noshed on light fare while a three-piece band, the Prague Funfair Orchestra, filled the gallery with upbeat melodies. I think a highlight for many was the glass painting. The gallery supplied us each with a pane of glass to decorate, which was then fired in a kiln and molded into the shape of a large plate. In a city known for its beautiful Bohemian glass, this was the ultimate souvenir.

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3. Hearty Potatoes Covered in Cheese

This hearty bowl of potatoes baked with cheese, garlic, onions and spinach was too good not to share. On a blustery winter day, the carb loading really helped warm me up. The restaurant is Mlejnice and is tucked away on a side street in the Old Town. The menu boasts traditional Czech cuisine and the ambiance is a perfect blend of casual and rustic charm.

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4. Exclusive Tour of the Strahov Library

Typically only reserved for diplomatic visits, our group was allowed access inside the Strahov Library, which is the second oldest church library in Bohemia and houses 250,000 books. Our local guide Pavel provided us guided commentary as we made our way through The Theological Hall as well as The Philosophical Hall with its exquisitely carved cabinetry, a ceiling painted by Viennese artist, Franz Anton Maulbertsch, and a hidden staircase.

Here we are as a group in the Philosophical Hall. If you look closely, you’ll notice the slippers we were required to wear over our shoes, which forced us to glide and swiffer our way from room to room. We did a swell job shining up the parquet.

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5. An Evening Ghost Tour of the Old Town

To say this ghost tour was chilling is more of a commentary on the state of my fingers and toes. To be clear, I couldn’t feel them.

We began our tour in the Old Town Square on the perimeter of Tyn Church, made our way through the cobblestoned side streets (pictured below) while listening to tales of restless apparitions and urban legends. Our tour continued underground to the chambers beneath the Old Town Hall where our guide retold personal stories of supernatural sightings in the very places they happened. Believer or non-believer, descending to Prague’s underworld with only a few lanterns to light the way made for quite a unique experience.

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6. Garnet Hunting

Besides being famous for its glass, Prague is also well known for its garnet stone. During a walking tour of St. Vitus Cathedral over the Charles Bridge and ending at the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, our local guide gave us one of the best insider tips about shopping for garnet. He said the true, authentic Czech garnet stones are small and dark in color, almost a deep purple. The larger, more red stones are more likely from Africa.

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{Photo credit: Garnet shop in Prague via Flickr}

 

7. Dinner at Mlýnec Restaurant

Dinner overlooking the Charles Bridge at Mlýnec restaurant was a culinary highlight and an end to a great weekend. The restaurant reserved four tables for us near the big picture window and served us a three-course meal. My iPhone did its best to capture the essence of our last evening in Prague + the view. For dessert, I (along with many others) chose the rhubarb-apple pie with walnut ice cream and apple espuma. It was so delightful, I was stunned into silence. That’s usually the mark of a fine meal.

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There’s little doubt a place like Prague is charming in any season, but having never toured Europe in winter, there was something extra charming about piling on the layers, braving the cold weather and exploring while the rest of the world waits for the first signs of spring.

Erin Stern

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