It was the trams which did it. I lay in bed, listening to them rattle past; what a delightful way to fall asleep. It had, after all, been a long day; some 26 hours of flying from Australia, then an afternoon spent walking around this magical city.
I’ve yet to find anyone who has not fallen under Prague’s spell. It is simply the most delightful city. Even on a cold day when the wind nips at your face and fog is threatening to blanket the spring day, the place reaches out to delight and entrance with her hidden nooks and cobbled streets; a market place, tulips in bloom, a river winding into a golden distance.
The Art Deco Imperial Hotel proved a perfect starting point. Situated in the old town, it’s just a short walk to many nearby sights, such as the Old town Square, St Vitus Cathedral, the famed astronomical clock, even Charles Bridge. It’s even close to all those delights not to miss but which guide books never have room to mention (It looked a far distance on the map, but the bridge was only some 10 minutes away.)Trams ran just outside, and the concierge was an absolute delight in organising a car to help us take my mum (age 86) around – we simply rang from wherever we ended up, and shortly our escort home would arrive.
The first reference to a building here dates back to 1383; by 1730 it had become an inn known as The Black Eagle (a cheerful-sounding watering hole). In the 19th C it was owned by a famous Czech writer Vojtech Naprstek; in the early 20th C one of the city’s most famous sons, the writer Franz Kafka, stayed here. (When will they say that of me?)
During WWII the place proved popular with German soldiers – and, as a consequence, fell out of favour with the citizens of Prague. (Which is not at all surprising, given the brutality of the occupation.) Under the Communist regime, little was done to preserve Prague’s past. Not until after the Velvet Revolution and the overthrow of Communism in 1989 did the city began to emerge from decades of oppression. Extensive work on the hotel began in 2005 to restore her to her original art deco style, allowing the hotel to regained a place as one of Prague’s luxury hotels.
And the Art Deco Imperial Hotel is luxurious. From the moment I entered I was surrounded by the swirls and motifs of all things art deco. The staff helpfully taught me some Czech phrases. It is most definitely not on the cheap end of the spectrum (staying as part of a package deal with a cruise made this touch of decadence affordable). Our room was spacious and looked over the rooftops of the old town. The wifi proved excellent (and free – I refuse to pay for internet access).
The Café Imperial has been one of Prague’s most famous restaurants for the last century ( and was apparently one of Kafka’s favourites). Even staying at the hotel it’s hard to manage a booking – we did manage a late lunch one day. Veal cheeks, lamb shanks on a bed of potatoes, wild boar, all washed down with a full-bodied red – it’s a wonder I managed more sight seeing that afternoon.
Yet breakfast at the hotel is served here every day – a fantastic choice of buffet or a cooked meal. The entire room – roof, walls, floor – is decorated with original 1914 art deco ceramic tiles. A beautiful backdrop to my morning coffee (an espresso, naturally).
One evening, too tired to venture out, my mum and I had a simple meal at the bar – a delicious soup, a plate of meats and cheeses, and some kir royale.
Would I stay here again? If I had the money, or managed another package deal, most definitely yes. But then, I always love discovering new places, and I’m intrigued at finding an attic somewhere on Airbnb or the like.
(Just for clarity – my stay was entirely self-funded, no kick backs etc etc. I wish!)
The Literary Traveller
Kafka’s The Castle can prove an acquired taste, but Prague is the perfect place to tackle both Kafka and his works. The novel’s protagonist is known only as K; he arrives in a village, and the novel is spent as he tries to gain access to the castle from which the place is governed. It is a surrealistic work, emphasised by the fact Kafka died of TB before finishing it. The people of the castle live in a remote world of ‘perfect’ bureaucracy; although they governs the town below, they do not physically interact with the townsfolk. K enters a world of unknown rules and laws, of solitude and alienation and unexpected companionship.