A Bit of Prague-matism

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 23:  Prague, Czechia
Since I first inadvertently invited this respiratory bug to join our trip in Iceland, we've apparently been passing it back and forth for the last three weeks.  At the urging of my slightly older and much wiser sister, who went so far as researching English-speaking physicians in Prague and emailing us names, we finally decided it was time to get serious about getting well.  Based on the ease with which the concierge in Casablanca obtained an eye appointment for Ken, we went to the hotel office and asked for assistance.  And were handed a reminder about levels of service and how they can vary.

Rather than handing us a doctor’s name, whose office had already been called and arrangements made, the agent on duty gave us the name of a building and told us to go to “a clinic on the ground floor, the first floor.”  Ken asked if they could arrange for a car and driver to take us there but was assured it was in easy walking distance.  Sure, but only if one is feeling well.  But we didn’t realize that at the time and off we went on foot.

A mile and a half later, hacking and coughing, we located the building to which we had been referred.  Upon entering, we realized that we had just been sent to a medical office building with no doctor’s name or office number.  Consulting the office directory posted on the wall near the entrance, with Google Translate in hand (hemorrhaging expensive roaming data usage), we found no suggestion of a clinic.  And the ground floor was Floor 0, not Floor 1.  We might have tried wandering into one of the offices that were not marked Gynekologie or Kardiologie and inquired of the staff if they might be operating a clinic.  Except all the office doors were locked and no one inside them responded to a knock.  That was clearly not the protocol. In a general waiting room area which appeared to serve all the offices, we tried to locate a pending patient who spoke English, but all shook their heads negatively.  (At least, that gesture was universal…here.)

Finally, we decided to abandon the impenetrable medical building and try a clinic Ken had found referenced on the U.S. Embassy web site.  We know what you’re thinking.  Why didn’t we try that first?  Well, we had similarly identified Casablanca doctors through the U.S. consulate there but had such a great experience with the hotel’s assistance, the government connection had become our back-up plan.  At any rate, we trudged around the corner, desperately wishing for a taxi to spirit us the mile or two to Poliklinika Narodni, whose web site promised U.S.-trained, English-speaking doctors on staff.  The taxi fairy bestowed a wide grin upon us at that exact moment and sent a taxi to the very spot where we were standing on the street corner.  No, really.  Two women exited the cab and we hopped gratefully in.

Arriving shortly at the clinic, we were also met with a locked door.  But this one had a sign, in both Czech and English, instructing visitors to ring the bell, which generated a prompt admittance.  The receptionist greeted us in English and handed us brief new patient forms to complete, which included a question asking whether this was a “pass-through” one-time visit.  (Certainly not their first rodeo!)  Within ten minutes, we were seen by Dr. Václav Beneš, who conducted a typical interview and respiratory examination before testing each of us for strep.  With both our test results negative, he diagnosed two cases of viral bronchitis and gave us an expectorant and iodine throat spray to kill the nasty virus.

This chore completed, we headed off for lunch, lucking out with a delicious meal at the nearby Café Savoy.  Restored by our first dose of medicine and a good meal, we decided to take a taxi to join the throngs of other tourists in Old Town Square (pictured at top of post).  Dating to the 10th century when it served as a primary marketplace in the growing city, the massive public space is ringed with architectural gems, but the one that attracts the most attention and the largest crowds—every hour, on the hour—is the 1410 astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall tower, purported to be the oldest device of this type still in working order.

Astronomical Clock
For those who know how to interpret its various dials, the clock displays the month and date, zodiac period, moon phase, other esoteric information, and in some cryptic manner indecipherable to the average human, the current time.  Like the thousands of other tourists dutifully gazing upward as their own comprehensible timepieces alerted the eminent striking of the hour, we awaited “the big show.”  Something special is going to happen, we had read and heard.  Finally, the clock struck three and the two windows above the clock face opened.  As a passel of patsies peered on, wooden figures of the twelve apostles paraded past the windows, a rooster crowed, and thousands of shoulders were shrugged.  Like so many before us, we came, we saw, and we wondered, "What’s all the fuss about?"   The line to climb the clock tower for a view of the square was much too long, so we moved on to the many other sights of Prague's Old Town.

Since we seemed to be in the gullible tourist mode and had put enough distance between us and Morocco to try food from a street vendor, we indulged in a couple of snacks very popular with tourists if not necessarily with locals.  The first was a lightly sweetened pastry, whose recipe was imported from Hungary in the late 1700s.  The trdelník is made from a long string of rolled dough spiraled around a large rod and cooked over an open fire rotisserie style, then topped with sugar and nuts.   Nutella was available for dipping, but we went for the straight trdelnik and found it to be pretty tasty.

Tornado potatoes
Our second indulgence was a potato, spiral cut, skewered and deep fried, and known in some parts of the U.S. as a tornado potato, we have learned.  Certainly not a healthy alternative to anything and definitely one of those foods that looked better than it tasted.  It was quite attractive.  There must be something about the spiral that lured us but only because we were going for the full tourist experience today.  How else can you explain our momentary consideration of taking one of these for a spin?

Many carriage operators in Old Town are ready to offer tours.
Regaining some semblance of rational thought, we quit horsing around and went off in search of the entrance to the Church of our Lady before Tyn, one of the most distinguished symbols of Prague Gothic style.  Topped by alluring twin 260-ft. towers with gold-adorned spires, the church dominates Old Town and dates back to the 14th century.  With an exterior that inspiring, we were eager to see what lay within.

Church of Our Lady before Tyn
Slipping into the opening between buildings, we walked down an alley, certain we would reach the entrance, but we did not.  In fact, we encountered the side of the church, then the back of the church, then the other side of the church, returning us to the square.  After some poking into archways between sidewalk cafes on the square, we finally tracked down a surprisingly nondescript opening that led to this magnificent building's humble entrance.

...led to this.
Unlike the entrance, the interior delivered what the towers promised, with an extensive collection of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art and monuments and a large number of preserved tombs, much of it gilded in harmony with the spires.  From this glittering extravagance, we wandered over to the nearby Jewish Quarter for a look at a much humbler structure, the Old-New Synagogue.  Yes, that is its official name.

One tourist group leaves the Old-New Synagogue as another approaches.
The oldest landmark of the Jewish Quarter of Prague and one of the oldest surviving synagogues in Europe, this venerable house of worship was built in the last third of the 13th century and has served as the heart of the city's Jewish community for more than 700 years.  Near the synagogue was the city's monument to one of the Jewish community's acclaimed residents.

Kafka Monument
Eighty years after his death, a monument to Franz Kafka, Prague's most famous literary native son, was dedicated in 2004 near what had been Kafka's residence in the Jewish Quarter. Created by a Czech sculptor, the 12-foot tall sculpture was inspired by one of Kafka's early stories and depicts a headless male figure in a suit with Kafka sitting on his shoulders.

Afternoon was fading into evening by the time we wandered back to Old Town Square and secured a taxi just as rain began to fall in earnest.  On our way back to the hotel, we watched a video we had recorded of Jazz No Problem Praha, a Prague-based Czech jazz band with a lead singer who is on a direct channel with...  Well, you listen, and you'll know immediately who his muse is. We also heard the group playing on Charles Bridge Monday afternoon.  Hear a sample here:  
Jazz No Problem in Prague

One more day in Prague tomorrow, and we have letterboxes to find and one to plant.


Daily Stats
  • Miles walked:  4.21
  • Weather:  45° to 54°, sunny, PC, rain
  • Tourists in Old Town Square:  93,815
  • Tourists watching clock strike:  93,809
  • Musical performers in square:  16
  • Carriage operators:  10

Old Town Square = Tourists
Architectural elegance at the square
You can't have this many souvenir stands if you're not a tourist city