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Prague
Bohemian Rhapsody:
Na Zdraví!
(Dispatch #3)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

view of Prague from the Jindrisska Tower

ell towers around the "City of a Hundred Spires" ring out in unison that it's now 5:30 p.m., the exact hour and minute that Insight Vacations' Bohemian Rhapsody journey officially begins for a handpicked group of international travel writers, bloggers, social media experts and photographers invited over to where central meets eastern Europe to experience the jewels of the old Habsburg Empire: Prague, Vienna and Budapest.

lobby and reception of the Art Nouveau Palace Hotel

Pinching myself to make sure that this is not a dream – It's for real, whew! – I start pressing the flesh with the newly-formed "band of merry media" as it begins to take shape in the lobby of Prague's Art Nouveau Palace Hotel for Act I of what I hope will be an incredible week of live theatre starring the sights, sounds and savors of Bohemia.

Insight Vacation's Hungarian Driver Karoly

The ice breaks clear in a matter of seconds as journalists and lens crafters from the US, Canada, Ireland, the UK, South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand quickly get acquainted and head straight away for the Insight motor coach, skippered by Karoly, our Hungarian driver, and parked just outside on the cobble.

Where to?

Czech beer

Well, with the Czech Republic boasting the highest per capita consumption of beer annually – around 40 gallons or 160 liters per citizen – it's only fitting that Insight jumpstarts this Bohemian Rhapsody at a brewery, right?

the Strahov section of Prague

A scenic ride through the Old and New districts of Prague up to the hilly Strahov section of the city, with historical footnotes of Praha's past – like, defenestration (the art of throwing a political foe through a perfectly functioning glass window) – doled out in rapid fire by Neira Milkovic, Insight's central and eastern Europe tour director extraordinaire (she chats it up in eight languages by the way, including her native Croatian), our 40-passenger, business-class legroom Mercedes coach comes to a full stop outside an ornate archway fronting the Strahov Monastery.

sign and archway at the Strahov section of Prague

Walking down off the bus – not hurled through one of the windows – we collectively grab our camera gear and, suddenly, our band of merry media transforms into a pack of wild paparazzi on the loose. It's every man/woman for his/her self.

Hey pal, you're blocking my shot!

Oh, I just love these media familiarization trips; so much fun.

the Strahov Abbey of the Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians

Through the archway we enter the sacred grounds of the Strahov Abbey of the Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians, a Roman Catholic order of monks founded by St. Norbert in 1120. It is here, above Prague, that the order put mortar to stone and built its heavenly monastery in 1143.

the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, Strahov

The centerpiece of this religious institution is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, where Mozart once put the house of worship's pipe organ through its paces.

sign pointing to the Strahov brewery

So, what does an order of monks have to do with the Czech Republic's signature beverage? Well, it was these same Premonstratensians who, in between vespers, began turning hops into beer in a makeshift brewery all the way back in 1400.

entrance to the Klášterní Pivovar Strahov (Monastic Brewery)

Today, the Klášterní Pivovar Strahov (Monastic Brewery) is a modern microbrewery, sans monks, that creates the St. Norbert line of ten seasonal amber and dark lager beers that are drawn and served alongside huge wooden platters of cold cuts, salami, deep-fried artisan bread, crunchy-fresh veggies and tasty dipping sauces.

food served alongside lager beer at the Monastic Brewery

A true Insight "signature" moment – one of many that will be sprung on us without notice – our band of merry media went behind the scenes of the brewery then put fork to food and hand to mug. To add insult to injury, our waiters tossed in a few complimentary shots of Becherovka, a smooth herbal liqueur. Na zdraví! (Czech for Cheers!).

view of Prague at dusk from Strahov

We went through the gates of the saintly brewery as the sun was setting over the city and came out, still able to walk a straight line, as night took over the scene, to head down to Hell – actually a wine-cellar restaurant named Peklo (Czech for Hell) – for part II of this epicurean icebreaker on Insight's euro. Along the way, we got off some shots of the fabulous panoramic views of Prague and a few illuminating frames of the monastery.

Down the steep steps we travel into the bowels of inferno. Peklo, a wine-cellar restaurant that occupies the space of a 12th century grotto, lies directly underneath the monastery grounds.

Beer mugs are exchanged for wine glasses and there's plenty of grape to handle this band of merry media. I get the initial pour and taste a Czech Sauvignon, and it's inspiring.

Peklo wine-cellar restaurant at night

more pictures of Peklo

Taking my place in the buffet line, I forgo the sliced-to-order roast beef and, instead, indulge in the freshest smoked salmon I've ever tasted along with a multitude of vegetables prepped in a variety of ways. Dinner's final act is a delicious slice of apple strudel drizzled with a creamy vanilla sauce. Mmm.

author's plate at Peklo which includes smoked salmon and vegetables

If this is Hell, then sign me up for the long haul!

Insight Vacation's Bohemian Rhapsody brochure

For complete information on Insight Vacations' premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Bohemian Rhapsody and 100 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

Join me tomorrow at first light as Prague rubs the sleep from its eyes while I do my best to get the red out of mine.

Related Articles:
Bohemian Rhapsody: Dobrý Den!; Bohemian Rhapsody: Between Cairo and Berlin; Czeching Out A Bohemian Rhapsody; Postcards from Prague; The Czech Republic – A Little Jewel, Part 2; A Brief Break in Brno




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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

* * * *

Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: http://www.compagniadeicammini.it/en/. Thanks for stopping by and commenting..

Tom

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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal




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