Farewell to a jewel of a city. My five days in Prague with the purpose of visiting my daughter, Nell, on her junior semester abroad have been delightful. It is a destination celebrated as the new Paris, an edgy and exciting destination with much to do and see.
We had only spoken once since she left in January -- a track record respected by few as most in my parental peer group are in constant verbal communication. I have adapted to texting as a legit form of communication and hold by the pre-cell phone adage -- no news is good news. Getting away from home and parents is a good thing. But I was very excited to see her and explore a new city.
I was thrilled when Nell said she would bunk in with me at the hotel with a list of restaurants we would visit. Ah the apple falling close to the tree. We planned each evening's excursion, selecting those destinations she would not get to without a fiscal sponsor. During the day, she had class and left me to see the sights. I walked for hours, absorbing as much of the culture as possible, with extra attention on food, naturally.
For the most part, Prague is a meat and potatoes town with endless options for platters of meat -- beef, pork and duck -- served with signature dumplings and potatoes. As Nell said, beer is like water, regardless of time of day. Water is always a choice between flat and sparkling, never tap. And it was four days till I saw any ice cubes, Nell's first. After meat, there is endless cheese, followed by coffee and desserts galore. The bread was always tempting -- whole grain, seeded, fresh and full of real taste. Pick your vice.
Our dinner excursions ranged from Italian, Indian/International, Czech and several interpretations of contemporary. We have our rituals -- a little champagne to start, oysters if feasible, lots of small plates to share instead of entrees -- and she puts up with my habit of photographing our meals! This is the young woman who as a toddler considered three bites of pasta a full meal.
Nell took me to a farmers market near her apartment. Crazy as it seems, it was really thrilling to touch local agriculture. What's growing locally? Not much. Like any end of winter market, there were storage vegetables (potatoes, garlic, onions, parsnips, celeriac, carrots, kohlrabi, apples) and signs of spring -- parsley, radishes and seedlings.
There were the meat guys, two in trucks any NYC meat purveyor would envy. A third generation farmer talked about his 'bio' farm (organic methods) and the pigs he raises. Seems that several years ago, a stray pig of unknown heritage was found in the nearby woods. The townspeople brought it to him. Over time, he bred the pig with his own, ending up with a distinct breed and pork product for which he is known. The sausages looked amazing, as did the pickles, jams, cheeses breads, prepared foods, wines and plants, and I did my best to shop as much as I could under the circumstances.
Street food included grilled pork over wood burning pits, sausage and hot dogs, rolled dough, potatoes with cabbage and bacon, melted cheese, crepes, waffles on a stick -- lots of food to go for the throngs of tourists throughout the city. Cafes are everywhere, one after another, with a range of specialties from local and continental cuisines to pizza. (Sadly, KFC, Subway, McDonald's and Starbucks were readily available.)
In the local pastry shops, the options were staggering and every row of desserts more intricate than the last. At the little food shops, the artistry of the open-faced sandwiches and the range of salads were striking. After a few days, I worked up my courage to ask for selections without meat and discovered an addictive potato salad. But I walked no less than four hours each day, sometimes up endless stairs, so I made my peace with my 1,000-calorie snacks.
Nell and I relished the experience of being presented with a selection of whole fresh (raw) fish: Which one did we want to eat and how did we want it prepared? How did we negotiate sharing when she wanted meat or who would eat the last bite of some yummy dish. How adventurous did we want to be in trying something on the street and did we need a nap before eating again, or maybe a massage? Sharing wine with one's 21-year-old is a fun experience as well, and I attempted to highlight taste differences. (We will take a wine class together this summer.) And for dessert -- did we have room or not? -- we typically settled for sharing one less sinful selection, two forks.
The final meal was the season's (and my) first local asparagus, a three-course menu: white asparagus with salad (the tastiest local young greens); green and white asparagus ragout with potatoes and bagna cruda; and a white chocolate mousse with pistachios on white asparagus. Kudos to the chef at Litchfield Restaurant in the Augustine Hotel.
Despite all the amazing dishes at several great restaurants, this was my favorite. On a trip that was in many ways a rite of passage for me, visiting an eldest child overseas, spending time together as adults, sharing new experiences, this final creative and delicious meal, celebrating the first of the season seemed a fitting finale.
I traveled home satisfied and happy. I cannot wait till she comes home. We have a list of NYC restaurants to conquer this summer.
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