No visit to Prague is complete without walking over the Charles Bridge and visiting the Castle Quarter. On the day I do these things, the weather is sunny and warm for late September. I start my day with breakfast at Sisters on Dlouha Street, which is lined with restaurants and boutiques.
When I arrive at the Charles Bridge, I am one in a crowd of people. This pedestrian bridge is a top tourist attraction in Prague. It spans more than 2,000 feet across the Vltava River and is named for Charles IV, who initiated its construction in 1357. There are 30 statues, mostly of saints, along the bridge, however, they are all replicas of originals that were first installed between 1683 and 1714, according to Wikipedia.
After crossing the Charles Bridge, I walk through Malá Strana, known as the Little Quarter, and up a hill into the Castle Quarter, following the street signs to Prague Castle, a campus of historical buildings. I buy the Circuit B ticket, which includes St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica, and Golden Lane.
By far, the most stunning sight of all is the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral. Inside are large stained glass windows in the Art Nouveau style by Alfons Mucha, a crown chamber holding the Bohemian coronation jewels, and the St. Wenceslas Chapel that marks the tomb of the Czech patron saint.
As for the other sites on my Circuit B ticket, they seem more like fillers for the main event, which truly is the cathedral. The Old Royal Palace is a big empty space with a few outdoor ledges for viewing Prague's cityscape. St. George's Basilica is small and can be seen in less than 30 minutes. I decide to leave without seeing Golden Lane. I walk down the hill back into the Little Quarter, which is also home to the Italian Embassy and occupies a former palace.
Somewhat hidden deeper in the Little Quarter (and unmentioned by my Rick Steves guidebook on Prague & the Czech Republic) is the Italian Cultural Institute, where I meet my cousin Pierluigi in late afternoon. His friend Mauro works at the institute and gives us a tour of its Baroque chapel with fresco-painted ceilings. On the chapel's ground floor is an art exhibit. On the second floor is a block of wood with keys: an antique organ piano. We peek inside the library and the aroma of musty paper makes me want to stay there forever, as does the cloister-style garden outside. Italians have been coming to the Czech Republic since the 16th century. The institute dates to that time, when a chapel was built on site and later a hospital. During the years the Czech Republic was under Communist rule (1948-1989), the Italian Cultural Institute was the only cultural organization in Prague allowed to stay open. After absorbing this history and enjoying a round of espressos, me and my cousin walk through the charming maze of streets, past the John Lennon wall, and through Kampa Park, which is technically an island in the center of the city.
Of my three days of solo sightseeing so far in Prague—including my excursions to the Old Town and the New Town—this day is the most satisfying. For the remainder of my solo-ish trip, I will be in the good company of my hosts Pierluigi and Monika. In fact, we're going on a road trip tomorrow to Moravia, the Czech Republic's wine country. For now, as a toast to Italians in Prague, I am including a recipe for Pierluigi's pasta carbonara, a dish he made for dinner during my trip and that i made again after returning home to New York City.
Bowtie Pasta Carbonara for Three
- Farfalle or bowtie-shaped pasta (500 grams)
- 3 eggs (one per person)
- Black pepper
- Pancetta (Italian bacon, 200 grams)
- Wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese (at least 100 grams)
- Crack the eggs in a big bowl and whip them up.
- Add a pinch of salt and a little black pepper to the eggs. Mix.
- Grate a big pile of cheese. Add it to the eggs. You've added enough cheese to the eggs when the mixture has thickened to a cream.
- Chop the pancetta and fry it in a pan on the stove. No need to add oil. The pancetta has plenty of its own fat to render.
- When the pancetta is crisp, slide it into the egg mixture.
- Prepare the pasta. Boil water in a pot on the stove. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Bowties are our preferred pasta shape because the cheesy egg sauce sticks well to them.
- Strain the pasta when done and add it to the eggs, cheese, and pancetta. Mix and serve.
Savor this dish with family or friends. It pairs well with a Calabrian white wine, such as Poderi Marini "Korone Bianco."