Chalkmarks New way to see old Prague

I’M starting to wobble. I’m here in the Czech Republic but it’s not their famous beer that’s to blame. I’m on a Segway tour of Prague

Despite looking slightly ridiculous, it is the best way to explore lesser-known parts of the capital that are tucked away down the narrow cobbled alleyways. 

There is a breathless moment when I first step on to this madcap machine. I hold the steering column tight and jerk slightly forward. 

After a few nervous test rides with our guide we have lift off and within ten minutes our group is revving along happily as we reach Letná Park for a panoramic view of this City of Spires. 

This 25-hectare green, urban space, has picnic tables, playgrounds, landscaped areas and other parts left as unmaintained woodland. 

Chalkmarks: From the waterside: Charles Bridge over the Vltava
From the waterside: Charles Bridge over the Vltava
Chalkmarks: Gorgeous Gothic architecture: St.Vitus Cathedral
Gorgeous Gothic architecture: St Vitus Cathedral

The best part though are the numerous historic landmarks laid out below. St Vitus Cathedral, which took six centuries to finish dominates the skyline with its shadowy towers and piercing steeples. There’s also Prague Castle and Charles Bridge – two of the city’s main attractions. 

Eager to see more, our team of riders push on passing the floating bars and the beer gardens such as U Pinkasů, U Malvaze and U Černého vola on the riverbank. 

At 5mph we sail single file into the simmering afternoon through the shaded streets making the birds fly out of the trees as we go. 

It feels like we are digging around an old chest from the Middle Ages finding monuments, towers, ornate lampposts, and statues – surprised to find that so much is intact to this day. 

The city centre is formed of the Old Town (the original town of Prague), the confusingly named New Town built 600 years ago, and the Lesser District, which is the settlement around the 1,000-year-old castle. 

A golden age came to Prague when it became the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire during the 14th century. 

The ambition was to create the most beautiful city in the world and they certainly did – with the stunning Vltava river flowing down the middle, splitting the city in two. 

Chalkmarks: Feeling brave: Natalie on a Segway with the tour group
Feeling brave: Natalie on a Segway with the tour group
Chalkmarks: Wheel-y good: Natalie also on scooter tour
Wheel-y good: Natalie also on scooter tour

It takes us three hours to complete the tour after which I seek out another leisurely activity – that’s eating and drinking. 

We stop at a food stall and order the sweet pastry Trdelník from the Old Town Square. These treats can be picked up from street sellers and bakeries from all around the city centre. 

It’s similar to a doughnut with a dusting of sugar that’s wrapped and baked around a stick. 

I stay at the Park Inn hotel, a converted 1907 building with an art deco façade. Despite its age, once inside it’s modern and business-like with white walls, dark wooden panelling and comfy leather sofas. 

My room is light, bright and spotless – simply furnished with a wooden table, red chair and bed. 

And back downstairs there’s a bar and restaurant serving an international menu with a few Czech specialities including dumplings and potato pancakes. 

If you’re planning on being out and about a lot, it’s conveniently located close to the river and the tram. 

That evening I head to the Staropramen brewery for a tasting of some great Czech lager. Just like their Gothic and baroque relics, this beer is a source of national pride. 

Established in 1869, the brick factory is an iconic landmark, built with enough space for a malting floor for barley sprouting, a brew house, boiler room, engine room, a yard and basements filled with refrigerators. 

Located on the banks of the Vltava, the Staropramen – meaning Old Spring – visitor centre is lit up at night with golden spotlights. 

For more than a century, they have been making the pale draught larger Pilsen, which is claimed to have inspired two thirds of all the world’s beer. 

At the end of the tour that traces the history of the company, a spiral staircase leads us to the bar below for a tasting of their smooth yet crisp premium, non-filtered, garnet and dark brews. 

Needless to say I purchase a few souvenirs, as you can’t find their specialty lagers in supermarkets at home. 

The next day I treat myself to a full English at the hotel from the vast breakfast buffet that includes cheeses, cold meats and porridge. 

After a strong coffee I’m then off on a four-hour drive following the Vltava – meaning wild river – into South Bohemia to the handsome yet overlooked city Český Krumlov. 

Chalkmarks: Mini Prague: Arriving in Český Krumlov
Mini Prague: Arriving in Český Krumlov
Chalkmarks: Jesuit dormitory: Hotel Růže
Jesuit dormitory: Hotel Růže
Chalkmarks: Legend: An ancient tradition says the bears must never leave
Legend: An ancient tradition says the bears must never leave

Leaving the crowded capital behind, I drive through deep wooded forests, valleys and tall cliffs. 

Soon appearing from the hills comes a mini-Prague with the lofty tower Church of St Vitus. 

I check in at the Hotel Růže once a former Jesuit dormitory from the 16th century with its original arches and tapestries. 

The simple life of the monks has been left far behind as the hotel is fitted with an indoor swimming pool, sauna and fitness centre. 

The character and ambience of the past remains though with the dark wooden floors, antique furniture and heavy beds. Outside the window is a view of the red rooftops and stone streets of the city centre. 

This time I don’t climb on to a two-wheeled contraption to get around the tiny, narrow, streets thick with souvenir shops, taverns and restaurants close to the water

Having fallen into disrepair during the communist era of Czechoslovakia, restoration work has put this small town on the Unesco list of World Heritage sites alongside Prague. 

It’s difficult to find such impressive architecture in any European city but here it is in the countryside with Český Krumlov castle showing off its Gothic and Baroque architecture. 

In keeping with its 13th century history, the tradition of keeping brown bears inside the dry moat continues. Legend has it that the four bears were given to the Rosenberg family in the 17 century and more importantly they must remain forever. 

As the evening draws in, I have another beast to feed – hunger. Much of Czech food is hearty with pork or beef dishes served with boiled dumplings, potatoes or bread to soak up the thick, rich sauces. 

You’re likely encounter the speciality garlic soup (below, bottom middle) – a very potent broth but said to be a good hangover cure. 

I settle in at the underground Katakomby Grill Restaurant entered through a narrow entrance and down some winding stairs, which then opens up, into a warm cavernous dinning room. 

After the soup, I choose the dumplings and pork knuckle (below, top left). It was food to drink to so in keeping with Czech tradition, I drain a beer. 

In the golden candle light, I order another. Is this heaven?

Chalkmarks: Centrally located: Park Inn hotel
Centrally located: Park Inn hotel
Chalkmarks: Peace, love and freedom: The colourful John Lennon wall
Peace, love and freedom: The colourful John Lennon wall
Chalkmarks: Classic: Vintage car tour of Prague
Classic: Vintage car tour of Prague

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