PRAGUE—I used to enjoy my Memories of Prague without ever actually having cultivated, you know, memories of Prague.
There’s a small tea house in Burlington, just off of Church Street, that offers a lengthy menu of items and plenty of cushions on the floor in front of low square tables. It’s a place where people go to smoke hookahs al fresco during the spring or summer, taking puffs of strawberry tobacco as pedestrians walk by; inside, there’s always the light scent of incense and a CD playing sitar tracks. But it’s comforting, a little exotic, and home to some really brilliant concoctions.
The original Dobra Tea was actually Dobrá ÄČajovna, opened in Prague several years after the Velvet Revolution. What worked for the American tourists who visited the city was brought over to Vermont: a black Assam leaf tea mixed with bitter chocolate, served with warm milk, honey, and three small nuggets that have some form of spice in them to make them pretty much irresistible. Memories of Prague: a drink I still get cravings for, four years after I last enjoyed it.
I liked that it was named after Prague, because friends had been telling me for years that I really needed to get there. Amazing architecture, cobblestone streets, little winding alleyways, and easy navigation. If I said I wanted to get to London, they told me, I really needed to get to Prague.
(See? It wasn’t just because the Bruins went there last year, thank you very much. My only Bruins-related moments came jumping in Old Town Square, tracking down the Bruins nesting dolls that the players found last year, and being greeted with the image of Tomas freaking Kaberle hoisting the Cup when I walked into the front lobby of the airport. Oh, and finding the restaurant Bish recommended to me and noting that, unlike what Mark Stuart told me, it’s really not hard to remember the name of the castles: Prague Castle. Hockey players aren’t always bright. And maybe my days there took a slightly more Bruins-centric spin than I let myself admit at the time. Stop judging me.)
The sun remained firmly behind the clouds and occasional light rain throughout my two days in the city, but the gray skies actually complemented Prague nicely. In fact, one of my favorite sights came after climbing to the top of the Old Town Hall tower—I looked down to see burnt sienna rooftops and small bursts of blue, yellow, red, and pink just above the rain-slicked cobblestones below. And as I looked out across Old Town, I could see the narrow streets ducking and weaving together into small mazes of archway courtyards that I’d wander—extensively and unintentionally—come the evenings.
Beth and I set the bar high for the rest of the trip when it came to one of the key components of our travel wishlist: quality coffee and baked goods. Bakeshop, just off of Old Town Square, is home to everything I need in life—a strong cappuccino, good sandwiches, and massive apple croissants that left me swooning. On our final full day in the city, we started our explorations there and were back to pick up treats before close. Everyone said that Vienna would be the city of our coffee-loving dreams—but it was Prague (and Budapest, although we didn’t know it at the time).
It was refreshing to walk into a pub and ask for beer—the waitstaff would smile, turn away, and return with steins full of Pilsner-Urquell. One beer on draft, one size, no further questions needed. And while I felt a bit ashamed to travel abroad with only traces of high school German lingering in my brain, I appreciated the fact that the Czech people were warm, welcoming, and fully capable of communicating in shockingly good English.
(The exception: The area around our hotel, with the aesthetic and spirit reminiscent of what people visiting Boston would experience in, say, Brighton. We walked into a restaurant and were pretty much summarily dismissed when we spoke in English. Thankfully, the city center was much more quickly accessible to us via the subway than for anyone trying to navigate Boston’s Green Line to get to Boston Common.)
It took me a few years longer than I wanted, but Prague was worth the wait. And with the travel time being quite reasonable, I left with plans to return for a long weekend in the future.
I also left with some genuine memories of Prague, even if I didn’t manage to find the tea house where it all began while I was there—and I departed with an intense craving for that tea.