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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Why I warmed to Prague

The Czech capital is known for it's romance, nightlife, culture... and sub-zero temperatures

For me, Prague has been synonymous with two things -stag parties and romance.

My friends consider Prague one of their European party destinations of choice, and I know several couples who sing its praises. So when the opportunity arose for me to get a look at the city, I was hopping on the first flight out of here.

However, for the duration of my trip to Prague, I couldn't help but feel as if I was missing out on some sort of romantic code that had been encrypted in its visitors -- travel companions, tour guides and even the hotel workers couldn't help but comment on how enchanting the city is. Maybe I refused to see it because I was without the other half.

Instead, I focused on what else the city could offer me. Five-star hotel? Check. Getting an all-access pass to one of Eastern Europe's most beautiful cities? Check.

I was warned in advance of the cold, but I felt I was being tested with my greatest physical challenge yet, thanks to the minus-14 weather conditions, which, unfortunately, can last for the first few months of the year.

Although I had wrapped up warm, I was completely unprepared for losing the feeling in my face on the first night there. But, thankfully, I could seek solace in the blissful surroundings of my five-star hotel.

I went into the Kempinski Hybernska Prague, located in the city's Old Town, with high hopes. I've always been something of a hotel snob, so let's just say I was very comfortable in my surroundings.

I walked into my suite to see a lengthy corridor, kitchen, sitting room and bedroom complete with king-sized bed and massive bathroom. The sight alone was enough to relieve some of the numbness in my face and I couldn't help but crack a smile.

Fairytale

This was my first time in Eastern Europe, and I had always heard about the fairytale-like atmosphere that is one of Prague's main attractions.

Whether it's crossing Charles Bridge or admiring the historically rich architecture around every corner of the Old Town, the entire city is a spectacle, if nothing else.

But in spite of being one of Europe's major cities, there are no skyscrapers in sight. No business people scurrying past you in a rush to meet their different deadlines. Instead, it's a laid-back place, where people go for strolls rather than race each other to their respective destinations.

But be warned: it is cold -- very cold. I had to wear two pairs of pants, an industrial-strength down jacket and stop for a hot drink every 20 minutes, just to warm up. And while the cold became my obsession for the duration of the trip, I shifted my interest to my first love -- food.

Cuisine

It may seem unusual to eat at an Italian restaurant while in the Czech Republic, but I go where the crowd takes me and I was nothing if not surprised at Kogo Havelska.

Next up on the food hit list was the hotel restaurant. I've never been one for hotel restaurants; I generally consider them overpriced, an excuse for the owners to rip you off for the convenience factor. But I was bowled over with the menu at the Kempinski.

I went in reluctantly, but left praising the cuisine. Although, I have to admit, I didn't venture very far outside my comfort zone, choosing a steak and vegetables. So, afterwards, I was keen to get my hands on some of the local delicacies. So next I was off to Pilsen, for a special brewery tour at Na Spilce.

After tasting a sample of homemade brews, I took the opportunity to explore some of the city's most famous sights, and top of my list was Prague Castle. Admittedly, it wasn't much warmer inside the building than out, but that merely added to its authenticity.

The Czech Republic has a historically rich culture, particularly attractive to tourists, and Prague is full to the brim with museums and attractions. As a Second World War buff, the Jewish museum was by far my favourite, beating out both the Alfonse Mucha and Kafka museums.

Layers

So while I may have been converted to Prague by the end of my trip, I won't be forgetting the cold anytime soon. Frankly, there is nothing flattering about layers, but I decided to throw fashion out the window for the weekend because, as I said before, I wasn't there with someone special, nor was I looking for a Czech boyfriend. A weekend of relaxed style and no make-up was a welcome change.

But for those of you accompanied by a significant other, who haven't yet reached the stage where you are comfortable looking completely ridiculous in front of each other, you have been warned. Otherwise, prepare for a trip full of sightseeing, overeating and drinking. Enjoy!

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