One late spring a few years back I was traveling in London and got a wild idea to check out (or is it Czech out?) the city of Prague. I’d been told by a friend, “Prague looks just like Disneyland. Except it’s the real thing. And I had one of the best meals of my life there.” Color me intrigued!
Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, and the historical capital of Bohemia. Known for its architecture, music, glass and garnets, it seemed like a logical destination.
I badgered my pal Anne to go. I arranged all transport from our comfortable digs in London– she just had to come along. I knew if I could just get her her first cup of coffee, she’d do whatever I said. “Sure,” she replied, after I delivered caffeine.
Leave it to us to head to central Europe on one of the coldest spring days ever. Bundled in wool coats, cashmere sweaters, and scarves, we headed to our hotel, which was in the historical center of Prague, a.k.a. The Lesser Town (Malá Strana). To say it was charming was a major understatement. Dormer windows opened to the crisp air and overlooked the snow-dusted red tile roofs of the town. The city of Prague was occupied by the Nazis in World War II, and perhaps because of this, escaped the architectural destruction from bombings to the scale that much of Europe did. Therefore, much of the architecture Prague is known for survived.
On a mission to see some great sights, Anne and I set out. It was just past 2pm, and the sun was beginning to get low in the sky. We knew if we were to see things, we had to hop to it! We headed to the Charles Bridge, a stone Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and the Malá Strana. Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV commissioned it, and construction began in 1357. The bridge is flanked on either side by 30 Baroque statues, added in the 17th century.
The bridge has stood for centuries, many believe due to the egg yolks used in the mortar. Floods have besieged Prague over the years — most notably the flood of 2002, the worst deluge in 5 centuries — and the bridge stood. Let’s hear it for egg yolks!
(Incidentally, while there, we encountered several below-water-line shops near the river that had been flooded months before. Perhaps in another hundred or so years, the moldy smell will dissipate!)
After shivering through the Old Town and past the Astronomical Clock, we needed a pick-me-up. Several cafés were offering “hot wine” on their sign-menus. Who were we, mere foreign tourists, to resist? Into the first welcoming establishment we tottered, sat down and began un-layering (the un-layering would become a trend on this trip). The waitress recognized our urgent need for something warm, and quickly brought us two steaming mugs of the lovely elixir. The red wine was warmed and infused with spices and lemon wedges, and came unsweetened, and accompanied by a shaker of sugar. We stirred in spoonfuls of sugar and happily sipped away the next half hour, plotting our next outing in the City of Music.
Ahhh. Prague. Later, I too, would have one of the best meals of my life.
In my Norwegian/Swedish heritage, hot wine, or Glogg, is only served during the Christmas season. This is, perhaps, a good thing… as I might otherwise be a bit sloshed year-round. Here’s my favorite recipe for that lovely warm holiday drink, inspired by the chilly streets of Prague. Skål!
For a non-alcoholic version, this recipe can easily be adapted by substituting the alcohol with apple or cranberry juice, and eliminating the sugar.
Makes 18 servings. 9 cups
3 Cinnamon Sticks, broken into manageable pieces
20 Cardamom pods, lightly crushed — or 1/4 teaspoon ground
6 whole Cloves
4 strips Orange peel
4 strips Lemon peel
2 bottles (750 ml) Dry Red Wine
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Raisins
1 cup Brandy
1 cup Dark Rum
1/2 cup whole blanched Almonds (we use slivered)
Place cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves, and orange and lemon peels in cheesecloth and tie to enclose.
Combine wine, sugar, raisins, and spice bag in 4 quart nonreactive (stainless steel or non-stick) saucepan. Bring to a boil, then quickly lower heat and let steep, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add brandy, rum and almonds. Simmer 10 minutes – do not boil.
Serve immediately, or, cool to room temperature and refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days. To reheat, place over medium-low heat until hot; do not boil. Ladle into glasses adding a few raisins and almonds to each glass.
Serve with crispy gingerbread cookies.