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Concierge.com

Europe 2012

Europe 2012

By markpiper1
Destinations: 
Athens,
Budapest,
Czech Republic,
Europe,
Greece,
Hungary,
Mykonos,
Prague

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ITEMS

See + Do

Museum of Czech Cubism, Czech Republic

19 Ovocný Trh
Prague, Czech Republic
Tel: 420 224 211 746
Website: www.ngprague.cz

Though Cubism came to life in Paris at the hands of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, it was in Prague that the movement reached its zenith. The style touched virtually all aspects of Czech art and culture: furniture and interior design, typography, painting, advertising, and architecture. The Museum of Czech Cubism is part of the National Gallery of Prague and focuses on the period from 1910 to 1919, including paintings by Emil Filla and sculpture by Otto Gutfreund. The collection opened in 2003 and is rightfully housed in the House of the Black Madonna, a 1911 Cubist building designed by Josef Gočár. If you want to bring some of the design home, check out the reproductions on sale in the Kubista gift shop on the ground floor and visit Modernista around the corner for even more classic Czech design.

Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm.

See + Do

Old Town Square (Staroměstské Náměstí)

Old Town Square (Staroměstské Náměstí) is the heart of historic Prague and has more gawk-worthy points per square foot than just about any other location in town. Start with the soaring black towers of Týn Church, a flagship of Gothic architecture that was begun in 1461. Enter the church via the arcade on the north side and you'll find the grave of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who arrived in Prague in 1599 and is credited with the most accurate planetary maps of his time.

Two doors away is the pink Kinský Palace, an intricate Baroque construction that once housed the German grammar school attended by little Franz Kafka. The building now holds a posh wine restaurant and an exhibition of the National Gallery's 19th-century landscape paintings (420-224-810-758; www.ngprague.cz). Another Baroque landmark in Old Town Square is the white Church of St. Nicholas, on the northwest corner. Though discreet by the standards of Prague Baroque, it overwhelms the tiny Kafka Square next door, which marks the spot of the author's birth.

At the other end of the square, to the south, is the Old Town Hall (Staroměstská Radnice), whose tower contains the celebrated astronomical clock called the Orloj, a symbol of Prague since its creation in 1410. Every hour, crowds gather to watch the clockwork morality play, in which a skeleton tolls a death knell and overturns an hourglass while the 12 apostles parade past, a rooster crows, a Turk nods his head, and the bells toll the hour. The presence of death isn't just allegorical here: The Habsburgs executed 27 rebellious Bohemian nobles at Old Town Hall in 1621, marking the beginning of centuries of brutal oppression of national and religious dissent. Despite its grim history, Old Town Square remains a popular meeting point. It becomes especially festive during the annual Christmas and Easter markets, a celebration of only-in-Europe arts and crafts, hot pastries, sausage stands, mulled wine, and holiday concerts.

See + Do

Strahov Hill and Petřín Hill

In the center of the city, just south of Prague Castle, this verdant area has been the favorite in-town getaway for centuries. Closest to the castle grounds is Strahov Hill, home to the Strahov Monastery, which dates to 1143 (1/132 Strahovské Nádvoří; 420-233-107-711; www.strahovskyklaster.cz). If you like Baroque grandeur, you won't find much better than the Basilica of Our Lady, an ornate layer cake frosted with cherubs, frescoes, plasterwork, and curlicues. A young Mozart once banged out some improv tunes on the church's pipe organ. Also worth visiting is the monastery's Picture Gallery, a collection of some 1,500 paintings from the Gothic to the Romantic eras.

Just south of the monastery complex is Petřín Hill, which is served from the eastern side by the city's only funicular railway (though a relatively fit hiker won't take more than 15 minutes to walk up). Petřín is best known for canoodling couples and picnics of partying teenagers, though the very top of the hill offers more family-friendly fun: a miniature Eiffel Tower with great views in all directions; the Štefaník Observatory, with telescopes and displays of planets and stars; and the Zrcadlové Bludiště (Mirror Maze), a faux-Gothic castle with a small labyrinth made of fun house mirrors.

See + Do

Vyšehrad, Czech Republic

159/5B V Pevnosti
Prague 12800, Czech Republic
Tel: 420 241 410 348
Website: www.praha-vysehrad.cz

Somewhat overlooked, this ancient defensive fortress is a hot spot for romantic walks and impromptu picnics. It sits across the Vltava and a bit upstream from Prague Castle, which means walks along the ramparts offer excellent views over the river to Old Town and Malá Strana. The best time to go is late afternoon, when you can watch the sun set behind the castle. Music, literature, and history buffs should stop at the Vyšehrad cemetery. Among the Czech luminaries buried here are composers Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák, painters Max Švabinský and Alfons Mucha, and writers Karel Čapek and Jan Neruda. General entrance to the Vyšehrad grounds is free, with a modest fee to tour the casemates built into the castle walls and another to see the rotating exhibits at the tiny Vyšehrad art gallery.

Open daily 9:30 am to 5 pm November through March and 9:30 am to 6 pm April through October.

Eating

Céleste, Czech Republic

Tančící dům, 80 Rašínovo nábřeží
Prague 120 00, Czech Republic
Tel: 420 221 984 160
Email: info@celesterestaurant.cz
Website: www.celesterestaurant.cz

On the top two floors of Frank Gehry's Tančící dům (Dancing House), one of Prague's modern architectural masterpieces, you'll find a culinary chef d'oeuvre: Céleste restaurant. The two formal dining rooms and two terraces have excellent views of the river and Prague Castle, but it's the food that takes center stage. Chef Gwendal Le Ruyet studied with Alain Ducasse in Paris, and his focus on first-rate ingredients shines in dishes such as baby artichokes with Larzac sheep-milk cheese and mushrooms sourced from Bohemia's Šumava forest. Main courses include classic fare such as an extremely tender Anjou squab or pan-seared turbot with langoustines and periwinkles. Desserts—perhaps a sparkling grape cup topped with a dusting of carbonated candies similar to Pop Rocks—finish the meal on a whimsical note that's reminiscent of the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, which is believed to have inspired the Dancing House's playful facade.—Evan Rail

Open Mondays through Saturdays 12 to 2:30 pm and 6:30 to 11:30 pm.

Eating

Lokál, Czech Republic

33 Dlouhá
Prague 11000, Czech Republic
Tel: 420 222 316 265
Website: www.ambi.cz/ambiente-lokal-kontakt.php

Effectively called "Pub," Lokál brings the concepts of local, seasonal, and from-scratch to oft-overlooked Czech pub fare. Standard dishes like sausages, stews, and dumplings take on an almost haute cuisine quality, as in the fried cheese, a schnitzel-like cutlet cooked until crisp on the outside and gooey and melty on the inside, or the rýžový nákyp, a rustic rice pudding stuffed with cooked plums and raisins and accompanied by a sweet fruit coulis. Given that the owners are better known for such high-end destinations as La Dégustation and Café Savoy, this might not be such a surprise, though the similarly sharp service seems almost out of place in this homey dive. While there are plenty of domestic wines and fruit brandies available, the beer selection is limited to draft Pilsner Urquell, served as either a classic pour, with an inch of foam; a so-called snit, with about half foam; or as mlíko (milk), a glass of 100 percent white foam. Have more than one: It does a body good.—Evan Rail

Open Mondays through Fridays 11 am to 1 am, Saturdays noon to 1 am, and Sundays noon to 10 pm.

Nightlife

Prague Beer Museum, Czech Republic

46 Dlouhá
Prague 11000, Czech Republic
Tel: 420 774 771 085
Website: www.praguebeermuseum.com

When the Prague Beer Museum opened in September 2010, it forever changed the landscape for beer bars in the Czech capital: While most taverns in Old Town serve just one kind of brew, generally from large-scale producers, the Prague Beer Museum offers an unrivaled total of 30 Czech microbrews, often ones that are otherwise impossible to find outside of their home regions. Daytime drinkers can be rewarded with a quiet, reflective pint in a cozy joint that feels like it's been here just about forever. At night, however, this place can easily turn into party central: dark, loud, and often filled to capacity with a surprisingly stylish and flat-bellied crowd of young professionals. Our pick: just about anything from cult producers Kocour, Matuška, and Pivovar Kout na Šumavě.—Evan Rail

Open daily noon to 3 am.

Nightlife

Akropolis, Czech Republic

27 Kubelikova
Prague 13000, Czech Republic
Tel: 420 296 330 911
Website: www.palacakropolis.cz

The Prague 3 neighborhood of Zizkov is the city's Lower East Side, Silverlake, and Mission District rolled into one: a formerly down-at-heel area quickly turning into hipster central before it moves on to 20-year-old Scotch and luxury condos. Zizkov remains before its peak, however, and Akropolis is the area's cultural capital: a concert venue that hosted the Pixies as well as a bar and restaurant where Venice Biennale artist Frantisek Skala designed everything, right down to the light fixtures. Most nights, live music means DJs, superstar or otherwise, but the performances have been branching out into theater, dance, and up-and-coming art-rock bands like Denmark's Mew. Slightly dirty, very smoky, and a heck of a lot of fun.

Nightlife

A38 Ship (A38 Hajó), Hungary

Petöfi bridge embankment, Buda, District XI
Budapest 1117, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 464 3940
Website: www.a38.hu

Right on the Buda side of the Petöfi bridge, this beloved club, restaurant, and bar, occupying a Ukrainian ship anchored in the Danube, attracts everyone from club kids (for the DJ shows) to couples in their mid-50s (for dinner and torch songs). On a given night, you might find France's ska-salsa sensation Sergent Garcia, England's electronic stars E-Z Rollers, or the Russian-English turntablist DJ Vadim. Unsurprisingly, the views over the river and embankments can't be beat; much more unexpected are the great jazz combos that add a relaxed vibe to what is ostensibly a party barge.

Open 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

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Eating

Borkonyha, Hungary

3 Sas Utca
Budapest 1051, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 266 0835
Website: www.borkonyha.hu

Close to St. Stephen's Basilica, Borkonyha ("wine kitchen") opened in December 2010 to rave reviews that highlighted its strong Hungarian wine list, including about 200 hard-to-find bottles and around 40 varieties by the glass. But even beyond the bor, Borkonyha deserves attention for its konyha's inventive take on modern Hungarian cuisine—updated homegrown fare such as suckling pig carpaccio and Mangalica pork loin with porcini and crispy rosemary potatoes grown in Somogy County, south of scenic Lake Balaton. While most restaurants operating at this culinary level go all-out with ultraformal old-world service, Borkonyha's staff remains remarkably relaxed yet attentive and professional. Their manner suits the dressed-down decor: dark tile floors and matching dark tables with lighter-colored walls tastefully peppered with antique photographs and a few chalkboards listing the specials. High points: Mangalica anything, the dill-scented rice milk with dill sorbet for dessert, and Jószef Bock's 2007 Syrah, a charismatic local take on a hearty red.—Evan Rail

Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to midnight.

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Eating

Café Central, Hungary

9 Károlyi Mihály Utca, Pest, District V
Budapest 1053, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 266 2110
Website: www.centralkavehaz.hu

Originally opened in 1887, Café Central quickly became the center of the city's intellectual life, spawning important periodicals and literary movements, maintaining a library of reference books, and subscribing to over 200 newspapers for its reading poles, only to be shuttered in 1949. Rescued and reopened by a local businessman in 2006, it may no longer be a breeding ground for Nobel laureates, but for a fix of Austro-Hungarian café culture, this legendary kávéház on the Pest side of the Elisabeth Bridge remains a standout. A renovation in late 2010 brought in a new manager (sourced from one of the city's toniest restaurants) and cocktail bar, plus an updated dinner menu of such Continental classics as grilled chicken suprême, Vienna-style schnitzel with creamy potato salad, and slow-roasted veal cutlets with spicy vegetable lecsó. Once again, the Central can be highly recommended for far more than just coffee and cakes.—Updated by Evan Rail

Open daily 8 am to midnight.

See + Do

Ecseri Flea Market, Hungary

156 Nagykorosi út, Pest, District XIX
Budapest 1194, Hungary

This great example of the genre, not too picked over by eBay sellers and filled with buckets of Communist memorabilia, is the largest flea market in Europe (although smaller Petofi Csarnok is considered the city's main market). The problem is, the Friday market is way out of town between districts XIX and XX and is almost impossible to find, but there is a public bus (#54) from Boráros tér in southern Pest, which takes about 30 minutes.

See + Do

Castle Hill, Hungary

Buda, District I
Budapest, Hungary

The funicular from Clark Ádam tér is the nicest way to approach the romantic, scenic, and egregiously misnamed Castle Hill. There is no castle. However, there is a Royal Palace, which dates from the 13th century—not that you'd know it. Having been destroyed 31 (yes, 31) times, its latest, Communist-built incarnation is remarkably dull, though it does house the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Also up here is the residence of the president of the republic, Sándor Palace, and, in Szentháromság tér (Trinity Square), the church Mátyás Templon, where King Matthias was married and Franz Liszt's Coronation Mass had its 1867 world premiere when Emperor Franz Joseph was crowned king of Hungary (www.matyas-templom.hu). The Fishermen's Bastion—the part of the medieval ramparts that once protected the fisherman's market—is another landmark up here, as is Ruszwurm, which catered to the sweet tooth of Queen Erzsébet (a.k.a. Sisi) in 1827 and is still serving cakes today (7 Szentháromság; 36-1-375-5284; www.ruszwurm.hu). Altogether, it's pleasant to stroll the cobblestone streets, admire the views, and maybe succumb to the touristy boutiques.

Eating

Varoulko, Greece

80 Piraeus Street
Hotel Eradanus, Gazi
Athens 10435, Greece
Tel: 30 210 522 8400
Website: www.varoulko.gr/uk/varoulko.html

Seafood legend Lefteris Lazarou won the Michelin race, gaining the country's first star for Greek food—and rightly so, say the hordes clamoring for tables at this wood-floored, white-walled dining room (belonging to Hotel Eridanus) or a prized one on the terrace overlooking the Acropolis. Lazarou rises before dawn to source his psari (baked seafood dishes) and treats them in ways that veer into classical French territory without ever leaving Greece. Typical are cuttlefish risotto with caramelized garlic and bay leaf, and grouper with wild greens braised in egg-lemon sauce. Meat dishes are fewer, but just as amazing, such as his take on patsa, the workingman's tripe soup, served in a martini glass.

Opens Mondays through Saturdays at 8:30 pm.

Eating

Platanos Taverna, Greece

4 Diogenous Street, Plaka
Athens 10556, Greece
Tel: 30 210 322 0666

One of Plaka's oldest tavernas, serving since 1932, Platanos is just what you want when you set out to eat unpretentious, grilled, and unreconstructed Greek dishes (try the lamb with artichoke, and the eggplant salad). It has a bougainvillea-covered terrace, slightly surly waiters, bargain prices, and house-made retsina (along with even stronger stuff).

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See + Do

Acropolis, Greece

Dionysiou Areopagitou, City Center
Athens 10558, Greece
Tel: 30 210 321 4172, Tel: 30 210 321 0219
Website: www.culture.gr

The entire hill is the Acropolis; the 5th-century B.C. temple to Athena Parthenos is the Parthenon. Try to arrive early for less heat and fewer crowds; you can always return, because admission allows you back in anytime the same day. And whatever you do, don't pick up any stones (remember the tourist arrest in spring 2004?). Wear your comfiest shoes and lots of sunscreen—the climb is pretty relentless and there isn't much shade—and take your bathroom break beforehand (the facilities at the top aren't exactly up to the demand). A barely advertised elevator for wheelchair users has existed on the north face since August 2004. The approaches from the south and west sides—Apostolou Pavlou and Dionysiou Areopagitou—have been recently improved, widened, pedestrianized, and generally beautified, making the whole experience much sweeter.

Open daily 8 am to sunset, mid-April through October; open daily 8 am to 4:30 pm, November through early-April.

ALT HERE

See + Do

Mykonos, Mykonos, Greece

, Mykonos, Greece

If a person can name only one Greek island, it's bound to be this one. Famous in the 1960s, when Jackie and Ari Onassis put it on the map, it soon became the gay capital of the vacation world. Now, while still very rainbow flag, Mykonos is having a second coming as the chic see-and-be-seen Eurotrash island (jostling for first place with Ibiza). It's as whitewashed and pretty as its trillion pictures would suggest, and it's distinguished by a couple of unusual features: Mykonos Town, with its windmills and mazelike, stone-paved streets, as well as the gallery-bar-club neighborhood known as Little Venice for its Venetian-style houses lining the water. The island's nightlife is infamous, particularly the dance-till-dawn nightclubs, including Cavo Paradiso, on a cliff overlooking Paradise Beach (30-228-902-7205; www.cavoparadiso.gr); Space, the largest club on Mykonos, near the bus station at the north end of town (30-228-902-4100; www.spacemykonos.gr); and Pierro's, the big gay spot (Matoyanni St.; 30-22890-22177; www.pierrosbar.gr). The other draw of this island is, of course, the beach. There are several famous golden-sand stretches: Psarou is close to town and attracts a glam crowd; Panormos, on the north coast, is quieter and more protected from the wind; Platis Gialos is lined with hotels and popular with families. The most renowned beaches in the Cyclades—perhaps even in all of Greece—are Paradise and Super Paradise, two bacchanalian strands on the south coast. They're fun for a day, but once you get tired of the blaring disco soundtrack and Girls Gone Wild vibe, head to more grown-up Elia, which brings in a nice mix of straight and gay, nudist and clothed (all beaches on Mykonos are clothing-optional to a certain extent), has a good taverna, and provides access to water sports if you're feeling active.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.