I got a wild idea one day after reading a single paragraph in… I think it was TimeOut magazine in London in 2003. Prague… the architecture was hardly touched in WWII. It was the best of Eastern Europe, but accessible to Westerners. My friend Noah described it by saying this: “Prague looks just like Disneyland. But it’s the real thing. And I had one of the best meals of my life there.” Color me intrigued!
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 said, without an ounce of trepidation.
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 centre of Prague, aka The Lesser Town (Mala Strana). To say it was charming was well… charming. Dormer windows opened to the crisp air and overlooked the snow-dusted red tile roofs of the town. One channel in English on the TV. Surely this was a town to be explored!
Anne and I set out to see the sights. 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 The Charles Bridge, a stone Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and the Mala 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 flood 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 apparently been flooded months before. Perhaps in another hundred or so years, the moldy smell will dissipate!)
After shivering through the Old Town and the Charles Bridge, 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 staggered, sat down and began un-layering (the un-layering will 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 was served with a shaker of sugar, as it arrived unsweetened. We stirred in spoonfuls of sugar and happily sipped away the next half hour, plotting our next outing in the City of Music.
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. Skål!
Glögg (pronounced GLUHG)
For any of you non-drinkers out there, 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
10 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.
Make it even better: Serve with gingerbread cookies.