I think there should be in-flight superlatives. We can give out awards for “Most Likely to Succeed at Annoying Me” and “Best Creepy Smile When He Offers to Put My Bag Up” and “Most Likely to Sit Behind a Crying Baby” – I would win the latter. After seven and a half hours of a screaming toddler on the way to Prague, I was more than ready to get off of the plane and join a group of fellow agents on the atexeter International familiarization trip. While we started off as complete strangers, this group has come together incredibly well – a true miracle considering how the last trip when I traveled with strangers made me swear off all fam trips…until this amazing opportunity came along thanks to our new affiliation with Century Travel, a move that has been so beneficial to our entire team and to our clients.
Our group hit the ground running with a half day tour of the Jewish Quarter, including the Spanish Synagogue, where a choir performed just as we were arriving (apparently this wasn’t pre-arranged), all narrated by Kamila, our amazing guide hand-selected for us by Exeter. Kamila’s Czech background, from her own Jewish heritage to her witness of the rise and fall of Communism, made for fascinating commentary, regardless of where we were. The Pinkas Synagogue was easily the most compelling site in Prague’s Jewish Quarter – a memorial for the Czech Holocaust victims with an estimated 80,000 names covering the walls.
Our tour continued to the Old Town Square, a bustling area with street vendors and tourists. There was a certain electricity in the air as student groups gathered around the statue and street performers entertained the crowd, like this bubble artist (is that the correct title? I want to be a bubble artist one day):
We ended our tour at the world-famous clock tower before disbanding for the afternoon. One of the other agents and I walked around the Old Town, getting lost on the narrow side streets while chatting and drinking hot mulled wine to warm us from the brisk weather. We also stopped for some trdelnik bread from street vendors (the trdelnik bread is baked fresh – it’s a must-have!).
Later that evening, we had a site inspection of the Four Seasons Prague, where we stayed for two nights. This hotel is absolutely stunning with Four Seasons signature touches, like the fresh flowers in the lobby and the over the top service.
The Four Seasons Prague consists of four buildings, each of which has its own unique decor that evokes a sense of place and history from the Czech culture. I loved each of the rooms, although I’ve yet to see decor that I haven’t liked in any Four Seasons across the globe. The brand just calls to me with its unpretentious mix of clean, modern furnishings paired with elegant and striking accessories, not to mention the warmth of the service.
We noticed a couple of instances where they went above and beyond in terms of service, like when I found a little cleaning cloth tucked beside my glasses in the bathroom or when another agent opened up her magazine to a new bookmark where she had turned down the corner of a page. A 5 star hotel’s true mark is in its ability to stay one step ahead of the guest.
We had a delicious dinner with one another at the Four Season’s Cotto Crudo restaurant before retiring to our individual rooms. Everyone who told me about the underwhelming food in Prague must not have eaten here – or anywhere else we ate. We did not have a bad meal and the prices were more than reasonable!
Day two especially resonated with me as we enjoyed one of Exeter International’s Extraordinary Experiences: a private tour inside the two main halls of the Strahov Library. While guests visiting the Strahov Monastery can only see the library through a small door, we were able to step foot inside one of the most breathtaking collections of literature that I have ever seen.
The place gave me chills – gorgeous painted ceilings from the early 1700s, books on books on books, stacked from largest to smallest, and a collection of globes, both geographic and astrological, lined throughout. Sigh. I could have lived in the Theological Hall and spent the rest of my days reading…if only I spoke Latin.
The Philosophical Hall was just as striking – higher ceilings with a painting that served as a commentary on the pursuit of knowledge and its biblical foundations.
I want everyone to take a minute to remember just the smell of an old book, since we’ve replaced them with our e-readers, and imagine being surrounded by that scent. The English Major in me was over the moon.
After our high from the Strahov Library, where we all were blown away by the VIP treatment that Exeter provided for us, we made our way to the Prague Castle. A slight misnomer, the Prague Castle is not one individual castle – it’s actually a complex consisting of the St. Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Palace, Golden Lane, and more. We were in the perfect place to see the Changing of the Guards, who walked right by us to perform their daily ritual in front of the palace.
Our scheduled day ended with a site inspection of The Augustine, an independent hotel (not for long – although the official new management hasn’t been announced, I have a slight hunch…we all took bets on it) located in the Mala Strana disctrict of Prague, across the river from the Old Town.
The Augustine is rich with history – perfect for those seeking a unique experience as the property is a 13th century converted monastery, still home to 5 monks, with an on-site brewery (not the combination I was expecting…). Our delicious lunch at the property, with their hand-crafted beer, of course, proved that the Augustine is a well-rounded hotel that combines the history of Prague with modern touches, especially in their accommodations.
The certain culture in Prague is one that I’ve never experienced before – there’s a true reverence for the arts, specifically literature and music, that also lent itself to that of Terazín, as mentioned in my previous blog post, and still resonates within the city today. It’s a palpable atmosphere that could easily inspire the most inactive artist. Tangible evidence of that inspiration is graffitied all across the Lennon Wall, an homage to John Lennon with Beatles quotes plastered across the bricks.
Between our gut-wrenching time in Terazín to the very soul of the city, Prague had a way of working itself deep into my heart, due largely in part to Exeter’s Extraordinary Experiences and hand-crafted touring.
The Epperly Travel team would love to work with our partners at Exeter to curate a once-in-a-lifetime Eastern Europe getaway for you – just contact firstname.lastname@example.org to begin planning!