Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

Brewsta accepts an invitation to a prestigious annual ceremony and finds out how the other half eats

"[It is] a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth."
Francis Bacon Sr.
Every October 28th, a few thousand of the Czech Republic's leading citizens are invited to the Independence Day ceremony at Prague Castle.

On that date in 1918, Czechoslovakia became a country, emerging from the shadows of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After a televised speech by the country's president and the awarding of medals to Czechs who have done great deeds, the great halls of the castles are opened to the guests who partake in food, drink, and schmoozing.

And guests of the invited elite. Like me.

There was a certain magic to the evening. I've lived in Prague a long time, but I am always impressed as I approach Prague Castle, especially at night.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

As we walked through the courtyard, St. Vitus's cathedral glowed above.

The castle windows blazed with light and the well-dressed guests could be seen walking by or standing with a drink, engrossed in conversation.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

A red carpet covered the long, imposing staircase in the entrance hall. This part of the castle is not generally open to the public, so I'll take you along on a tour.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

At the top of the stairs, was another large hall, with a statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovakia's founder and first president.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

I arrived in time to hear an all-girl saxophone band serenade the former prime minister, Jiří Paroubek, with the tune Jesus Christ Superstar.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

The same group appears in the same spot every year.

In the next hallway, there was a cake in the shape of the Czech Republic and other nationally themed desserts.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

Then, I entered one of the grandest rooms in the castle, the Spanish Hall.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

It was overflowing with VIPs -- government ministers, ambassadors, and leading business figures.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

The Spanish Hall is the room the parliament uses to select the president.

It was also famously given a modern lighting system by Václav Havel's friends, The Rolling Stones, in 1995.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

The tables were spread with platters of food, mostly Czech specialties.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

I was not familiar with some of the offerings, like nut-crusted, very dry meatballs on a spoon with mushrooms. There was a pastry cup filled with a paté I did not like. I had a salty mini-shrimp salad. The best thing I had was a tiny sandwich with prosciutto.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

There were also platters with mini-fruit cakes and mini-tiramisus, but I wasn't much in the mood for those.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

There were also more traditional Czech desserts, little cakes called koláčky.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

In another room, there were chefs serving hot dishes from heating trays.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

I tried the carved roast beef. It was OK, but fairly tough. Domestic beef, I'd say.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

There was a little stand serving ice cream.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

The beer for the event was Krušovice. I had a few of those.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

They were perfectly drawn from the taps.

There was also wine available. Moravian, of course.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

If you felt like something sparkling (and I did when I arrived), there was Bohemia Sekt.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

After getting a good picture of the food landscape, I wandered freely down the halls of the castle.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

There were many pieces of art glass created by Václav Havel's friend, Bořek Šípek.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

At the end of a long, modern design corridor, there was a beautiful golden-framed doorway.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

This was also part of the renovations carried out under Havel.

On the other side of the door is a small space where foreign dignitaries are sometimes greeted by the president. I didn't see the evening's host, President Václav Klaus. But I've run into him in past years.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

After this, I passed through of the most beautiful castle apartments.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

There were light refreshments available there, as well.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

They are beautifully restored. It felt like walking through the apartments of Versailles.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

One of the windows was open to let in fresh, cool air. There was a wonderful view of St. Nicholas's church and Malá Strana below.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

The rooms were sparsely furnished. The chairs, tapestries, clocks all appeared to have some history behind them.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

The floors had gorgeous wood inlay. There were golden-framed mirrors everywhere.

On the way out, I sampled a piece of the Czech Republic cake.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

It was Black Forest, one of my favorites.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

And a pretty good version.

The cherry on top of the evening was rubbing elbows with Vaclav Havel, who helped bring another form of independence back to Czechoslovakia -- the end of Communist Party rule.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

After that, it was time to head off down the stairs and into the misty air of autumn.

Prague Castle - Independence Day Celebration

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