Zbraslav

Need an afternoon away from the tourist hordes?
Jeff Koyen
explores the less hurried pleasures of Zbraslav

Find your way to Smíchovské nádraží. Hop on a 129, 241, 243 or 255 bus to the Zbraslavsky Náměstí stop. After passing through the industrial ring of lower Smíchov and bumbling alongside the dilapidated train lines for a few kilometers, you'll land in the small, quiet quarter of Zbraslav. This is still Prague, just out in the mysterious and expansive Prague 5.

Congratulations, you've officially fallen off the bottom of the map.

You'll disembark in the town square, a not-so-square convergence of grass and tarmac bordered by all the usual shops that any town needs in order to survive. Look across the street at the other bus stop: That's your way out. All four lines run all day long. Note the schedule, for while one cannot immerse oneself in immediacy with thoughts of later lingering, it's sometimes comforting to know how you're going to get home at the end of the day. Now stop thinking about your exit. Immerse.

Backtrack along the incoming bus route to that manor you saw on your way in, barely a kilometer back. Cross the bridge and hop the guardrail, wind your way own to the water and soak up a little peace. Ignore the old tire and instead concentrate on the swans. Bring a book, maybe a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine. The water here looks red, a reflection from the red brick of the manor up the hill and on the other side of a high wall.

Newly filled with peace, scramble back up the hill and toward town. Turn into the gray archway at number 470/472. Head to the right and you're now on the other side of that wall: the grounds of the manor on which you will find two treasures. (Or a couple dozen if you count the classical and modern sculp- tures which pepper the land- scape.) To the right is the Church of St. James the Older, which was built on the grounds of the Majestic Church of the Virgin Mary of Zbraslav, destroyed by invaders a few centuries back. In a town lousy with beautiful churches, one more breath-taking than the next, St. James the Older is still worth a visit. The baroque altar...the Piazzetti painting of the Virgin's Assumption....Peek in, toss a 10 Kč coin into the offering box, and ask yourself: why is it always so much colder in churches?

Filled with the lord's grace, head over to the National Gallery in Prague's Collection of Asian Art located just next door. Anyone with an interest in Asian art must view this collection, which includes sculpture, pottery, prints, paintings and more. You'd think there'd be a line to see the incredible Buddhist and Hindu art and artifacts, but there's not. It's a peaceful, contemplative museum, very much appropriate to the works.

Filled with culture, start walking again. Get back to the bus stop and follow its path up along Elišky Premyslovny. Not so fast now: at the corner of Vladislava Vancury, turn right and glance down the road. Look closely and you'll see a head sticking up out of the bushes: a larger-than-life bust. Walk the four blocks and get a good eye-full of the street's namesake: Vladislav Vancury. There stands a ten-foot-tall bust of the 1920's experimental writer and avant-garde filmmaker.

Snap a photo or two, get back to Elišky Premyslovny, turn right and keep walking. Up the hill. Pass the post, pass the herna - no, no, no, there are plenty of herna bars back in Prague 1 - pass the bowling alley restaurant. When you come to the "Bazar" on the far-right corner, stop and turn around. Behold another peculiar statue, this one a larger-than-life treatment of Jan Hus bound in protest, standing in a pile of kindling, soon to meet a fiery death. The engraving says it all: "Za Pravdu." For the truth.

Keep walking. Up. Punish your body, make it sweat. Sweat out last night's liquor. Sweat. Keep walking. Up. Punish your body, make it sweat. Sweat out last night's liquor. Sweat out the drugs and let the air peel off the cloying smoke. out the drugs and let the air peel off the cloying smoke. Punish yourself for whatever it is you did last night.

You 'll know you're at the top when you find yourself surrounded by paneláks. Frankly, there's nothing else to see up here, but the top of any hill is always a good place to be. Head back down. Just walk on the other side of the street; always walk on the other side of the street when you backtrack.

If you're hungry, and if it's not Sunday, then any of the open and inviting restaurants in the town center will do the trick. (Sunday's offerings are pretty slim.) Consider dining at Barabizna at Pod Spitálem 363, a restaurant that claims to offer Mexican food but really only manages Chexican. It's located back toward the bridge near the manor, but definitely before the bridge and definitely before the ugly hotel Tenisová Hala Zbraslav on the right-hand side.

Thing is, the Chexican at Barabizna isn't bad. I don't think they should be allowed to have a sombrero on their sign, but then again, I have high standards for Mexican food. The traditional nakládany hermelín s cibulí a toasty (pickled camembert with onions and toast) is fantastic and big enough for two (49 kc), and my entrée of "pipinos" was delicious (115 Kč). Que es pipinos? Apparently, four small pieces of chicken wrapped around a slice of pork, a chunk of non-descript white cheese (but not cheddar, as indicated on the English version of the menu) and a whole jalapeno pepper. They're broiled and served with a tasty brown sauce, rice, cabbage and cucumber slices. The rice, by the way, will unexpectedly add another 25 Kč to the bill, and you should avoid the "Mexican" offering of that rice, as it's bland and inappropriately sweet, as if they'd colored it red with catsup.

Have a beer or two, enjoy your meal on Barabizna's outdoor porch, and then head back to the bus stop. In fifteen minutes, you're at Smíchovské námestí where you can catch any number of connections back to wherever it is you came from.

Five hours. A church, a museum, two curious statues, a good meal and one 10° Gambrinus. Less than 300 Kc.



-Jeff Koyen can be eached at letters@pill.cz

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