Early medieval travellers rose early and, in large households, attended mass held by a chaplain attached to the estate. Medieval travellers only ate a meagre breakfast that consisted of a hunk of bread and a sip of beer (made from barley) or wine before starting off on their arduous and perilous journey.
It is astonishing to learn that our ancestors travelled quite extensively. In a landscape that contained few cities and towns travelling from A to B was actually quite difficult. A rich knight and his entourage would send servants ahead to arrange for lodgings and food…and if he was unmarried, and sometimes even when he did have a wife, he’d tell his servants to arrange for some dancing girls to be present, too!
People of means travelled with vast numbers of servants and horses, brought their own linen and bed-hangings, cooking utensils and often their own ingredients, requiring only the inn’s kitchen to supply the hearth or stove and the fuel to go with it. I merely packed a small suitcase with enough clothes for five days – although, when I discovered the horrible breakfast they served at my hotel, I wished I’d brought my own breadmaker and toaster!
Cities like Paris were the exception – here more than 100,000 people dwelled during the Middle Ages. Large towns held about 10,000 people in their fortified walls, while most people lived in villages of 100 or less families. In such a landscape a journey from Nuremberg in Germany to Prague in the Czech Republic would have been tiring, lengthy and probably quite expensive, too.
I confess I did not travel with 80 horses and an entourage of 200 servants. No, I simply took the excellent Prague Spezial train service that leaves from Nuremberg train station four times a day…actually, because they were improving the rail network at that time, the service had temporarily been replaced by luxury coaches. The train/coach service is also available from Munich and Regensburg, but I read somewhere that further improvements to the German/Czech rail networks over the next few years should see more intercity connections of this kind from other German destinations being offered.
The ticket price at the time was just EUR 52.00 per person (2010) and the journey took 4 hours. The arrival in Prague was amazing, seeing the city from high up – the coach let us off at Prague’s railway station, from where I negotiated a taxi to my hotel. I had planned to take the tram, but couldn’t work out the weird ticket machine…
Prague is a place I found hugely inspiring as a writer and I plan to return there one day to stay for much longer, perhaps even live there for a few months. My First Intergalactic Dating Agency series will partly be set in Prague (book 3 in the series) and actual knowledge of the city is so much better than using just a guide book and the internet!
There’s no better way to convey to the reader what a protagonist’s experience is like. It is also possible when starting the journey from Germany to buy a ticket for the Wander-Express Bohemica, which allows rail travel into the Czech Republic on a number of rural networks, allowing hikers to explore areas of outstanding natural beauty and see many historic treasures in the country’s less well known towns and villages. This is certainly a journey I’d like to take in the foreseeable future.
Travel on tram 22 or 23 from your hotel to the Hradčany palaces and gardens or walk the cobbled streets and admire the richly decorated houses of the Old Jewish Quarter and sniff the cool morning air on Charles Bridge before finding a café off Wenceslas Square. Cafes, restaurants and snack bars get considerably cheaper, the further away they are from the main tourist hang-outs…and the food gets better, too, I found.
At night take the Jazz Boat and see the lit up Čechůve Bridge, Vyšehrad, the facades of Malá Strana and the National Theatre. A trip down the Vltava River accompanied by cheerful jazz and a refreshing glass of white wine on a balmy April evening, when the hills surrounding Prague will be covered in trees blossoming in white, pale pink and yellow, will convey so much more to your readers what it’s like being in the beautiful city than a detailed description of Castle Karlstein or a to scale drawing of Villa Bertramka, where Mozart lived. I want to incorporate smells and sounds, temperature (it was very warm in April) and the feel of my feet after being pounded by miles and miles of cobbled streets.
While I merely sampled some of the simple, traditional dishes they serve to students and lecturers at the Liechtenstein Palace, where the Academy of Music has its quarters, important medieval travellers like the treasurer Master William of Wykeham made history by ordering a sumptuous breakfast that is, frankly, off the scale when it comes to modern stomachs and tastes.
His morning meal consisted of two calves, beef, two sheep and fifteen capons, twelve goslings and ten bitterns (Botaurus stellaris, a type of heron), twenty-four doves and eighteen rabbits, one lamb and sixteen chickens, three pickerel (Esox niger, a type of pike) and two codfish, eight plaice and one turbot, one unlucky conger eel and three dories, quantities of smoked salmon and sea shrimp for their breakfast.
William of Wykeham didn’t wolf all this fine food down by himself – he had help from King Edward III’s council members at Westminster, where this breakfast was held in 1366. Council work, it seems, is thirsty work, too – they washed down their breakfast with thirty gallons of beer and other refreshments!
For traditional Bohemia food try Mlejnice in the Old Town at Kožná 14 or Nebozizek at Petřinské sady 411, which is about half way up the Petřin Hill where the furnicular has its station. The views from the restaurant and the Petřin Tower are spectacular!
(animation source: heathersanimation.com, original photographs copyright Maria Thermann, other pictures by Wikipedia)