By Claudia Everly
Prague-ing it up on a post-HS or post-BA eurotrip has become a staple amongst most young American adventurers. Arriving in the Czech capital, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, most come to sample genuine Bohemian Pils, gawk awkwardly in a stew of sweaty tourists in front of the city’s iconic Astronomical Clock, and to buy timeless souvenirs like “Czech Drinking Team” hoodies and furry sickle-and-hammer ushankas.
Come on – you can do better. I’ll allow myself this one pun: the city of a thousand spires is best “czeched” out by flying outside the well-trodden tourist path. The following are a few tips from a dyed-in-the-wool Prague fanatic to anyone looking for a more genuine experience.
1. Acknowledge the beauty of the Old Town and Castle District, then move on
Real Praguers tend to avoid this part of the city – it’s almost like a living museum for tourists. Which is not to say it’s not worth seeing. Doff your hat to the medieval geniuses responsible for the city’s majestic Old Town Square, admire from close-up the spires of the Týn church and, by all means, don’t feel shame in shelling out 30 euros (around 800 CZK) for a mediocre cobb salad just for an awesome view of the square and its focal point, an imposing sculpture of national hero and reformer Jan Hus. Traverse the Charles Bridge, take a selfie of yourself doing something naughty to a statue, and admire the multihued splendour of Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha’s stained glass windows in St Vitus Cathedral on Castle Hill. Then repectfully abandon the herd and moooooo-ve on!
2. Wander through the New Town’s quaint side streets
If you’re in love with Old Town, you’ll want to have a lusty thing on the side with New Town. Visibly more lived-in and real, this is where shopaholics come to play (notably along the incredibly buzzy yet beautiful Wenceslas Square), and where local night owls come to unwind. Wander from the Old Town to Karlovo Namesti through a maze of cobble-stoned side streets. Here you’ll find a spaced-out clutch of quirky cafes, antique boutiques and bookstores (check out the Globe, where you can get your hands on the works of Czech literary greats like Kundera and Hrabal in English). Along the way you’ll find an oft-ignored historic attraction: St. Cyril & Methodius church. Its eerie crypt has been converted into a tiny memorial museum for the Czech freedom fighters who found shelter here after they assassinated Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heyrich. While the men were eventually discovered by the German authories, their act represents the only succesful slaying of a high-ranking Nazi officer during WWII.
3. Imbibe in alternative beverage offerings
You’ve already sampled Pilsner Urquell (incidently, not pronounced the same as Steve Urcle, but rather ooohr-kwell) at your local drinking den. Why not branch out? In terms of soft drinks, opt for Kofola, a fizzy Czech/Slovak concoction that some love, and some hate (FYI: Kofola BEZ cukru = coke zero). When it comes to beer, make sure you indulge in some dark, or tmavé varietals as well: Czech women swear it makes their boobs bigger. My pick? Kozel (fun fact: it means “goat” in Czech) – not widely exported but rivalling any Guinness, no matter how its poured. I’m not going to go into the “where” of it all here (that’s a separate book/post), but if you like it dirty, and you mean it, head for U Suchý Dásně, a dingy pub set on a quiet street off the bustling Karolovo Square in New Town. The scene is rowdy, the smell near-rancid, but it’s real – and most good girls shiver in their ballerinas at the thought of entering. Disclaimer: enter at your own risk.
4. Torture your tongue with the beautiful but ridiculously low-on-vowels Czech language
Strč prst skrz krk. Yes, that’s an actual sentence (it means “stick your finger through your throat”). With only about 12 million native speakers in the world, no one expects you to learn their über-complex tongue. Which exactly why you should have a few niceties at-the-ready to surprise hot barmen and unsuspecting shopkeepers alike. Take the above phrases as a starting point.
5. Keep an eye out for sculptor David Černý’s eclectic city-wide footprint
Some of the strangest sights you’ll see in Prague will be the work of David Černý, a Prague-born sculptor whose bizarre creations are strewn haphazardly across the city. From an army of giant babies crawling up Žižkov’s communist-era TV tower to a hanging statue of the legendary Czech King Wenceslas riding a dead horse in Lucerna Passage off Wenceslas Square, Černý has managed to create a surrealist undertone to Prague’s otherwise classic Habsburg-era feel. He has also proven himself a master of interactive art. For the Franz Kafka Museum, Černý has created two bronzed nudes that urinate quotes by famous Prague residents into a fountain. So if you happen to run across a full-sized army tank looking fab in a girly pink coat of paint, you can pretty much guess who’s responsible.