Wandering about in Prague

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If you're going to Prague without beeing in a hurry, I may give you some nice tip to now a little better the true life of the city.

You should keep on mind two things: one, that Praguish people like to live and amuse themselves outside, and the city is well equipped for this, two, that Prague is raher a cold city, so their outside has often to be inside.

So my first advice is to try to enter, to go up and down everywhere it is allowed. Some, few, examples:

  • Climb the tower of the Bridge of the Old City, which is the entrance door to Charles Bridge from the side of the Old Town (Staré Mesto). You'll pass through a small half-hided door (as a matter of fact, while the Bridge is absolutely crowdy, upstairs you'll find nearly nobody). On the second floor there is a tiny museum (Praguis people are crazy about museums), with musical instruments that in ancient times were played in the city from towers and from boats floating on the Moldaw (Vltava), on holidays as well as during the week.
    On the last floor, under roof structures, a balcony tourns all aroud with a starting circular panorama of the Old City, over the river and towards the Castle.

    Open everyday, 10.00 a.m. to 17.00 p.m.

  • Go up by the funicular railway starting from Malá Strana crossing Letná's Gardens. From up there you'll have the complete panorama of the city and with a short walk you may go and see the "small Tour Eiffel".

  • Walk through Galeries and Pasaz (Czech spelling of the French word "passage"), that cross at ground floor several buildings, connecting different streets of the Old City. Begin by the most important ones and you will then discover that there are plenty. Sometimes you may think you are entering a blind alley, or in a front door or in a shop, and maybe the door looks shut, but is only to keep cold outside, then you pass through a doorway, you pop out in a courtyard, or perhaps in a garden, and from there through another building you get out into another street.

    In these itineraries you can find everything and above all things for Prague's everyday life: big and small theatres, craft workshops and shops, cinemas, music shops, herbalist's shops, antiques bookshops, coffee bars and pubs, restaurants, art galleries, and so on...
    Among the biggest and better known passages we find: Lucerna, which is actually a web of galleries connecting in different places Venceslas' Square with three streets; Platýz from Narodní Trída, with a beautiful courtyard, the one of the first house expressely built for rent in Prague; Koruna, at the bottom Venceslas' Square; Alfa, from Venceslas' Place as well, leading to the garden of the Franciscan monastry.

  • Get in into bookshops. You'll find them everywhere. For instance in Venceslas' Square the first building on the right, corner with Narodní Trída there is a very wellstocked bookshop on four floors. Going upside toward the Museum, always on your right, there is the Academy bookshop, on two floors, on the second there is a pleasant little coffee bar, very cosy where to meet a friend or rest having a look at some book before buying it. In all the big bookshops you'll find books in many languages, but videotapes as well, maps, art prints, paper toys (very peculiar) and games, postcards, puzzles, and more. There are plenty of maps of Prague, some of them also very decorative, nice also for gifts.

  • Going to see at the Muzeum Hlavního Mesta Prahy (Museum of Pague as capital city) the model of the city. It is very refined and true to the original, in wood and painted paper. It was built by a single person, eng. Langweil, in 11 years, from 1826 to 1937; it's 20 sq.metres wide, as an ample living room.

  • Seeing some minor museums, according to your taste and interests:
    • Muzeum Alphonse Muchy, for Art Nouveau fans. Alphonse Mucha is the best known painter and graphic designer of Czech Liberty ( Secése). It also has an interesting shop with accurate reproductions of objects and jewels of that period.

      Praha 1, Panská 7; Open: Thursday to Sunday 10.00 a.m. to 19.00 p.m.
    • Always for fans of this style, Bilková Víla, the museum-home of Bílek, a very original Czech sculptor who straddled XIX and XX century. The very house is a sculpture. Down the slope of the Castle, Praha 6, Mickiewiczova 1; Open: Thursday to Sunday 10.00 a.m. to 19.00 p.m.
    • The Arts and Crafts Museum (the Czech name is somehow bewildering: Umeleckoprumyslovè muzeum), where you find Czech arts and crafts since XVI century. Praha 1, 17, listopadu 2, Thursday to Sunday 10.00 a.m. to 18.00 p.m.
    • In Dum u Cerné Matky Boze (Black Madonna's house) there is the permanent exhibition of Czech Cubism, an avant-garde artistical trend of 20ies and 30ies, connected with contemporary European Cubism, but with peculiar original characters.

      Praha 1, Celetná 34, Thursday to Sunday 10.00 a.m. to 19.00 p.m.
    • In the Castle, the Muzeum hracek (Toys museum), the world second biggest collection of toys, since ancient Greece to today.

      Praha 1, Prazký hrad, Jirská ul. Everyday, 9.30 a.m. - 17.30 p.m.

You'll find many more, accurately listed in the guides, keep in your mind, however, that Czech view of museum is peculiar: often you may cross the city and then find two rooms were a few objects are lovingly showed, that you may judge scarcely interesting, with detailed captions in Czech only: so before starting, if you don't have plenty of time, you'd better try to know somenthing definite.

More: Prague is in Europe the city with the biggest number of theatres per inhabitant. Many of them are also very beautiful to see at their inside, so, get the programs at your hotel or at a Tourist Office and, if you can find something that will not oblige you to listen to a two hours performance in Czech, go.

Beside the pleasure of hearing musique or seeing a ballet in a lovely space, you'll there feel the true cultural Praguish life.

Some peculiar places where to eat

If you are more interested to places than to food (food is here of a very normal quality), you may do a full immersion in Liberty style by going to Europe Hotel in Venceslas Place or to the Obecni Dum (The Holiday House), Praha 1, nám Republiky 5, near to Gunpowders Tower. In both places you'll find restaurant, if you are willing to spend money, but also beer bar and coffee bar, which are decidely cheaper. Anyhow, make a tour and look at everything, for it's worthy while. In the Holiday House there is a beautiful theatre too.

A pleasant and quite cheap place is the architects' restaurant, by the Fragner Galerie at Betlémské Namesti. You'll eat in one of the characteristic caves, whic were originally the ground floors of the medieval houses that got underground when, subsequently, the street level of the Old City was uplifted.

A little bit of Avant-gardes history is the Café Montmartre, in via Retezová. Still today Praguish intellectuals use to meet there. On the first floor there is a collection of photos and documents about the cosmopolitan habitués of the place during the first half of XX century.

At n. 15 of Melantrichová, entering one of the many passages, there is a vegetarian restaurant that looks quite attractive. I hadn't the time to try it as I discovered it too late, if you go there let me know.

To end with, something to buy.

Prague's center is by now an inmense souvenirs market, open everyday at every hour and proposes such an endless exhibition of glasses and crystal to get you fed up. However, when you get over the first impression, with a little patience you'll be able to find nice and original things for every price, products of a great craft tradition and of a refined formal culture. So:

  • Glasses, crystals, objects, jewels according to your taste. In some of the museum shops you'll find accurate reproductions of antiques at very reasonable prices. They are often made in very small series, so if you like something buy it at once.
  • Antiques: camouflaged among souvenirs shops there are several beautiful antiques shops, making honest prices. The most peculiar things are garnet jewelry (unexplicably the old ones are much more beautiful then the one made today, I couldn't realise why), crystal of different periods, some piece of porcelain, Liberty and Déco pieces. Some shops have also silver and enamel jewelry reproductions.
  • Soaps perfumed with fruits and spices and hundreds of herbalist's products in the charming "Botanicus" shops,that you find scattered here and there in the whole centre of the city.
  • Wooden toys, paper toys, puppets, any kind of decorated eggs, from Fabergé ones to ... real ones. As a matter of fact they are recycling greatly duck and hen egg shells, hand painting them with vivid colour decorations. These can be very nice and cheap gifts, though a little fragile.
  • Embroideries. They sometimes use to embroider some real pictures: landscapes, bunches of flowers, animals, etc. This kind of embroideries are not so easy to find, you must ask around a little.
  • Don't neglect Havelská market, where, among a lot of the usual rubbish of any little market, you may find some good craft pieces.

A last advice: bohemians are usually quite sociable and are glad to show what their city may offer. So if you pick up someone speaking a language you can also speak, ask him for directions and tips, you might discover interesting and unexpected things.

Now, if you wish to know the name of the three stars-ten rooms hotel where I stayed, at one minute from Venceslas square, or if you'd like to know something more, or if you have anything to add, write to me.

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