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your Prague guide by someone who lives here

Things to DON'T do in Prague

When a friend comes to visit me in Prague for the first time I ask, “what do you want to do and see?” As he lists off his wishes my head involuntary shakes right to left as I realise he has no idea what Prague is about and what a fun experience would be. He thinks standing in line for 2 hours to go inside a church is Prague. He thinks drinking from small glasses of beer in a crowded bar is Prague. He thinks being chauffeured around by horse carriage is Prague. Don’t know where he got these notions but guessing it was from the brochure plastered with paid advertising and pictures of smiling people. The cover image of a happy couple standing alone on the Charles bridge is the biggest lie of all - you will never be alone on Charles Bridge.

Here is a list of things I tell all my friends when they arrive at my door delusioned by tourist agency brochures.

Don’t expect to be alone on Charles Bridge

You have seen the romantic picture of an embracing couple standing on the bridge lovely gazing at each other and a panorama of the city in the background. It is a perfect scene but total fantasy. Unless you have a rabies frothing pet tiger at your side there is no way a gap of more than a meter between you and a horde of complete strangers will ever form. And this applies to all the places on mentioned in the brochure. Every church, castle, plaza, monument will be a disturbed ant farm of excited people from all around the world - bouncing off each other and into you, yelling over each other to stop, come, pose, look. Don’t get me wrong, you need to see the bridge but don’t expect it to leave you in a peaceful or romantic state of mind.

Don’t go on a bus (horse carriage, old car tour), walk instead

Bus tours don’t belong in Prague. There is no room for buses in the narrow cobbled streets carved between buildings. Prague needs to be experienced with feet on the ground and slowly. You won’t see the entire city but you will experience it from the same perspective Charles IV did. In 1300 there were no bus tours, there were people walking through tight alleys and under the shadow of churches. Buses are too fast and loud for Prague. The walkways and dirty stone buildings will tell you their history much better than the muffled narrative you in bus tour headphones. Walk around the city and breath it all, touch the walls. Then at home in comfort on your favourite chair open up a history book and rediscover the city you explored.

Don’t assume you have right of way - the tram does

A contraction is allowed to exists in civilised heads. All modern city dwellers claim without contradiction that their city has the worst drivers in the world. And if that impossibility is not enough, every tourist is also allowed to observe that ‘they have smarter drivers here’. I leave it up to the reader to resolve the contraction and make their own assessment of Prague drivers. As for me, after visiting India I have made the overarching conclusion that Indians are the craziest drivers in the world. Anyway…Prague is not India so you should be fine. Honking is reserved for near misses and encouraging pedestrians to shuffle off the street a tad more rapidly. It is not the Prague driver that you have to worry about, what should concern you because it involves a cow bell and shaking fist are the trams and their irritated drivers. Contrary exceptions based on every other rule of the road concerning pedestrians - in Prague trams have right of way. On a crosswalk with an approaching tram it is your responsibility to get out of the way. Even a stopped tram which suddenly decides to move it is up to not to be in its way. Fail to clear the tracks and a loud brrrring bell will make sure you and everyone around you are made aware of your selfishness. Selfishness for forcing the 50 people onboard to slow down and in accumulation waste 50 * 5 seconds = 4 minutes and 10 seconds. The shame and shock will reinforce the traffic rule and prevent you from making the mistake again but trust me, a more pleasant teaching approach is by reading about it here from me.

Don’t expect to find anything unique to Prague for sale in souvenir shops

It has been argued by people in suede jackets with lifetime study of modern culture that we are living in a time of mass consumption. People accumulate junk they do not need. They argue that ankle braces found in 1000 year old graves were important and spiritual but the modern, ‘i love Prague’ pinwheel hat is a silly trinket. Assuming you are not wearing a suede jacket you probably want to pick up a trinket or two in Prague. You are in luck since on almost every corner and near every church, monument, square you will never be farther than 40 meters from a trinket shop. For some historically unknown reason Prague is famous for toy puppets, marionettes, Bohemian glass, tea paraphernalia and crystal. If I was the suede jacket wearing type my hypothesis would be that they are famous only because famous sells. The trinket shop owners cash in on the famous and provide an endless supply of useless trinkets available for purchase. If you are looking for trinkets then I promise you will overdose. Unfortunately they truly are trinkets and not anything resembling what Czechs actually buy or treasure. I don’t know anyone here who owns a toy puppet. As far as I can tell there is nothing these shops sell that a Czech would want on their person or in their home. A simple technique to spot trinkets only unsuspecting tourists buy - if you see it more that twice on the same street it is a trinket for mass consumption with no connection to Prague or its inhabitants. For an authentic souvenir which represents the culture and people of Prague go for a beer and ask to buy the mug. If they say no steal the coaster.

Don’t enter a restaurant claiming to offer ‘authentic Czech cuisine’

The country has 10 million Bohemian and Moravian and souls. Approximately one million live in Prague and half million in the second largest city Brno. That leaves 8.5 million people living in areas that are not visited by tourists. These 8.5 million Czechs go out for pleasant evening meals with family and friends. They enjoy the company and the food. They expect that the restaurant offers ambiance and well preprepared food. What they do not need to be told is that the food is authentic Czech. Of course its authentic - what else would or could it be? It is only in Prague that restaurants try to entice by using the word authentic. The word has no meaning except for some reason tourists prefer written confirmation of the restaurant’s Czech authenticity. Surprisingly it works - restaurants with authentic on the sign are full of tourists. But as with the bully by day who cries himself to sleep at night reality is the opposite of what it appears to be. If you want an authentic Czech restaurant avoid signs on the sidewalk with the word authentic - ‘authentic Czech goulash inside’ really means it is not authentic - it is frozen goulsh brought in from Poland. To increase your certainty on authenticity avoid any restaurants with any sidewalk signage. Truly good restaurants don’t need signs on the sidewalk.
Another giveaway that a restaurant does not serve authentic Czech food is a man standing outside appearing to be a happy waiter inviting you in. This should be taken as a red light warning of non authenticity. As shown by historical records going back to 1350 there has yet to be truly happy Czech waiter.

Don’t avoid tipping

A grumpy old man who lived through the hard times of communism and is left with a monthly pension less than a bank manager makes in a day can be excused for not tipping the equally grumpy waiter. But since 1989 when western culture invaded the country you don’t have an excuse to not tip. Don’t misunderstand, I am on your side, I wish I did not have to tip but it has become an unavoidable cultural necessity. It is at the point that if you are able to comfortably not tip you should progress to the next level and comfortably walk around the city in your underwear.

Don’t be surprised if you drink 10 beers

10 1/2 litre mugs of beers in one evening is a large number, but it is doable. The secret is the small amount of carbonation Czech beer is infused with. In the west the classic trope of a drunk is the audible deep throated burp. Beer drinkers burp but have you noticed water drinkers burp? The difference is in the bubble quantity. With western beer you swallow lots of bubbles that sooner or later need to rise and exit through your throat. Czech beer on the other hand is very lightly carbonated. This has many benefits for the beer lover. First and foremost you are not revealed as drinking too much by an uncontrollable burp. Second you do not feel bloated, this enables you to have one after another all night long until to your surprise you’ve had 10 and cannot walk straight to relieve yourself of a 5 litre bladder.

Don’t assume it is legal

Even though Czech is located in the heart (east of center) of Europe, bachelor party brochures bill it as the wild west. There are no rules, cops are bribable, you can hold a joint in one hand absinth in the other as you walk out of a brothel. You could do that and you might not get in trouble but that is also true in ISIS controlled neighbourhoods in Syria. The reality is that in Prague and especially in tourist frequented areas there are plenty of cops and they are not bribable. The government makes a lot of money from law abiding tourists so the government does everything to ensure tourists keep coming. Keeping absinth drinking bums off the streets is a top priority. As a rule of thumb, if you think it should be illegal it probably is. Don’t be the tourist surprised when a cop is writes a ticket for crossing the walkway way on a red light (illegal) - you broke the law and are going to pay the government for the privilege. (*note: the absinth sold in the the tourist shops is not illegal but it is also not the illegal absinth you think it is.)

Don’t assume people around you are Czech

It happens that after a week in Prague a visitor arrives home and says to his friends - Czech people are polite and kind. There is an equal chance another tourist warns - Czech people are rude and quick to anger. Both tourists are correct in their assessments except what they don’t realise is that during their entire trip they did not interact with a single Czech person. There are no Czech people walking the Charles bridge or sitting in the Old Town Square. The only time a Czech goes to these locations is in a family friend visitor emergency - but even then the friend is usually just given a tram number, instructions, some money and told to go see these tourist filled spots themselves. And since real estate it too expensive for normal Czech businesses it is usually occupied by business that cater to tourists. There is a simple trick to determine if there are Czech people around you - look around you and try to find a shop selling toy puppets, if you notice one then you can be certain Czechs are nowhere in the area.

Don’t try to pronounce Czech words correctly

There is a reason why Czech is considered the Rolls Royce of languages. Unless the ear has heard the words and the tongue had rolled r’s since near birth there is absolutely no way you are going to say the word ‘pivo’ without a silly accent. It is impossible. The tongue needs to shape shift in unnatural ways to generate Czech sounds. Without years of training started in the womb you will be forever cursed with mispronounced words. If you find yourself with a native Czech speaker let me look into your future. You will ask how to pronounce a word, they will pronounce it and you will attempt to repeat it back. It will not sound correct so you will try again, and again and again. After more attempts spanning multiple days you will give up and both of you will laugh simultaneously - you at your failure and they at their sense of superiority.

Don’t be lured by medieval costumes

Marketing wizards with psychology degrees have concluded that tourists are more likely to enter a building if there is a ridiculous looking man in a costume standing at the door. They further advise that the effect is more powerful if the costumes are similar to those worn in a medieval era Disney movie. Sadly it is probably true because there are hotels, restaurants, music halls, casinos that place these ridiculous looking sentries at their doors. Oddly the costume phenomenon only work on tourist. In your home town would you ever enter a restaurant if a grown man with a round lolly pop and pinwheel hat was standing at the entrance? Why Prague tourists seek out and are lured by entrances with men in 16th century ruffs is a tourism psyche mystery. Rise above your instincts and avoid these places. When making reservations for music, meal or boat ride always ask, “do you have a poor unfortunate soul standing all day in ruffles and top hat at the front door?” If yes, avoid.

Don’t go to Kafka Museum to learn about Czech culture

Kafka was a great writer and should be celebrated but he is not a ‘true’ Czech. He lived in Prague and he walked the streets but he was more German and Jewish than Czech. During the Austrian-Hungarian empire times in the 1900’s there were many German Jews living in Prague. Kafka’s body moved around Prague but his mind was somewhere else. He was able to functionally speak the language but his attitude and world view did and does not really resonate with the Czech culture - Czechs are not Kafkaesque. Kafka could of lived in any city in the world and I think his writing would of been the same. The Kafka museum is just another example of the tourist industries attempt to extract another dime. You will see many posters and signs around Prague suggesting a visit to the museum - visit it if you are a fan but don’t expect to improve your immersion into the Czech psyche.

Did I bring you pleasure? :)

I hope you find this website helpful. I created the website because I love Prague, I enjoy writing about it, and I get a weird kick out of helping you make your trip to Prague more enjoyable.

I wrote a book about local travel in Prague. The book is my pride, my joy, my unbiological offspring. It was written with a passionate heart. If you find this website helpful consider getting the book. You will receive an entertaining book full of useful tips that will instil in you the confidence to wander the local streets of Prague. The book is also included in the popular Prague Local Explore Kit Bag.

Thank you,
Roman : Prague 2019

Prague Local Travel Kit