Prague Blog

Christmas in Prague, Prague hidden gems

Czech Christmas ornaments

Christmas time in Prague is magic. It is also a unique opportunity to shop for traditional Christmas hand-made ornaments. They are exported all over the world but why shopping for Czech ornaments in New York when you can buy this glass beauty in Prague. Head to Dana Bohemia shop at Narodni 43 (walk through the passage). You will find glittery ornaments of all colors and shapes at decent prices unlike some other touristy shops.

I would also check the Christmas Market at Namesti Miru at Vinohrady district. It is a smaller market compared to the one at Old Town Square and you will mostly meet local Praguers at this place. But you can certainly find beautiful Christmas ornaments, drink mulled wine and find the treasures that you always wanted to bring home from Prague.

…. and when at Vinohrady district, check some  off the beaten path antique shops such as P&J Bazar at Anny Letenske 2 or The Prague Thrift Store at Budecska 13. I would be surprised if you don’t find a couple of Christmas ornaments or some other great find. Enjoy!  

Art, Prague Literary Tour

A Prague lover’s reading list

These are just few books that a Prague lover may want to grab before heading to Prague or after getting back from your Prague literarary tour. We will be adding books but will be happy if you let us know of any treasures that you feel other Prague lovers should know of. Thank you! 

Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924)

It is impossible to talk about 20th century literature in Prague without mentioning Franz Kafka. For those who would like to penetrate the mysterious world of this Prague born Jewish German-language writer, their reading list should include:

  • The Metamorphosis
  • The Trial
  • The Castle
  • America

 

Only a few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime but the publisher, Max Brod, ignored Kafka’s wish to have the manuscripts destroyed, and published most of his works.

E.E. Kisch (1885 – 1948)

Czech writer and journalist, who wrote in German. Nicknamed the “Raging Reporter from Prague”, Kisch is considered one of the founders of the Czech investigative and reportage journalism. He wrote books about his numerous trips, such as:

  • Zaren, Popen, Bolschewiken (On the Soviet Union) (1926)
  • Paradies Amerika (On the United States) (1929)
  • Secret China (1933)

Franz Werfel (1890 – 1945)

Czech-Jewish novelist and playwright born in Prague, later moved to Vienna where he met and fell in love with Alma Mahler, widow of Gustav Mahler, the former lover of the painter Oskar Kokoschka, and the wife of the architect Walter Gropius. By the end of the nineteen-twenties, Werfel had become one of the most important and established writers in German and Austrian literature. Werfel and Alma left Austria after the German occupation in 1938 and finally settled in the United States where Werfel died in 1945.

  • Verdi (1924)
  • Class Reunion (1928)
  • The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

Gustav Meyrink (1868 – 1932) – Golem

Gustav Meyrink was born with the name Gustav Meyer in Vienna. He was the illegitimate son of Baron Karl von Varnbüler and actress Maria Wilhelmina Adelheyd Meier. In 1915 the first and most famous of Meyrink’s novels, The Golem, was published. The novel is based on the Jewish legend of a Rabbi who made a living being known as a golem made out of clay, and animated by a Kabbalistic spell. Meyrink has been described as the “most respected German language writer in the field of supernatural fiction”.

Jaroslav Hašek (1883 – 1923)

Czech humorist, satirist, writer and anarchist, best known for his novel The Good Soldier Švejk, an unfinished collection of farcical incidents around a soldier in World War I and a satire on the ineptitude of authority figures. It has been translated into sixty languages. He also wrote some 1,500 short stories.

Karel Čapek (1890 – 1938)

Czech writer of the early 20th century best known for his science fiction, including his novel War with the Newts and the play R.U.R where he introduced and made popular the frequently used international word “robot”. The word comes from the expression “robota”, meaning literally “serf labor” or “hard work” in Czech. Through social circles, Čapek developed close relationship with many of the political leaders of Czechoslovakia during the nineteen-twenties and thirties. These included Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, and his son Jan, who would later become foreign secretary and was killed by Communists in a contrived suicide in 1948. Čapek was a regular guest of the “Friday Men”, a discussion club of the Czech intellectual elite of the first Republic (1918-1939).

  • Talks with T.G. Masaryk 
  • The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos), the celebrated opera by Leoš Janáček is based on the play
  • The Absolute at Large
  • Krakatit

Čapeks travel books:

  • Letters from Italy
  • Letters from England
  • Letters from Spain
  • Letters from Holland
  • Travels in the North

Jiří Weil (1950 1959)

Czech writer and translator noted for two novels Life with a Star and Mendelssohn Is on the Roof about the fate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Prague during World War II.

Arnost Lustig (1926 – 2011)

A survivor of the Nazi-era Terezín concentration camp and author of many works, including Street of Lost Brothers, shared the 1991 Publishers Weekly Award for best literary work with John Updike and Norman Mailer.

Suggested reading:

  • A Prayer For Katerina Horowitz
  • Dita Saxova
  • Night and Hope
  • Lovely Green Eye

Bohumil Hrabal (1914 – 1997)

Among other books, Hrabal wrote two internationally acclaimed hits: Closely Watched Trains (also translated as Closely Observed Trains, on which the Menzel film was based), and I Served the King of England. When then-President Bill Clinton visited Prague in 1994, he asked to have a beer with Hrabal in the author’s favorite Old Town haunt, the pub U Zlatého tygra (At the Golden Tiger).

Milan Kundera (1929)

Kundera, of Czech origin, has lived in exile in France since 1975 and became a naturalized citizen in 1981. Kundera’s best-known works are The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Joke. His books were banned by the Communist regimes of Czechoslovakia until the downfall of the regime in the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Kundera’s father was studying music at Leoš Janáček, was an important Czech musicologist and pianist who served as the head of the Janáček Music Academy in Brno from 1948 to 1961.


Miloš Urban (1967)

The Seven Churches

Written in the spirit of the sensational murder story and combined with a rich Gothic atmosphere, this tale, now translated into 11 languages, traces the steps of a killer through the seven cathedrals of modern day Prague. The narrator, a policeman known simply as K, witnesses a bizarre accident followed by a series of mysterious murders. This event triggers a series of meetings with Gothic characters who appear to be trying to reconstruct the medieval “golden age” of Prague in the reign of Charles IV under the noses if its modern-day inhabitants. The books bloody and nightmarish plot will dazzle readers of thrillers, but ultimately the novel is much more—it’s a brilliant postmodern interpretation of the historical topography of late-medieval Prague and a vision of a civilization in decline.
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and a wonderful book about Brno and Vila Tugendhat

Simon Mawer – The Glass Room 

Prague Cafe Slavia slider
Cafes and Restaurants in Prague

10 Prague Cafés you should not miss

There are some new cafes but also cafes that have been in Prague for ages and you shouldn’t miss them.  

Breakfast with Kafka

Kavarna Obecni dům (Municipal House Cafe)  by itself is an Art Nouveau gem, so it is worth to book a tour of the Municipal House after enjoying your breakfast. The entire building is a reminder of the good old Prague Grand Cafe atmosphere (20s and 30s of 20th century) and Belle Epoque style. It is one of the most famous Cafes in Prague, together with Cafe Slavia (opposite the National Theatre)  and Cafe Louvre (at the crossroad of Narodni trida and Spalena street). Louvre Cafe serves coffee since 1902. It was one of the favorite places of Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein during his stay in Prague. If you like cubism, the only architecture style invented in Czechoslovakia (in the beginning of 20th century), you should visit The Grand Cafe Orient at the Black Madonna House at Ovocny trh 19 and its hidden cafe on the first floor.

Cafe Imperial – another famous Prague Cafe, interesting Art Deco interior with tiled walls from floor to ceiling. Café Savoy at Vitezna 5, just across the bridge from the National Theatre serves one of the best breakfasts in Prague. It is a busy place with a feel of a French bistro, a bit noisy but real Prague.

Another place just few steps off Café Savoy is Café Lounge in the basement of the Hunger Wall Residence. Their coffee is famous as well as Czech sweets such as buchty or kolache (a sweet bun filled with sweet cheese or plum jam). Get a table in a patio on a summer sunny day. You better book your breakfast table, they got a bit spoiled lately given their ranking among Prague cafes but still worth a visit. It would not be a complete list without mentioning the Alchymista cukrarna (sweet shop) at Letna, Prague 7 where you get a great coffee and home made cakes. It is a place with an atmosphere of good old times (I don’t mean good old times before 1989 but rather good old times before 1939 – which I don’t remember). As much as it is nice in winter, nothing can beat their garden during a sunny late spring or summer day.

Another place not to be missed is Cafe Adria – just look at the rondo-cubist masterpiece (read more on my Prague blog) Palais Adria at the end of Narodni street, enter the passage and go up the stairs to the first floor and you will discover a summer terrace – my personal view, I would not go in winter, as the terrace is the place to enjoy. And my personal tip when you get back to Narodni street – look up to the roof of this monumental building – you will see a beautiful sculpture of Adria by Jan Štursa.

If you want to experience a bit of the glamour of what we Czechs call First Republic (1918 – 1939), look in the Cafe Lucerna at Lucerna Palace in Vodickova street. Yes, it is worn out but it shows the famous Cafe where the First Republic movie stars stopped by for coffee and drink. It was the place to be seen, as Havel’s family (yes the family of Vaclav Havel, his grandfather and uncle, owners of the Czechoslovakia Lucerna Film movie company) had their private movie theater.
P.S. Get the table with the Upside down horse view prague-lucerna-passage-3

 

 

 

Interested in more tips for your Prague trip?

Discover Czech Republic

Prague birds-eye view

 

You probably heard of the Petrin lookout tower. It reminds the Eiffel tower in Paris because the Czech tourist club members liked the Eiffel tower so much that they decided to have one – a smaller one in Prague. That was in 1891 when they returned from the World Exhibition in Paris.

The Prague tower was built just in four months, it is 63.5 meters high with 299 stairs. There is an elevator for those who may wish to skip the exercise. The Petrin lookout tower is open daily from 10am to 6 pm (November to February) and to 10pm (from April to September).

Once you will be at Petřín hill (where you can get by funicular) from Ujezd station of tram No. 22) you will be in a beautiful park, with a mirror maze. There is also a little booth with beer and famous Czech bramborak (potato and garlic pancakes). And the best, you will be able to cut through the Petřín park to the Prague Castle where you end up at the amazing view of Prague just underneath the Strahov Monastery.

Art

Vysehrad Cemetery in Prague

It may be compared to Paris cemetery Père Lachaise. The Vysehrad or Slavin cemetery in Prague where most notable figures of Czech nation are buried. Writers, actors, artists, poets and many others. Place of a magic and poetic atmosphere, just peace and art.

Vysehrad national burial ground was established in the second half of 19th century in place of an old Vysehrad cemetery dating back to 1660. It is one of the most significant Prague cemeteries. One of the notable Czech architects, Antonin Wiehl designed the neo-rennaisance arcades, which have been built according to the Italian style around the border of the cemetery. The cross vault of arcades decorated with paintings is carried by Tuscan pillars of sandstone. Walking through the Vysehrad cemetery is like walking in an open-air art gallery. Most of the tombs hold a piece of art work.

Vysehrad hill is linked to the origin of Prague when the Slavic Princess Libuse had a vision. She apparently stood on a cliff overlooking the Vltava, pointed to a hill across the river, and proclaimed: “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.” A castle was built at a place where a man was building the threshold (which translates práh in Czech) of a house. “And because even the great noblemen must bow low before a threshold, you shall give it the name Praha”. About two hundred years later, the city of Prague became the seat of the Premyslid dynasty. You will find statue of Princess Libuse and her husband, Prince Premysl as well as of Prince Wenceslas, later St. Wenceslas, a patron of the Czech nation who founded the first basilique (at the place of St. Vitus Cathedral) at the Prague Castle. Vysehrad is not exactly in Prague center but it should not be missed by art lovers.

 

Prague Castle

Don’t wait in queues at the Prague Castle

I am sure you have seen it or heard of long queues due to security checks at the Prague Castle. Why don’t you visit Prague Castle like a local knowing of more entrances. You still will be checked but you will not wait in queue but rather enjoy a walk through the Prague Castle courtyards, take a look inside the St. Vitus Cathedral, find out about St. Wenceslas, a patron of the Czech nation and the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV. who made Prague one of the major medieval cities. You may find out why the Pope got upset with King Charles at one point (quite unexpected and surprising). And…..we will take you to a hidden café in one of the palaces at the Hradcany Square to enjoy coffee and cake or sandwich, of course like a local and for local prices.

Take me for a walk.

 

 

Art

Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV – National Gallery Exhibition

karel-iv-se-modli-20151130-112149

If you are a fan of medieval history and the exceptional figure of these times, Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, you should not skip the National Gallery exhibition at the Waldstein Riding School in Prague. The exhibition presents Charles IV as a unique figure of Europe’s political and cultural history, an ambitious sovereign and visionary. Charles IV was famous for using arts and architecture to promote the imperial majesty, being one of the most generous patrons of arts in Europe. It is Charles IV to whom Prague may thank for being one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Charles IV has been known as the Father of the Homeland and many Czechs think of him as sort of icon, and idealized monarch. He was born on 14th May 1316 into a Royal family and was first named Václav, in honor of his illustrious ancestors on his mother’s side. It was only during his seven-year stay in France that he ‘picked up’ by confirmation the name of his uncle, the French King, Charles the Fair.

At the age of seven, Charles IV found himself deposited among his relatives at the French court, where he had his own private tutors. All at once, an extensive education, as well as to notable political and personal contacts were available to him. His friends included for example, the future Pope Clement VI. Last but not least, Charles brought back with him from Paris his first beloved wife, Blanche of Valois.

His all-round preparation for life continued in Luxembourg, on the family earldom, where the adolescent heir to the throne was raised by his authoritarian great uncle Baldwin of Luxembourg, Archbishop of Trier. Charles continued his studies of diplomacy and statecraft, added German language to French, Latin and Italian, as well as becoming fully conversant with courtly etiquette and knightly virtues. After many years, Charles eventually returned to Bohemia, in the autumn of 1333. Standing in for the absenting Head of State he served as Margrave of Moravia to administer the Czech Kingdom. In 1344 Charles achieved the elevation of the Prague bishopric to an Archbishopric, thus freeing the Czech State from under the Archbishop of Mainz. This was followed by his important election to the Head of the Holy Roman Empire in 1346. The Czech royal coronation took place in September 1347. Uplifting the Czech Přemyslid dynasty traditions, the monarch had commissioned the St Wenceslas Crown, which along with the scepter and orb become emblematic of the universal power of the King of Bohemia. Charles chose Prague as his capital residence, making the Czech State the main power base of the Luxembourgs. In April 1355, Charles attained his Imperial coronation in Rome, formally instating him as the secular head of Christendom. Founding of the University in Prague in 1348, was the next step by which the monarch strengthened Prague’s significance.

Today, Charles IV is regarded as a capable instigator-founder and developer, whose architectural efforts are evident in many places. Great care and considerable sums were expended by him on the construction of churches and monasteries. Charles IV died at the age of 62, on 29th November 1378. Even his lavish funeral, accompanied by impressive ceremonials, gave witness to the political power of one of Europe’s most noteworthy rulers.

The exhibition will be open until September 25, 2016 and will move then to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nurnberg.

 

Art

Titian in Prague

Tiziano,_flora,_dettaglioPrague added another attraction for the visitors, an exhibition of Italian Renaissance painter Tiziano Vecelli (Titian, 1485-1576). The exhibition includes Tiziano’s paintings from the Prague Castle Gallery as well as his Flora from the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence.

The exhibition called Tiziano – Vanitas, the Poet of the Image and Shade of Beauty takes place in the Imperial Stable at the Prague Castle.
The exhibition also includes a number of paintings loaned from international galleries and private collections. These are primarily women’s portraits and Titian’s portraits from his later works.

The exhibition is open until March 20, 2016, everyday from 10am – 6pm.
The entrance fee is 180 CZK/6 EUR/$7
Don’t miss the unique opportunity.

Discover Czech Republic, Prague hidden gems

3 things to avoid in Prague

IMG_3363Prague is a beautiful city with millions of tourists heading to Prague Castle, Charles bridge and other sightseeing highlights every year. However, not everything in Prague is a must see. There is couple of things that you may easily skip without regretting it such as Golden Lane at the Prague Castle, Klementinum Library – visit the Strahov Monastery Baroque library instead and the overpriced and poor serviced Lokal restaurant at Dlouha street.
And here is why. Continue reading “3 things to avoid in Prague”

Art, Cafes and Restaurants in Prague, Discover Czech Republic

Strahov Library & Prague Views

Strahov Library
Strahov Library

Visiting the Strahov Monastery and then walking down the Petrin Hill on a sunny Sunday (or any other day of the week) is kind of an experience from a different world, even for me as the “Praguer”.  Surprisingly the Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary seems quite small compared to the size of the monastery.  You can enter the church only during the holly mass (daily at 6pm and Sunday at 10 am and 6pm). But most of you will probably head to the Strahov Library and Strahov Gallery. There are two separate box offices for each of them. The Strahov Library is, together with the Klementinum baroque library one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.  If you would like to see the Theological and Philosophical halls at Strahov, you will have to book your time slot well in advance, otherwise you will see just the Cabinet of Curiosities and connecting passages, however  even that is impressive.

The next stop is Strahov Gallery. It is housed in the monastery itself. There are beautiful Baroque sculptures and Gothic and baroque paintings on the first floor.  Continue reading “Strahov Library & Prague Views”