What I Loved (And Didn’t) About Prague

Prague is a beautiful city! It has an old town charm which is hard to look past, sprinkled with a few modern fixtures in between. There’s something magical about Prague and I have always been intrigued by its mystery – narrow alleyways that lead to the most mysterious and fascinating shops, gargoyles perched on hidden balustrades, possibility of vampires lurking in dark corners, witch burning cults, dangling marionettes and quintessential Czech food like goulash.

Czech Republic has been a fascination to me from reading vampire and archangel fiction over the years. And when I’m finally here, there’s a certain magic and also certain disappointment. Let’s start off with what I loved about the city.

WHAT I LOVED:
THE CITY IS ALMOST EXACTLY AS I IMAGINED IT
Old brownstone buildings and cobblestoned pathways, with the occasional gargoyle and cherub statues adorning doorways and balustrades. We even found a few exciting alleyways that lead to mysterious coffee shops and little art stores. Artisanal marionette stores can also be found, but they are very expensive. Charles Bridge is definitely beautiful and extra magical because of my epic proposal that happened there, and the Old Town Square is very happening with plenty to see and buy.

Best shopping area for souvenirs and store outlets is at Wencelas Square, not too far away from Old Town Square (10-15 minute walk). My sister even attended a concert at one of the venues there.

At night, the city takes on a very romantic quality. We had the chance to dine at Terasa U Prince Terrace rooftop restaurant where we could watch the sky turn from blue to violet to black against the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn which is right across the square from us. The famed Astronomical Clock was unfortunately, under restoration works while we were there, but is visible within the area. But there’s no excuse to miss wandering around the city during nightfall – the yellow streetlights lend a romantic, vampiric era quality to the place and the cool weather makes for an enjoyable stroll. If you dare, sign up for a night time Ghost Tour.

WHAT I LOVED:
GORGEOUS ART MADE BY LOCALS
Along Charles Bridge, you can find artists setting up stands to display artworks for sale. Original artworks will indefinitely cost more, but most have prints of their original work for sale as well, at a much lower price. I scored a gorgeous print for only 200 Czech Koruna. Aside from artists, handmade jewelry are also sold along the bridge, and buskers can be found serenading the crowd too. There was a band of student buskers who played beautiful covers of famous movie soundtracks (like Pirates of the Caribbean)on violin and sold their CDs – which my mom snapped up immediately.

That aside, they also have very fascinating museums like the Galerie Rudolfinum. They had an interesting art installation by Mat Collishaw called Standing Water, and we were all very impressed with the moving illusions he created in his work. They have very interesting exhibitions changing every few months so it’s best to check what’s on before making a trip.

WHAT I LOVED:
GOOD FOOD IF YOU KNOW WHERE TO GO
Food in the Czech Republic is relatively new to us, and it’s unfortunate that we did not like the local classic very much. I’ll explain more later. But we did have a good dining experience at Luka Lu, a place that serves Southern Slavic cuisine – which honestly felt like a combo of Italian and Mediterranean. Nonetheless we had a a great meal, and the restaurant has a quirky theme – 4 different decorated themed areas, which were impressively beautiful. And as mentioned earlier, we had a great dining experience at Terasa U Prince rooftop dining as well, which serves a mix of Western, Italian and French cuisine.

One other place we enjoyed was Cafe Savoy, which is French and they serve really good breakfast sets. The only downside is that these places do cost quite a bit more than your average meal, and it seems that the only way to get good food in Prague is to spend a little more. Of course, food aside, beer is cheap and decent in most bars.

While we were there, we got to experience the Easter Market, and one of the weekend markets happening near our area. You can get decent street food there, depending on what you’re looking for. They’re commonplace for gourmet sausage buns and trdelník – a rolled cake which can be stuffed with fillings of your choice like cream or ice-cream.

WHAT I LOVED:
CHEAP AND GOOD AIRBNB ACCOMMODATIONS
Finding an AirBNB accommodation in the city is super easy – and they are spacious and cheap. If you don’t find the need to rely on room service, an apartment in the city is just perfect. You can even buy groceries to cook at home to save some money from constantly dining out. Our apartment had 2 bedrooms and was nice and clean, it was a really enjoyable stay. It was also a mere 10-minute walk to Prague Old Town, which was perfect.

WHAT I LOVED:
QUIRKY FINDS AROUND THE CITY
There are many things that made Prague interesting, but I would like to point out 3 of my favorites. First, look for the narrowest alley in the world. It is a stairwell leading down to a riverfront restaurant. The alley is so narrow that they had a traffic light installed so that pedestrians could travel one direction at a time without causing an uncomfortable traffic situation. Second, looks for the John Lennon wall. This is one of the most graffitied wall in Prague, and you are allowed to add your own graffiti onto it. Do note that as more and more tourists come each year, your ‘work of art’ may be very well covered by someone else’s work. And finally, a short trek up a small hill and you can find a miniature Eiffel Tower called the Petřín Lookout Tower where you can get a view of the entire city from the top.

 

While there’s much to love and admire about the city, I also find myself disliking certain things that could have made the whole experience more enjoyable.

WHAT I DID NOT LOVE:
CURRENCY EXCHANGE IS TEDIOUS & A HIGH POSSIBILITY OF BEING CHEATED
Czech Koruna is not a currency that’s easy to find, not in Malaysia at least. So we were advised to change our Euros into Czech Koruna upon arrival. However, travel forums WARNED that airport money exchange rates are ridiculously high to the point where you only end up getting 50% of what you’re supposed to get. Many other money exchange shops around Prague Old Town operate the same way by advertising 0% commission but then giving you much less in exchange. Most places do accept credit cards, but realistically, you do need some cash in hand too.

Thankfully, we found this video that tells you exactly which places are TRUSTED to give you honest rates and not cheat you off your holiday money, and so we escaped that tourist trap. You’re welcome.

WHAT I DID NOT LOVE:
CZECH LOCALS’ LACKLUSTRE ATTITUDE & POOR SERVICE
Now, this does not apply to all, but it was what we experience for 60% of our trip. Service is very important to us as tourists, and while at the train station, we experience not just one but three incidences where the information counter person was just not keen to serve us – answering our questions with short-handed answers that were not helpful or bring irritated with our questions and redirecting us to the next counter. Better service came from restaurants, but local establishments (run by owners or family) have much poorer service and impatient attitudes. Not a lot of friendly locals either – none would stop to help us tourists with questions, or would just wave us off impatiently.

WHAT I DID NOT LOVE:
OVERLY TOURISTY CHARGES
We actually found a few small productions of marionette theatre or musical performances that are done by students in little dingy venues in old buildings. These low budget performances charge tourists at a rate almost on par with the shows in actual theatres – which is what I call an absolute rip-off. No culture immersion for us due to us not giving in to overcharge. We would have absolutely gone to the theatre if the show dates were within our travel ones.

Overall, I do think everyone should go to Prague at least once – but to do their research and be aware of certain things. It is definitely one of the most beautiful, romantic cities and I cannot wait to come back again for another trip!

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