While there are more ways to do here, I have picked 10 best ways to live like a local in Prague. Here are the remaining five ways, with the first 5 ways having been covered in the previous article.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS – HOT WINE & ABSINTH
Do you find beer too chilled a drink to sip in cool weather? Well, I am with you there. Cold beer in nippy weather isn’t exactly my cup of tea or for that matter coffee. This can make you want to turn to svarak (or hot wine) which is commonly sold on street corners to warm a parched throat. In fact, it makes more sense to sip on this hot and heady concoction in cool weather. It is available at cafes too; however, I preferred to have it from streetside stalls and chat with the stall owners if they weren’t busy.
I realised that not many fellow tourists had heard of Prague’s traditional drink, at least not the ones who travelled on the coach with me. Having read about it from travel journals it wasn’t long before I had snuck a couple of bottles of Absinth into my tote bag. I’d also long Googled up the meaning and composition of Absinth. The search result described it to be a spirit which is mistakenly referred to by some as a liqueur. Made of wormwood, spices and herbs, it was once considered to have medicinal properties in the early 19th and 20th centuries. Because of its greenish appearance owing to the presence of green anise, it is sometimes called the ‘Green Fairy. The spirit came to be later banned as being hallucinatory but no one is sure if it really was. I mean whether it was hallucinatory or not, to have its drinkers commit dastardly crimes. Don’t other spirits also have a similar effect? After all, the drink was known to have been consumed by famed artists like Byron, Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and others. You may check out the picture of a bottle of absinthe I brought back home to sit in my bar. No clue what it tastes like as I haven’t got down to tasting it, at least not yet. From what I have read, it needs the addition of sugar and water to make it drinkworthy. Don’t blame it on me if it still isn’t, drinkworthy I mean.
RIDE ON THE METRO / TRAMWAY VS TAXI
If you want to get around by as fast and economical a mode as possible, I’d strongly suggest that you ride on the Metro. It’s fast and fun too if you learn the trappings. While it can be extremely confusing and frustrating for first-timers, it can be as logical as mathematics once you crack reading the map correctly. No rocket science this. Remember to stock sufficient coins in local currency, preferably exact change to help when buying tickets from vending machines. Remember to also validate your tickets before entering a metro station. In some European countries, the turnstiles serve as a deterrent to forgetting to validate your tickets. However, some are walk-in metro stations with no turnstiles. Hence it possible to miss seeing the inconspicuous stump like validating machines on either side of the entrance.
I once happened to get lost in a wrong “line” and when I noticed that none of the metro stations on the indicator matched my destination I hastened to alight at the next stop making my way back to the boarding station. It was one heart-stopping moment to find myself on the wrong train. I did panic at first but calmed down when I managed to convince myself that I could see, talk and hear. Unlike the three monkeys. I asked someone who looked like a local for directions. Most of them were helpful if they spoke/understood English. If all they know was only Czech, you could gesticulate and draw patterns in the air. I was good at it, perhaps the Dumb Charades game from parties back home helped. However, for the purpose of education, there are 3 lines – A, B and C (green, yellow and red).
One of the merits of a Metro ticket is that it allows you to travel as many times on the Metro in a day. You may go back and forth as long as you don’t exit the Metro station. Some cities, however, have hourly tickets while some last longer. Always check with the information office or a city’s brochure in the case of doubt.
The bigger, the better. What I mean is that the bigger the metro station, the better the chances of having information counters for tourists.
I recall a startling first-time experience on Prague’s steep escalators in the underground metro. I nearly missed a steep fall as a commuter jostled me in a bid to squeeze past me. It was a rush hour with office-goers rushing to board the Metro to get to work. I wanted to swear at this “rusher” but it was prudent to have not given in to the temptation of swearing, for two reasons. No one raises their voice above 60-70 decibels here, so swearing is obviously taboo. The second reason was that it was I who had erred in standing on the left-hand side of the elevator which has to be kept free for rushing commuters. Elevator etiquette demands that you stick to the right side while standing. Lesson learnt. Inside the Metro too, it is expected that you offer your seat to senior citizens. I, for one, scored in this quarter.
Prague takes pride in its wide labyrinth of tramways. I used trams for shorter routes and remembered to validate my tickets “inside” the tram unlike in the case of Metro trains where tickets are validated before getting on board. Not validating your tickets could attract huge fines. Your pleas of being an ignorant tourist will not be entertained here so stay alert.
Taxis are alright for a quick ride if you are tired from all day sightseeing but watch out as they can be a rip-off especially late at night. I desisted from using a Uber in Prague as I learnt that its taxi drivers tend to take unnecessarily long routes especially if you aren’t savvy about routes. While I knew the geographical location of the place, when it came to the roads I seemed to lose all sense of direction. Like a ship without a sail.
Not using a Uber was a mistake. For the sake of convenience, I hailed taxis from the street but realised only too late that, if you don’t negotiate the price before you enter you could end up paying more. Over and above that, they expect a 5% tip or more if they ferry your bags. According to my tourist friends, Uber rides work out cheaper and are also safer as they are tracked by its operator.
The public transport buses are best suited for airport transfers in Prague. They are cheaper than most European cities but have limited services in the night. Still, buses are a far better option than driving in the city so I learnt.
WALK YOUR WAY
As true with most European cities, Prague is best surveyed on foot. I strongly recommend walking as this city is compact and its sights within walking distance. I agree that you’ll end up walking at least four to five hours a day to catch up with local sights but if you are fit, simply walk I say. The best part of walking, apart from helping you shed a few calories, is that you may unexpectedly come upon an incredible church or a concert hall along the way. Not even a tour guide could tell you all there is to a city. Even if they could, you’re likely to get mixed up with too much information which may or may not be accurate.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
The first thing I pick up on arrival is a map of the city. Maps are available at airports and street vendors but I nearly always end up finding a range of maps at the hotel. Chuckle if you may, but I even carry a magnifying glass to help me read the fine print. Better a clear picture than ”screwing (up)” your eyes through numbered eyeglasses.
If there’s one thing I have promised myself, it is to pick up a compass. Navigation apps can be frustrating, often taking you in the exact opposite direction. Google Maps could be baffling as they offer at least two different ways to get there, not necessarily the shortest. While you may know where a site is located in terms of say, north or south of the city, how on earth could you know which side is north and which side is south?!
The best way to get a real flavour of a city, in my opinion, is to seek a homestay option. There are several available on Airbnb. The best homestay locations are Vinohrady and Letna, among others. These aren’t located close to the city centre but will offer you a prototypical experience of a local’s way of living. Most come cheaper than hotel rooms and offer breakfast too. The tariff could range from an incredible EUR 20 upwards, depending on its category. They offer private or shared rooms or even an entire home. One of the limiting factors at some homestays is that you must adhere to their conditions in respect of time, so late nights are out in some cases.
Living with a local family can help you earn more insight into a town/city, far more than what’s offered by a tour agency. If you’re lucky, the hosts will also offer you a ride to the city centre if they’re headed that way. And if you’re luckier you’ll get to watch them cook some schnitzel and dumplings. I earned their favour in taking them some flowers from the marketplace.
Some of them are finicky about leaving your footwear outside as is customary in most Indian homes. No wonder then, that it seemed like home. They are fastidious about their toilets, I mean not in how to flush but when to flush. They don’t fancy flushing sounds in the middle of the night which can leave you either sleeping uncomfortably until morning OR sleeping comfortably and bearing with the stink arising out of not flushing. Very funny.
Not to attend a musical in Prague is to miss among the best things this city has to offer. It’s a musical hub, I say. While street musicians are considerably good, it is the Opera that is a must-do.
For a music lover like me, it was but natural to hunt out churches and concert halls where performances were held. The first concert I attended was that held at St Nicholas Church in the city centre. A Mozart symphony. I wouldn’t have learnt of this one hadn’t a tour guide told me. Really thoughtful of her to have dashed across from the other end of the street despite having completed her tour session only to tell me where to find this concert @ EUR 16. Surprisingly, there were several Asians in the audience. Not surpring actually, as it’s common knowledge about Koreans and the choral connection, also that of Filipinos.
The month of May appears to get the best of this city what with the International Music Festival also held during this month. To say that it is a great festival would be an understatement, it is practically the oldest Czech music festival and renowned. The festival is held at Rudolfinum – Dvorak Hall which has a 1,000 plus seating capacity and prides itself on its outstanding acoustics. As you would’ve guessed, it’s Classical and Jazz music that dominates the show. Tickets are best booked three months in advance of the event for obvious reasons. They are available at the Prague Ticket Office Via Musica, located at the Old Town Square. A Vivaldi concert is priced at approx. EUR 24 for the front rows, which I think is a decent price. The Swan Lake ballet charges are higher, @ EUR 35 for the front rows. There are live Jazz shows at hotels which are even pricier @ approx. EUR 44.
Do you know what I loved most? The Old Prague Music Folklore Show! It is, of course, made to attract international visitors too, hence have international songs tracks included. Interspersed with some skits, a drinking beer competition all inside a brewery makes for a perfect setting. The price range is anywhere between EUR 30 to 45 depending on its inclusions (i.e. dinner or drinks, limited or unlimited). Seldom will an itinerary include this activity unless you specifically mention it.