What greater delight there is than to “live like a local” when travelling overseas! I do so for a few days if not a few weeks, preferably in small towns on the outskirts of any city. Quite habitually, I excuse myself from typically touristy tours to scout the city on my own. Of course, travelling far from the city comes with its own set of risks especially if travelling solo. So, the best thing to do is to stay on top of a city’s rules, etiquette, dress, travel ethics, and so on.
While it is not easy to compartmentalise it, I have tried my best to put down 10 Ways to Live like a Local in Prague. The length of this article – owing to extensive travel to this city – has constrained me divide it into two parts comprising 5 ways each on living like a local.
The city of Prague can be crowded with tourists, particularly in the Old Town Square and Wenceslaus Square. So, the first thing to do is to get away from the city centre and head for the forests. I’d recommend Kunratice Forest located in the heart of Prague 4. There are two reasons why I prefer this forest over those on the outskirts of the city. For one, it offers a breathtakingly green landscape and pure air. It isn’t as if other forests don’t provide similar topography, but Kunratice isn’t too far from the centre. The other reason is that it is accessible by metro and road. If you’re visiting for a short time, accessibility does make a difference.
This forest will make you forget that you’re close to a city. It has beautiful vantage points, streams, nature trails, cycle ways, and a Swan Lake as tranquil as can be. It can make for a perfect picnic spot if you carry along a gym mat, some sandwiches and ale. I preferred to bring some water instead – flavoured water – as I find European water rather insipid. Does water have taste, you might ask? Don’t know how to answer this one but I bet you will believe me when you try drinking European water.
BERRY PICKING & PICK-YOUR-OWN-FARM
Of course, being on your own can make forest walks a bit stretched. When in the middle of a scenic place it makes you want to turn to your partner and smile. There was none on this trip, being a solo traveller this time, hence opted to get busy with picking berries instead – on one of Prague’s many farms.
Strawberries seemed to be the safest bet over other berries which could be poisonous if you didn’t know the science of berry picking. I didn’t, that is why I went along with the locals who knew good berries from bad ones. Of course, I had to use a guide’s help to talk the locals into letting me join them. Along the way, there was a little boy who was bitten by a wasp. I was glad that I had worn full-length jeans and a tee withfull sleeves. I also had a scarf wrapped around my neck to ward off chiggers from finding an exposed area to interest them.
The locals carried their own baskets and buckets for picking berries. There werewooden boxes sold at the site, but they wouldn’t have helped either as I didn’t intend to collect as many berries to make a pie, at least not so soon and not far away from home. The locals picked berries mainly to make sauces, jams, pies and what else. As for me, I ate some of the berries I picked. They were beautiful and plump and a pinkish red, juicy and fresh. The remaining ones I took back to the hotel and stored them in the minibar to eat the next morning. It’s better to start early in the morning as strawberries picked early stay fresh longer.
I could see other locals pick mushrooms which I learnt went into their traditional soups. Well, fungi were certainly not my strong area even though I recall having eaten mushrooms picked by my grandmother to dish up mushroom stews and soups. Her stories associated mushrooms with snakes, the memory of which steers me clear of fungal vegetation. I was equipped with overseas insurance but hell, I wasn’t prepared to take a chance on getting poisoned in the middle of a forest with no hospital in sight.
Prague is known for its many orchards, some of them offering free berry picking. You could even “pick your own farm”. If you’re a “picky’ person, and not one for ‘picking‘ berries, then head towards the farmer’s markets and buy them from there. Fresh and safe to eat too.
On my return from a day well spent, I was pleasantly surprised to see several people travelling back on the metro with basketfuls of fruits. I guessed that this was a weekend activity for most. The subway train I was travelling in seemed like a moving fruit market!
STRIKE A MEAL DEAL
I tried striking a deal just for the fun of it, no harm if it saved me a few Czech crowns in the process. Budget meals are not the best ones, but its two-course or three-course menus can keep you sufficiently satiated until the next meal. If you aren’t a vegetarian, Czech food could delight you in terms of its goulash, slow roasted pork, and bread dumplings. There are other cuisines on offer too, besides typically Czech ones but I’d rather ”Czech out Czech food in Czech.“ Quite honestly, I loved Turkish kebabs most. They are delicious, wholesome and cheap.
The best time to strike a deal is before 3 pm. Pitch for set menus in these two combinations. Soup + mains @ 300 CZK OR soup + main course + coffee @ 350 CZK. You won’t find these deals in typically touristy city centres. However, being pressed for time, I didn’t always go to lengths to look for bargains far from the city. Besides, it isn’t worth travelling far to save on a few Crowns for just a single meal. It makes more sense to look far if travelling with a large family where savings are cumulative and can ease the burden on the wallet. If you happen to be around the Charles Bridge area, do take a look at Mistral Cafe. It offers local Czech and European food plus vegetarian and gluten-free options. It may not be a food critic’s idea of a perfect restaurant but offers value for money. Don’t expect great service here but if you weigh the pros of its price, it more than makes up for the cons of its service. You may complain that the food is high in fat, but then most Czech food is generally calorie-rich, so be prepared to put on some ounces in this city let alone at this cafe.
There are two ways in which I approach food, one by budget and another by its traditional cuisine. I found Lokal to fit the bill in both quarters. Its menu changes on a daily basis, so you won’t bore of the same dishes. It is known for its great fried cheese and chicken schnitzel.
The goulash served here is also delectable. However, this is a large restaurant filled with locals who can be exciting as well as noisy. I, for one, don’t speak Czech so having locals around made no sense. Combined with loud chatter it made even less sense. If your aim is to eat cheap and tasty food, this is the place for you.
Of all restaurants, my preference was for Restaurace U Veverky, a gastropub, known for its authentic Czech food. It’s approximately 1 km away from the Castle district in Praha 6. Not too close to the touristy heart nor too far away either. In its menu, you can find the quintessential goulash, dumplings, roast potatoes. It is not touristy one bit, in fact far from it as it has mostly locals frequenting the pub and is not noisy. The quantity is so large that I almost always left behind three-quarters of my food portions.
Tipping is usually 10% of the total food bill. Try to comply with tipping etiquettes as non-tippers aren’t a favoured lot, especially if you happen to come back to the same restaurant the next day.
PRAGUE FOOD FESTIVAL
May is a good month to catch the Prague Food Festival, a gastronomical delight. The festival is held at Vysehrad. Tickets to the Festival can be purchased online, but I prefer to buy it through an agent or on the spot. The only reason I desist from an online purchase is that I do things extempore and can’t, therefore, know where I will be on any given day. I learnt that a ‘grand‘ is the official festival currency, equalling 30 CZK. The ‘grands’ can be purchased in packs of tens paid for in cash only but cannot be exchanged back for cash.
As can be expected from most food festivals, it offers a range of local fare, Czech food and European cuisine. Chefs work at a furious speed, stirring up and delving into simmering pots. Roasting, grilling galore.
The Food Festival is held from Fridays through Sundays, but because of a limitation of its capacity, it is best to use the tickets in a limited time frame as you would at a movie.
BEER WALK | BEER FESTIVAL | BEER MUSEUM
According to travel guides, beer drinking in Prague is like a national sport. So, if there was one of the many things I had been eager to do, it was to go on a “beer walk”. However, I let this tour go by as I was travelling solo and preferred to have my wits about me without having to sway to the beer’s tune. This didn’t, however, deter me from gazing enviously at groups of “beer walkers” and cheering them on.
As if food festivals weren’t enough to make you happy, there’s a Prague Beer Festival too to make you all the happier. The biggest beer festival is held in Prague, showcasing hundreds of beer brands. Having said that, my feeling is that it isn’t fun to go on your own. A group of friends would give it zest, but even then I’d suggest pub crawling as a better option. I recommend the latter because you could end up having a few glasses of beer at most, being a tourist and all. No point in paying beer festival entry charges if you don’t wish to indulge in much beer drinking. A tall glass of draught beer averages @ approximately 100 CZK. The price varies between indoor and outdoor seating and also with the location of the pub.
If you don’t go on a “beer walk”, or a “beer festival” there are small breweries available to sit and enjoy a chilled beer. As I said, pub crawling is more fun. There’s the Prague Beer Museum which offers 30 varieties of beer on tap! It’s not, of course, a museum in the strict sense of the term. The word “museum” appears to be largely (mis)used in this part of the continent. If you don’t know which beer to order for, go in for the “taster menu” which offers you at least 5 varieties of ”taster beer”. Besides, you are likely to be personally attended to here vs. at a beer festival. Nice to enjoy some beer with chips and snacks which are also available. Pilsner is a recommended brand of beer, but I suspect that it is so because of the degree of alcohol content. I prefer light beer to dark beer, as it’s sweeter too and fruitier. Lager is a science in itself – dark or light, fruity or aromatic, 10 degrees or 12 degrees, hops and barley.
I leave you on that chilled note until the next article which describes the rest of the 10 ways to live like a local in this beautiful city of Prague.