You can read travel guides, watch videos, scour the internet and ask friends for information about your new travel destinations, but almost always you will be met with some surprises. I really think you’ll find at least one small thing at each new place that leaves you wondering “why didn’t I know this?” or “why didn’t they tell me THAT?”
That’s what this segment is all about. Today, a look at what I didn’t expect in Prague.
1. Vegetarians, beware — I had heard Czech meals consist of a lot of meat, but I had no idea the degree to which this is the case. In addition to quantity of meat, there’s quite a variety of exotic meats on restaurant menus. Duck and rabbit are the norm and aren’t even considered exotic. This is the rabbit dinner from my first night in Prague.
It’s not just that the cuisine in Prague is meat-heavy, it’s simply heavy. Think sausages, gravies, potatoes, dumplings, etc. Yes, it’s definitely tasty, but I found myself eating fewer meals because the ones I had were so heavy.
2. Beer-nomics — Czech people are very proud of their beer. I encountered many boasting about the quality and flavor. Beer is everywhere and it’s cheap. Water, on the other hand, is not as prevalent. Asking for water at a restaurant — even tap or still water — means the waiter brings an expensive bottle, not tap water. Do the math: drinking beer is cheaper than drinking water. Cheers!
3. If Life Gives You Lemons… — I searched and searched, but could not find the reason lemonade is so popular in Prague. Czech readers, please weigh in if you have an answer! All I can tell you is that the refreshing drink is available about every 10 feet, and it’s a fizzy, refreshing drink that only loosely resembles its overly-sweet American cousin. It comes in a variety of delicious flavors, with the most common being cucumber, rosemary and ginger. I had the ginger version and it was blissful.
4. The Bohemian Lifestyle — Bohemia still exists, and it’s more than just a reference to an artsy lifestyle. I thought Bohemia was a long-gone area that changed names centuries ago, but the Czech Republic (or at least Prague) really does still embrace the name and culture. If your only knowledge of the term hails from Queen’s song “Bohemian Rhapsody” or the bohemian (Boho) clothing style, check out Wikipedia’s interesting explanation of the famed territory and its many changes throughout history. The bohemian way of life still is alive and well in many ways, such as artsy street performers trying to get passersby to contribute a few coins in exchange for entertainment. It’s difficult to avoid bumping into at least one gigantic bubble maker or a “floating” person.
5. Getting Stoned — Cobblestone covers every single walking surface in Old Town and neighboring districts. Streets, sidewalks, everything. I have such a love-hate relationship with cobblestone. It looks charming, but it’s dangerous. As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time trying to right myself after tripping, I do not love having to navigate over cobblestone. In Prague, cobblestone is so prevalent, some street markings aren’t painted on, but rather inlaid in a different color brick. That’s dedication right there. Lesson: wear sturdy shoes and watch your footing, especially in the crowded tourist areas where it’s easy to lose track of where you’re stepping.
6. Mind your manners — Remember that up until about 25 years ago, the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia) was under communist rule as part of the Soviet Bloc. Visiting the Museum of Communism is worth a trip to learn a little more about life during communism — such as being taken to interrogation rooms or buying goods at provisions stores — and how the revolution came about.
Because of its tumultuous history and economic conditions, things in Prague typically are cheaper than in the U.S., especially where I live in ridiculously expensive Washington, DC. But remember that Prague’s prices have shot up in the last 25 years, and the people who live here now consider this cosmopolitan city very expensive to live in, especially compared to the rest of the country or Eastern Europe. Be mindful of coming off as an offensive, wealthy elitist and avoid constantly exclaiming, “Wow, it’s so cheap here!” Also, avoid being insensitive and repeatedly referencing communism. These two tips might seem obvious, but it was surprising how often I heard tourists making these verbal gaffes, much to the distaste of the Prague locals.
Obviously, everyone’s experience is different and these are just some interesting things about Prague that struck me, personally. Let me know in the comments section if you were surprised by anything while visiting there.