Kafka’s city and the capital of Bohemia, Prague is the stuff of fairytales with its gothic bridges, ancient castles, and ornate facades along its winding streets. It is also a new city since freeing itself of its Soviet ties in 1992, emerging as “the Paris of the East”. An intellectual city with so much beauty that it is hard to get away from the tourists that swarm its narrow streets in search of the spirit of Kafka or to seal their love forever with a lock beneath the Charles Bridge. Chomwan Weeraworawit presents her Dispatch from the city known for its romance, classical music, and intellectuals.
There are so many hotels in Prague, both small and grand too. We opted for the boutique design version and stayed at Hotel Josef a Design Hotel. We couldn’t ask for a better stay, right in the middle of Prague Old Town; though not in the main square, it is functional and modern with thoughtful details and is in walking distance to absolutely everything.
The courtyard at Hotel Josef
Facade of Hotel Josef
We especially loved how the façade of the hotel, which is totally new, is in complete contrast with the old buildings around it. The service was great. The rooms were clean and minimal, and ours had a view of the courtyard down below which was nice, especially on a sunny day.
The Prague jogging map provided in the room (in pink) proved to be extremely helpful. Don’t miss breakfast, as this is especially good: you actually see the bread being baked as the Josef Bakery is part of the restaurant.
Czech cuisine is hearty: this is the land of goulash, potatoes, and dumplings. The quintessential Czech restaurant (which happens to be just across from the hotel) is called Dlouhaaa. It is an old canteen that seems to go on forever, where you fill your stomachs with ale, schnitzel, and dumplings, not to mention sauerkraut and purple cabbage.
Traditional Czech cuisine aside, Prague of late is going through something of a foodie renaissance: the ingredients, particularly the beef, is famous for it all its grass-fed glory. There is also much farm land remaining. The head-to-tail movement is strong in Prague and the butchers Nase Maso, which also sells beef tartar and burgers at lunch, is extremely popular in addition to being the best looking butchers we’ve ever seen anywhere. The sister restaurant called Sisters has the most divine open-face sandwiches. The very simple ham and cheese was our favorite and not to be missed, the pickled herring was also great.
The restaurant at the Imperial Hotel felt like a trip right into Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The food was pretty good too but it was the service (in a town renowned for horrible service) that made it memorable.
Imperial Hotel restaurant
If strolling in the Old Town Square and looking for something to eat, Mincova is a good pub, in a new style that has all kinds of beer and a less traditional take on Czech food. We would recommend this if you don’t want to get stuck in the tourist traps of the Old Town.
Prague is also known for their cream cakes, and our Czech friends recommended that we go go to Cafe~Cafe in New Prague, known for the best cakes in Prague and without doubt the place to see and be seen for the fashion crowd. The choux cream cakes was to die for and and we wish we had time to try everything. This cafe is also very close the handicraft market and the Kafka head.
Last but not least, the Vietnamese pho in Prague is great: this is because cities in the eastern block welcomed inhabitants from Vietnam and so there is a large Vietnamese diaspora in Prague. We loved the Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan restaurant in new Prague. Delicious and worth the walk over. We also loved that there is an American candy emporium just across the street. How funny!
Choux cream at Cafe~Cafe
One of the main highlights of the city is the Astronomical Clock Tower in the old Town Square. Here you see the zodiac and a node of the mystical and animist beliefs of Bohemia. Here tourists still gather and, at certain times of day, the clock strikes.
Astronomical Clock Tower
On the other side of the Square is Café Franz Kafka, which is where Kafka was born (today it is a café). Kafka has also become the city of Prague’s prodigal son: though he moved often, he was a resident of the city and his spirit is everywhere. A visit to the Kafka society and bookstore to grab a guide of Kafka’s residences in Prague is very useful, especially to understand the context in which he wrote Metamorphosis—you can imagine, perhaps, which window he was looking out of when he created the giant pest in his seminal novel.
Cafe Franz Kafka
The Prague Castle is stunning, and the view of Prague extends all the way to Petrin, where you see the tall TV tower that once blocked out Western TV signals, safely “guarding” its citizens from capitalism—and now blasting out signals from the countries that it once blocked. The artist David Cerny has created statues of babies crawling up the tower, at once haunting and strange. Golden Lane, at the back of the castle, features tiny little houses that now serve as souvenir vendors but one can imagine what life was like back in the old days especially when, at the end of Golden Street, is the Prague Castle Dungeon. We particularly loved the grandness of the front of the castle in its neo-classical glory.
The Kafka monument in the Old Town next to the Spanish Synagogue is worth a photo. But it is the spinning Kafka head in New Prague that warrants a visit to that part of town, the artist David Cerny created this perpetually spinning head of Kafka.
Franz Kafka monument
Franz Kafka head
A walk along the river is pleasant and most tourists flock to St. Charles Bridge, where the different saints are perched along the bridge, guarding the entrance to the city. Mala Strana, on the other side of the river, is residential and beautiful: it is hilly, as it is the way up to Prague Castle, with the town sitting at the foot of the castle.
There is an appreciation of art and culture everywhere in the city. The National Museum Narodni was having a Gerhard Richter exhibition—Richter spent time in the city on his way east from Germany. We went to see a recital in the Rudolfinum, a beautiful place to listen to classical music, especially with Prague being Dvorak’s hometown.
Again, it is the strolls along the river, through old town, including Parizska Street with all its designer stores, that makes Prague a glorious city to explore.
Narodni Gallery Shop
The Kafka Bookstore for everything Kafka. We liked strolling through Havelska Handicraft Market
near the old town, where you can find herbs and spices for goulash and also handmade puppets. You will also discover here that the witch is a mascot of Prague, to confirm that Bohemia was once a mystical and enchanted land, with as much light as darknessTips
At all costs avoid the “taxis” at the train station if arriving by train: they are run by the mafia and are a complete rip-off. Uber in Prague works really, really well: lovely drivers so we would stick to that—and also walking. Note that the city is well connected with public transport as well.
The posters that you see throughout the city explain that taxis are a relic of the city’s communist past: these are warning posters and part of the city’s scheme to steer tourists clear of these petty criminals that charge up to five times the amount for a ride they are supposed to. They give a horrible impression of an otherwise incredibly friendly and safe city.CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT A GOOGLE MAP OF DISPATCH: PRAGUE