Tag Archives: Cafe Louvre

Why Prague is the new (old) Paris

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I used to live in Paris. Czechman tells me that I should be careful about starting conversations with a sentence like this.  It’s true that the Czechs as a rule are a modest bunch.  According to Czechman though, this means that even so much as mentioning the fact that I once lived in France risks making me look like a big head.   The same goes for bringing up where I went to university.  I can’t disclose that information here, because again, I risk looking like a big head but suffice to say, it’s old and famous and full of tourists taking pictures of it.  Again, according to Czechman the only excuse for giving up this sensitive information is if someone asks me directly where I did my studies. 

Anyway, I used to live in Paris. I’ve heard it said that Prague is ‘the Paris of the East’ so I decided it was time for a whimsical investigation into this claim.  

Five reasons why Prague may be the new (old) Paris

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1) Literary haunts

Prague has plenty of great places to sip a coffee, smoke a cigarette (you can still do that indoors here!) and scribble down ideas in your Moleskine for your next novel.  Like Paris, many of these cafes can boast literary creditials:  apparently Max Brod and Kafka used to hang out in Cafe Louvre and of course the now somewhat touristy Cafe Slavia was frequented by Havel and Co during their dissident days.   And there’s the absinthe of course…

 

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2) The Eiffel Tower

 Prague has its own, Petrin, which is a 1:5 scale replica of the original, trivia fans. Of course you can climb up it and admire Prague from either of the viewing galleries on the first floor or right at the top. the top.  There’s also a lift too if you don’t fancy traipsing up all those stairs.  When you go don’t forget to check out the Jára Cimrman museum in the basement.  Jara Cimrman is the great Czech hero who never actually existed; I thought the museum could have been cooked up by the Monty Pythons as a side project. I’m not going into detail here as Cimrman really deserves a post of his own…

3) Romance

 When I told people back home that I was moving to Prague, one of the most common reactions was not in fact ‘Wow, isn’t the beer less than one pound a pint?’ but ”Oh, it’s such a romantic city!’  Perhaps that says something about who I hang around with.  Anyway, no-one can deny Prague is an extremely beautiful city.  Admittedly, the most famous landmarks are packed with the Easyjet brigade but if you’re determined to experience walking through a deserted Old Town one way of doing it is to get up at 6am, take your pictures in peace and then find a nice place to have breakfast.  The Obecni Dum has a great selection and a lovely Art Nouveau interior.

On a personal level though, I find it hard to associate Prague with ‘Romance’ as Czechman just isn’t very good at it.  Poor Czechman.  Let’s put his hatred of Valentines Day and his reluctance to celebrate our anniversary down to the Czech dislike of pretense I talked about in my tram-spotting post, shall we?

Haussmann-style apartment buildings 

Not sure if this is the right term exactly but you know the kind I mean: those 19th century buildings that are usually five or six storeys high and decorated with swirls and cherubs. Like the one you can see behind the ‘Girl in Czechland’ title. They scream France to me but I’m prepared to stand corrected.  Anyway, go and take a walk around Vinohrady with its tree-lined avenues and old-style apartment buildings and you’ll see it owes more than a little something to fin-de-siecle Paris. The graffitti that you sometimes see on them (maybe I’m thinking more of Zizkov when I say this) gives the place a grungy, down-at-heel flavour that I find appealing. Go on, laugh at me but I used to live in a very grotty part of East London so that kind of thing makes me feel at home.

5 Le Centre vs La Banlieue

Paris may not have built any panelacs (the concrete tower blocks dating from the Communist era) but there is a real divide between the historic centre of the city and the outskirts or suburbs (‘la banlieue’), must of which has effectively become a dumping ground for the socially undesirable.  Remember the riots in Paris a couple of years back?  Not a very lighthearted or whimsical observation to end on I’m afraid.  Sorry.

I haven’t had much first hand experience of panelacs yet – apart from being unable to urinate at Czechman’s parents’ place because I realised every little sound from the toilet travelled through the paper thin wall to their kitchen – but that could all soon change. Czechman wants to use his savings to get on the property ladder and it’s doubtful he’ll be able to afford anything in the old apartment buildings in Vinohrady (cue spoilt and Western sigh…).

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Ten things you had always wanted to know about Czechland but were afraid to ask

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Today is May 1st which means Czech boys will be kissing their sweethearts under trees in blossom to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  Aww.  I think Czechman will have to have his arm twisted to participate in this tradition.  He may be Bohemian by birth, but he is conservative in nature and doesn’t really like public displays of affection. Don’t worry ladies, after being beaten on the arse with a stick in the name of marking old Czech customs, I’m not going to let him get out of this one.

Anyway, today’s post is completely unrelated to May Day.  Instead, I’ve decided to delight my little audience with a list of fascinating facts about Czechland.  If you know most of them already, you have my permission to pat yourself on the back and feel smug.

10 facts about Czechland you had always wanted to know but were afraid to ask

1. The Czechs are a resourceful bunch.  They were responsible for such contributions to the advancement of mankind as the screw propellor, the sugar cube and Hittitology.  We also have them to thank for the word ‘robot’, introduced to the public by Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R.  That’s what Wikipedia says anyway.

2. Skoda, the internationally renowned car brand, is also a Czech word meaning ‘pity’ or ‘shame’.  Czechman sees no irony whatsoever in this, not even when I regaled him with my collection of Skoda jokes which I picked up in the primary school playground.  It includes such howlers as ‘What do you call a Skoda with twin exhausts?’  The answer? ‘A wheelbarrow’!  Stop it, please!  My sides are splitting!  Oh look, there goes a kidney…

3. The Czechs are of course, responsible for producing many of the world’s great beers: Budvar, Staropramen and Pilsner to name but a few.  One unfortunate result of this has been the birth of the Beer Bore, the bastard child of that equally loathsome creature, the Wine Snob.  He wants to explain to you at great length just why Gambrinus is so much better than Pilsner, despite the fact that the latter is 12 crowns more expensive.  He uses words like ‘hops’, ‘malt’ and ‘distillation’ repeatedly while you nod politely. Just shut up and drink it.

4. Was Franz Kafka Czech or German? Even academics can’t make up their minds (see here).  He didn’t write in Czech, that’s for sure.  Still, the fact that he lived in Prague does help to shift a lot of souvenirs.

5. Milan Kundera is Czech but he wishes he wasn’t.  This is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from his decision to write his most recent novels only in French.  Merde! Who does the pretentious frog wannabe think he is?  If I had to choose between being French or Czech, I’d opt for Cesky every time.

6. Goulash may be considered one of the cornerstones of Czech cuisine but it was, of course, originally Hungarian.  I’m not sure they can be blamed for coming up with the concept of dumplings made from potatoes and semolina.  These Czechs!  Such innovators!

7. Ultra-chic mini-breakers be warned! This is not a city in which to parade around in your Jimmy Choos – and not only because you will mark yourself out as being spoilt and western.  If the cobblestones don’t scrape all the leather off the back of the stiletto heels, you’ll end up stranded in a metal grate down in the metro while people point and laugh.  Most uncool.

8. One invention that the Czechs – or at least most shop assistants – wish had never seen the light of day is the 1000 crown note.  God forbid you try to pay for anything with it.  Ever.  You may think that by picking up a few bits at Albert in order to break into it is reasonable.  Pah!  Prepare to be humiliated as the checkout lady complains volubly about having to part with a tiny fraction of the change her till is crammed with.  I find the best policy in this situation is to look pathetic and mumble, ‘Nic malého nemám’ (pidgin Czech for ‘I don’t have anything smaller’).

9. Vaclav Havel is ace.  Few people who’ve actually done something significant to change the world remain so modest and unassuming.  I wasn’t blown away by his most recent play, ‘Leaving’ but I enjoyed it more than Tom Stoppard’s Czech related offering, ‘Rock and Roll’.  I suspect that Sir Tom is just too smart for me though. He’s sort of Czech too.

10. Hi Mum. The place where I now live isn’t called Czechoslovakia anymore.  It’s the Czech Republic.  It is not acceptable to call this country simply ‘Czech’, as in ‘I’m going to Czech on holiday’.  Don’t.  I can’t bear it.  ‘Czech’ is an adjective, not a noun.  You went to school back in the days when they taught English kids something about grammar so you should be able to get your head around this.  And yes, they do have telephones here.

I wrote today’s post while drinking café au lait in Café Louvre.  Here’s what the waiter brought me. The coffee is in the little porcelain coffee pot and there’s a thimbleful of fizzy water tucked behind it in case I get too dehydraded by the caffeine.  I’m a sucker for a well-presented hot beverage.

cafe-au-lait

 

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