Prague Feature

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Today's Prague…

… is constantly beautifying itself. Deep down Prague must have some kind of inferiority complex. What else could explain the perpetual need to make a beautiful city even more beautiful? A few years ago, city officials closed Charles Bridge for a two-year makeover, and then they worked on Prague Castle's Golden Lane. Now, they’ve set their targets on the very emblem of the city atop Wenceslas Square: the National Museum. The grande dame of city museums has been shuttered until at least 2015 (and probably longer) to make way for a thorough renovation inside and out. And just down the road from the museum, the main train station (Hlavní nádraží) remains in the throes of a multiyear rehab that will hopefully restore some beauty and dignity to the station, that for years, truth be told, has been something of an eyesore.

… is feverishly building for the future. For city planners, it seems, there’s no rest for the weary. After spending the first decade post-Velvet Revolution apparently pondering what capital improvements might be needed, planners have seemingly embarked on everything—at the same time. So while metro builders are busy extending metro Line A (eventually) to the airport (and ripping up the main access road, Evropská třída, in the process), highway construction crews are tearing up even more roads to make way for the massive Blanka Tunnel. This is just one component of a road system that will eventually relieve traffic (or so they say). Most visitors to the center won’t notice much of this, but for residents it all adds up to one big bordel (literally "bordello"—Czech slang for "big mess").

… is recovering from "the crisis." One way to deal with a crisis is to pretend it’s not happening. That seems to be the response by city leaders to the euro crisis that struck Europe in 2009 and only now, at this writing, seems to be abating. So while much of Europe went into austerity mode, Prague went nuts on big-time capital and rebuilding projects. For visitors, the results are undeniably positive. While the Czech Republic as a whole is just now recovering from a multiyear recession, the city of Prague still feels like the good times never left. Standing amid the revelry on Old Town Square, you too might wonder, "crisis, what crisis?"

…is still paying for everything with korunas. The Czech Republic was among the first of the former Eastern Bloc nations to be admitted into the European Union, in 2004. At the time, it was the shining star of the former communist countries (in yearbook terms, the country would have been voted "most likely to succeed"). The Czechs, however, have yet to adopt the EU’s common currency—the euro—despite innumerable promises and passed deadlines. Politicos now say adoption won’t come until 2017 (and the governor of the Czech National Bank is on record as saying he thinks 2019 is more realistic). So what gives? Well, mostly, the euro crisis of the past few years greatly dented the euro’s prestige. With the Czechs only now slowly digging themselves out of the economic crisis, there’s no great push to join the common currency. And truth be told, they probably don’t need to. Prices are stable and the country’s accounts are still solid.

What's Hot in Prague

Fresh food, slow food, locally grown, organic… Call it what you want, Praguers have fully embraced the notion that food should be healthy, tasty, and sustainable. Weekend farmers’ markets are all over town, bringing fresh, locally sourced fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses to the urban masses. Restaurateurs have gotten in on the act too, rewriting menus to embrace domestic ingredients and old-fashioned Czech cooking.

Watch out for that bike! Prague residents are taking to cycling in greater and greater numbers. For years, Czechs have enjoyed pedaling through their lush countryside, but more cyclists than ever are turning to bikes for everyday commuting. Credit Berlin and Vienna for showing how cycling can work as a viable urban transport model in Central Europe. But maybe it’s just all that road construction around town.

The cocktail craze has washed up on the city’s shores. Across town, a new generation of cocktail bars has opened up, and gone are those glitzy, ultra-posh places of yesteryear. The new places emphasize civility and feature virtuoso drinks fashioned from artisan spirits and classic recipes.

Along with the cocktail craze comes a caffeine cornucopia. Since the fall of communism, coffee in Prague has evolved from a cup of low-quality grind doused with hot water, to Italian imports like Illy and Lavazza, to Starbucks, and now to local roasters, fancy French presses, and vacuum pots. It’s not quite Brooklyn, but we love it.

Updated: 2014-02-13

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