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Prague Like a Local
With Prague so full of foreign visitors, it can be a little hard to uncover what life for residents is like. So put the sightseeing on hold for a while and try these activities, beloved by locals.
Every discussion about this republic begins and ends with beer That seems fair, given that Czechs aren't only the world's largest per capita consumers of beer, they also invented the modern pilsner, and their national brews set the gold standard globally. They are so good, in fact, that beer here commands the type of reverence usually reserved for fine wine. But if you want to drink it like a native, don't chug from a bottle or a can. Head to the nearest smoky pivnice, or pub, grab a seat at a table, and wait for the waiter to plunk down a mug in front of you. Turn to your neighbor, raise your glass, and say, Na zdraví, "To your health!" (any pronunciation suffices when you say it with feeling). Congratulations. You are now an honorary citizen.
Czechs survived three centuries of Austrian occupation (from 1620 to 1918) with nothing but a shared culture to unite them; and right across the class continuum they remain committed to the performing arts. Opera and orchestral music are the biggest draws, and you'll likely encounter touts advertising quick "greatest hits"-style concerts in churches all over town. However, these are targeted squarely at tourists, with nary a native in sight. So save your koruny for the real deal, like a performance by the Prague State Opera or the Czech Philharmonic. The weekly Prague Post carries a full listing of classical acts, plus concerts and club shows where you can rub elbow with local music enthusiasts. The quality of the performances is high, and the audience reaction is invariably heartfelt.
Like many city dwellers, residents of Prague are fond of their green spaces, which serve as a sort of communal backyard. Formal gardens—like Vrtba in Malá Strana—offer a grassy respite when leisure time is limited. Yet lounging in a park is preferable. Two of the most popular are Letenské Sady and Riegrovy Sady. Aside from walking shoes, follow the locals' lead by coming equipped with a book, blanket, and picnic. Since both parks have huge beer gardens, you should be prepared to stay awhile, too. Rather take a walk on the wild side? At Divoká Šárka (literally "Wild Sarka"), open fields, wooded paths, and a stream-fed pool lure nature lovers; conversely, Petřínské Sady, on Prague's highest hill, appeals to the upwardly mobile.
Prague locals love spa resorts, and there are plenty of Bohemian ones to pick from. The most famous of the bunch are concentrated in the so-called Spa Triangle made up of Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně, and Františkovy Lázně, where mineral springs are abundant. Other prized resources also come into play. In addition to water, spas build their treatments around peat, natural gas, and even beer. Czech spas have a long tradition of welcoming visitors (past guests at Karlovy Vary, for example, include Peter the Great, Beethoven, Tolstoy, and Freud). However, one legacy of the communist era is that many still present treatments as medical procedures. In short, they focus on health more than hedonism. If you want full-on pampering, choose your locale carefully.
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