en by Notes of a Self-Exiled American /  Jason Mashak, 19. Sep 2012

I probably went through a full range of reactions when on my first evening walk through Prague’s Staromestke namesti (Old Town Square) I was approached by a man who kept repeating “Cocaine, hashish, marijuana” to me (and certain others) as he made his way through the square, despite a cluster of police just a few meters away (later, I found a facebook group apparently dedicated to this guy).

I had left the “Land of the Free” and arrived in a country that seemingly really was. It seemed that Prague, whether I wanted to partake of such things or not, was the kind of place where laws “to protect” people had not yet begun to control people. I liked that. Immensely.

Like a lot of expats in Prague (and elsewhere), a complicated chain of circumstances (divorce, depression about the state of affairs in the USA, curiosity about family roots, etc.) led to my decision, after only a few days of visiting, to stay (all expats seem to be running from some things, and running to others). Being new in town, I extended the stay at my pension (hostel) until I could find a flat to rent (which took only a few days).


Photo: Spino73

F*ck you

To immerse myself in local culture, I steered clear of tourist and expat places and began tuning my ear to Slavic sounds (it was also easier to tune them out when I wanted to focus on reading or writing).

Everywhere, it seemed, I heard people in relaxed conversations saying to each other “F*ck you.” I wondered if it wasn’t an Irish influence (Irish tend to have dirty mouths), but I eventually asked one of my new Czech bartender friends about it and he laughed, explaining that “Fakt jo” is the Czech and Slovak equivalent of “Really” or “For real” or “No kidding” or “You’re serious” or any of a couple dozen similar responses one can think of in English. “Fakt jo” (sounds like “fukt yo”) means literally “fact, yes?” It turned out these authentic Bohemians weren’t so vulgar and rude after all.


Photo: Bartlec

Blowjob? Blowjob?

One night early in my stay I found myself stumbling down cobblestone streets (this happened several nights, actually), lost, looking for the Vltava River – the landmark I needed to get back to my hostel.

Finally, around 2am, after going in circles through the labyrinth that must have helped create Kafka’s dreams, I pulled out my map and approached a nice-enough-looking lady, middle-aged, perhaps herself a foreigner. “Please, can you tell me where I am on this map?” I asked, pointing first to the map and then gesturing at the buildings around us. To this she responded “Blowjob? Blowjob?” a half dozen times until I finally gave up (turned out I was only a block from the river). I realized then that not all things in Prague were fun and games – there was also a seedy side to this colorful town… just what I needed to be the next Henry Miller.


Charles Square

Real estate or marijuana?

A week or so later, while looking at flats with a Czech reality agent (“reality” is Czech for “real estate”), we were walking through Karlovo namesti (Charles Square) and she asked, “Do you smoke marijuana?” and sat on the next bench, rolled a rather large joint, and lit up. This was serious culture shock for me (coming from a land where mandatory minimum sentencing has put a huge percentage of good citizens behind bars for such petty escapes), as the little old ladies and everyone else walking by didn’t seem to care or even notice.

We didn’t look at any more flats that day, yet somehow, after a brief stint at a Jamaican bar (don’t bother asking which one), we found a flat above a tea room – from a guy who wasn’t even advertising he had one for rent. Prague was really beginning to feel like home, as I had always needed an agent for reality. During the next few weeks, she even invited me to hang out with her and her boyfriend and their friends a few times, which provided several opportunities for contemplating reality.


Photo: Wilhelmja

I had always thought of “The American Dream” as a symbol for Freedom and Opportunity.  As these things have been dwindling in the USA for several decades, I was glad to find that, for me at least, I could still find them in, of all places… the former Eastern Bloc.

 

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en by Notes of a Self-Exiled American /  Jason Mashak, 9. Aug 2012

Summer is up and cities across the globe have planted palm trees and trucked in tons of sand to urban riverfronts to create the feeling of a lazy day at the shore. Urban beaches are a hit and Momondo guides you to our favourites.

Prague

As the heart of Europe, Prague is known for many things – gothic architecture, pilsner, beautiful ladies, et al. – but its beaches are often overlooked as a means of cooling off on a hot summer day. Sure, cold pilsner pints help, but sometimes cool water and a socially acceptable reason to be semi-naked take off the edge off of summer.  Like most Prague establishments, beer and food are typically available, and like many Prague parks, don’t stare and drop your tongue if you see ladies sunbathing topless.  Dog-friendly Prague draws a line in the sand regarding canines, so remember to leave Spikey back at the flat, hotel, or hostel.  Beach admission rates vary according to peak times and/or services used, and some locations offer reduced rates after 5:00pm.

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en by Notes of a Self-Exiled American /  Jason Mashak, 2. Sep 2011

Is it strange, when visiting a vibrant city, to seek out the local dead? Why do cemeteries – full of old stones and ancient history - attract so many modern travelers? Momondo asked our city bloggers to unearth an explanation and give us the low-down on the neighborhood necropolis. You'll read about the best burials in Berlin, the most entertaining interments in Prague, the graves of American heroes in New York and a cemetery with a magnificant view of Istanbul plus tips on what JP Sartre likes on his Paris grave and about Soeren Kierkegaard's and Karl Marx's last resting places in Copenhagen and London. Are you ready to go beneath the surface?

Radlice and the unknown jewish cemetry


The Jewish Cemetery in Josefov                                                                             Photo: Megatick

My Prague guidebooks told me many times about Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov (Jewish Quarter), as well as two others in Zizkov district:  Olsany Cemetery, built for plague victims in the 1600s (and later burial place of Jan Palach, the Czechoslovak philosophy student who lit himself on fire to protest the effects of the 1968 Russian invasion), and the New Jewish Cemetery, where Franz Kafka now resides (as a bug!).

After living a while in Prague, I realized that a more authentic cultural experience could be found in the smaller, hidden cemeteries scattered around town.

Two of my favorite cemeteries are in my own hillside neighborhood of Divci Hrady, in southwest Prague.

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en by Notes of a Self-Exiled American /  Jason Mashak, 24. Feb 2010

When you come to a city in which lots of peripheral (non-infrastructural) information has yet to be translated to English, there are two possible reactions: 1) panic, or 2) brace yourself for excitement. Back in the USA, I don’t think I ever went to a concert unless I knew at least some of the particulars about who/what I was going to see.  In Prague, that’s possible to do, of course, but not as fun. Sure, there are major concert ticket portals like www.ticketpro.cz for scheduled, international or regional acts, but when it comes to day-to-day great music you’ll be hard-pressed to find better alternatives than wandering into one of my favorites (if I tell you about these, you’ve got to promise to save me a seat):

POZOR! (Beware!): Singing and/or dancing can occur at any time in most of Prague’s evening-oriented establishments.

Published by
en by Notes of a Self-Exiled American /  Jason Mashak, 11. Nov 2009


Jozef Spodniak playing the theremin. Photo: Miroslava Nacinova

At 33 years of age, his "Jesus Christ year," Slovak experimental musican Jozef Spodniak has a difficult time describing himself. Educated in Brezno, Slovakia, he hails from the small south-central Slovak village of Liesnica, in the Poltar province. Spodniak moved to Prague seven years ago with his band Ohour, an "intuitive improvisational" endeavor that has participated in various multi-genre experimental performances over the years.  I caught up with Spodniak at his rehearsal space near Prague's Old Town Square, where he was reluctant to separate himself from a briefcase full of glowing tubes and oscillators known as a Theremin.

How would you describe your experiences when you first moved to Prague?  Were there particular places that made you feel especially welcomed?


Wall-painting of Bohumil Hrabal in Liben. Photo from
Wikimedia

Prague felt really free, freer than Slovakia.  I don’t do it anymore, but you could smoke marijuana without having to hide or hassle with the police… so Prague offered an authentic bohemian atmosphere [the Czech Republic has two major historical regions, Bohemia and Moravia – thus, the term ‘bohemian’ serves a double meaning here]. Klub Ujezd was one of the first places we hung out when we got to town; we had pretty good experiences there.  I’ve since lived in five different Prague neighborhoods, and so far Liben is my favorite – it’s where the writer Bohumil Hrabal lived for a while.

When friends visit from elsewhere, what places do you like to take them?


Extra Action Marching Band at the Roxy. Photo: Dizznan

It depends who it is, what they’re into. Velryba is a great café with lots of books around, but U Sudu has underground tunnels leading like a labyrinth of bars… I like Roxy NoD a lot, as it combines concert venue, experimental art space, café, bar, etc.

Where's the eternal party? What about best places for solitude?


Milada Squat

One place there’s always something going on… I can’t remember the name of it, but inside it has a sign that says “Smallest bar in the world,” with only one table and room inside for about five people, maximum. Prague’s got lots of places tucked away like this. For solitude, Unijazz is quiet, small, and relaxed, and has a music and bookshop, as well. But I also like to walk the dogs on Libensky ostrov (Liben Island), on the Vltava River. Near there is another cool place, Milada Squat, which has a lot of live music and experimental stuff passing through.

What towns do you like to visit for an inexpensive day trip out of Prague?


Karlstein Castle. Photo: Jason Mashak

A village called Dobrichovice, near Karlstein Castle … it has great old villa-style houses and beautiful nature.  I’ve got a friend who lives there, which is how I found it.  But there are places in Prague’s outskirts I go, like Radotin or Zbraslav, which have great parks (some for hiking) with small pubs, music festivals, concerts… you bump into a lot of folks from the old underground scenes in Czechoslovak history there.


U Pigiho

Hospoda U pigiho (Bar at the Piggy), if you can find it, is a great pub in Zbraslav.

What is the strangest encounter you've had with any of Prague's crazy characters?

Each day brings another one.

You spent the summer of 2008 on the Black Sea in Bulgaria... what did you miss most about Prague while you were there?

Bohemian culture… small pubs with a homey atmosphere to hang out in… a lot of places don’t have that the way Prague does.

The interview was conducted in Slovak, interpreted (and translated back to English) by Miroslava Nacinova.

Go further:

Local view: Bob Stanley's London 

Local view: Catherine Sanderson's Paris

Local view: Jerome Weatherald's London

Local view: Lauren Elkin's Paris

Local view: Sebastian Horsley's London

Local view: Gilles Valentin's Istanbul

Local view: Adam Kuban's New York

Local view: Christophe Abric's Paris

Local view: Melissa Maldonado's Berlin

Local view: Maaike Gottschal's Amsterdam

Local View: Dana Boulé's Paris

 

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