Thursday, February 28, 2013

Praha 4

I know I must be sounding horribly negative about Prague and it might seem like the entire trip was a flop.  It wasn't.  I saw some beautiful architecture (pictures to come), operas, ballet, art and had some great interactions with people while I was there, some really funny (more later).  There was just something underlying that nagged at me the entire time. 

I guess I am more used to going to countries where I was the "poor" one.  Countries that have a very high standard of living.  And the ones that don't, the people there seemed content and happy -- Slovenia for example.  But in Prague I didn't detect that simple happiness. 

How would you like to live in a country/city that is known as "cheap" (starting to be less now as cost of living has increased exponentially), when it is just chalk full of culture, history, intact architecture?  And who do you suppose would be attracted to "cheap"? 

Young people looking to have a good time.   So you get groups of students (and some adults) drinking their faces off (short weekend jaunts are popular due to low cost flights) and subsequent evidence of them throwing up.  Every morning you see teams of people (retirement age) cleaning Wenceslas Square.  They march down in rows of 4. 

It seems so disrespectful but isn't that what you get in Latin America?  Think of all the places people on a budget like to go for extended periods of time?  Right?  How do you think locals feel seeing all that and seeing what has become of their cherished city? 

As an adult, I can no longer just think of my own fun and enjoyment.  That's why I haven't been able to go to the many of the popular winter destinations for Canadians ie.  Cuba, Dominican etc and feel OK with being "the big guy" cordoned off in a compound.  I can't ignore what's going on around me, how people who call Prague home live. 

You just have to go to some supermarkets to find out.  I hadn't planned on having to do a lot of cooking as Prague isn't an expensive city for dining out.  Once I sorted out my food reactions, I had to. 

I must have gone to at least 5 supermarkets all over Prague districts 1 - 3 and the common denominator was lack of choice.  I wasn't expecting what I was used to at home.  I wasn't even expecting to find organic choices, but there was one in the core.  Still it was the least amount of choice I've ever seen for a major city. 

The store may seem large but half of it is alcohol and cleaning products.  There was more processed food than I would have expected.  Their deli sections were neat.  Everything was already sliced and placed in stacks.  In all my wandering, I only bumped into 2 butcher shops.

What was surprising was I hardly saw anyone buy meat when pork was The meat there.  Barely anyone bought fruit either.  But I saw people buy potatoes, lots of them and cabbage and cheese.  The quality of the meat wasn't so good.

Only saw seafood for sale at a couple of specialty stores and even then, we are talking about handfuls of shrimp and fish available.  The meat, fruit and veggie aisles could fit in my kitchen.  Though people may be buying their fruit from the numerous neighbourhood "convenience" stores. 

You could tell who the foreigners were by what was being bought.  We were the ones buying the other types of fruit, veggies and meat -- Not just apples, potatoes and organ meats. 

Half a head of cabbage cost 8 Kc vs  A small container of cremini mushrooms 39 Kc, a small container of raspberries 49 Kc, four pork loin chops 139 Kc.  When you do the currency conversion, I would not say what I bought cost a lot of money.  It was certainly cheaper than at home but for there, you don't see people buying it.  And the lack of choice reflected it. 

And it is mostly tourists and young people who were spending money at Starbucks, McDonalds, Paul.  I think I shocked the young lady (judging from her face) at Paul by the amount I bought (about 300 Kc worth, 5 items) -- It was during the first 2 days when I was feeling like crap and what did I lean to?  My weakness,  French pastries...I only ate 1/4 - 1/3rd of each (allergies) but nonetheless, emotional eating + indulgence + food wastage = not my proudest moment.


  1. I've been reading with interest your musings and observations about your present experience in Prague and I admit you paint a different picture of what I visualize when I think of that great city. It seems very much a city in decline or barely holding on versus that of one full of hope and promise of prosperity.

    Interesting commentary on the local food shopping choices. Do you get a sense of defeatism surrounding you?

    How much do you feel the weather/time of year may impact or skew your interpretation I.e. if you we're visiting in the warmth and sunshine of tHe summer months would you have a different reaction?

    I know when I've revisited areas under sunny skies versus that of dull grey and overcast days there seems to be a vibrancy in the air that one can feel. Having said that however you still cannot discount the purchasing patterns of the locals eg little meat and fresh vegetables which I think spells volumes about what is really transpiring within that society.

    As always, enjoy travelling vicariously with and through your eyes and ears. Keep writing.

    1. Thoughtful questions! Funny you should mention the weather because D asked me the same thing. I don't think the weather impacted my enjoyment (I prefer cold to sweating my face off) but it may have kept more locals from being out and about. It was the first time I've ever wanted to see more tourists so I could be around more life.

      Being in a residential area I guess I was expecting to experience a greater local social scene than I did. I hear there are beer gardens when the weather gets better so that time of year may be the ticket.

      Yes there was a sense of defeatism. Little actions like taking a long time and concentration to look at every item when consider buying. Prague is considered expensive by Czechs young and old. Whereas in the "largest" supermarket/department store (Tesco), choice of expats, people are throwing things in their baskets without much thought.

      Mucha did a bang up job with portraying the Czech and Slavic people as gentle, kind, fearful, non confrontational. Whereas in St Petersburg where I first saw those horrible block buildings, I felt strong anger from people -- Torch your face off with their eyes kind.

      Prague 1 is in its own bubble as was the experiences at the opera. You see a different Prague. In the core you are seeing more (mostly?) tourists and we have money to spend so spirits are high. At the opera you are seeing the more well heeled (old world money?) crowd with their German cars, with no sense of worry. So the Prague you and I might be envisioning exists -- in the core. Just look at the quality of those buildings! And the district where the consulates are, are made up of freestanding gorgeous large homes/estates.

      Whereas when I walked to Mucha (Prague 7), I saw a solid working class neighbourhood that wasn't so pretty. Not soviet block scary but you can tell the city wasn't making an effort to put their best foot forward because we're not really expected to be there. The permanent home for the Slav Epic is going to be at the main train station.

      My driver told me that there is virtually no hope for young people to own their own apartments. With 2 incomes, you can rent outside of the city but to own won't really be a reality until their parents die and they inherit it.

      The owner of the apartment told me that the majority of Czech people do not travel because of money and language barriers. So the notion of "customer service" is unknown because they have nothing to compare it to. They compare it to being a slave. Also they have been brought up in a negative fashion (parents always complaining, frowning), they learn to act like that. They do not know it is possible to chose to be happy...The owner's husband is British and they own and manage a few rental apartment so they are doing quite well financially.