Jan's most priced 2012 Christmas gift? Prince's Purple Rain and Marvin Gaye's Best Of LPs that he got from Zuzi. Where did she buy them? In our favorite records store in Prague, a small shop in the Lucerna Palace just a few steps off the Wenceslas Square, called Happyfeet. Open in the afternoons from Monday to Friday, Happyfeet sells new and second-hand records, with special emphasis on the old Suprafon and Panton-branded Czechoslovak pressings. In addition to the vinyls, Happyfeet also carries old Czechoslovak Prim wristwatches, mostly from the 1970s but all refurbished and in mint condition. (BTW, did you know that Czechoslovakia (and Prim) was only the 7th country in the world to successfully master the manufacture of an automatic wristwatch?)
As you may know, we have a cool, newly refurbished rental apartment in the Letna district available for rent. However, the apartment goes beyond providing mere accommodation. We have conceived it as more than just a place to store your luggage and sleep in during the night. We want our guests to get immersed into the Czech local culture and society, to get an insight into how the locals live and how they think. In short, we want our guests to understand the Czechs.
That is why the apartment includes many audio CDs and films on DVD that will help them understand the "Czech experience" in the 20th Century and at the beginning of the new Millennium. In a series of posts, we will be introducing some of these films and albums because we think they would make for a cool souvenir that truly goes beyond mere tourism and we do not want to keep the movies that we love to ourselves and the guests that visit our apartment only.
The first movie we will write about may not seem like the first candidate (having won no Oscars and so on) but if you talk to any Czech, they will be able to pull out quotes from that movie on the spot and confess it's one of their favorite movies of all times.
Vrchní, prchni! (English title: Waiter, Scarper!)
We used to give this movie on DVD to our guests on the tour as a present, until we bought off all the cheap copies originally sold as an insert in a magazine. We do not know if any of the guests have actually watched it, but we still think that the movie is a great window into the ordinary lives of Czechs and Slovaks under Communism in the early 1980s.
The plot is very simple [spoiler alert!]: Mr Vrana, a book seller, is a victim of his own sexual fantasies. Even the title sequence, in which women in bathing suits swim in a pool, turn out to be the creations of his imagination. And Mr Vrana is not afraid to act on these fantasies. This has a sad effect for Mr Vrana: he has to pay a lot of alimony payments to various women around Prague. In a desperate attempt to get more money, he begins posing as a fake waiter cashing bills in restaurants and cafes in Prague, and later throughout Czechoslovakia.
Now, we have to set one thing straight right away: this is not drama - this is a laugh-out-loud comedy. We see the main character first getting mistaken, by a mere coincidence, for a waiter in a motorway restaurant, then seeing him embarrassed when comparing his life to all his successful classmates at a high school reunion, and finally the first, shy tryout "jobs" in a few restaurants. What follows is a transformation into what becomes known as the "Phantom of Restaurants and Cafeterias" (to explain: "Restaurants and Cafeterias" was the quite apt name of the only company in communist Czechoslovakia that owned and operated… you guessed it… all the restaurants and cafeterias). He has to hide his "side job" from everybody, including his friends and family, and, of course, the police. This leads to many funny situations, especially as he keeps bumping into his rather obnoxious and nosy neighbor. We won't spoil the ending for you, you'll have to watch it for yourself.
While being primarily a comedy, this film offers a serious glimpse into a much larger problem that has plagued the Czech and Czechoslovak society to this date: corruption and back-hand deals. After the Soviet occupation, it seems that the people turned to themselves and just focused on playing the system and the black market to their own advantage. The aim was to take and to take. A very popular saying at the time proclaimed that "who does not steal from the state, steals from his own family", and, unfortunately, many people have failed to abandon this policy after the old regime collapsed. There is a perfect scene in the movie where the main character twists a very popular fairytale (pigs in the rye) to his children: the pigs who disobeyed the orders and ate the rye were killed. But so were the other pigs, and the pigs who ate the rye could at least say they got a taste of the rye. Get rich or dye trying.
Consider the following scene (please fast forward to 8:20 in the video): at a high school reunion, an old classmate explains how he makes big money by striking backhand deals and bribing his suppliers. We are proud to be independent ourselves and are strictly against any bribery and backhand deals, but we are afraid half of the tourist industry here in Prague still works along the same lines.
Anyway, the movie is a real gem and we definitely recommend it (heck, that's why we chose it for our DVD collection in the rental apartment). If you decide not to stay in our apartment, you can still buy it on DVD with English subtitles (which range from inspired to just ok). We probably recommend the Bonton store at the bottom of the Wencesas Square. Enjoy!
Have you seen a Czech movie you liked? Let us know!
This is another episode of our ongoing series about the souvenirs we would recommend you buy in Prague. We have a different take on Prague souvenirs, though: instead of something that would shout "Prague", we recommend things that are not directly souvenirs per se; they are, rather, things we grew up with, things that really are a reflection on the country and on the times we live in or used to live in not that long ago. Today, we will suggest a souvenir for those who love movies. The filmmaking business in the Communist era did, to some extent, flourish, although it was heavily regulated. Instead of a competition between producers and production team, there were basically a few production centres in the Czech Republic producing movies subject to approval of regime censors. Some of the movies were genuinely good, especially the movies of the "new wave" of Czech cinema in the 1960s, while other movies were not that great, just like in any other country.
What was unique was the way filmmaking was funded in Communist Czechoslovakia. In addition to government funding, the Czech moviemaking business had another, perhaps surprising, source of income: sales of US and Western movies. You see, people craved Western things, including movies, and the Czech films importer, as a government-owned monopoly, could make good use of that. With no legal competition to speak of, the monopoly distributor could really dictate the terms on which the rights to the movies were bought to be shown in Czechoslovakia. And they were tough. The Czech importer would always offer a low, fixed sum, e.g. USD 20,000 for a movie, take it or leave it. And many Western producers decided to take it, simply because it was better than nothing. Therefore, the monopoly importer made incredible amounts of money from the ticket sales, having just paid a ridiculous amount for the rights. And this money was later used to fund production of new Czechoslovak movies.
However, there was one caveat: the movies did not come with their original posters. The Czech distributors thus had to make their own posters, very different from the originals displayed elsewhere, with some of them true pieces of modern art and graphic design. And that's our souvenir tip today: Terry Posters, a shop run by Union Film Ltd and the people behind the Aero and Svetozor, two art cinemas based in Prague, that sells these old, Communist posters. Mind you, these are not copies or reprints: these are the very originals, often with visible folds. That is why some of the posters shown in the online shop (yes, they do have an online shop, too) are not for sale: they only have one poster of that kind in their collection.
Therefore, we recommend that you visit the Svetozor art cinema (which is where the Terry Posters shop is located at), see a movie and buy a poster for a movie you love, but a poster with a clear twist.
Vodičkova 41, Prague 1
(as of June 2013): Mon to Fri 10-20, Sat 12-5
(The poster shown above: Twelve Angry Men, source)
Source of the featured picture (Critters)
Today on the tour, we had two nice guests, Khobe and David, and Khobe runs a great jewelry studio in California. As huge fans of Czech jewelry, we thought we could share some tips with Khobe, David and with you all. Just like Czech glass, Czech jewelry’s always been sought after. The tradition is really long and almost any traveller visiting Prague knows about garnets and amber. We admit garnet jewelry (please look for stores selling genuine pieces) is very elegant, but if your exploration of Czech jewelry stops there, you’ll be missing out.
The growth of modern Czech design is apparent, and young Czech jewelers creating unusual, award-wining designs, shine with special brightness. Let’s have a look at some of our favorites (clicking on the title takes you to designers' websites detailing where you can buy their jewelry in Prague).
The Zorya label, the result of fruitful cooperation between jewelry maker Zdeněk Vacek and designer Daniel Pošta, has already made its mark since its inception in 2011. The winners of the Designblok '11 Editors Award for the best collection of jewelry create high-quality, hand-made pieces that are unusual, yet elegant.
The popular designer transforms dreams, fantasies, and visions into the form of wearable jewelry. Věra Nováková uses traditional techniques and materials, but chooses less traditional procedures to produce comfortable, wearable pieces.
As the designer, Markéta Dlouhá-Marová admits, her pieces occupy the space somewhere between punk and luxury. The designer hand picks river pearls and combines them with precious metals to create visually startling creations.
You can see that the person behind the simple geometric creations is an architect. Jana Hamrová uses the minimalist approach to jewelry making. Her preferred material is silver, at times combined with less precious materials such as plastics.
This family run business collaborates with many young Czech designers to create an extensive portfolio of jewelry with prices ranging from very reasonable to… well, less reasonable. They use silver and gold, but also titanium, steel and plastics. We also like their little, cool showroom at Mikulandská Street near the National Theater.
Jewelry by this Serbian-born designer is extravagant and bold. Inspired by her wild dreams, the creations often borrow from the world of animals. Her last collection, Superpowers, earned her a nomination for the Czech Grand Design award in the jewelry category. Together with another great young designer Nastassia Aleinikava, they created the praised Lure collection.
Inspired by organic and inorganic structures, Markéta Richterová creates hi-tech jewelry from materials like corian, perpex or carbon. Although her creations have a precise, industrial feel, each piece is hand-made with lots of handcraft. Joining forces with fellow designer Zbyněk Krulich, she crated the Blueberries line of jewelry made entirely on a 3D printer. Both her collections were nominated for the Czech Grand Design award in the jewelry category.
One half of the Belka fashion label, Martina Malá also creates highly ornamented jewelry designs. Her pieces are very colorful and feminine.
If you are following this blog, you know that we have already written about the Kooh-i-Noor mechanical pencils here, so you can read all about the history of this famous Czech brand and the awesome wonder of the mechanical pencils in that post. Unfortunately, the Botas 66 concept store closed down about a month ago (we think the high rent must have played a role in that) so we have lost our most favorite place to get these awesome mechanical pencils and one of the best places, in our opinion, to do some great shopping in Prague.
This is yet another episode of our never-ending series of tips for Prague shopping. Did you know that the Czech Republic is a global superpower when it comes to turntables and records? If you visited several summer houses or old apartments in the Czech Republic, you would undoubtedly see many variations of a single theme: the reliable Tesla turntable. Sold in many Western European countries under various brands (including such hi-fi names such as NAD), the original design has survived to this day and, slightly improved, is still sold under the Austrian Pro-Ject brand whose products have won many accolades throughout the worlds (just search Pro-Ject reviews on the What Hi-Fi site, you'll know what I'm talking about).
Where to buy vinyl records in Prague?
We understand that a turntable is not the most convenient of souvenirs to buy, but a vinyl record or two? Why not? It's definitely a gift that will keep on giving through many repeated listens. The quality of the records is decent, and the prices are very reasonable (unlike in, let's say, Berlin). So where do we go hunting for a vinyl record or two?
This small shop in the shadows of the Tyn church focuses mainly on 70s rock, 80s pop, CDs and posters. Don't go searching for rarities here, but it's fun browsing the shelves, and we often walk home with a guilty pleasure or two.
This very little shop in the Lucerna palace next to the Wenceslas Square is out favorite. Owned by a girl vinyl enthusiast, the shop offers a smaller, but high-quality collection of music, with a separate section for soul, funk and jazz. In addition to records, the shop sells Czech fashion accessories and refurbished old Czech Prim wristwatches (Czechoslovakia was only the 7th country in the world to master the manufacture of the automatic watch). Highly recommended!
This shop near the National Theatre offers a great collection of records throughout all genres. In addition to records, the shop sells (and services) old Czech and foreign turntables and other rare hi-fi equipment. The shop is often busy with DJs searching for new records, and it's clear this is a shop for vinyl nerds.
What to buy?
A Czech turntable, of course! OK, we do understand that a turntable may be a bit of a hassle to transport back home, so we suggest that you buy an old Czech vinyl record instead. But how do you know what is good? Here are some tips:
If you like rock and new wave, we'd recommend, among others, Straka v hrsti by Prazsky vyber (if you can find a pressing - it's a legendary album, banned by the Communist government for years), anything by Vladimir Misik & Etc., Flamengo, Olympic, or Blue Effect.
Or perhaps a Czech chanson? Then go for Hana Hegerova, Marie Rottrova, Eva Olmerova, or, picking among newer ones, Richard Muller (ok, he's Slovak, but it still counts).
Looking for jazz? Choose anything by Emil Viklicky, Jan Hammer, Jan Spaleny & ASPM, Collegium Musicum, or Miroslav Vitous.
And if you're into old, Communist, mindless pop, definitely try Michal David, Kroky Frantiska Janecka, Kamelie, or Dalibor Janda. But you've been warned.
Karel Gott and Helena Vondrackova form a separate category. Great singers, great performances, loved by the nation, but carrying a heavy burden of collaborating with the previous government.
Finally, try to find an album by Michal Tucny. There's nothing like the sound of Czech country & western (really).
Mon-Thu 12-19, Fri 12-18
We love paper. We love paper so much we are sometimes sad that most of our communication is done electronically these days. However, this small obstacle does not prevent us from researching and visiting paper and stationery shops whenever we travel and from browsing their shelves in search of paper and envelopes of various shapes and colors and of stationery ornamented with great typography. If you are like us, this post is for you. While there are several producers and shops that might be of interest to you and us, today we are going to write about Papelote. Started by three young designers, the shop has been around for a few years only but already managed to become the 2011 Shop of the Year according to the Czech Design Awards (the fact that it was designed by the famous A1 Architects studio might have helped). Although the shop is not really big, you can easily spend hours looking at, and feeling, diaries of various shapes, envelopes of all the colors of the rainbow, clever paper packages, and designer postcards; all made from environmentally friendly materials.
In addition to original paper and stationery, Papelote produces and sells really smart iPad and iPhone covers made of felt (we have one, and several of our guests have asked about it). They also have a small collection of books from Czech publisher Baobab and books featuring different illustrators and printmakers.
In addition to this shop, they also operate Pape.lab, a workshop studio thatoffers its services to basically anyone who is interested in paper, design and originality.
Want a souvenir from Prague? You don't have to hull around a big crystal vase! A nice diary or a simple postcard fits anywhere, and will bring back many memories. We know this works for us, and we think it could work for you, too! Btw if you visit the shop, you'll probably find one of the founders behind the counter.
papelote obchod a dílnaVojtěšská 9, Praha 1, 110 00Mon - Fri 11am – 7pmSat noon–6pm tel.: +420 774 719 113 firstname.lastname@example.org
Plan to do some shopping in Prague? Don't skip the Novesta footwear!
Christmas is well and truly upon us, so we are here to spread some Holiday cheer. We have put together our tips for things to do and see, buy, eat and drink to celebrate the Christmas season in Prague. Today, we will focus on Christmas gifts.
In another installment of our series about cool, unique Prague souvenirs, we will go back to school and have a look at the famous Kooh-i-Noor mechanical pencils!