Meet Mark, Our Local Expert in Prague
Where are you from and how did you end up in Prague?
I am from the city of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, great seafood, and a very friendly atmosphere. I love my hometown but there is a big world to go and see. How did I end up in Prague?
I have been wanting to move to Europe for a while and when my plans for Paris fell through I looked at other options. The more I learned about Prague, the more interested I became. The history, arts, and general feel are all reasons I was first interested. Once I had spent a year here, I became enamored by the city. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I will also say that, though the Czechs seem a bit distant at first, they are warm and supportive once you get to know them. I truly enjoy my new home in Prague.
How did you end up being a tour guide? Do you do anything else?
As far as my other work, I played music for a living for many years, but now I am a magician by trade. I have been in the tour industry for many years. My love for history is given an outlet as a tour guide since I constantly learn new information and want to add it to my tour. I think it is just a way that I can look smart… even if I’m not.
What are you most proud of in your city?
Two things strike me about Prague. One, the strength of the Czechs to withstand a history full of wars, occupations, Nazis, and communism. You would think they would get tired of it and leave with the history of issues that they have had. Nope, not the Czechs.
And second, through all of this the arts have survived and thrived. Theater, ballet, opera, jazz, classical music, art, and literature are in abundance here. Music is everywhere and you can’t throw a book without hitting a bookstore. Painting from the medieval era to the modern age. Name it, they have it.
Do you have any favorite habits that you do in Prague?
At least once every week or two, I pick a random direction and take a tram in that direction. I get off the tram in various places to see what there is. I tend to take a notebook to write down questions about the places and then I start learning about the areas. A tradition a couple of my friends and I do is called “Nerd Lunch”. The idea is to bring questions about the city and its history and, since we have a friend with a degree in Czech history, we learn a bit and enjoy the company. Lots of fun learning while having a great meal. We also pick various places to eat so we also find and evaluate some of the numerous restaurants the city has to offer.
I do think I would love the Christmas markets but I tend to fly home for family around Christmas so I can only experience it for a few days. The atmosphere is wonderful.
What’s one thing people need to know about Prague before they visit?
Bring your walking shoes. Though the public transportation system is amazing there are still places to see that are a bit out of the way. Many old buildings do not have elevators. If you want to really explore the city, you will be getting your steps in.
What’s your favorite neighborhood in Prague and why?
I really don’t have a favorite area. Since Old Town has so much history, I like wandering around there. Vinohrady was the first neighborhood I lived in so I am partial to it as well. It’s not far from the city center but just far enough out to have its own flavor. Many wonderful little shops and nice restaurants. There is a wine shop next to a cheese shop so in the summer you can sit outside and enjoy both with friends.
But if I were required to pick an area it would be New World near Prague Castle. There are so many stories in that area. Wandering through the narrow cobblestone streets, you will come across the homes of astrologers, astronomers, and alchemists from past centuries and at night it feels a bit mysterious. Especially on foggy days, the area looks like something out of the movies, mostly the scary ones. My kind of place. And if you need to warm up or just find comfort, there’s always the little hobbits’ cafe hidden in the house of the Golden Star or even a teeny tiny café (and a hotel!) U Raka.
If you continue from there up the hill for a bit, you’ll find the Loreto of Prague. This church is off the beaten path, but well worth the visit if you love baroque art or religious monstrances made of real diamonds.
Though I don’t drink, the nearby Strahov monastery brewery and restaurant are a big draw. The monks have been making beer since the turn of the 13th century. Look at it like this, they pray and make beer and they do both very well. The church of the monastic order is small but interesting, the library is simply amazing and it features a massive collection of history and theology.
What’s your favorite spot in Prague and what makes it so special?
I will say for me the most amazing place in Prague is no doubt the Castle. I go about once every couple of months and take the tours. There is too much to learn and see to get it all on the first try.
As for businesses, on the corner of Lazarská and Spalená in New Town, there is one of the best gyros I have ever had. The people are friendly, though it is only a take-away. Also, the Charles University coffee shop in Celetná is a great little place to have a coffee and read. These are the kind of places I like to find.
What’s your favorite food and drink in Prague and why?
Since I am one of only 4 people who do not drink in the city, I will not mention the fine beers. My favorite drink is the summer lemonade. They are in no way like lemonades as most people think of them. Very little sugar and usually made with sparkling water, it is perfect for the summer heat. As far as food goes I like the roast duck which is a very traditional dish served with dumplings and red cabbage. Very tasty!