A short way from Staro Nám, along Dlouhá and across Revoluční, is an intriguing little street called Soukenická.
It's the sort of street that no self-respecting umbrella wielding tour guide would bother with - not because it's dull or dangerous - but just that no-one famous was thrown out of windows on to it, and it's not too strong on statues.
It's ideal for a more genuine glimpse of Prague life, however, and if you're too shy or lazy to venture out of Praha 1, walk this way and immerse yourself in all that is Czechia.
Soukenická means ‘woven’, and if I was inclined to labor my point to the brink of irritation, I would describe the street as a sort of intricate tapestry of a nation.
But I won’t.
It’s not the most beautiful street in the city, but it does have a genuine charm, so slap a postcard of the castle on your head and live for the risk. No culture can continue for long without food, and you can chomp away for hours on Czech cuisine within the brick confines of Soukenická.
To start with, for those with simple needs and not a lot of cash, I went into Zdravé žití U tří růží (No. 21), which is a vegetarian fast food joint with a grocery selection. Point and grunt at things for a couple of seconds, and suddenly, for practically no crowns at all, you’ve the proud owner of a groceries that are so genetically pure that you can undo all the damage to your organism that living in Prague inflicts upon you on a daily basis.
At Soukenická 7, you can chew happily on baked bread with cheese, or pizza a la Czech at Pizzeria La Ventola. Have an entire pie or a dainty Bruschetta pomodoro, depending on how hungry you are, or pay upwards of 275 crowns for the privilge of their most expensive menu item, Salmone grigliato, 200g of grilled salmon with grilled vegetables and roast potatoes.
Pizza is king at Pizzeria La Ventola, but the beer’s great too! There’s a decent range of Italian dishes on the menu and the prices are very Czech friendly. There’s also a nice looking bar where you can enjoy fine spirits and wines while awaiting your fellow diners. The music was changeable, sometimes bordering on the dire, but you can put up with that for awesome Italian food at great prices, for crying out loud. Eating too much Italian until your waistline shows it? Ask them about the calorie consious Healthy Menu.
If you want to spend more than that, go to Vietnam Corner (no. 19), which has an impressive menu, (try the Bun Cha, it's delicious and all dishes are under 150Kč) but not such an impressive atmosphere. Bring an iPod. If you want to piss your money away instead, there are a number of bars to choose from.
Right at the top of the street at No. 17 is Pivnice v Soukenické, where the background music was a Czech version of the very worst of Andrew Lloyd Webber, but was played quiet and didn’t intrude too much on my damn fine Kozel 11° which cost just 30 crowns. It’s quite a cheap place just to sit and watch old people slipping on the icy cobbles outside.
These old people are more than likely to be on their way to Tepla Jidla U Vašků around the corner at Peterské 7, a joint which looks like somebody’s kitchen with a cash register. It’s open from 10am to 9pm, and serves lots of fried dishes at affordable prices, and most of the customers had at least one part of their face missing.
If you were to stray down to what would seem like the start of Souckenická, but is actually Lodecká, you will find a nice spot in the sun Grand Cru Restaurant & Bar ( Lodecká 4 no. 4, open 11am–3pm and again at 6pm–midnight), a large, stylish and bustling place where they serve lovely dishes like Leek soup, Sardines pickled in rhubarb juice, Fallow dear meatloaf, Veal loin and artichoke ragout or Pear brandy soufflé. You know, the fancy stuf. The place fancy wines on the wall which probably cost more than you earn in a week, but it’s worth visiting just to witness the busiest waitstaff in Prague while you eat things you probably can't pronounce, much less describe.
If you don’t consider that to be the best use of your time in the pointy city, why not pay a visit to the friendly folks at Aglas, (Petrské Nám. 7, Praha 1, 110 00 Czech Republic Metro: Náměstí Republiky)? Its a groovy home design shop, with lots of great ideas and items at prices you can afford. We’re talking unique furnishings, artwork, for everyone whose thought of shopping at Ikea is akin to getting a quicky through a gas station glory hole.
But if you want to actually have sex with the Czechs rather than watch other people doing it, make yourself more attractive by buying a new electric razor or hair dryer at Braun (Petrske náměstí 5), which has a load of reductions at the moment, is nicely priced.
Or head on over to Salon Esela (Soukenická no. 22), for some pampering treatments, or to buy things for the girl-friend or to remind yourself what looking groomed feels like. Prices start at just over 100Kč, and a lot of the top brand pruducts are available. To make yourself even more beautiful, hairdressers will re-sculpt your head for as little as 500 crowns. Salon Michal Zapoměl (Soukenická 5, 110 00, Praha 1, +420 224 818 776 www.michalzapomel.cz) is a very posh looking beauty salon, which you’ll never come out of looking as good as the people who work there. They’ll fondle your feet and cut your hairy bits for a price that depends on need, and they’ll smile as if making you look reasonable is all it takes to make their day. Try it.
If you decide or have already decided that Prague’s the place for you, you can even deck yourself out in bling from the stores of Soukenická. Gift and jewellery stores a plentiful. For the times you screw up big with your girlfriend, you can buy some nice Czech gold jewellery from Ellissi, (Soukenická 23) like a necklace in the shape of an angel with a brilliant heart in the middle (70,000Kč), but for the same price you could probably fly a little Iranian man over to your place to make you one from scratch.
Just opposite is a fantastic little junk shop called Bazar U Kola (above), selling a million things you’ll never need, and another million that you can’t live without. Don’t be put off by the thick curtain across the entrance – that’s just to protect the two old guys that run the place from the cold. The pair of Aladdins have been sitting and smoking filterless Petra since time began and will gladly help you with anything you can’t reach. I pointed to a mirror hanging by the ceiling that I wanted to buy for 150Kč, and it was only after the octogenarian had risked his frail life climbing up to get it that I realized it was just a frame with deceptively reflective glass.
I was so ashamed at my life-threatening f*ckwittedness that I bought a toaster, three ladles and a large selection of garden tools.
The jewels of Soukenická are a veritable slice of urban life for the Praguester, I’m sure you’ll agree. 300 meters of national exhibit. And in a final attempt to please everybody, if, after walking the street and doing other bits of the city you decide Prague wasn’t worth the hype and is just Disneyland wearing a Kafka T-shirt, there are even a couple of travel agents to help you frack off.
Atis is at Soukenická 23 (www.atis.cz), Tomi Tou to the right of Petrske náměstí just went bankrupt in December of 2016, so you're out of luck there, but if you decide to stay for a while, we’ll be waiting for the green man next month, and heading up Dlouha way. Join us if you can.