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Prague: ARTĚL Style

Expert recommendations and insider tips for first-time visitors and locals alike from ARTĚL’s founder, Karen Feldman, who has lived in Prague since 1994. Click on the links below for detailed reviews – from Feldman’s own unique perspective – of all the best that Prague has to offer...

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Interview: Prague Superguide Author Mira Valeš

Published on June 02nd, 2016 in Interviews

  • Intersection in front of Municipal House, 1970s (photo: Prague Public Transport Company Archives)

  • "Prague: Garden City" (Postcard, c.1970)

  • Spálená street, Prague, 1983 (photo: Lubomir Kotek, Aktuálně.cz)

  • Palmovka tram line, 1985 (photo: M.Režný, www.prazsketramvaje.cz)

 

As the author of a Prague guide book, I’m always on the lookout for interesting new travel guides.

 

One of my favorites from the new crop of Prague guides is the Prague Superguide Edition No. 1 by Mira Valeš. My copy is already dog-eared and marked up—it’s filled with fantastic insider information that even a long-time local like me can appreciate.

 

I am such a huge fan that I recently contacted Mira for an interview. He not only shared a number of great Prague tips that weren’t included in the first edition, but expressed a true passion for Prague that I can relate to. I even managed to forgive him for not including ARTĚL in his book (ha!):

 

 

Mira Valeš, May 2016

 

 

KF: How did you, a native of Pilsen, not only find yourself in Prague but manage to become enough of an authority on it to write a guidebook?

MV: I was born in Pilsen 36 years ago. Later I spent some time studying abroad in Edinburgh, worked my way through Amsterdam, and about 8 years ago I decided to go back to Prague.

 

I was always drawn to places not everyone loved. I prefer Edinburgh over London, Rotterdam over Amsterdam. I really love Madrid and think it is more fun than Barcelona.

 

I thought I would get tired of the city very soon but it surprisingly hasn’t happened yet. Since I came back, Prague has become a better place to live (not that I think I influenced this!).
 

 

Prague Superguide (photo courtest of Prague Superguide facebook page

 

 

KF: Your guidebook reflects the new urban face of Prague. How has Prague changed in the years since the Revolution? How has it stayed the same?

MV: I was a kid growing up in the very last stage of Communism and I remember Prague in fall and winter, being charmingly run-down, a mysterious city full of narrow badly-lit streets. But frankly it was a result of neglect rather than careful preservation.

 

Prague still has patches like that but part of the former “mystery” is gone for me.

 

Prague has started getting this very Central-European flare like it probably used to have during the First Republic: it has become lively, flamboyant but also cool and relaxed in its very own way.

 

 

 

Prague, 1970 (photo courtesy of Amsterdam-based photographer Ed)

 

 

KF: You truly seem to have a finger on the pulse of the post-Communist generation. What defines and drives this generation?

MV: We really are one globalized lot these days and the drive is probably very similar here as it is in Britain, France or Spain. What is, however, a nice emerging trend (not only here but worldwide) is this new attitude in young people that appreciates and reinvents local things, old traditions, local craft and local produce.

 

Take Naše maso in Prague, for instance. Here is a local butcher shop celebrating locally grown meat and proper sekaná (meatloaf). Ten years ago, no one would be interested, now people adore it. And that is a good trend.

 

Also collaborations such as Kalita coffee filters meets old-school Moravian painted ceramics, I mean how cute is that?

 

 

KF: What other former Soviet bloc cities have a similar scene for young travelers who enjoy good food and drink, clubs, art and design?

MV: I’ve heard a lot of good about Warsaw lately so it might be a good place to visit. I love Budapest and it probably is the “next” Berlin for many people: it is very relaxed, “Central European” in the [manner of] Prague and Vienna with a beautiful café scene, rich art scene, and amazing Art Nouveau buildings.

 

It doesn’t, however, have one thing Prague [does] and that is both a mainstream and underground scene. Prague still holds the old-school classic charm of a former Austro-Hungarian Empire city but it also has the sparkle and free spirit of more progressive Berlin. Budapest kind of lacks in the “underground, progressive” side in my opinion.

 

 

KF: You’ve been involved from a design and editorial stand point in a number of interesting projects. Talk a bit about your favorites:

MV: I am working on the new, updated version of the guide (Edition No. 2) which should be hopefully out at the end of June.

 

I still occasionally run my gay-friendly Pioneer Prague parties and I will be doing a few of them during Prague Pride this August, so stay tuned.

 

 

View from Riegrovy Sady, c. 1930 

 

 

KF: It’s Saturday night and you have friends visiting from out of town. Where do you take them?

MV: There is one thing I love about Prague above all: it is great for doing things outdoors. Take Stromovka, Letenské sady, Riegrovy sady, Parukářka, all the great green spots.

 

I would definitely take them to Stromovka for a BBQ and later to Stalin / Metronome for drinks and dancing – the views from there are incredible. [It] is one of my most favorite places in Prague. So charming and democratic, there is place for everyone there.

 

I also love the little islands between Holešovice Marina and Libeň where the boats reside. Or the garden colonies in Libeň which I adore.

 

 

 

Left: Stalin's Monument, c.1960 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)  |  Right: Metronome at Letná (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

  

KF: Who are your favorite Czech graphic designers, artists, creative people who inspire you?

MV: My favorite graphic designer is the guy I work with on most of my things, Marius Corradini. He is a nightmare to work with, cocky, demanding, very difficult. I tell him he is insensitive and clinical, he tells me I have no taste and we will never ever work together again. But the result is always good and we always get back together.

 

In terms of people who inspire me there is one illustrator [whose work] influenced everyone in my generation. Sadly, he died just recently. His name is Adolf Born and when I was growing up, he illustrated children books and television series.

 

He had this ballsy great style and drew all sorts of characters. He will be very well remembered.

 

 

KF: The design of the book is really special; were you inspired by previous books? How would you describe the look of your guide?

MV: My designer tends to be very “griddy” and I wanted to make it less formal by adding illustrations. So Václav Havlíček came along, a guy I have known for a while, who does this crazy mix of illustration. I knew he would add a bit of perk to the book.

 

I hope the guide is insightful and knowledgeable without being snobby or too hipster. I would like to believe it is well-curated, honest, and helpful. 

 

 

Prague Superguide (photo courtest of Prague Superguide facebook page

  

 

KF: Share with us some of the places and tips that didn’t make it into the Superguide.

MV: I try to cover places that are still relatively central because I understand people are not necessarily able to travel to Břevnov or to Hlubočepy because of one great pub. So there are tons of great spots in Prague that I sadly couldn’t cover.

 

I really love the system of little gardens in the city. They are great fun. There is a good pub in this garden colony in Libeň that also has a small volleyball pitch.

 

I am also very fond of proper old pubs so for the second edition I am adding a few more tips on the pubs. My favorite is U Parlamentu, near Staroměstská, a good mix of pub and café because it still has things like newspaper holders.

 

(I guess it’s because it is a hangout for all the professors at the nearby university and UMPRUM and they demand their newspapers!)

 

Another favorite is a little gay bar called Kafírna u Českého pána. It is off Old Town Square but you still get cheap beer and can listen to Hana Zagorová and other cheesy local gay icons. It’s shameless and fun.

 

 

  

Left: Loreta Church, 1958  |  Right: Malá Strana (Lesser Town), c. 1971

 

 

KF: Aren’t you just a little sad to see the Old Prague on the way out? Or, to put it differently, what are you most nostalgic for?

MV: I believe this trend has been recently reversed by the new wave of “proper Czech” nostalgia.
 

The pubs which remain are still pretty good and busy.

 

I guess I am not very sentimental person.

 

I am sometimes nostalgic for the very old, gloomy Prague as I remember it from my childhood.

 

But it is not impossible to replicate it, though you can go to Loreta, Lesser Town or Old Town in the early morning or late night and still feel the spirit.

 

 

You can buy the Prague Superguide (179 CZK) at these stockists.

 

Or order it here.

 

For more on author Mira Valeš visit http://miravales.com/.

 

 

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