I like to think I was an outlier of American newspaper downsizing, having gone from layoffs at the LA Daily News in 1993 to a life as an independent travel writer in Prague in fairly short order. I’ll never be able to thank greedy corporate owners enough - living through the Czech capital’s disorderly transformation from grimy, sinister spy movie stuff to a restored Baroque jewel full of colorful operators, music, filmmaking and, ultimately, great food, has been the ride of a lifetime. Not only is it an inspiring source of documentaries for me, but I’ve been lucky enough to chronicle it all for Time Out, Conde Nast Traveler, Olive, the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph, and National Geographic guides
Prague’s a world-class strolling city, with nary a car allowed in much of Old Town, or Stare Mesto, the heart of town that still features medieval street layouts and blacked Gothic overhangs all around. Rambling from quiet Karoliny Svetle street north into the old Jewish quarter of Josefov and across the Art Nouveau Manes bridge to the Mala Strana district is a special delight at dusk as the palace and pub lights come up.
Where I always grab a beer/coffee: The most happening java source remains Cafe Louvre (Narodni 20), where the clack of billiard balls and the cigarette smoke of local bohemians (non-smoking room, mercifully, to the left of the 3rd-floor main entrance) have been providing a backdrop to schmoozing since 1902. Kafka enjoyed it, anyway.
My favourite dining spot: Prague was Asian food-challenged for ages but places like Ha Noi (Slezska 57) are leading a revolution in new tastes with tender, irresistible nem ga rolls and monster bowls of noodle soup.
Best place for people watching: Grand Cafe Orient is set in the city’s most preeminent cubist building, the House of the Black Madonna (Ovocny trh 9), which doubles as a museum to this only-in-Prague architectural movement.
Where to be seen: The music club U Maleho Glena may have Prague’s most cramped underground performance space, but the blues and jazz players who jam there are well worth the claustrophobia. And it’s a vibe like a family reunion - of one cool kat family.
Most breathtaking view: From local fave green space Riegrovy sady, perched on a hill between Italska, Chopinova, Polska, and Vozova streets, in the funky Zizkov district, the lights of Prague Castle and the city below are enchanting indeed.
My favourite stroll: From the cafes and towering National Theater on Narodni street on the edge of Old Town, it’s a breathtaking ramble east across the Vltava river to Kampa and Letna parks, where hippies, dogs and bongo players hang out as soon as it’s warm enough.
The best spot for peace and quiet: Catching up on Central European history or requisitioning a table to be your office for the afternoon are equally enjoyable at the storied Globe Bookstore and Coffeehouse, still the heart of the expat literary scene.
Where I’d go on a date: Nothing says romance like a massive hunk of ground beef oozing cream cheese, of course - especially when served up with hearty Balkan red wine. Thus, the pljeskavice at Bosnian resto Luka Lu (Ujezd 33) gets the heartfelt valentine.
For something different try: Kino Oko in the up-and-coming Holesovice district (Frantiska Krizka 15) offers the only indoor drive-in around, though if someone has already grabbed the yellow Trabant seats, you still have many a beach chair from which to enjoy the arthouse films.
Don’t leave without…Catching a classical concert at the Rudolfinum, once the Czech parliament building and now one of its finest concert halls, is cheaper than a movie in most Western cities - and the Czech Philharmonic deserves its vaunted reputation.