CITY SLICKER; PRAGUE

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The Independent Culture
The Pope will visit the Czech capital this week. Here is a guide to some of the things he'll see from the Popemobile

The in-place: Within months of the 1989 "Velvet Revolution", Prague itself became the in-place for tens of thousands of young Americans and backpacking Bohemians who felt that this was the city in which they could busk their way to fame or simply sit down to write that first novel. Ever- rising prices and a monstrous surge in tourism (the city is said to have had 70 million visitors last year), has forced many would-be Hemingways to move on. But some of the magic that drew them remains.

Best-selling book: Not surprisingly, the selected works of the Czech playwright-President, Vaclav Havel (right), go down well with both his own countrymen and the large expat fraternity. Among the latter, Czech classics such as Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Schweik are perennial best-sellers; among the former, Skandalni - Odhaleni, a translated version of Michael Crichton's The Scandal, is proving popular.

Hottest nightspot: The Banana Bar, a brash new venue offering tapas, a thumping beat and Go-Go girls on Fridays and Saturdays, is the hit of the moment for the city's bright (and wealthy) young things. Those seeking something rawer head for Bunkr, the first underground club to open after the revolution (and the one boasting the longest bar in the city). Jazz fans flock to the Reduta, an intimate little club, which has become even more difficult to get into following a star turn on the saxophone there from President Bill Clinton during his visit last year. Euro-teenagers bop the night away in the cluster of garish discos that have sprung up around Wenceslas Square.

Shopping: In the historic heart of the city, shops selling Bohemian crystal glass are two a penny. Although their wares are expensive, they are worth a look. Other notable items include a fantastic range of puppets and well-crafted wooden toys. The city also does a good line in cheap imitation jewellery.

Drink of the moment: The Czechs discovered the pilsner method of brewing more than a thousand years ago. Alongside the better-known Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser brands, Gambrinus and Radegast are also popular brews. If in need of something stronger, try Becherovka, the Czech answer to schnapps. Can be toned down with tonic water, to form "Beton".

Hottest ticket in town: The Prague Spring Festival started last Friday and some of the star events (including two performances by the Berlin Philharmonic) are already sold out. The Czech version of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, now in its 11th month, is still packing them in. And on 5 August the Rolling Stones are expected to play before a full house.

The eating place: Not even the most fervent patriot would claim that Czech cuisine, with its staple of pork, dumplings and cabbage, is among the world's finest. International restaurants have mushroomed since 1989. At the moment, there are queues to get into La Provence, a newly opened basement French restaurant, tastefully decorated, affordably priced and very much the place to see and be seen.

The meeting place: In the peak of the summer season it sometimes seems as though the whole world has decided to descend on the city's landmark, Charles Bridge. To escape the throng, many locals choose to rendezvous in the suburbs. For young couples, a popular spot remains Petrin Hill, a large expanse of greenery close to the centre, which boasts a scaled- down version (one fifth of the original) of the Eiffel Tower and a mock Gothic castle with a mirror maze.

Publication of note: The post-1989 influx of would-be artists and writers spawned a number of new publications. The most highly rated is Trafika, an international English-language literary quarterly published by the owners of the Globe bookstore, a favourite among the expat literati. On the Czech front, Revolver Revue, which was an underground publication before the revolution, continues to publish the best of new Czech writing.

Adrian Bridge

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