It´s a traveler´s problem: to souvenir or not to souvenir. Should you haul something back that in all likelihood will become a dust catcher forever on your bookshelf? Do you inflict these mementos on friends and family? For the expat, gift giving exchanges often turn into “souvenir” shopping excursions. What better way to say Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas than with a token from your new homeland? Whether visitor or temporary resident, we´ve rounded up some Czech gift suggestions, as well as interesting shops. What do you like to give/have given or have purchased in the Czech Republic? Share your souvenir success stories below.
Typical Prague souvenirs (meaning what´s sold in every city-center shop or recommended in guidebooks) include garnets, crystal, wooden toys and beer. Amber is sold nearly everywhere; however it´s not truly Czech, unlike the garnet, which is mined here. Stacking dolls and tall furry hats are also not Czech. Czechs are known for their handicraft skills, so a Czech made wood, glass or other craft item will most likely be a work of art.
If you are looking to mail gifts; crystal has got to be the least shipping-friendly item available. However, it is beautiful and does have a history here. Moser Glass (Staroměstské náměstí 15 & Na Příkopě 12, www.moser-glass.com,) based in Karlovy Vary, is one of the best-known manufacturers. Reasons why Moser pieces are so famous, and pricy, are that they are made of a lead-free hard crystal and are all hand-polished. The company dates back to 1857 and their products were a favorite gift of royalty. Erpet Bohemian Crystal (Staroměstské náměstí 27, www.erpet.cz) carries Moser glass as well as Bohemian cut glass. Made from crystal, these bowls, vases and glasses are decorated with the classical “lace” and other patterns. Erpet is a one-stop shop for all sorts of fragile items, including chandeliers, porcelain, and garnet jewelry. If you are looking for unbelievably beautiful glass items by a variety of Czech artisans, visit Material (U lužického semináře 7.) The work is stunning; even the shop´s door handle. Design, also located on this street at number 42, features modern works from the Květná glassworks factory.
Shall we break for a short definition of glass versus crystal? By EU regulations, glassware containing less than four-percent lead oxide is considered "glass," while a piece that has a lead content greater than ten-percent, is "crystal." If the content is 30-percent or above, the designation is "high lead crystal." Czechs are bit more loose in their definitions. They consider "crystal" to be any refined, high-quality glass while something labeled “lead crystal” has least 24-percent lead.
Another breakable item with a long tradition here is porcelain. The typical local look will be the so-called “onion” motif, which is a blue on white design inspired by East Asian motifs. For a lovely selection, visit Ceský porcelán (Perlová 1, www.cesky.porcelan.cz.) You are also likely to see pink porcelain. For it to be truly Czech, it should be made out of pink clay, not painted or glazed a rosy hue.
An extremely popular item; based on all the stringed figurines hanging from just about every store front on Karlova. These again have a long history in the country, so if it´s a marionette you are after, visit Marionety Truhlář (U lužického semináře 5, www.marionety.com.) I´m not a huge marionette fan, however the craftsmanship in this shop is amazing. For a truly unique gift; supply their carvers with a photo, and they´ll design a personalized marionette. The Havelský Market (on Havelská Street) often has decent, well-priced puppets or try Loutky (Nerudova 51, www.loutky.cz.)
The garnet is the official gem of the Czech Republic. Hundreds of stores sell the jewel, but be sure to get a certificate of authenticity before laying out the cash. True Bohemian garnets hail from the city of Turnov, which is where Granát is located. The production facility churns out 3500 different designs. Pick up authentic gems from their two Prague stores; located at Dlouhá 28 and Panská 1. The city of Jablonec is bead country. Jablonex (www.jablonexgroup.com) is the behemoth glass and fashion jewelry conglomerate. One of my favorite shops to pick up their products, as well as other imitation jewelry pieces is Bijoux de Bohéme (Václavské náměstí 58 (Dům módy.) To make your own beaded jewelry, or pick up a piece by a local artist, visit Korálkárna at Újezd 35 (www.koralekshop.cz.)
Art, Books and Music
What could be more Czech then a classic CD by one of our famous composers? The gift shop at the Rudolfinum (Alšovo nábřeží 12, www.ceskafilharmonie.cz)offers recordings by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Any CD shop will do however, check Bontonland Megastore (Václavské náměstí 1, www.botonland.cz) for a wide selection of everything. Pick up a book about Prague, or one written by a Czech author. A few suggestions are Jaroslav Hašek (The Good Solider Švejk) and Bohumil Hrabal (I served the King of England) or the well-known Milan Kundera and Franz Kafka. English language bookshops include The Globe (Pštrossova 6, www.globebookstore.cz) and Big Ben (Malá Štupartská 5, www.bigbenbookshop.com) while Luxor (Václavské náměstí 41), and many other Czech book stores, has an English section. Alfons Mucha is the best known Czech artist, visit his museum and pick up a reproduction of one of his famous pieces (Mucha Museum, Panská 7, www.mucha.cz.) Another good place to pick up a variety of printed souvenirs are Antikvariats. Posters, books, photos and postcards can all be found in these excellent browsing shops. See our Antikvariat article for a list of suggestions.
Wooden Toys and other Kids´ Stuff
The Havelský Market (on Havelská Street) often has a nice selection of carved playthings, as does Hračky (Loretánské nám. 13) which carries a wide variety of Czech toys. One of my favorite stops for babies and new moms is Art Dekor (Ovocný trh 12.) Here you´ll find softly squishable stuffed toys and crib accompaniments. Krtek, the beloved cartoon mole, makes an excellent gift. Tons of the stuffed version of him and his friends can be found at Sparky´s Dum hraček (Havířská 2, www.sparkys.cz.)
Two excellent shops to find great and different souvenirs are Manufaktura (various locations including Melantrichova 17, www.manufactura.biz) and Botanicus (various locations including Týn 3, www.botanicus.cz.) Manufaktura´s beer and wine bath offerings will make a fun gift, plus they have a great selection of other traditional crafts and wooden toys. Textiles, ceramics and cornhusk families can all be found here. Botanicus´ products are 100% Czech, with all the ingredients for their bath and cooking products grown on a farm outside Prague. Oils, teas and honeys, plus soap and lotions in a variety of scents are just a few of the products on offer.
Eating & Drinking
My stand-by take home and give gift is the Karlovy Vary spa wafers (lázeňské oplatky.) They are quite different from anything else available, and look so bland and boring; people are delighted when they discover how sweet they are. The Kolonada brand, by Opavia, is the original and can be found at any grocery store. While there, pick up a couple of bottles or cans (lighter!) of the Czech national drink, beer. If you are looking for something not carried in the local Billa, try Galerie Piva (Lazeňská 15.) Also stop by here for a huge selection of beer mugs. Becherovka, an herbal liquor made in Karlovy Vary, is a lovely spirit to share, or try the bit more bitter, Fernet. For the truly hardcore, purchase some plum brandy, slivovice.
Traditional´s (Haštalská 7, www.traditional.cz) most unique item is their selection of wood textile printing blocks from around the end of the 19th century. Rescued from an old textile factory, they are a true find. Other items in the store include Czech handicrafts like blueprint textiles and ceramics. Artěl (Celetná 29, www.artelshop.com) doesn´t fall into any one category, but is worth a stop for its variety and sense of fun. Besides offering the company´s own handmade crystal products, you may discover other funky goodies like jewelry, textiles and ceramics. I love Modernista (www.modernista.cz) for their retro reproductions and promotion of local Czech artisans. They used to have a shop on Celetná, however as of this writing, it was closed and their website gave no new information.
· U lužického semináře is a street I always bring out-of-towners who want to shop to; or if I´m in need of a Czech gift. It has lots of variety, plus a couple good beer stops.
· Museum gift shops: Always a great place to find locally sourced bric-a-brac. My favorites include the Museum of Decorative Arts (17 listopadu 2, www.upm.cz) for their books, prints and jewelry; The Czech Cubist Museum (Ovocný trh 19, www.ng.cz) for their house ware items and the Lobkowicz Palace (Jiřská 3) for its variety - everything ranging from books to postcards to jewelry, to the Lobkowicz´s own wine.
· Your weekly poker night will get a bit more historical with a set of Prague or Czech Republic playing cards. The photography is excellent; each picture is captioned and they come nicely packaged, so acceptable for gift-giving. Visit the website for a complete list of retail outlets, including The Globe (Pštrossova 6) and Shakespeare and Sons (Krymská 12) or email the photographer, John Barker, directly (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
· Take the lazy man´s way (or the shoe conserving way) and purchase online. The well-named Czech Presents (www.czechpresents.com) offers a wide assortment of locally made products; including design items from Qubus; porcelain from Thun and a selection from Granát Turnov. Film clapperboards and a bizarre Golem figurine are among some of the more interesting discoveries. Bargain hunters will appreciate their “Bestsellers by the price” category which offers gifts up to 12 Euro and 20 Euro, respectively.