Prague-based podcasters inspire wanderlust through books, travel, and food

We spoke to Strong Sense of Place podcast hosts Melissa and Dave about their reading habits, favorite places in Prague, and much more.

Ioana Caloianu

Written by Ioana Caloianu Published on 26.06.2023 16:00:00 (updated on 26.06.2023) Reading time: 7 minutes

For a book lover, finding kindred spirits who share a love for the written word feels like coming home; so does finding a new place that feels strikingly familiar when traveling. The website and podcast Strong Sense of Place is a meeting point for these two feelings.

Its creators Melissa and Dave say that the impetus for both is a belief "in the power of reading to increase empathy – and there's something powerful about stories that are firmly grounded in their place and time." We spoke to them about the impetus for doing what they do, their life in Prague (both Melissa and Dave are originally from the U.S.), their reading routines, favorite bookshops, places to eat, and many other things. 

What's behind the power of storytelling?

Melissa: By getting very specific and intimate, stories show us everything. Take family dynamics, for example. The distinct ways parents interact with their children in Vietnam, Russia, and Mexico may differ from each other dramatically – and be very different than American families – but we can all relate to the desire to be loved by our families or to the pain of learning a family secret.

That applies to fun things, too. Food, music, and art are specific to their cultures, but we all have favorite dishes, smells, or images that remind us of home or friends. And then sometimes you learn something new, like the fact that kids in Iran ate Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 1970s, and you think: "Hey! I ate KFC when I was a kid, too."

Also, we're nosy (or, more politely, curious.) We love the feeling of eavesdropping on conversations and peeking into lives that are very different from ours. Getting wrapped up in the atmosphere of another place – in our imagination and in real life – is one of our favorite things.


In your podcast about Prague, you [Melissa] said that what jumps at you when you're in Prague is the magical feel of the place. Do you still feel that magic after six years of living here? What are the things that you like less about life in Czechia's capital?

Melissa: We're very happy to say that our affection for Prague has only deepened in the time we've lived here. It does still feel magical – I feel like I can walk down a street I've walked hundreds of times and still notice some detail in the architecture that's new.

Launched in Oct. 2019, Strong Sense of Place combines combines
Launched in Oct. 2019, Strong Sense of Place combines combines "the aesthetics of a travel site with the content of a book site to inspire big adventure."


Apartment building for sale, 400m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment building for sale, 400m2

Palackého, Jablonec nad Nisou

Apartment for rent, 2+kk - 1 bedroom, 46m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, 2+kk - 1 bedroom, 46m2

Trávnická, Kostelec nad Orlicí

Apartment for sale, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 70m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for sale, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 70m2

Churáňovská, Praha 5 - Smíchov

Apartment for rent, 2+kk - 1 bedroom, 52m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, 2+kk - 1 bedroom, 52m2

Sídliště 1. máje, Rokytnice v Orlických horách

During the lockdown, we went to Vyšehrad every day for a walk and have kept up the habit. I've never known any physical space as well as I know that park, and it's such a joy – watching the magpies soar off the stone walls, looking down on the little ferry boats crossing the river, seeing the trees change from buds to blossoms to leaves to bare branches – it all feels like magic. I think my only complaint is that learning the Czech language is still so difficult, but I keep chipping away at it. 

I loved your story about Šusta Strudel! Strudel aside, are you a fan of Czech cuisine in general? What are your favorite Czech recipes to try at home?

Dave: There is nothing better than a cold Czech beer and a crispy schnitzel and bramborový salát after a long walk around the city. Větrník? Delicious! And blueberry dumplings. We had blueberry dumplings after snowshoeing up Sněžka, and they were one of the best things I've ever eaten in my life. 

Melissa: The food I love that I always want visitors to try is škvarková pomazánka. With pickles and onions and that soft Czech bread? 100 percent yes to that!

Can you share with us your favorite eateries in Prague?

Melissa: When we do an episode of the show, we like to find a restaurant and eat the food from that place. We recently tried the Exotic Tropical Restaurant and Bar because we really needed to eat some jollof rice and stew with Nigerian fufu. It was delicious, and we got to talk to some nice people from Nigeria.

We also just discovered a new-ish bistro for Middle Eastern food: Bistro Habibi in Vyšehrad. My dad is part Lebanese, so I grew up eating hummus, kibbeh, and baba ghanoush, and I can say, the food at Habibi is legit. It's a nice space, too: airy and decorated with old family photos and colorful pillows. Very welcoming.

My favorite place for weekend brunch is Sweet & Pepper Days. Everything is homemade and super fresh, the vibe is really cozy and friendly. I associate that place with sunshine and ordinary days that turn into something special. 

Melissa and Dave in Prague
Melissa and Dave in Prague

Dave: I love to get the fried pork belly and pak choi at Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan on Anglická. Their spring rolls are really good, too. You can get a big pile of food from there, then sit on one of the benches in Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad to watch the people and the dogs. 

Melissa: Quick shout-out to great sandwiches – I really like the takeaway sandwiches at the Le Caveau bakery on JZP, too. And Real Meat Society's pork katsu with kimchi or meatloaf sandwich is the stuff Saturday afternoon dreams are made of. 

You also wrote about your love of antikvariáty [antiquarian bookshops]. What are your favorite (new and used) bookshops in Prague?

Melissa: I have a dream to do a bookshop crawl through Prague someday! The Globe is great for well-curated English-language books, of course, and Shakespeare & Sons is a fun place to lose a lot of time picking through the used books for treasures. My favorite thing about that place is the window in the basement that looks right out over the water. Another little bit of Prague magic.

I have a soft spot for Palác Luxor for two reasons: First, when my cookbook Well Fed was published in Czech, I had a book signing there. It was really fun, and everyone was super friendly. And two, their English-language section is quite big, and they have all the very pretty versions of classics that are published in the UK. I like to take visitors to the Knihkupectví and the antikvariát on Spálená because they have a nice mix of old Czech papers and books, plus used English books. 

If you could invite one Czech personality – historical or present – to dinner, who would that person be? It can be more than one, of course.

Dave: I know it's probably a too obvious choice, but Václav Havel is my first pick. And then also Josef Lada and Adolf Born because I love their illustrations so much. Oh! And Karel Zeman because his movies are so delightful. It seems like there would be a lot of creative inspiration at that table. 

Melissa and Dave in Venice
Melissa and Dave in Venice

Melissa: I agree with all of those choices and would add Božena Němcová and Eliška Krásnohorská so we could talk about what it was like for them to be women writers in the late 19th century. I think I'd throw in Karel Čapek, too. We visited his house that's now a museum, and he had such a fascinating life. 

Do you have any travel plans for this summer? What are your favorite summer destinations? Do you like to go to new places, or do you have some places that you return to over and over again?

Melissa: We're visiting Norway for the first time, taking a long train ride through the fjords. We're excited to immerse ourselves in Norse mythology and eat some brown cheese. Then later, we're going to the Spanish beach town of Tarragona to explore the Roman ruins and splash in the sea.

Melissa and Dave in Paris
Melissa and Dave in Paris

Dave: It's important for our work on the podcast to experience new things that we can share with our audience, and it feels good to "fill the well" with places that are new to us. But we're also pretty big introverts, and we like to revisit places we love. Plus, Paris is always a good idea.

Does your reading schedule change according to the season, for instance, do you read less in summer because of spending more time outdoors?

Melissa: We are always reading. Always. The biggest change is that in the summer, we have the windows open and the fan pointed directly at us. And sometimes, we take a blanket to Vyšehrad and read under the trees. But no, we never "read less." If you see us, you will also see a book in our hands.

Already in its sixth season, the Strong Sense of Place podcast takes you across all continents, with each episode dedicated to one destination and what makes it "different than every other place on Earth." A good starting point is the Prague episode, which talks about the city's history, tales, and books in which it plays a central role, and miscellanea that contribute to its charm.

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