Popping The Question in Prague

I’ve taken a little time off to celebrate my and Jitka’s engagement. Yes, finally after seven and a half years I popped The Question last Friday.

I started shopping for a ring a few months ago and ended up buying it at the first shop I walked into. La Vie a Sensation, in the Palac Flora mall, is a jewelers that specializes in diamonds. I liked their friendly staff right away, and it was then and there that I saw the Ring. The band was pretty and unique, and the stone was the right quality – all for the right price.

No other jewelers I went to after that was worthy of the cash I wanted to shell out for the Ring. In part because everything else I saw was overpriced (admittedly, most of the shops I checked out were in the centre), but mostly because the staff was either indifferent or downright rude. Having said that, my advice to anybody shopping for jewelry in Prague is this: avoid the places on Na Prikope. Hell, avoid the centre for jewelry altogether.

Ring in hand (or, rather, pocket) I reserved a table at La Perle de Prague, a very swish joint at the top of the love-it-or-hate-it Dancing Building. I asked for the best table in the place – one with an excellent view over the Vltava, and the girl handling the reservation was kind enough to grant me my wish.

However, both of us felt way out of place as soon as we walked into the ground floor bar a half hour before our reservation. The barmaid very rudely told us that the restaurant didn’t open until seven. Perhaps if she had asked us if we wanted something to drink we would have waited. Instead we took a walk and bitched about the barmaid’s attitude.

When seven o’clock rolled around, we went in to find a new, and more professional, barmaid working. She called up and when we got to the seventh floor, there were five waiters and the girl who took my reservation waiting for us.

Now this was really uncomfortable. It felt like something out of a lame fish-out-of-water-type comedy, especially when Jitka picked a gnat out of my bangs and flicked it on the white table linen.

Too much cutlery, too many waiters in penguin suits, the atmosphere too… too… too stiff. But, hey, this was supposed to be a high-class affair, so we tried to relax and dig the view.

Then came the real test. La Perle doesn’t have any vegetarian meals on its menu (Jitka still hasn’t gone omnivore yet), so we asked one of our waiters what we could arrange. “Well, you can have salad,” said the waiter.

Jitka and I stared at the guy for a few seconds. Then he said, “I’ll ask the chef what he can come up with for you.”

While he was gone, Jitka and I discussed our other options. We’d been through this before and Jitka expected the waiter to come back offering something lousy, like pasta in cream sauce (i.e. pasta in milk) or frozen vegetables in some kind of instant sauce.

Turns out she was right. Our waiter came back and said, verbatim, “We can offer you steamed vegetables in some kind of sauce over pasta.”

“Are the vegetables fresh or frozen?” asked Jitka.

The poor guy couldn’t hide his embarrassment when he said, “Um, well, frozen.”

It was a relief to get out of there. They would have undoubtedly charged us at least CZK 500 for a plate of frozen peas and carrot cubes in milk over pasta.

We decided to go to Lemon Leaf, which turned out to be an excellent decision. The meal was phenomenal (we had spring rolls and cream of carrot and ginger soup to start, then Jitka had pasta with creamy tomato and gorgonzola sauce, I had a sweet and spicy curried beef dish with sticky rice) and the price came out to the equivalent of what my main course at La Perle would have cost me. And of course, the service was phenomenal – friendly and fairly fast (though we had to wait something like 30 minutes for our entrees).

High on our great meals, I decided that this would be the right time to ask for Jitka’s hand. Through tears of happiness (I hope), she said, “Yes.” As an added bonus, the Ring fit perfectly, so there was no need for resizing, something that the kind folks at La Vie were prepared to do for free and within a day so that Jitka would have it before taking off to see her brother in Oakland.

Now we were up for really tying one on, so we went to nearby Cheers for cocktails.

So, Cheersā?? the barman working that night may have made good cocktails, but he ignored us after we took our seats, and when it came time to pay, the following conversation took place:

Barman (handing me the handwritten bill): That will be 798 crowns, please.

Me (having added up the total already): That’s funny, when I added it up it was 720 crowns. Could you please give me the drink list?

Barman (startled): Where are you from?

Me: Doesn’t matter, I’ve been living here for the last nine years.

Barman: Well, it’s normal to charge a service charge in Prague.

Me: Bullshit. Radost is the only place that does that, and that’s for food. And they tell the customers about it in their menu and on the bill, so they’re not pulling a fast one.

The barman didn’t have much to say after that, and knocked off the so-called “service charge”. I tipped him for the quality of the drinks, but not without telling him not to pull this kind of shit on tourists on the way out.

And the look on his face when Jitka said, “Na shle” (Czech for “See ya”) was priceless.

The rest of the night is not blog material (well, not for this kind of blog, anyway). But I’ll cap things off with this public service announcement: if you’re new in town, or just passing through, and decide to imbibe in a place where the service staff seems a bit sketchy, be sure to keep track of what you’ve been drinking.

It’s best if you take a bit of time to write it down as you order – if the service staff sees you doing that, chances are they won’t tamper with your bill. If they try pulling the old “service charge” or “couvert” routine, tell them to piss off and that you’re not going to pay any more than what you ate or drank – but just make sure that the “service charge” or “couvert” isn’t mentioned on the drink list and/or menu.

Aug 15, 16:56 (Filed under: Prague pubs, restaurants and cafes, Personal )

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  1. I so wish it weren’t going to be decades before Czech service was up to any kind of snuff. (I’m reminded of Abigail Adams’ exhortion to John not to “forget the ladies” when writing the constitution. It may be centuries.)

    I don’t get it with Cheers. A glass was broken at my table last I was there. The place was maybe 1/8 full and it’s not like the waitress chatting up the bartender hadn’t heard. I had to go to the counter for a rag. Gracious.

    All that said, a mighty congragulations on your fiance-hood. That’s a whole lotta super.
    Bishop Joey    Aug 15, 17:25    #
  2. hey pat,
    quick one from a computer far far away (kiwiland is the far end of nowhere – but right or wrong it is my country). Congratulations on doing the deed. that’s pretty damn cool.

    good luck milking the cat.

    richard    Aug 17, 11:21    #
  3. Thanks guys :-)

    Milking the cat wasn’t a problem (hm… that sounds kinda nasty, doesn’t it?). No operation required (sigh of relief), but I have to give Mikes pills (sigh of frustration).
    Patrick    Aug 19, 11:27    #