Prague offers a wide range of gift-shopping possibilities
Looking for some crystal decanters? Amber bracelets? A few garnet earrings to match the red of your holiday attire?
Prague is the place to find all that — and more.
Those three top the list of the typical souvenirs and gifts that visitors to the former communist country take home.
But they’re not the only popular items.
Who knew that the Russian nesting dolls were so popular in Prague? They are, and in great variety. The Czechs even have them in a holiday theme, in your favorite American football teams, or the presidents of the United States — including one with former President Clinton, complete with Monica Lewinsky as the second largest of the wooden doll figures, Socks the cat (larger than Hillary, by the way) and one of the infamous blue dress.
Depending on the size and intricacy of the painting and designs, the dolls run from a couple of dollars to a couple of hundred dollars.
The same is true of beautifully hand-painted eggs. While eavesdropping on a conversation between a Czech girl and an English tourist, I overheard that the eggs commemorate a pagan fertility ritual in which, during the spring, boys would whip girls’ legs with braided birch switches, and in order to get them to stop, the girls handed the boys eggs.
There are shops that specialize in selling the hand-painted eggs alone, and they’re also found in the market squares — at better prices but not quite as beautifully decorated. The eggs run from a few dollars to around $30 each.
Marionette puppets are also great gift ideas, and come in all kinds of themes and designs. There are wicked witches, Charles IV court jesters, traditional Czech girls, clowns and Charlie Chaplin. The list goes on.
In the jewelry department, garnet and amber set in both gold and silver are hot items.
The Czech Republic is full of garnet mines, and stones range from the deep ruby red to a brighter pink.
Amber is not a precious stone, but is hardened tree resin that is popular and abundantly found in the Czech Republic. Colors range from the typical golden yellow to a deep brown and even green.
The price of jewelry depends on whether the garnet or amber is set in silver or gold and how big the stone is. I spent about $100 for a silver and garnet pendant and about $50 for a silver and amber bracelet.
And when the store clerk asks if you want amber with or without bugs, that’s exactly what she means. Bugs. The critters trapped in the resin as it hardens, you know, the theme from the “Jurassic Park” movies? And stones with bugs cost more than those without. Go figure.