The Prague Honest Guide speaks out

The man behind the video series wants Prague to be friendlier to tourists

If you are an expat living in Prague, you have likely seen videos featuring Janek Rubeš. His recent video on money changing made international headlines, and previously he was active in the fight against dishonest taxi drivers.

Despite his recent series of videos for Seznam.cz being called Prague Honest Guide, don't try to book him to show you around. “On the Facebook page I get five messages a day asking for tour dates, but no I don't do that. And when I do it for friends … I always realize I could not be a tour guide,” he said, adding that he doesn't know the dates when churches were built. “I am more of a fun-fact guy. I can tell them where they have the best beer, which restaurants have cool views and places I go to.”

He also hears from places that want to be featured in the videos. “They are only based on things that I and my friend [Honza Mikulka] like. And of course, people are trying to buy their way into episodes. Restaurants or museums write to us … and I simply always tell them we don't do this. Some people say we have to be paid by this place because we always mention it. Well, it is because we like it,” he said.

The videos are made for Seznam.cz and its division called Stream, who do not interfere in the content. “The freedom is almost unbelievable. Sometimes we are walking out of the door with the camera and we don't know what we are going to do. … Are you hungry? Let's do restaurants. Is it hot? Let's do some places to swim. So we are really filming what we like to do,” he said, adding that his enthusiasm is part of why the videos are so popular.

He began Prague Guide after two years of chasing after crooked taxi drivers. Some of the taxi cases he exposed are now before the courts, with drivers facing possible jail time. He wishes that the videos would have had more of an impact because the problem still persists. Still, he praised the police for the extensive investigation that they did do.

He decided to look into taxis after a video made by National Geographic for the series Scam City was attacked by City Hall for containing staged segments. A settlement was reached, and the episode can no longer be broadcast. Rubeš said that rather than address the real problems such as taxi drivers overcharging, City Hall tried to sweep them aside.

The Prague Versus Crooks video series eventually came to an end. “After doing that for two years, it was just tiring. I felt like I wanted to show something positive, so we switched to Prague Guide, which is more fun,” he said.

He was pleased that his recent video on exchange places was popular, but also disappointed. The episode focused on an exchange place on Wencelas Square that gave a particularly poor rate of around 60 percent of what some other places offer.

“I was pretty sad that episode was covered by 20 different articles globally but not a single Czech publication. I want to bring the attention of the locals to it. If I bring the attention of tourists I can warn them, but they can't solve it. But if I get attention of Czech media to it I'll be more than happy, even if they don't mention me,” he said. He plans to cover the topic again.

During the filming of the episode, he was hand-delivered messages from a law office telling him he was risking a lawsuit, and police even came. So far, no lawsuit has happened and the episode can still be seem online. “Everything we did was legal except for handing out the fliers, which is not a serious crime,” he said. The fliers directed people to an exchange place with better rates. A lawsuit would be against his employer, Seznam.cz, and not him personally.

“We were there the whole day. The boss never showed up. To me he is a coward. There were two 20-year-old girls studying and trying to make some money [working in the stand]. I told them, 'Look girls, I am sorry I am going to be doing this, but I am trying to save people some money.' But the boss or the manager never showed up. I would love to hear his side of the story. And I am sure his side of the story would be interesting to hear. And he should stand up for what he is doing,” Rubeš said.

He hopes eventually to make some headway in cleaning up the exchange situation. Aside from Old Town Square, another problem area is Václav Havel Airport Prague. Rubeš has a radical idea of shutting all of the exchange places at the airport down, and letting people change money at shops instead. He talked to a spokesperson for the airport, but was met with skepticism. “I called every single business. Every single business offers a better rate for the euro, dollar and pound [than the exchange stands],” he said. “It would make a hell of a buzz that the Prague airport was the only one without an exchange place because that is how they are fighting the scam,” he said.

Restaurants are another issue he has addressed, pointing out a few affordable places among all of the tourist traps that get nothing but one-star reviews on travel websites. One scam he sees a lot is places that post low-seeming prices for meat but charge by weight, so a portion is actually quite expensive.

But not all places are the same. He named as some of his favorites U Provaznice near Můstek, Lokál U Bílé kuželky near the Charles Bridge and Kavárna V Sedmém Nebi on Zborovská Street in Malá Strana.

He also isn't against everything that costs a little extra. “I love the [Glass Bar] on the roof the Dancing House in the summer. Yes, the prices are higher but you are on the roof of the Dancing House, so it is really cool,” he said.

Also some popular places get his approval. “U Pinkasu is a great pub, especially the [back] garden, which I discovered like last year,” he said. The garden boasts “Gothic” air conditioning since it is shielded by the wall of a Gothic church and gets a cooling canyon effect. “A fun fact is that the only Cubist lamppost in the world is at the entrance. Whenever I see a tourist sitting there with their phones I tell them,” he said. He also pointed out U Malého Glena in Malá Strana, which is popular with tourists but treats people fairly.

A video in his Prague Guide series showed several places where one could get lunch for under Kč 100, including a hidden cafeteria under the Světozor passage next to Wenceslas Square called Jídelna Světozor. “It is like the coolest place. You are on Wenceslas Square and you meet all kinds. There are homeless guys, there are students, there are businessmen. Everyone sort of mixes there,” he said.

Rubeš would like to see Czechs become more welcoming to tourists, so there isn't a split between places for Czechs and places for tourists. “If you help tourists it will will come back to you. They will spend more money here. They will enjoy their time. Why do we hate tourists? They are loud. They go around in groups. Why don't you explain to them that instead of this they can hang out with us? They don't have to turn the city into [a fantasy theme park], and they can still enjoy the city,” he said.

He also prefers to show people places a bit off the beaten track. “How many Prague people go to the Castle? They only go there if they are guiding their friends there. Otherwise there is no reason to go there. There is not a place to have beer or a coffee,” he said.

For the winter, one video idea he has is showing tourists that skiing is a lot cheaper and easier than people think. “I want to stand with my snowboard at Wenceslas Square early in the morning and go.'So you guys are in Prague. How would you go skiing? We'll be there and in two hours we'll be riding down the slope.' Just take the metro to Černý Most, hop on a bus. It drops you in Liberec. Hop on a tram. … This is one of the few places where you can take a tram to a ski slope,” he said. “So I am hoping for some snow. And as far as Liberec, I love it. You can go up to Ještěd, have a dinner there,” he said. Ještěd is a mountain with a futuristic science-fiction-style TV tower and hotel from the late 1960s on the top.

Rubeš got his start in videos about a decade ago. “An American friend asked if he wanted to do viral videos. I was 18 or 19 at the time. We did that and I just started liking it. Stream saw our videos and said, 'Why don't you work for us?' … They simply saw some potential in our videos,” he said.

His most popular is likely a parody of Jay Z and Alicia Keys song Empire State of Mind. “This was way back with Ruda z Ostravy. It is called 'Ostrava,'” he said. Another early video he enjoyed making involved covering Apple computer stores with printed papers asking “Why?” since Apple products are much more expensive in the Czech Republic than in other countries. Since he wore an orange vest while posting his fliers on the store, the police never stopped him or asked if he had permission, he said.


See  more of Janek's Videos: PRAGUE HONEST GUIDE - Your honest guide for Prague (Prague.TV Video page)

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