Insert introduction here.
The City of Prague
Similar to Dublin’s etymological origin, Prague’s name also has its basis in an old Slavic root, praga, which means “ford”, referring to the city’s origin at a crossing of the Vltava River. Prague, or Praha as it called in Czech, is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. It is located in central Bohemia and crossed by the River Vltava. Since 1992, its historic centre is a Unesco’s World Heritage Site. It is called the city of a hundred spires because indeed the city is chock-full of them.
I had read that Prague had sustained relatively little damage during WWII, in comparison with other European cities, and indeed you do appreciate a degree of beauty and splendour that makes you feel a great sadness not only for the huge human loss during that time, but also for the architectural devastation suffered by other cities in comparison. It is pure pleasure to walk among Prague’s streets, although it’s true that after a while it can create a feeling of saturation, of too much beauty taken-in too fast.
According to Wikipedia “It is the sixth most-visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.” And I can actually say that I have been in all six cities but I got the feeling that Prague was the most crowded of them all. There is a flood of tourists everywhere you go. Normally I get up really early to beat the mob of visitors who are more likely to get up after 10am; however, I went to Charles Bridge at 8:30 – 9am and it was already really crowded with people! So Prague will fill your senses but will also test your patience at times. However, you will soon forgive this little inconvenience, since as the novelist Leo Perutz said “In Prague’s court the extraordinary is everyday fare”, and I will add that in the city of Prague the beautiful is standard. The city of the hundred spires is one of the loveliest in Europe. As always, check out the Wikipedia for more city info as well as a more in-depth explanation of its history. Also check out MyCzechRepublic.com/Prague.
What to See
Okay, get ready because here we go. First and foremost, the impressive and mandatory Castle, the Hrad, www.hrad.cz, which is the largest castle in the world. It’s opened from 10:00 to 19:00 and costs about 12 euros (full ticket). Metro stop: Hradcanská or Malostranská; the castle houses the Zlatá Ulicka or Golden Mile, with its typical little colorful houses from the 16th century. Kafka, the famous writer, lived in #22 of this street; in the heart of the castle we find the golden St. Vitus Cathedral, of Gothic style and a Renaissance style bell tower with 289 steps (no elevator/lift) and a spectacular view of the city; Hradcany Square; the Old Town (Staré Město), the heart of the Czech capital; the Church of our Lady of Tyn with its Gothic tower, located at Týnská, in the Old Town Square (Staromestské Námestí), metro stop Starometská and Mustek. Open Mon-Fri from 9am-5pm and Sun during mass time, free entrance, tynska.farnost.cz, it is also known as the House of the Stone Bell, former residence of the king John of Luxemburg; the old City Hall with its famous Astronomical Clock, from the 1490s, (located on Old Town Square); the famous Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), Gothic style and 700 years-old, it’s 1.706 feet long (520 meters) and 32.8 feet wide (10 meters). Featuring beautiful sculptures and lovely views of the castle; the New Town (Nové Město) with its busy and historic Wenceslas Square; the charming and picturesque district of Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) with its Infant Jesus of Prague; Josefov, the old Jewish quarter, with the Old Jewish Cemetery (same location and schedule info as the Jewish Museum below, except that it costs 7 euros entrance fee). Its tombstones are all piled on top of one another due to lack of space; and the Old New Synagogue (Staronová Sinagoga) from the 13th century, in the Gothic style and the oldest in Europe; the Estates Theatre (Stavovské Divadlo), also the oldest in Prague. Located at Ovocný trh, metro stop Mustek. www.estatestheatre.cz; and not to be confused with the National Theatre (Národní Divadlo), located at Ostrovní, 1, metro stop Národní trída.www.narodni-divadlo.cz; the Jan Žižka equestrian statue in Vítkov park; The Lennon Wall; Vinohrady, a pretty quarter in the city’s centre; the Museum of Fine Arts; walking by the shores of the Vltava River; the National Museum (Národní Muzeum), with archaeology, history, geology and zoology sections. Located at Václavské nám, 68, metro stop Muzeum. It is open from 10am to 6am every day, except the first Tuesday of each month and it costs 4 euros.www.nm.cz; Vyšehrad hill and park, with its beautiful views; and the nearby Gorlice Hall and Casemates; Petřínská rozhledna, an observation tower on Petřín hill, meant to imitate the Eiffel Tower at lesser scale,www.pis.cz/en/prague/monuments/petrin_vi ew_tower; Anděl, a busy, new-age neighbourhood; the Žižkov Television Tower with observation deck; the New Jewish Cemetery in Olšany, location of Franz Kafka’s grave; the Metronome; the modern Dancing House, also known as the Ginger & Fred building, a different-looking building designed by Milunić and Frank Gehry; Olšany cemetery; Franz Kafka’s museum and its funny statue outside. Located at Cihelna, 2b, metro stop Malostranská. Open every day from 10am to 6pm and costing 4 euros. www.kafkamuseum.cz; the Goltz-Kinský Palace; the Lesser Town Square (Malé Namestí); the Charcoal Market (Uhelný trh), though now fruit and comestibles are sold instead of charcoal; the Jewish Museum (Zidovské Muzeum) located at U Staré skoly, 1, metro stop Starometská. Open from 9am to 6pm, except on Saturdays. Entrance fee is 10 euros, www.jewishmuseum.cz; Letná Park; Saint Nicolas Church, a Czech Baroque style church located in the Lesser Town Square (Malostranské Námestí). Metro stop Malostranská, open from 10am to 6pm and costing 1 euro; the Kampa Island and its mills; the Valdstejn Palace, from the year 1623; the Strahov monastery, with a gorgeous library containing more than 130,000 books in a Baroque-style room, with a beautifully decorated ceiling; the Cernin Palace; the Church of Our Lady of Emauzy; the Veletrzní Palace (Veletrzní Palác); the Museum of Czech Music (Ceské Muzeum Hudby), located at Karmelitská, 2/4, metro stop Malostranská, open from 10am till 6pm, entrance fee costing 3 euros. www.nm.cz/ceske-muzeum-hudby.php; the Bertramka, a Baroque-style palace where Mozart used to stay when he visited the city (the locals are crazy about him). It’s located at Mozartova ul, 169, and it’s open everyday from 9am to 6pm, with the ticket costing about 4 euros but checkwww.bertramka.com for more info; the Prague Zoo, among other things. I could go own but my brain is stressing. :0)
Flight 55 euros, hotel 123 euros, castle concert 14 euros, entrance castle 12 euros, entrance clock tower 2 euros, entrance Gorlice Hall 1 euro, food/drink 85 euros, public transport 10 euros, souvenirs 91 euros; total 393 euros per person for 4 days. (I can’t remember right now how many euros I changed into the local currency, I have to check). The amounts quoted are only meant as a guideline and in no way should be taken as fixed. To change from euros to other currency, check out www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet?user=ki don.
Fly into the city of Prague; see the city and perhaps one or two nearby towns. In the end I didn’t because the weather forecast called for snow and I was told the trains were rather unreliable especially with bad weather (I don’t know if it’s true or not, that’s what I was told). In the end it didn’t snow at all, but I had already decided not to go. I especially wanted to visit two places outside Prague city; Český Krumlov, a medieval town listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and located about 100 miles or 160 km south of Prague; and the town of Kutná Hora, and specifically, the Ossuary in the nearby suburb of Sedlec. Located about an hour’s ride from Prague,
Regarding Český Krumlov, according to this web pagewww.myczechrepublic.com/cesky-krumlov/, you can get there by bus or train (also car and taxi but the other two are more affordable). “A bus ride from Prague to Český Krumlov takes about 3 hours. It is a direct trip. Please note that if the bus is crowded (especially on Fridays and Sundays) and you don’t have a seat reservation, you may not be able to get a seat and may have to stand for at least a part of the trip. From the bus station, it is about a 10-minute walk to the centre of town.” Visit the web page for a link to bus schedules. “A train ride is nice and more comfortable than the bus but there are no direct trains going all the way from Prague to Český Krumlov. You have to change trains in České Budějovice, which is easy enough. It takes 2.5 – 3.5 hours to get from Prague to České Budějovice and then an additional 45 min. to get to Český Krumlov on a local commuter train, which will give you the genuine Czech countryside experience! The Český Krumlov train station is rather far from the city centre (about a 30-minute walk), so you will probably want to call a taxi.” Visit the web page for a link to train schedules. Check out www.ckrumlov.info/docs/en/kaktualita.xml for more info about the city itself.
And regarding Kutná Hora and its Ossuary, though some might consider me a bit macabre, I wanted to go to this curious Bone Church. Though it’s described in some places in Internet as containing the bones of over 40,000 people, the truth is that the actual church itself is built with bones! The abbreviated story was that the cemetery was so overflowing with tombs that the priest decided to use the over abundance of bones to build a church and then fashion all the ornaments and stuff inside, such as bells, chandelier, etc. Depending on the person, it can be grisly or strangely beautiful. People have described it as peaceful and hunting. Check out www.myczechrepublic.com/kutna-hora/sedle c-ossuary.html for more info.
To all those who might think I’m rich because of all the travelling I do, far from it. But there are a lot of low cost airlines in Europe. I flew with www.clickair.es for 55 euros all included. A web page that helps me find cheaper prices is www.skyscanner.com although there are a lot of similar web pages. However, afterwards always go directly to the airline’s web page to purchase the tickets. It helps if you’re flexible with your travelling dates since it is usually way cheaper flying a Thursday to Monday afternoon (for example) then a Friday night or Saturday morning to a Sunday night. I flew on Monday and came back on Thursday. Although I should say that I checked out Clickair recently and they no longer have flights for those days (there’s only return flights on Wednesday and Friday) and the prices have really gone up. When I checked, a return trip cost about 300 euros.
Remember, most airlines usually allow a piece of luggage in the cabin of up to 22 pounds (10 kgs) and 21.65 x 15.75 x 7.87 inches (or 55 x 40 x 20 cms). In most cases checked-in luggage can be up to 44 pounds (20 kgs) and 59 inches (150 cms) aprox. No liquids are allowed on board. Check with your airline/flight’s luggage restrictions to verify data, international allowances and for more info. Also important: Always take with you a printed copy of all reservations done through Internet in case they loose them or mean to change conditions &/or price on you (from what was agreed on).
The most expensive hotels in the world are; the Atlantis hotel complex, in Belek (the Bahamas) www.atlantis.com/ where the Bridge Suite can cost up to US $25,000 or 21,000 € per night; the President Wilson hotel in Geneva www.starwoodhotels.com/luxury/property/o verview/index.htm… where a night in the Royal Suite will set you back US $23,000; or the Martinez Hotel in Cannes, www.hotel-martinez.com/en/?, where for $18,000 you can stay at the Presidential Suite. I think I have figured out why I haven’t been to Bahamas, Geneva or Cannes yet. ;0)
On the other side of the spectrum we have the Hotel Visehrad for a modest, yet very affordable to my wallet, 36 euros per night including breakfast. The hotel was booked through www.hostelworld.com, Hotel Visehrad a 4* hotel, 3 metro stops from Prague’s centre. It is clean, the staff very nice and friendly, has a good restaurant and I like the decoration, and most importantly it cost 36 euros per person/night, ensuite (private bathroom) including breakfast (though add city taxes). Key on Location and Cleanness ratings when choosing lodging. Check outwww.hotelvysehrad.cz/index2.html for more info.
Important: Always take with you a printed copy of all reservations done through Internet in case they loose them or mean to change conditions &/or price on you (from what was agreed on). This was not the case here, but just in case.
Ruzyne International Airport (PRG). Visit www.worldairportguide.com/airport/7/airp orts/Europe.html for terminal and general airport info. It is the biggest airport in the Czech Republic, however it’s not Prague’s only one. The city’s original airport, until it got too small I assume, is located at the Kbely north-east district, and serviced by the Czech Air Force. To get to the city from Ruzyne, take the 119 or 254 bus to metro station Dejvicka and then take green line. Or take the 100 bus for the yellow line. The Prague airport is located about 9 miles or 15 km from the city centre, and takes approx 30 minutes. Of course, there’re also taxis available. I can’t say for sure how much the ride cost since I took the bus but I think it’s around 20 euros. See www.myczechrepublic.com/prague/airport_t ransportation.html for more info about getting from the airport to the city and vice versa, or Transport below for further info.
Prague is not part of the EU or European Union until next year so get Czech crowns at your nearest bank (reserve them a few days prior to the trip). Afterwards the local coin will be the Euro, used in most of Europe. In the meantime the official currency of the Czech Republic is the Czech Crown (“koruna”), abbreviated as “Kc”. Check rates on internet. www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet?user=ki don but 1 euro is about 30 CZK. Check out this web page www.pissup.com/prague/guide/money or www.pragueexperience.com/information/tou rist_information.asp or any similar one for more info about local money.
The weather can rage from up to 86 ºF or 30 ºC in the summer months to -4 ºF or -20 ºC in winter, and as we all know all extremes are bad. Do take into account that some monuments and most museums and galleries are not open all year round and that most events and concerts take place during the summer time, however it is also true that the city is less crowded outside summer time. And it also depends whether you feel like seeing the city covered with snow or not. April through June (spring) and September to October (autumn) might be the best time weather-wise to visit but check out different web pages to see what places are open and which are not, and what events are going at that time. Check current weather conditions at www.wunderground.com or other such sites. As well, Wikipedia has a nice, helpful chart that outlines the usual weather conditions and average rainfall during the different months, check it out at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague
Malá Strana; Stare Mesto; Josefov; Smichov; Nové Mesto; Hradcany; Staropramen and Vysehrad. Now a bit more info. You have Mala Strana where the castle, St Charles Bridge & Vltava River are located (get off at Malostranska station). In Stare Mesto you will find the clock tower and old town’s main centre (get off at Staromestska station). Josefov is the Jewish town. You’ll find the cheapest souvenirs here (cards at 4 CZK, don’t pay more than 5 CZK). Nove Mesto is the new town, “only” 500 years old. You’ll find Czech beads & Swarovski crystals at very good prices, www.starbeads.cz (for example). And finally Vysehrad, a huge park where you can visit the underground battalions where soldiers hid from the Prussian forces. Guided visits every hour, cost 2 euros and last 15 mns. Look for the “Gorlice” sign and go down a small road to a “Kasematy” sign.
You’ll spend part of your time going up and down since bumpy Prague is spread over nine hills; Letná, Vítkov, Opyš, Větrov, Skalka, Emauzy, Vyšehrad, Karlov and the highest point in the city, Petřín. I’ll cite info from this later one as it was the one I visited. Petřín, which stands 1.073 feet or 327 meters tall, is a hill in the center of Prague. It rises some 426.5 feet or 130 meters above the left bank of the Vltava River. The hill, almost entirely covered with parks, is a favorite recreational area for the inhabitants of Prague. The summit can be reached from the Malá Strana district by the Petřín funicular. What to see in Petřín: Hunger Wall, Strahov Monastery, the lookout tower, Štefánik´s Observatory, the Rose Garden, the St Lawrence Church, the St Michael Church and a memorial to the victims of Communism.
There are 3 metro lines, red, yellow and green. Seewww.myczechrepublic.com/prague/prague_me tro.html. You can buy a single ticket for less than a euro, a 3 day metro ticket for 8 euros or if you’re going more than 3 days, buy the one week ticket for 10 euros.
According to Wikipediaen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague “The public transport infrastructure consists of an integrated transport system of Prague Metro (its length is 59 km with 57 stations in total), Prague Tram System (including the “nostalgic tram” no. 91), buses, the Petřín funicular to Petřín Hill, and five ferries: PID, Pražská integrovaná doprava (English: Prague integrated traffic system) Prague integrated traffic) All services have a common ticketing system, and are run by The Prague Public Transit (Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy, a.s.) and some other companies” (…) Prague has two international railway stations, Hlavní nádraží (formerly called and sometimes still referred to as Wilsonovo nádraží) and Praha-Holešovice. Intercity services also stop at the main stations Praha-Smíchov and Masarykovo nádraží. In addition to these, there are a number of smaller suburban stations.”
I can’t say I varied much. Due to the knee I ended up eating almost every meal at the hotel’s restaurant “Libuse”. Had a great duck breast with cranberry sauce, pork loin with dumplings and wild game with stewed vegetables, costing about 15-20 euros per meal. The red wine and beer is excellent, even though I’m not keen on beer. At Mala Strana I had a very good chicken salad at Metrocafe Illy before climbing up to the castle for the concert. At a restaurant right in front the Clock Tower I got nailed for a cappuccino and chicken sandwich (15 euros). Obviously I paid the view, not the meal, which was average. From what I have read I would say check out a famous tavern by the name of U Fleku that’s open since 1459 (!) and even brews its own beer. It’s located at Kremencova ul, 9, metro stop Karlovo námestí and it’s open from 9am-11pm, www.ufleku.cz.
It seems (I read) that the locals share a love of going to cafeterias like us Spaniards. A place to go (again I read somewhere) is the Café Slavia located at Smetanovo nábrezí, 1012/2, metro stop Národní triad. It is a charming place from the beginning of the 20th century and has lovely views of the Castle and the Vltava River. It is open from 8am to 11pm, visit www.cafeslavia.cz for more info. There is also a Café Kafka but it shares nothing more than the name with the author (and as Shania Twain would say, that doesn’t impress me much). ;0)
Classical music is a part of the Prague experience as Czechs are huge on classical music. You’ll find that there are concerts advertised everywhere and specially in touristy areas. A person will yell out ticket info for the event beside an advertising sign. I’ve been told to be careful about those boasting ‘the best of Czech music’ or “the Four Seasons” or things like that, since those are not a true reflection of the excellent music one can hear here. Every day at 1pm there is a concert at the castle, lasting an hour and costing about 14 euros. See www.praguecastleconcert.cz for more info, Every hour there’s the changing of the guard at the castle, and at midday with special fanfare. In the castle you’ll find the tourism office www.aroundprague.com, However, if you want to try a different style of music you can check out Reduta, a jazz club where, as a curiosity piece, Bill Clinton played the saxophone. Located at Národní, 20, metro stop Národní trída. Check out www.redutajazzclub.cz for more info.
The Clock tower must be visited to see the traditional apostles’ procession each hour on the hour. A large crown gathers in front so go half an hour earlier and have patience. (Though some people express disappointment because it doesn’t last very long and it’s just some figurines twirling). If you sit in the coffee shop in front you’ll be more relaxed but you’ll pay 15 euros for a cappuccino and a sandwich or 7 euros for a beer. Enter the tower and go up to the 3rd floor to buy a ticket to visit the top. It’s absolutely worth it for a 360º view and it only cost 2 euros. Some guides recommend visiting Petrin Tower for the best views of the city. Myself I almost busted a knee walking up there -the much touted funicular or railway lift was not working-, only to find that it only opens Saturdays and Sundays. I give warning, there’re 299 stairs and no elevator, and I’ve been told that it sways in the wind so beware those with vertigo (like me). There’s also a mirror labyrinth but it was also closed. It turns out it has restricted schedules.www.pis.cz/en/prague/monuments/petrin_vi ew_tower
Prague can be a bit overwhelmingly beautiful. Walking through its streets you won’t be able to make up your mind as to where to go. It’s all majestic. Visit www.prague-info.cz or more info. And above all, beware of pickpockets and shifty taxi drivers. I didn’t have a bad experience on either account but there’s like a billion warnings on internet. But honestly, that’s true of ANY city.
Check out www.myczechrepublic.com/prague/sightseei ng/itinerary.html on more ideas of how to plan your visit within the city. As for quick trips outside the city, there’s the aforementioned Kutná Hora, as well as Karlovy Vary and Karlštejn Castle. Check out www.myczechrepublic.com/prague/sightseei ng/day_trips.html or any other similar page for more info about these visits. It will tell you about “the famous spa town of Karlovy Vary (also known by its German name of Karlsbad or Carlsbad in English), was founded in 1350 by the Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. (…) Karlovy Vary lies in a green valley of the river Teplá, meaning ‘Warm’ (…) A bus from Prague will get you to Karlovy Vary in around 2 hours (there are no convenient trains). From the bus station, it is about a 20-minute walk to the colonnades.
Now though I don’t find the Czech language easy to understand or speak, I’m including a few words for those interested in trying. Taken from www.traveliana.com/prague-czech-guide.ht ml, they explain that “The official language spoken in the Czech Republic is Czech, which belongs to the group of Slavic languages, all of which are Indo-European languages. Specifically, Czech is one of the West Slavic languages. It is very similar to Slovak, and if they make a bit of an effort, Czechs can also understand quite a bit of Polish fairly well as well.” Here we go;
Hello, Good Morning = Dobrý den (formal greeting)
Hello, Hi = Ahoj (familiar greeting)
Good Bye = Na shledanou (formal greeting)
Bye = Ahoj, čau
Good night = Dobrou noc
Yes = Ano
No = Ne
Thank you = Děkuji
How are you? = Jak se máš? (familiar)
You’re welcome = Prosím / Není zač
Help me, please = Pomozte i, prosím
Excuse me = Promiňte / S dovolením
I’m sorry = Promiňte / odpusťte
Do you speak English? = Mluvíte anglicky?
I don’t speak Czech = Nemluvím česky
I don’t understand – Nerozumím
I see/understand = Chápu / Rozumím
I’m lost (man) = Ztratil jsem se
I’m lost (woman) = Ztratila jsem se
I need a doctor! = Potřebuji doktora!
I need to make a phone call = Potřebuji si zavolat
I’m looking for a hospital = Hledám nemocnici
Call the police! = Zavolejte policii!
Where is … = Kde je…
Is it far? = Je to daleko?
Is it near? = Je to blízko?
Entrance = Vchod
Exit = Východ
Information centre = Informační centrum
Toilets = Toalety
Men/Women = Muži/Ženy
What time is it? = Kolik je hodin?
Shopping, Food = Nakupování, potraviny
Water = Voda
Milk = Mléko
Bread = Chléb
I like it (about food) = Chutná mi to
Bon appétit = Dobrou chuť
How much is it (price)? = Kolik to stojí?
See you later = Uvidíme se později”
Translations from www.traveliana.com/prague-czech-guide.ht ml
Good journey and travel safe!