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Czech Republic, Krakow, and a day in Frankfurt: A Solo, Budget Trip Report

Czech Republic, Krakow, and a day in Frankfurt: A Solo, Budget Trip Report

Jun 10th, 2010, 03:29 PM
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Czech Republic, Krakow, and a day in Frankfurt: A Solo, Budget Trip Report

Wednesday April 28

This is a report on my three-week trip, mostly in the Czech Republic with a few days in Krakow and one day in Frankfurt to see the city from a different perspective than the airport.

Today I learned that the Frankfurt transportation system is great:

The train from the Frankfurt airport to the main Frankfurt station was simple. Follow the train signs down the escalators. The ticket machine was a bit of a mystery but I found someone to help. You put in the code for Frankfurt (50) and then push the button for the Hauptbahnhof (main station). The price was E3.80. The machine gives change if you put in coin.

First stop – Hotel National in Frankfurt
The hotel is a short walk from the train station. When exiting the station, keep to the right of the station, hugging the station wall, do not go to the street. At the side street, cross over and take the second street on the right. If you see the Hotel Excelsior, the National is right behind it on the next street. Price per night for a single is E62 and comes with a welcome drink in the bar which opens at 7:00. Breakfast is an additional E12 (I did not take breakfast). There is an electric kettle and coffee/tea provisions in the room and a mini bar. Good size room with twin beds. The twin beds were along one wall and had a low, wooden partition between them. The bathroom was long and narrow but plenty of room with a large shower. I did hear some slight noise during the night from people partying but I had the window open.

The hotel has a restaurant but it is not open every night. I asked for a recommendation for dinner and was directed to a good restaurant specializing in German food just a few blocks away. The restaurant is Baseler Eck at Baseler Platz 7. I ordered a small dark beer (excellent) and sauerbraten in a heavy, wine-rich sauce accompanied by 2 sticky dumplings and apple sauce. The beer was so good that I ordered another small one. So ends day 1.
adrienne is offline  
Jun 10th, 2010, 03:41 PM
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Please continue.
irishface is offline  
Jun 10th, 2010, 04:47 PM
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Looking forward to more of you trip report.
nancy is offline  
Jun 10th, 2010, 05:35 PM
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Thursday April 29

Today I traveled to Prague for the first time in 15 years:

The next morning I was off to Prague on the train/bus. The reservations for both train and bus are marked on the internet ticket next to the date and time information. Wg refers to the train car number; Pl to the seat number. When booking an internet ticket, the reservation covers both train and bus. The train goes to Vienna so anyone going to Prague changes to the bus at Nurnberg (the 4th stop). Look for the seat number on the outside train window to find your place without dragging your bags through the train. There is an overhead rack for baggage that will accommodate a 24” suitcase.

When exiting the train, take the stairs down and follow the signs for city center, bus, etc. The bus for Prague is just outside the station on the right. It’s white and clearly marked Nurnberg to Prague. Give your large bag(s) to the driver to stow in the luggage compartment. There is a small overhead rack above the seats but they only hold very small items. It’s a double decker and was not full. It’s non-stop to Prague (3.75 hours) so if you don’t like your seat you can change just before the bus starts. There’s no stopping at all so buy lunch at the station before leaving Frankfurt. There are lots of shops selling take out sandwiches and pastries. Do not dally in the Nurnberg station as there is little time between the train arriving and the bus leaving. After I handed over my bags there was only 4 minutes before the bus left. The bus ride was not bad and I’m not a bus lover; there was no traffic until we arrived at the outskirts of Prague and the scenery along the highway was nice – lots of trees and greenery. Drinks and light snacks are offered on board. I bought an orange juice for E2.

I arrive in Prague! Mike from Mike’s Chauffeur Service was waiting for me (holding a sign with my name) when I got off the bus. The pension advised that a taxi would be about $25 from the bus station which seemed high to me but I realized they were probably correct with all the Prague traffic that wasn’t there before. I booked Mike’s service at about $20 (recommended on this board).

http://www.mike-chauffeur.cz/

Mike stopped at an ATM machine so I could get some money (he will take a credit card but prefers cash) and then we went to Pension Chaloupka in the 6th district. It’s a small, family run place with 6 rooms. The rate for a single is 950CZK a night (about $50) with a substantial breakfast. There’s an area in the breakfast room with glasses, sink, refrigerator containing water, beer, soda, chips, and candy bars. You help yourself to beverages/snacks and mark what you’ve taken on a piece of paper taped to a board. You pay when you check out. The prices are very reasonable – about $1 for water or soft drinks.

My room was on the 2nd floor. The pension is divided into 2 sides; 2 rooms on one side and 4 rooms on the other. The owners live on the first floor. The room had twin beds and was a decent size. The bathroom area was a bit odd. There was a toilet cabinet in one small room and next to it in another room was a sink and stall shower. If they had not made 2 separate rooms there would have been a bit more space. There’s no hair dryer.

I bought 2 tram tickets at the Pension to get into town and back today. The pension sells the tickets as a courtesy to new arrivals so they don’t have a large supply. You can get more tickets from the machine in the subway station (coin only) or from the Tabac window in the subway if you do not have coin for the machines.

It’s about a 15 minute ride from the pension to the first stop across the river on Tram #18. From there it’s a 2 minute walk to Old Town Square or if you are going further into Prague, the subway entrance is across the street from the tram stop. The second tram stop across the river is Charles Bridge.

Tram tickets are sold for either 20 minutes (30 minutes if you combine tram and subway) or 45 minutes; the 20 minute tickets are 18 CZK. The 45 minute tickets are 36 CZK. A 24 hour pass is 100CZK; a 72 hour pass is 330CZK. I only bought individual tickets as I didn’t use many of them each day – usually only 2 to go into town and come back to the pension and the 20 minute tickets were more than adequate.

I came into the square behind the astronomical clock and noticed St. Nicholas church was having a concert in 15 minutes so I bought a ticket for a Vranicky and Mozart program. The church concerts usually last an hour. It was enjoyable. After the concert I wandered around in awe of the changes in Prague since my other visit, 15 years ago. Actually, the word should be aghast rather than awe. Old Town Square is teeming with tourists and tacky souvenir shops. There seem to be more pizzerias than in Naples. 15 years ago you could find a decent restaurant near the square that offered Czech food at very reasonable prices. It doesn’t seem so now. There’s also a lot more traffic than there was before; Mike confirmed this when I remarked on the traffic during our ride to the pension.

I asked Mike what he thought about all the changes in Prague and he was in favor of them as increased tourism brought more money to the town. This is reflected in the increased traffic and all the building construction you see on the outskirts of Old Town.

I wandered away from Old Town Square, taking photos and looking for a restaurant serving Czech food at a reasonable price. I did find one with quite a few customers eating dinner. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the food as I peered in an open window so I went in and chose a table near the window. I ordered a dark beer (delicious), a Greek salad (there were only 3 salads to choose from: Caesar, Greek, or cole slaw), and beef stroganoff with wild rice. Everything was good. I’m not much of a beer drinker any more but the beers in Frankfurt and tonight in Prague were delicious. Quite a few people seemed to be eating something large on a bone – perhaps a ham hock? I don’t know what it was but it was popular. One fellow was attacking his ham hock with gusto and I laughed and jumped up to take a photo of him about to plunge his fork and knife into the meat. The salad was 60, the main course 250 so that meant the pint of dark beer was 25 – just a bit over a dollar – a bargain. The total was 335 or $18.

I was totally beat after the second day of traveling and not a lot of sleep so I made my way back to Old Town Square and the tram which arrived in a couple of minutes. I was back at the pension by 8:30 and had early night.
adrienne is offline  
Jun 10th, 2010, 05:58 PM
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You seem disappointed in Prague. Do you think you would have enjoyed it more in a different season? Maybe earlier in the Spring?
Sher is offline  
Jun 11th, 2010, 03:32 AM
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Sher - I was disappointed in the changes to the Old Town Square area. These changes are permanent such as increase in cafes around the perimeter of the square with their Plexiglas partitions and expensive food. The Plexiglas has replaced flower boxes. There used to be small shops selling Czech products - these have been replaced by cheap souvenir shops, amber shops and pizzerias. None of this is seasonal.

The good news is that most people dealing with tourists speak English now. 15 years ago I hardly met anyone in Prague who spoke English, beyond a few words, so it was more difficult to get around and get information. There was no TI 15 years ago - you could pick up a map at the money exchange but that was it. We brought 3 guide books with us for information.

I did miss the little tourist train with commentary that took you around Prague. It was hop on hop off and was so sweet.
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Jun 11th, 2010, 11:53 AM
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Here's the link to the photos:

http://modigliani.shutterfly.com/cze...kowfrankfurtpa
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Jun 11th, 2010, 01:43 PM
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Friday April 30

Today I took the wrong tram, saw a different part of Prague, and found my way to the Old Town:

Pension Chaloupka serves a good breakfast – 3 slices of ham, 2 slices of cheese plus a small wedge of soft cheese similar to brie, pate, vegetable garnish, juice, yogurt, cereal, and bread plus tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

I was told that either tram 1 or 18 would get me to the pension but I didn’t realize that only tram 18 would get me to old town. I had missed tram 18 by seconds so I hopped on tram 1 heading into town. All of a sudden nothing looked familiar. When I saw a sign for the zoo I knew I was on the wrong track. I showed the map to the woman sitting next to me and she pointed out where we were – nowhere near Old Town. I hopped off the tram and took the next #1 going back. After studying the map I realized that tram #1 would only take me 3 stops in the right direction. I transferred to #18 and was on my way with just a wasted half hour.

I did get to see the Prague 7 area which is very busy with shops, offices, and lots of traffic. Prague 6 is more of a residential area, at least the street I was staying on. Later in the trip I took another incorrect tram that ran along a parallel street to the one I stayed on and there were shops and restaurants but still less congested than Prague 7.

First on the agenda was the Jewish Quarter – the synagogues, ceremonial hall, and cemetery. The combination ticket for 480 CZK lets you in to 5 synagogues (Maisel, Spanish, Pinkas, Klausen, Old-New), the ceremonial hall, and the old cemetery which you enter from Pinkas Synagogue. It’s a good deal as a couple of the synagogues charge 200 CZK (I didn’t notice the prices at all of them). All the sites are within a few blocks of each other and no photography is allowed inside any buildings; there is a 40 CZK surcharge to take photos in the old cemetery but the booth to sell photo tickets was closed.

The old cemetery is accessed through the Pinkas synagogue where you can pick up a map showing the location of all the places the ticket covers. When you leave the synagogue door, go to your left to find the cemetery. The best time is as soon as the synagogue opens at 9:00 to avoid crowds and to get the best light. The interiors of all but the Spanish Synagogue are whitewashed. The Spanish synagogue is the prettiest with its red, brown, and blue geometric design giving a warm look and feeling. On the second floor are old photos of the area, documents of the history of the ghetto and photos of famous Czech Jews and those deported from Terezin. The Pinkas synagogue walls are emblazoned with the names and birth and death dates of 80,000 Czech Jews who were killed by the Nazis. On the second floor are pictures drawn by children from Terezin. Next to the Spanish Synagogue is a interesting statue of Franz Kafka.

After a restorative coffee I went to the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn in Old Town Square. The church seemed to be having back to back Masses and no visits were allowed before 3:00; I decided to attend Mass which was a high Mass complete with organ and incense. In Catholic churches in the US, Italy, France, and Portugal, the Communion wafer is put into your open palms; the wine is separate and optional. In this church, the Communion wafer is dipped into the wine and then put directly into your mouth as it was in the pre-Vatican II days (minus the wine). I did take communion in another church in Prague and the priest also put the communion wafer directly into people’s mouths. But this time the wafer was not dipped in wine.

Visiting hours for Our Lady Before Tyn are Tuesday – Friday 3:00 to 5:00. Other times the church is closed except for Mass but you can view the church through the gate. During Mass there is a porter at the door baring entrance unless you wish to worship. Entrance to the church is from beneath the arcade. It’s a bit difficult to spot as there are cafes blocking the entrance from the square.

After Mass I looked at the café menus around the square and choose one that offered Greek salad since the Greek salad I had the night before was so yummy. The waitress, whose face had frozen in a perpetual scowl, looked at me disdainfully when I sat down and ordered tap water. I asked for a Greek salad and she explained that the Greek salad portion was very small and I should choose one of the other salads that came in a larger portion. I asked for a larger portion of Greek salad but she still tried to get me to order other salads that came in larger portions. I kept insisting that I only wanted a Greek salad and could she make a larger one (I needed my veggies) and she finally acquiesced. Geez, that was a struggle. She looked murderous when I asked for a second glass of tap water.

Over to the Municipal House to find out about the tours. The tour times vary widely by date; there is no set pattern to the times. The next tour was at 5:00 but I wanted to go to attend another concert so I’m saving the Municipal House for the weekend. I wandered around looking at the buildings but found my energy fading. I realized I was dehydrated and bought a bottle of water from a kiosk and walked around a bit more, enjoying the city. The day was warm and my purse was hanging heavy around my neck. A cold coke seemed just the thing so I sat down at a café across from the Klementinum (which is closed for renovation) and had an expensive small bottle of coke. It was delicious and I’m not a coke lover.

The time for the concert was approaching so I headed back to Old Town Square, trying to find the man hanging from the flag pole to photograph. I had seen him the night before but it was too dark for a photo and I saw a poster of him but couldn’t spot him again.

This evening’s concert was organ and a bass soloist playing and singing selections from Bach, Schubert, and Dvorak. It was good once the young man in front of me settled down and stopped taking videos of the church during the performance. I guess he thought that since the organ and soloist were behind us and could not be seen during the concert it didn’t matter if he annoyed others around him.

A note about the churches: although it was a warm day the stone churches are freezing cold if you’re inside more than a few minutes. I brought a shawl with me today to try to ward off the chill I felt the night before. If you’re planning a church concert in spring bring a sweater or jacket.

I only had 1 restaurant recommendation with me and I can’t remember where I found it. It’s Kolkovna Restaurant on Kolkovna street just a few blocks from Old Town Square toward the Jewish quarter. It’s a large place with 2 floors plus outside seating. They serve all day so early dining is possible or you can stop in for a drink before dinner. I got there after the church concert – around 6:30 and by the time I left, near 8:00, there was a line waiting for tables so go a bit early. My dinner was delicious. They offer traditional Czech cuisine and most of it didn’t appeal to me. I ordered pork cutlets with gherkins and potato salad. There were 5 pieces of very thin, very tender pork for 230 CZK. I asked if potatoes were included but everything is a la carte. The potato salad (large serving) was 45 CZK and I had 2 glasses of red Czech wine for 168 CZK. The wine was light and dry and I loved it. There was way too much meat and the bill reflected 300grams. I’m definitely going back but will ask if a smaller portion is possible as I could only finish 3 pieces of meat and that was with difficulty.
adrienne is offline  
Jun 11th, 2010, 05:27 PM
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Loving your report and longing for you to continue. Want to hear all of your adventures in CZ.
nancy is offline  
Jun 11th, 2010, 07:21 PM
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Also appreciate the detail - thank you, Adrienne. We've added just a quick two night German Wings "day" trip to Prague, out of our German holiday, so am eager to hear your experiences. We'll have only an afternoon, one full day, and an early morning, so need to cram a lot in. Is it worth walking around the Jewish Quarter (on our way from Hilton) but not going in, do you think?
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Jun 12th, 2010, 01:03 AM
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Unless you specifically look for the Jewish Quarter you would not know that you were there as it doesn't look different from other parts of Old Town. You could walk by the synagogues but they don't look like anything special on the outside. I think it is possible to peer into the old cemetery from someplace on the street. You could take 10 minutes sometime during your stay and walk through the area.

One of the things I like best about Prague is to wander the streets and look at the architecture and the details on the buildings. If you look up as you walk you will see some beautiful architectural details.

I've added photos of two of the synagogues (the first two photos in the Prague section) so you can see what they look like from the outside. No photos are allowed inside.
adrienne is offline  
Jun 12th, 2010, 10:35 PM
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Thanks, Adrienne - can hardly wait!
Carrabella is offline  
Jun 13th, 2010, 10:31 AM
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hi Adrienne. i'm also going to prague in very early Sept., so i'm following your reports. Thanks for the detail. Carrabella, are you at the hilton on pobrezni or the one downtown? We'll be at Pobrezni with the Viking River Cruises group. It sounds like Josefov (Jewish Quarter) is about a 15 minute walk from the pobrezni Hilton. i read that you can peer into the jewish cemetery by standing up on the steps of the "Ceremonial hall" - I think the Rick Steves book mentions that and has a map that includes the hall on it. Sorry about the lack of caps, here - need a new keyboard!
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Jun 13th, 2010, 10:37 AM
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yk
 
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I'm enjoying this, adrienne. I like your travel style (somewhat similar to mine) so all the details you provide are very helpful for me planning future trips!

BTW, any chance you will finish your Portugal TR from last year?
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Jun 13th, 2010, 11:10 AM
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Ruth - you're correct - you can see the cemetery from the Ceremonial Hall steps. I think I took a photo from that viewpoint. There used to be a door in the wall where you exited the cemetery and that door had a grill that allowed you to see the inside. I can't now remember how I got out of the cemetery but it wasn't by that door.

yk - I'm feeling the pressure!

I only have the Lisbon portion to do; do you still want me to finish?
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Jun 13th, 2010, 11:15 AM
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yk
 
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Yes please, if time allows - any information is great, as there aren't that many TRs on Lisbon and Portugal here anyway!
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Jun 13th, 2010, 12:57 PM
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Saturday May 1

Today I saw the Castle area, walked a long, steep street, was denied tap water in a restaurant, and then took the wrong tram:

Today was the castle area. I could take any tram 3 stops and then a short walk to the castle via the street directly opposite the tram stop. I arrived early (around 9:00 or a bit later) and bought the short ticket to the castle (which I did not go into), St George’s Basilica, and Golden Lane. St Vitus Cathedral is free. I can’t believe that you now have to pay to walk down Golden Lane. Although it’s included with both types of tickets.

There was a short line for St Vitus – about 5 minutes. Much later in the day I ran into 2 Swiss women who told me that the line for the Cathedral was hours long. I’m so glad I went early. The stained glass windows are stunning but I particularly loved the beautiful painting of St Agnes of Bohemia. St Vitus was crowded so I moved on to the Basilica with its lovely frescoes. There were very few people in the Basilica – they were all crowded in the Cathedral.

I looked in one shop in Golden Lane and fell in love with art nouveau earrings which I bought after much consideration. That will be my one splurge (ha).

I was particularly interested in the Summer Palace and Renaissance Garden but was told it was closed for renovation.

After the castle I descended the steps and rested in a small park with flowering lilacs and listened to music playing somewhere in the area. It was a delightful few minutes.

I slowly made my way toward St Nicholas church (not the one in Old Town Square but the other St Nicholas near the castle). On the way I had lunch – another Greek salad and asked for tap water. The waitress informed me that tap water is not possible. I could have mineral water. It was a warm day and I needed some hydration so I bought the mineral water.

St Nicholas church is open daily 9:00 – 4:30 (8:30 – 9:00 for prayer) and has a 70 CZK admission price. It’s another stunning high baroque church, completed in 1755 with the addition of the bell tower. The pastel ceiling frescoes are gorgeous and the many architectural curves and embellishments are simply beautiful. There was a painting exhibit on the second floor (just a few paintings), allowing access and giving a great view of the church from above.

I continued walking up Nerudova street, named after the 19th century Czech journalist and poet Jan Neruda (after whom Chilean poet Pablo Neruda renamed himself). It’s a very steep street full of colorful buildings with interesting plaques which were originally used before house numbering began. I slowly made my way to the top wishing I had been walking down instead of up the street. At the top of the street I looked into the Panny Marie church which is closed except for concerts. There’s a grillwork gate through which you can see the nave – another exquisite church.

I continued to the Loreto church with an admission fee of 110 CZK. No photos are allowed anywhere within the grounds. There is a shop selling books and postcards but it was closed.

This church is a prize in a city with exceptionally beautiful churches. It has marble arches, pillars, and chapels. The ceiling is frescoed and gold abounds everywhere as a final decorative touch.

The loggia’s barrel vaulted ceilings are exquisitely frescoed. Along the walls are carved wooden altars with frescoes of saints behind leaded glass and carved wooden confessionals along two sides. The loggia encircles a courtyard in the middle of which stands a carved marble chapel housing a black Madonna sculpture surrounded by a silver arch with the sun’s rays bursting from it. The interior walls show fresco remnants with the repeating motif of Madonna and Child. Above the small altar two sculpted hands hold a laurel wreath and a spring of laurel. The chapel’s façade is classical with putti, sculptures in niches, and scenes from the Bible in high relief. All this and the carillon chiming the hour.

The second floor of the church houses a treasury including a monstrance with 6,500 diamonds.

http://www.loreta.cz/en/index.htm

I continue walking on the small streets in the castle area, going toward the tram stop, and met two Swiss woman who asked me if I knew about some gardens in the area. I told them there is the Renaissance gardens in the castle grounds but they are closed for restoration. We chatted for a bit and I said that I had walked up Nerudova street and what a steep climb it is. They said they rented an apartment on that street and did the climb 4 times a day. They had my instant admiration and I told them so but they said they are used to the hills in Switzerland so it was an easy climb for them.

I found my way to what I thought was the tram stop but as I was tired I didn’t pay attention to what tram I was getting on. I knew from the castle I could take any tram to my pension so I didn’t look at the tram number – just jumped on and validated my ticket. After a few minutes I realized that I was on the wrong tram again and couldn’t figure out how this happened. I descended at the next stop, looked at the map and looked at the tram numbers. I took the same tram going in the opposite direction and got off where I got on, trying to figure out how I could have gone so wrong (again). I had forgotten that when I went to the castle I didn’t immediately take the street to the castle but crossed another large street so I needed to walk another block to get the correct tram.

Back at the pension I showered and went into town thinking I would have another dinner at Medvidku restaurant where I ate the first night. I realized I was too tired to walk around looking for the restaurant so headed to Kolkovna. It was still early for dinner when I arrived but I was told that if I didn’t have a reservation there were no vacant tables. This was a disappointment. I made a reservation for the following evening and I turned around and started walking down the block and saw a place with an appetizing menu. It was called Svejk (across from Prada) and the waitress spoke enough English. I ordered roast pork, red cabbage and dumplings, a tomato salad and of course wine. The food was delicious and the price was 189CZK or about $10. It was a bargain dinner just a couple of blocks from Old Town Square. So it is possible to eat on a budget in Prague.

FWIW – I have just learned that Golden Lane is closed for the next year for archeological work.
adrienne is offline  
Jun 13th, 2010, 03:38 PM
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Am relly enjoying your report especially knowing that you can eat very good meals at bargain prices.
Thanks
Sher is offline  
Jun 13th, 2010, 08:19 PM
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yk - I just looked at your profile. Now I see why you want me to finish my Portugal trip report. BTW - guess where I'm going next...Egypt. Our wish lists are the same!
adrienne is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2010, 07:15 AM
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adrienne. Hoping you will write more of your trip report.
Sher is offline  

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