Family trip to Prague; long trip report

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Aug 17th, 2003, 05:06 AM
  #1
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Family trip to Prague; long trip report

Day 1
Mom. Dad and 2 kids aged 13 and 11
Flew Czech Air from JFK. We saw that the flight was overbooked and that they were offering $400 USD (payable in Czech crowns) for those who would be bumped. We immediately volunteered. We weren't chosen, but the nice thing was that the attendant upgraded us to Business Class. What a way to fly overseas! We were wined and dined the entire way! We did not partake of the wine or cordials. That was tough, but we were afraid of jet lag.
Couldn't sleep much because of excitement. Arrived at the Praha airport. As I posted earlier, we had prearranged pick up with Prague Airport Shuttle. Chris was great. He's the owner. He shuttled us to our hotel. He was more than a shuttle driver, he was an excellent tour guide. He gave us many pointers on important things like transportation, pickpockets, food...If you use his service, ask about his Tex/Mex restaurant. I wish we would have visited it. I had found out about Prague Airport Shuttle on jasoncholt.com. This was a huge help. We handled all of the shuttle details over email. It was so Convenient!
Arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel. This is located in the Josev (Jewish) section of Prague. Our rooms were very well apportioned. We sprang for 2 rooms. Our children are older, and we found that the privacy was a saving grace. The rooms are done in the Art Deco style w/ lighter woods mixed with darker. I immediately tried my converter. Alas, the prongs were not long enough. Those of you taking a converter, be careful. I will certainly buy my next converter on the Internet, not at the neighborhood travel store. Luckily, the hotel offered complimentary converters.
The kids were tired, but we wanted to try and keep going in order to acclimate to the country. We walked down Parizska street which is right across from the Intercontinental. The street is lined with many sidewalk cafes and designer shops. We continued walking to Rugantino. This is a pizza/pasta restaurant. The pizza was quite good. The kids enjoyed it. I had a salad which was a bit vinegary for my tastes. The murals of Disney characters were charming.
We then went on a marathon walk looking for Ticket Pro. We had prebooked tickets for a Vivaldi Concert off of the Internet. We walked in a very roundabout fashion to find Ticket Pro. It was somewhat humid and we were tired. Later in the trip, we realized that we had taken the long way to Ticket Pro. We could actually cut through Old Town Square and make a quick trip there. What was interesting was how much Prague has become westernized and commercialized. It is still extremely charming; however, I had the opportunity to travel to Prague over 20 years ago, and many things had changed. One change was quite evident on the walk to Ticket Pro. Some of the older shops we passed still reminded me of the old Prague, the goods being older, dusty, and few. This is quite the contrast to today's Prague.
By now we were all exhausted so we ventured back to the hotel for a quick nap.
Tonight we took the tram to the Charles Bridge. The walk was charming. People were selling all kinds of crafts and art work on the bridge. You could purchase quality artwork at a good price. The impromptu music provided by top quality street musicians doesn't hurt either.
We ate supper at the hotel. This was our only "bad" experience in Prague. The restaurant, Duke's, was overpriced, the waiter inattentive, and the food mediocre. The toilets were the only high point. I've never seen toilets with protective plastic wrap which is freshly replaced with a touch of a button!

Day 2

Enjoyed a breakfast at Barock which is a sidewalk cafe on Parizska street, just about a block from the Intercontinental. My husband and I enjoyed the pastries. The kids weren't sure about the scrambled eggs with onion and salmon. I loved their leftovers! After breakfast, we walked around the side streets around the hotel. Walking is so easy in Prague. We tried to find the entrance to the St. Agnes Convent, but after walking around the building several times, we just gave up. I later read that the convent is only open during certain exhibitions, so I'm not even sure it was open.
The rest of the morning we spent touring the city via the tram. We always bought our tickets at the corner newsstands or at the hotel. Validation of the tickets was quite easy, the machine is accessible as soon as you board the tram. We toured the Prague Castle, simply walking around the massive grounds. We thoroughly enjoyed St. Vitus' Cathedral. Shopping on The Golden Lane is also something not to be missed. The castle is actually a complex of many parts. I suggest taking time to see them all.
Lunch was at a Tex-Mex restaurant call La Casa Blue. We're not big meat eaters and we had already eaten lots of Italian so we decided to try this hole in the wall. We're from Texas and I can honestly say that the food here, in Prague, was quite good!
We spent the afternoon shopping around Old Town Square. There are many interesting shops. We never had any problems with money. We used our debit cards and the ATM machines for the most part.
The square is quite beautiful and filled with people most any time of day. The Astronomical clock was quite a charm for my children! We bought snacks at Bakeshop Praha. This bakeshop has delicious brownies, muffins, and light lunch items. There's a small counter to sit if you decide to eat inside.
One thing I would like to note is the demeanor of some of the shop people. Several times we entered shops and the workers would not say a word to us. In some cases, we were barely acknowledged. We really didn't care. I'm no expert, but I attribute this to the lingering effects of Communism. Without a Market Economy, there is no incentive to sell. I'm guessing that this phenomenon is the reason why we weren't barraged with overzealous shop keepers. I'm guessing that it's going to take some time for the people to realize that in a Market economy, selling and making the customer feel welcome is half the sell. I could be wrong, I'm no expert, this is just my opinion. It really didn't matter. Prague is so beautiful (as are it's people) that we didn't let silence bother us!
Tonight we dressed for dinner and the Vivaldi Four Seasons concert at Obecni Dum (the Municipal House). We were a bit overdressed, but we rarely dress for dinner, and the charm of Prague lends itself to more formality. We at dinner at DonGiovanni. We made reservations at the last minute and we had no problem at all. We took a taxi to the restaurant. I'd read about the unscrupulous taxi drivers so we had the hotel call the taxi. This worked well. Don Giovanni was good, not excellent, but good, hearty Italian food. The restaurant is reminiscent of the 1970's in decor. The service was attentive. I enjoyed the pesto pasta and the kids loved the Alfredo sauce.
The concert was quite enjoyable. Musicians from the Prague Symphony performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The Obecni Dum is beautiful with its art deco style and ornate furnishings. We all marveled at the massive coat check room and the staircases. After the concert, we proceeded to walk around the area, but it was cool and most of the shops had closed for the night. There are 2 restaurants located in the Obecni Dum. They both looked quite elegant. Unfortunately we had not purchased a phone card so we were fortunate when a matre d' (sp?) from a restaurant we stopped by so obligingly called the hotel taxi for us.

Day 3

Today we ate breakfast at the hotel and then we just walked over to the Jewish Cemetery. It was a beautiful day. We almost passed on the cemetery. I'm very glad we didn't. Looking at the graves in a guide book is no match for actually walking through the cemetery. There are several museums located within and beside the cemetery and its complex. One pet peeve. There are several sign asking visitors not to take pictures of the graves. Unfortunately, this did not stop some visitors. We also walked over to the Jewish Spanish Sanctuary. This, too, is well worth a visit! Lunch was at Bakeshop Praha. The sandwiches were good, and they can be warmed if you ask!
Next, we were off to Nove Mesto (New Town) where we shopped at all of the stores and malls. The malls seemed to be concentrated on the Na Prikope. The stores were numerous and full. I was especially happy to find many sales on European styled clothing (this translates into the newest fashions) for my son and daughter. We visited the Cerna Rue (sp?), Myslbek Centre and Slovansky Dum. Plus we went into many small stores, some we recognized (Oillily, Benetton) and some we didn't. Some of the streets are blocked off so this made shopping even nicer. We were able to walk to this area very easily from our hotel in the Jewish section. My husband had a business dinner in Prague Castle. It is very beautiful at night.


Day 4

We took the kids back to the Prague Castle. They wanted to see the Toy Museum and my husband was interested in the Leica Photography gallery there. We walked down to Square for lunch. The address is Malostranske namesti (sp?) 5. We almost didn't find the restaurant. There are many sidewalk cafes on the walk, and we almost chose one as an alternative. Square doesn't appear to actually be on this street. Maybe I'm not clear on the specific location, but Square is sort of on a Square at the end of the street. It faces the metro stop. This was the best food we ate while in Prague. I would classify it first as gourmet. My grilled vegetable sandwich retained all of the succulent flavor of the vegetables and olive oil. The spinach and ricotta wrap was somewhat like a calazone, but the breading was as thin as rice paper. The filling rich and robust. The penne alfredo the kids ate boasted the best mushrooms I've ever eaten! And, as if this wasn't enough, the bread served complimentary was almost a meal in itself when dipped in the fragrant olive oil. Desert was a treat of homemade sorbet and the best chocolate fondant (sp?) filled with chocolate sauce and topped with chocolate mousse a child (or mom) could ask for! I was certainly glad that we held out until we found the place!
Next we were off to Tesco. My son's suitcase had broken. Tesco is a WalMart like department store. It has 4/5 levels. We purchased the suitcase, and I also bought my crystal souvenirs here. The quality appeared to be as true as any others I had seen in gift shops. The prices were somewhat cheaper. The Tesco employees wrapped our purchases quite well! We were even able to have our tax-free form filled out on the 4th floor. One note of caution though. I bought the kids some gum along w/ the crystal. When I was at the customs desk handing in all of my tax free forms for refund, the gentleman working yelled at me asking just where the Orbit was. At first I didn't understand. But after a second I caught on that if you purchased and consumed an item while in the country, it's not eligible for a refund. Now, the worker at Tesco should have noticed this, but....I simply calmly explained to the customs guy that I had never filled one of these forms out, and couldn't he just deduct the amount from the total. And, that's just what he did!
Tonight we dined at Duplex. This is reportedly the disco where Mick Jaegar spent his 60th birthday. It is a resturant/casino/disco. The restaurant and disco are on the top floor. The view from the restaurant, in itself, is well worth a visit! You have the opportunity to eat outside or in. Watching the sun fall behind the buildings of Prague was quite romantic. I didn't see the casino. The food was ok, nothing special. We had mushroom risotto. My son and daughter who eat meat, ate the grilled chicken. They said the sauce could have been better. The disco looked inviting. Later we were told that the disco doesn't fare very well in spite of the prime location. Since it was our last night in Prague, we took a late night cab to the Charles Bridge and enjoyed the late night aura, quite romantic. It was a perfect ending to a dream vacation!

In retrospect-
Prague is such a picturesque city. Everytime I'd gaze down a street, or across the river, I felt like I was looking at postcards!
The crown is still in use in Prague. If I could, I'd go before the switch is made to Euros. When we traveled in Portugal, we felt like our Euros didn't buy quite as much!
Don't worry about finding toilets in Prague. They are very accessible. We probably had to pay more often than not, but I'd pay anytime for a toilet as clean as those I encountered in Prague!
We were very careful in watching for pickpockets. We encountered one man in the American Express office who had been pickpocketed while viewing the changing of the guard at Prague Castle. He had JUST been pickpocketed, and was on a tour. The guide had brought him immediately to the American Express office. The clerk at American Express not only canceled his American Express, but she called Mastercard for him and allowed him to explain his dilemma (he didn't know his number) to Mastercard. Needless to say, I was glad I'd written our numbers down. From then on, I carried only the American Express and my husband a small amount of cash and his Mastercard.
Inspite of the above incident, we always felt safe. Even when we were at Charles Bridge at 12:00 a.m., I never felt threatened. We did see some gypsies outside the Tesco trying to fight and cause a scene to divert attention so as to make pickpocketing easier. We just smiled because we'd read about this happening and went on our merry way!
Language was never really a barrier. Almost everyone we encountered spoke English. I was glad because Czech has to be the hardest language in the world! I have a friend who speaks German, French and Russian, and even she couldn't understand Czech while in Prague.
As far as clothing, wear whatever you want. We dressed up a bit more than we normal would (skirts, khakis, dressy jeans). We always felt properly dressed. I wore a pair of Kenneth Cole mule sandals. I had tried Born, 1492, and several other comfortable (supposedly), expensive shoes. I ended up returning them. My $70 Kenneth Cole's worked fine and we walked ALOT!
Try the Czech wine, as Chris our shuttle driver suggested, it's cheaper and excellent!
If you're a music lover then Prague is for you. We didn't even scratch the surface of the music options available.
Finally, plan, plan, plan! I spent 4/5 months on the Internet and reading guide books. There's a wealth of information out there. I didn't always use what I'd planned, but at least we always had a reference. Even my kids said that this was one of the best parts of the trip. The people on Fodor's board offered lots and lots of excellent info!
This was the best trip of my life. Everyone was happy, and while I really wanted to see and do much more, we did just enough. Any more and I might have worn my children out. As it stands, they'd go back to Prague in a heartbeat. Now, isn't that quite a legacy to leave behind?
elaine123 is offline  
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Aug 17th, 2003, 05:13 AM
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If anyone can believe it, I actually left a point out! Prague is an easy city to navigate. The trams are convenient,clean, cheap and safe. If we were dressed for dinner, we had our hotel call a taxi. Everyhting is conveniently located (everything we needed anyway) and walking is pleasant. With 2 kids, this was something with which I was concerned. Thankfully, it was no problem at all!
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Aug 17th, 2003, 06:20 AM
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ira
 
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Hi elaine,

Thanks for a very pleasant read.
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Aug 18th, 2003, 06:44 PM
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good report...can't wait to visit again in november
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Aug 19th, 2003, 01:01 AM
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You'll be interested to know that the restaurant/cafe you liked so much at Malostranska Namesti is owned by the same folks that own Kampa Park Restaurant. Kampa Park is considered by many to be in the top four or five restaurants in Prague.

Tescos, which you described as looking like Walmart was actually a Kmart until Kmart ran into difficuties a few years back.
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Aug 23rd, 2003, 07:14 PM
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Hi Elaine,

Glad to hear that you had a good time! I just got back yesterday.
St Agnes is closed, as far as I know. There was lots of damage from the flood last year. We used to give concerts there, but this year we held our final concert in a church near Intercontinental Hotel. Anyway, I also had a blast. Festival went well, and I was in Prague for a total of three weeks. Also ate at Duplex, but don't count on the Express Lunch being "express"! Took way over an hour. Anyway, I think this was one of my best summers there, even though the temps were way above normal! Take care!
Ann Marie
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Aug 23rd, 2003, 08:35 PM
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amp322, I was in Prague earlier in the summer and I too thought it was wonderful. St. Agnes Convent was open when I was there. At St. Agnes I enjoyed seeing the portraits of the saints painted by Master Theodoric. I then learned about the chapel at Karlstein Palace that contains a whole lot more of those portraits...didn't get there on the trip. Another highlight was the National Gallery of Modern Art, housed in the Trade Fair Palace. My bus fare to Terezin was very cheap, but once I got there on a Saturday I saw that I had a limited amount of time to see the town before the last bus back to Prague departed in the middle of the afternoon. Perhaps the most enjoyable time I had in Prague, aside from simply walking across Charles Bridge every day, was when I climbed up Petrin Hill from Kinsky Square and eventually walked up all the steps of the mini Eiffel Tower to catch a stupendous view of all of Prague far below. Also, the city has amazing art nouveau architecture all over the place. I plan to be back someday. elaine123, you're right about the city looking like it's straight out of a set of postcards!
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Aug 27th, 2003, 02:22 PM
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Ann Marie-
Glad to hear you had such a good time. I'm envious of your time there. I wish we could have heard some of your group concerts. As you know, time flew, and we didn't get to half of what I wanted. But, as I mentioned, everyone had a marvelous time. Thanks for your help!
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Aug 27th, 2003, 06:24 PM
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Great report! How did you find out about the Vivavldi concert? Were tickets expensive?
Thanks!
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Aug 28th, 2003, 06:42 AM
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Hi elaine
thanks for the info, I'll be going with family next March
How and when did you order your concert tickets?
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Aug 28th, 2003, 07:23 AM
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Elaine: Perhaps you have already discovered this site:

http://www.czechopera.cz/

I ordered our tickets on that site for The Bartered Bride at the National Theater (Narodni Divaldo), received an e-mail confirmation which I printed and took with us. We picked up our tickets at a box office next door to the National Theater the afternoon before the performance.
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Aug 28th, 2003, 08:48 AM
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Elaine, thanks so much for the great report. I'm in the early stages of planning a trip for fall 2004 and Prague is on the "must see" list. I'll have to check into tickets for a concert!
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Aug 28th, 2003, 02:28 PM
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allovereurope, check out ticketpro.cz this site has an English link. I simply chose the month we would be in Prague and picked out what we wanted to see. We did all of the transactions over the internet. I believe they will mail the tickets. We walked over to ticketpro once we were in Prague. It was a nice walk.
Elaine, I can't remember how much we paid for the tickets, it wasn't too much. Our seat weren't that great, but the hall wasn't full so we were able to move once the concert began.
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Aug 28th, 2003, 07:13 PM
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I've bought tickets over the internet from ticketpro.cz a couple times and they will not mail the tickets to the US. You have to pick them up at their office. I think I asked them to mail them as I had a lot of time left, or had that as an option (I forget the site) and they emailed and said the post was too unreliable and they won't mail them. I thought that was probably a better idea, anyway.
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