PRAGUE GENERAL

Dec 27th, 2013, 10:24 AM
  #1  
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PRAGUE GENERAL

PRAGUE GENERAL
DD and I are in Prague for 10 days over Christmas. Instead of describing what we did / eat / see every day, I will mostly just give info of what worked for us. There are other Fodorites (for example, unclegus, percy and kwoo) that provide great detailed guidance.

TRANSPORT
Getting here: We came with Emirates. Compared to BA, we had (a little) more legroom, a bigger TV screen, wider choice of entertainment and better food. Nice flight.

Getting around: we use the metro a lot. It is efficient, clean, user friendly. I buy a single ticket every time. You can buy a day pass, but it is only worth it if you use the metro 5 times per day or more. You have to validate the ticket before you go down the escalators. Sometimes I forget - sometimes you have to look for the validation machines. After 3 days, I have yet to see an Inspector of Tickets.

ACCOMMODATION: After much soul searching, I joined a home exchange site. This time it is working really well for us. We stay in a lovely apartment not far from the centre of Prague, while the owners are using our apartment. DD and I each have our own room, as well as the comforts of home (espresso maker, washing machine ...). The apartment is four metro stops from Muzeum, so it is still within reach. But yes, we do spend more time on the metro.
We are in an area where you do not see tourists. We see housewives with bags queue in front of the butcher's shop (with a small dog in attendance); the supermarket is full of people going about their daily lives; in the evenings we seem like the only English speakers in the local pub.

CELL PHONES: We bought two 'packets' from Vodaphone for Kc200 each - enough to text and briefly phone each other for 10 days. They have a shop just off Wencenlas' Square. When your phone is activated, you have to type in a password to unlock it. We returned to the shop. The girl said: "But it is all explained in the pamphlet ...". She seemed not to realise that we do not read Czech!

CLOTHES: For me, the secret to staying warm is in the underwear
You can easily tell the locals from the tourists - tourists are those who look ready for an arctic expedition. Locals just wear a warm jacket, sometimes a scarf, some wear gloves, most wear woollen hats. Most women wear warm leggings / ski pants / tight fitting jeans, usually with a warm jacket and boots - it looks really good. On Christmas Day I saw several elegant women in long (fake??) fur coats at Vysehrad.

More to follow later ...
kovsie is offline  
Dec 27th, 2013, 12:36 PM
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Nice job! I am following along.
willowjane is offline  
Dec 28th, 2013, 05:56 AM
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Will be in Prague in Feb. (First going to Dresden.) Was worried about the "arctic" weather! Ha. Have been looking at weather there and noticed that temps are well above what they've been here in NYC! So I guess we'll be just fine.

Looking forward to your next installment.
kenav is offline  
Dec 28th, 2013, 06:32 AM
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THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS: For me the best moment was when we emerged from Mustek station late in the first afternoon, and stepped right into a picture postcard. White christmas lights in winter-black trees, music, a christmas market in full swing. For the first few minutes it looked absolutely stunning. Still, I am glad I did not come especially for this. Yes - it is very pretty. The huge christmas tree at Old Town Square - with the background of the old, old buildings - is beautiful. But, IMO the food is not worth the price; many of the products sold are not handcrafted as I had expected, but could have been made in China. And there are thousands of tourists pushing and shoving in different directions. Maybe we came late to the markets (the 22nd), maybe other people would love the experience. I did not really, and I am a bit sorry about that!

MAGIC MOMENTS
Just wandering down the narrow cobblestoned streets of Prague is a special experience. Almost every building is beautiful, especially when you look higher than the ground floor. The variety of art and building styles is exceptional. To do this on a cold winter's morning with not many people about ... lovely!

I eventually reach the river. How broad it is, and the water dark, dotted with swans. I sit on a bench for a while, just taking in the river and the swans with the castle on the hill. I recognise Charles Bridge in the distance, and start making my way there. On the wide beautiful old bridge, a few men play a saxophone, flute, tjello and guitar ... lovely mellow music, the castle in the background, black clouds hanging low. Later the crowds and the beggars and the sellers of junk will come, but for a few minutes I can have it almost to myself.

I take a detour to a coffee shop. Have 3 small featherlight croissants with strong rich coffee, a coffee shop with crystal chandeliers and violins playing background music - how nice!
kovsie is offline  
Dec 28th, 2013, 08:30 PM
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kenav - to be fair, the locals do not walk the streets just after sunrise, they sensibly stay in the comfy centrally heated homes. We who are out many hours per day do dress warmly. But yes, it is not so terribly cold - we even had a day when it was a balmy 12C.
kovsie is offline  
Dec 29th, 2013, 05:53 AM
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kovsie - We won't be walking around in the early AM either. Figure we'll dress as we do here in NYC in the winter (although we will bring long underwear just in case). Waiting for your next installment.
kenav is offline  
Dec 29th, 2013, 06:13 AM
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Seems like you may be a bit colder than we are ... have a look at the following (scroll down to the weather part:
http://www.radio.cz/en/news

Will sit down later today to complete this section of my TR ... promise
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Dec 29th, 2013, 08:28 AM
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Looked at the site which said the Czech Republic may be expecting -14 degrees Celsius. That's 7 degrees F!! OK - time to get new long underwear. Maybe a full body blanket!! Maybe those temps will not come to be. Or maybe not in Prague. Keeping fingers crossed. Lots of alcohol may be consumed.
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Dec 29th, 2013, 05:18 PM
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"Lots of alcohol ..." LOL. It may help that a bottle of beer is cheaper than a bottle of water!
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Dec 29th, 2013, 05:58 PM
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Vysehrad: This is one of my most favourite places in Prague. The guidebooks do not say much about this former castle, but I am glad I went. It is easy to reach by metro, get off at the station with the same name. From there it is an easy 12 minute walk to the huge entrance gates of the park (entrance free). It was good to get away from the 1000s of tourists in the city centre, and to enjoy the many views of the city from here. By 3pm on Christmas Day the sunset reflects in the river, the trees are black against the blue sky, many locals are walking their dogs and their children; I see nobody with a camera bumping against the hip. I walk through the beautiful old cemetery ... the cold, the black church spires, the headstones, the bare trees ... and far away children are playing. Fresh flowers or little red candles on many graves. I find Dvorak's grave.
There seem to be quite a few small restaurants serving hot wine and other snacks, but when I was there they were all closed. How long do you need here? Well, you can stay a day, but in two hours you can see most of it.
kovsie is offline  
Jan 4th, 2014, 02:51 AM
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NATIONAL MARIONETTE THEATRE: We went to the 6pm show of The Magic Flute. It was such fun! Do not expect an opera experience; do not think it is something for kids (it is not). Go with an open mind, go half an hour early so that you can sit right in front (seats are not booked). The ancient art of puppetry comes to life here, and I loved the experience. The whole show lasts an hour, tickets are CZK 490 each.

MUSIC: Prague is awash with music - in many churches, and in other venues, there are high-quality performances each evening. We went to the concert of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on Old Year’s Eve in the beautiful Municipal House. They played the New World Symphony and it was absolutely excellent. A great experience!

CROWDS: Do not expect quiet streets because it is winter. Over the Christmas period it is very busy. I do not even want to imagine what it will be like during summer. People push and shove through the Christmas markets, over Charles Bridge, in the squares. Trains are packed until you leave the touristy areas.

WHERE TO EAT: I will only provide one suggestion here, and it is only for those who are longing to get out of the tourist spots. We had several excellent meals at U HOFFMANN in Kobylisy. Most evenings we were the only English speakers there - the rest of the tables were packed by local people drinking beer and having a good time. It is easy to find this well-known restaurant: take the red line of the metro to Kobylisy, take the station’s exit towards Salesianske Namesti, go left and take the exit Nad Sutkou. Now you are on the correct street, walk down +- 100meters - in front of you is a green building: Restaurant U Hoffmann. Prices are very reasonable.

CHARLES BRIDGE: There is a reason that this bridge is packed with tourists, it is a special place. I did not especially like the statues on the bridge, not one of them touched me like the statues on the Bridge of Angles in Rome. It is – of course – a totally different style and culture, the figures less pretty and more chubby. For me the magic of Charles Bridge was the views from there, and the history.
The best way to see it? Go before sunrise, watch how the city and the castle and the river with the swans wake up to the new morning. Stunningly beautiful.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: I did not know one word in Czech, and I sometimes found it difficult to navigate the city where I could not understand the simplest signs. Next time I will master a few basic phrases in Czech; I will have a guidebook with English translations of the Czech names of important sites; and I will have a cell phone that can access Google from anywhere.
I decided not to go on a guided tour or to hire a private tour guide – usually I prefer finding my own way at my own pace. With hindsight, I believe it would have been better to go on a guided tour right in the beginning. I do not think the HOHO bus would work well in Prague, most places where you want to go are not accessible to vehicles. IMO the best would be a short walking tour with a private guide.

WOULD I GO AGAIN: Yes, absolutely!
kovsie is offline  
Jan 4th, 2014, 04:42 AM
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One last remark about the Metro: navigating the three lines and finding the correct station is easy. I found it difficult to determine which ticket to buy. You not only have to know how long you will spend on the train (30 or 90 minutes), you also need to know how many 'zones' you will cross. Add to that that ticket machines are in Czech (of course, this is the language of the country) ... I struggled to understand what to buy. Because it is not expensive, I compromised by buying a ticket for 90 minutes, and ignored the 'zones'. I argued that I would probably not travel too far before getting off. Make sure that you have coins for the machine, not all take notes. Then, having figured out how to buy the ticket, you HAVE to validate it at the yellow machines at the entrance, usually before the escalators. Contrary to what I said above, there are Inspectors of Tickets in trains and on stations, and they will give you a fine of CZK 800 if your ticket is incorrect or not validated. You do not have enough money with you? They will kindly accompany people to a nearby ATM.
The tickets are printed in Czech, so you cannot figure out which one is today's ticket if your bag is as disorganized as mine sometimes is. I made a habit of throwing away the used ticket the moment I left the station (but make sure you keep it until you see a sign telling you that you exit the 'ticket area' or some such).
Do not follow everybody that seems not to validate their tickets - when the inspector pounces, people show their phones of a credit card-like longer term ticket.

Another interesting point: I have never seen so many well-behaved dogs on trains!
kovsie is offline  
Jan 4th, 2014, 06:50 AM
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What signs do you wish you would have known how to translate? We usually learn the usual "hello, goodbye, please, thank you and where's the bathroom" in the official language of whatever country we're in. And maybe some food terms, although we usually have a dictionary for those.

Being from NYC we're used to using public transportation, but the one in Prague does sound confusing.

Unfortunately, the National Marionette Theater won't be performing when we are there (Feb 10-14). I'm disappointed.
kenav is offline  
Jan 4th, 2014, 08:13 AM
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I am following along also.
Yes get to the Charles Bridge early.

I was on the Charles Bridge at 5:50 AM,only one other person there at the time so picture taking is easy.
Percy is offline  
Jan 4th, 2014, 09:31 AM
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Nice report, kovsie. I was in Prague for the first time this summer. One night it rained very, very heavily, just when I needed to walk from my hotel in Mala Strana to a restaurant across town where I had a reservation. It was dark and stormy (but warm), and I was one of only six people on the Charles Bridge. The only time during my stay that it wasn't crowded! The statues seemed quite eerie as I crossed, willing my umbrella not to turn inside out.
Leely2 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2014, 07:40 PM
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Somebody said you must be able to say five words in any new country: toilet, please, thank you, how much and one swear word.
The signs I refer to are mostly place names - little brown boards with incomprehensible (for me) names. One obvious example comes to mind: you should know that Charles Bridge is Karlov Most. You get off at Starometska Station (of course spelled differently), but it takes you a while to realise that 'starometska' means 'old town'. There is just no way you can work out the meaning of words if you do not know Russian ...
I did love the sound of the names: Malostranska, Vlatavska, Kobylisy, Mustek ...
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Jan 5th, 2014, 05:31 AM
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I am going on too much now, but a few last examples of the language on the sign boards will show what I mean. Just after Charles Bridge is a sign board that shows the way to four places: Prazke Jezulatko, Vrboska zahrada, Karlov Most and Turisticke Informace (I took a photo) I know the spelling is incorrect ... I did not add all the 'little thingies' - as DD calls the diacritical marks of written Czech.
On the first day I could understand the last one. One the last day I understood the last two. You will see signs pointing you to Vaclavske Namesti or Obecni Dum. It takes some searching before you know that this is Wenceslas Square or the Municipal House.
I am now waiting for somebody to tell me that signs in the Czech Republic should be in Czech. Yes I know, I agree. I am just saying that I sometimes found it difficult to negotiate a city where the language was often inaccessible to me. I can only compare it to - for example - a sign in Rome that shows the way to 'Piazza di Trevi' ... also in the language of the country, but accessible to me.
Maybe other, more experienced travellers can tell us how they overcome this!
kovsie is offline  
Jan 5th, 2014, 05:40 AM
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Leely2: I think I know what you mean. I was on the bridge at dawn, with the statues just dark shapes against the dark sky. It was cold, and my footsteps echoed a bit. Then it became lighter and the river became silver and a swarm of swans flew right over me. I looked down the bridge and there was a young couple, he on his one knee, obviously asking the big question. I held my breath until she nodded and he produced a ring from his thickly padded jacket! This at dawn on New Year's morning ... how romantic can you get!
kovsie is offline  
Jan 10th, 2014, 05:48 AM
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Time to finally conclude this report.
The last thing I want to say to those who are planning a trip to Prague, is to consider using Smart-wings, the budget airline based in Prague. On the whole, they receive good reviews and the prices can be excellent.

I loved our days in Prague, and I do hope I will return in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks to all of you who came along for the ride.
kovsie is offline  
Jan 10th, 2014, 06:34 AM
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kovsie: Just wandering down the narrow cobblestoned streets of Prague is a special experience. Almost every building is beautiful, especially when you look higher than the ground floor.

Yep, that aptly summarizes my general impression of Prague. I'd go back in a heartbeat, too.


Percy: I was on the Charles Bridge at 5:50 AM,only one other person there at the time

Us, too. Here's how it looked to us in the early-morning light in spring:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p...a93d#h6a3aa93d
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