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Prague in January - some observations, comments and tips

Prague in January - some observations, comments and tips

Jan 25th, 2008, 09:49 AM
  #1  
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Prague in January - some observations, comments and tips

Last week I have been in Prague for business for a couple of days and added another night tomeet friends and do some exploring. Thought I give you a short summary of my impressions. Maybe it's helpful to someone.

Off season has definitely one advantage: NO CROWDS! The other side is that the beautiful gardens are closed, no outdoor dining, daylight is short. For calculating: 1 USD = 18 CZK at the moment. 1 Euro = 26.50 CZK

Transportation:

The trains Berlin - Dresden - Prague - Vienna/Budapest do not run via Central Railway Station (Hlavni Nadrazi) due to construction works. I had to get off the train in Prague-Holesovice from where I took the red Metro line to Hl. Nadrazi, which is 3 stops away. A single trip ticket is 18 CZK (20 min. no transfers). If you need to transfer from one Metro line to another or to tram/bus you need a ticket for 26 CZK (good for 75 min.) There is a desk for exchanging money at Holesovice, but don't expect to get a good exchange rate. I didn't see an ATM, but maybe there is one somewhere in that station (doubt it, though). Make sure to get coins (I brought some, fortunately) since there are only ticket machines, no manned ticket counters in Holesovice.

I ran into a ticket control once. What upset me was that they picked only the obvious tourists out of the crowd to check their tickets. Locals could walk on.

Public transportation is sufficient. I preferred the trams over the Metro for the views. And I *hated* the steep and long escalators down to the Metro platforms. It takes a lot of time to actually get to platforms and often you're better off to take the tram - which have more stops, of course.

Hotel:

4star Falkensteiner Hotel Maria. An Austrian hotel chain. Single room was 86 Euro per night and my travel agency got me a Stay 4 Pay 3 nights deal. Perfect location, only 2 min. from Hlavni Nadrazi/Metro, 5 min. to Venceslas Square, State Opera, trams. It is a turn-of-the-century building, modern design inside. I had a quiet room to the courtyard that had A/C (good for summer), was not too spacious (double = single room). The ceiling in the decent size bathroom had wet spots, the plaster at one corner in the room was damaged. Nice sauna/steambath area downstairs. Breakfast was ok, nothing special, I especially missed a good cheese selection.

Internet access at a computer in the bar was free, although limited because the firewall blocked a number of website (e.g. my email provider). Staff was relatively friendly with exceptions, e.g. refused to send my postcards per airmail. All in all I would stay there again if nothing better comes up.

Sights:

The top sights are open in winter as well. I highly recommend Strahov monastery - the Baroque/classicistic library halls are stunning. But don't miss the cloisters with Romanesque rooms etc. plus the picture gallery in the back of the monastery. Inexpensive and very interesting. Once in the area you should not miss Loreto, the pilgrim church. The nicest way back to the river/old town is to walk from Strahov monastery down the green hills and Vlasska street. You'll see some embassies. I had a good laugh about the poor police/security guys.

The castle (Prazsky hrad) is always a sight, worth to explore. Walking around on the grounds and St. Vitus cathedral are free, but to get in the buildings you have to pay a hefty fee of 350 CZK (photo permission additional 50 CZK). Although St. Georg monastery and the royal gardens were closed admission was not discounted. I was also a bit upset that the crypt and the tower of St. Vitus were closed "due to technical reasons". A lame excuse IMO. Beside that, most tourists will be disappointed with the interior of the castle. There is practically nothing of furniture or so to see in the old Royal Wing. The medieval architecture is beautiful (at least to me) but there is really nothing else to see. The picture gallery in the castle is also somewhat disappointing.

At the eastern end of the castle you'll see the recently renovated Lobkowicz Palace. It is private, not included in the castle ticket. It cost another 275 CZK and while there are some beautiful pictures inside plus nicely decorated rooms I thought it is a rip-off. Definitely a tourist trap is their cafe-restaurant. Ridiculously overpriced, also with the 10% reduction that you get with a valid ticket to their palace.

Another quite dull and almost depressing place was Sternberk palace, the home of the National Picture gallery, close to the castle. Maybe I was tired that day or something, but I thought I had already seen too many of such pictures and mostly in better quality. My advice: better skip it.

Fortunately they had a very interesting high quality exhibit on Albrecht von Valdstejn aka Wallenstein in the Valdstejn Palace, home of the Czech Parliament - Senate. It was interesting to see that the Czech think of Wallenstein as a traitor (unlike Germans) while he is in reality one of their greatest figures in history. They had brought together countless excellent pieces (paintings, clothes, coins, drawings, weapons etc.) from castles and museums all over the Czech Republic for this exhibit. I was glad I had the chance to see it.

For (medieval) architecture fans I also recommend to visit the Anensky klaster (convent) with a nice collection of medieval and religious pictures and carved altars/figures where pure gothic architecture is to see in the convent churches. Really pure architecture.

I also visited Vysehrad - a bit south of the city centre/old town, but well worth a visit. The big church there is open on weekends - excellent example of 19th century eclectic style. Great views from the walls, lovely small Romanesque chapel. And simply a wonderful, peaceful spot away from the vibrant city. Many Czech heros are buried there, e.g. Smetana and Dvorak.
Ingo is offline  
Jan 25th, 2008, 09:49 AM
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continued -

Restaurants/Food:

Czech food is rich. No sauce without cream. It must be a nightmare for the weighwatchers, lol. I ate once in the Irish Pub/restaurant right across the street from my hotel - Sherwood - which was very good. I had an excellent salmon tatar as appetizer (really fantastic!) and game medaillons (ok) and dark beer. Paid 500 CZK incl. tip, not really inexpensive but still ok. Service was very good.

Another dinner was in Pizzeria Donna near Rudolfinum. A fabulous place! Non-touristy place, a recommendation of my local friend. I had smoked salmon (appetizer) and pork filet (both very tasty) as main course with roasted potatoes in tomato sauce as side dish (which were not good). Panna cotta was delicious. They had a good Czech red wine (Frankovka from Moravia). The bill came to 400 CZK which was more than ok.

One day I had lunch at Chez Marcel in Josefov near Anensky convent. Nice ambience (french), but poor service and quite expensive. A glass of mediocre white wine was 95 CZK, the baked goat cheese with a small green salad was excellent but overpriced - 190 CZK, the creme brulee a disappointment in taste for 90 CZK.

What I loved in Prague were the Viennese style coffeehouses (kavarna). There are two famous kavarnas famous as meeting places of writers, poets, musicians, artists: Cafe Slavia right across the National Theatre and Cafe Louvre some minutes up the same street (Narodni). Both have that certain ambience - the Slavia with its Art Deco style interior, more patina and piano player feels a little more original. But the Cafe Louvre has the better service, cakes and coffee

Evening activities:

My local friends dragged me into a Jazz club one night. Quite nice, enjoyed the ambience and the music. Drinks were ok, the food Mexican and spicey/hot.

One other night I attended a classical concert in the Rudolfinum/Dvorak hall. Stunning building, fantastic music experience. The ticket was a steal for only 200 CZK. The chamber orchestra of the Czech Philharmonic played works of Grieg, Mendelssohn and Bartok. While I didn't like that one of Mendelssohn much the others were fantastic, especially Bartok's.

The next night I got a ticket (800 CZK) for SWAN LAKE at the State Opera house. While the production was pretty good, traditional and romantic, and the dancers were good too, the orchestra was a bit disappointing. Anyway, still a nice evening.

For Thursday night I purchased a ticket (700 CZK) for the National Theatre. The Slovak Opera company was on tour in Prague and performed ARIADNE AUF NAXOS (Richard Strauss), one of my favourite operas from my favourite composer. But - what a disappointment. It was an awful production, most of the soloists did a poor job - except for 'Zerbinetta', her aria was actually quite good - and the orchestra was really, really bad. If there were an intermission in that opera I would have left. Brrrrr.

Ok, that's it. I know that Prague is everyone's favourite on this forum and I'll get some flak. I don't mind. And I want to add that I loved walking around and gazing at the beautiful old buildings. There are just some aspects that I don't like about Prague and that's subjective.

Ingo
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Jan 25th, 2008, 10:00 AM
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Thanks Ingo for all the info.

We are going in late May.

maitaitom is offline  
Jan 25th, 2008, 11:38 AM
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Nice job and a pleasure to read.

I am baffled that the Strahov monastery is not on everyones list of top 5 things to see - it was a highlight of our trip there.
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Jan 26th, 2008, 07:21 AM
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Thanks to both of you.

Maitaitom, I am sure you'll have a great time in Prague. Btw, there is a restaurant adjacent to Strahov monastery with a terrace overlooking the city, castle to the left, Petrin hill to the right. It is a bit more expensive than average Prague restaurants, but in end May on a mild evening it must be fabulous! I was told they serve excellent food.

Bardo - ditto. You can even arrange private guided tours through the library and I would have done that if there had been enough time.

I.
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Jan 26th, 2008, 01:04 PM
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Nice report! We're visiting in early June and while we plan to eat mostly Czech food, the tip about Pizzeria Donna was appreciated. Always nice to have a change of pace option handy!
Debs is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 03:39 PM
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Thanks, Ingo. We will also be in Prague in early June and are glad to have the information.

Maitaitom and Debs: do you have a hotel yet? I am looking primarily in the Mala Strana area and the prices are higher than I hoped. Have you found any good deals?
jd_dallas is offline  
Jan 26th, 2008, 06:40 PM
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JD - We're staying at Hotel Duo, which is well outside of the city center, in district 9. We have about a 15-20 minute metro ride (on the red line) to reach city center, but understand a brand new metro station (Prosek) has just opened which is literally steps from Hotel Duo. With the US $ tanking against European currencies these days, it was worth it to us to be outside city center since the metro will be so convenient. www.hotelduo.com if you want to check it out!
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Jan 26th, 2008, 10:36 PM
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how much did you pay for a Vienna-Prague segment of your train?
wiz0rd is offline  
Jan 27th, 2008, 04:36 AM
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Hello Ingo:

Thanks to you for a great job on your report. The hint of negativity you express is a bit troubling because we are planning a week long visit to Prague over New Year's day this year. We just visited your beautiful hometown, as you know, and are still glowing from that experience. I gather that we should lower our expectations for Prague.

If you have the time and the inclination, I believe that folks on this board would appreciate hearing about those subjective "aspects that I don't like about Prague".

Thanks again. Gradyghost

gradyghost is offline  
Jan 27th, 2008, 09:38 AM
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Interesting suggestion, Debs. I am still inclined to stay in walking distance to the city center, but you seem to have found a good alternative, and I understand what you're saying about the effects of exchange rates. If I don't find something reasonable, I will definitely look at the Duo.
jd_dallas is offline  
Jan 27th, 2008, 11:22 AM
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I think the link for the Hotel Duo should be: http://www.hotelduo.cz/

I'm always willing to consider "cheap" so I checked into the Hotel Duo. I guess I'm a lot cheaper than you folks. I found the rates a bit high considering the distant location. I also didn't care for the reviews on TravelAdvisor or Venere.

In the meantime I found this place:

http://www.ostruvek.cz/en/

The price is better and the location looks to be closer. The reviews were slightly better, but I will admit that judging by the photos the rooms do look a little more spartan. We only use the hotel for eight hours of sleep followed by a nice breakfast. The rest of the time we're wandering around town playing the tourist game.

We stayed at the Tivoli Hotel this past December. It too might not be the average American's cup of tea since it is in a drab part of town (albeit within walking distance of Wencelas Square) and doesn't offer the amenities most hotels offer. They had a decent buffet breakfast, rooms were clean and showers were warm. Normally that's all that matters to me. The only reason I'm not returning there is because of the horrible lack of parking in the area. We paid close to $100 for two nights of parking at the train station.
Zeus is offline  
Jan 27th, 2008, 05:52 PM
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As with Ingo's room rate, we got a bit of a break on our room at the Duo-pay for 4 nights, stay 5. Another incentive to stay there! In some destinations, we've stayed city cente, and that convenience can't be beat, while at other destinations we've chosen a more out of the way location, and found that has advantages as well. There were mixed reviews about Duo on Trip Advisor, but we'll find out for ourselves later this year how accurate those were. And my definition of 'cheap' is called 'less than luxurious'.

Good luck with your hotel search-you certainly have plenty of options!
Debs is offline  
Jan 28th, 2008, 04:48 AM
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Hi Ingo

Very interesting insights. I must agree that I had many of the same feelings when we visited a couple years ago. It is such a hyped up city, and granted the landscape and views from the castle are beautiful, but overall I was not overwhelmed.

Glad you enjoyed the Loreto and the Strahov, with its cloisters. We found those a highlight as well.

In 1968 as a recent college graduate, my husband was in Prague during the Russian invasion. He remembers standing on the steps of the National Museum, literally hiding behind the railing, while the tanks came rolling in and then the bullets started flying. But in the reckless abandon of youth, he was able to capture the scene with his photographs and had a couple photos published in his local newspaper. So our trip back to Prague was bittersweet for him, bringing lots of memories to the forefront.

swisshiker is offline  
Jan 28th, 2008, 05:22 AM
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Thanks for posting this. We're also headed to Prague in May.
sharon1306 is offline  
Jan 28th, 2008, 07:27 PM
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Headed to Prague in February (three weeks- yipee!) Excited to hear about your musical evenings. Did you purchase your tickets each day at the box offices?

Thanks for the report. We are keeping a list of places to eat.

Debbie
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Jan 29th, 2008, 04:28 AM
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debbie,

You can get same day tickets for the lesser artists and venues. However, for the Czech Philharmonic and visiting orchestras to the Rudolfinum you need advance tickets.

The locals are crazy for good classical music and these shows often (usually?) sell out.

Highly recommended - as good or better the New York Philharmonic at about 1/3 the price!

http://www.ceskafilharmonie.cz/en/index.php
bardo1 is offline  
Jan 29th, 2008, 09:40 AM
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debbie: I purchased the tickets on the day of arrival. That means the same day as the concert in the Rudolfinum was (the ticket desk is in the office on the right side of the building's main facade) - it was by far not sold out. Really a steal for only 200 CZK.

But, bardo, I doubt they are as good as the New York Philharmonic. I had the pleasure to attend a concert of the NY Philharmonic two years ago in Dresden (ticket only 17 Euro!) and I liked that one better. Ok, not really a competition since they played a different program (Messiaen, Wagner, Dvorak's 9th).

I bought tickets for the State Opera and National Theatre on day of arrival as well, that means one resp. two days in advance. Both were almost sold out. In tourist season I'd highly recommend to buy far in advance.

gradyghost - hi, I remember your posts about your stay in Dresden well! Since it is going to be your first visit to Prague I guess you'll be charmed by the old architecture and lovely setting of the city. After that first WOW effect fades and especially when visiting for the umpteenth time you'll notice some negative aspects.

Like e.g. the sometimes unfriendly people - maybe not towards Americans, but definitely towards Germans (might be a result of the complicated history). Or the feeling that special prices are made for tourists. The price-value relation is often not ok - especially if you know how low the salary of locals is. I often felt ripped off.

The outskirts, only few steps from the city centre, are not beautiful at all. Quite shabby and dirty compared to other Central European cities. Another aspect is that I find the local food to be VERY rich and not very exciting (except for the palacinky/pancakes, lol).

swisshiker, hi! Somehow I had a gut feeling we would agree on this city. That story from 1968 is amazing. Wow - your hubby witnessed a very important moment of history. My parents and grandparents told me stories about the tanks rolling on the East German roads into the Czech Rep. and so. Horrible.

Ingo
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Jan 29th, 2008, 10:45 AM
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I had been away from the forum for about 5 days. Good information.
I have several very valuable inputs now.

We will be there in late June, arriving on the 23rd from Atlanta.
bob_brown is offline  
Jan 30th, 2008, 12:17 PM
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Oh, almost forgot one other thing my Czech friends told me: They pointed out on menus in restaurants that were in both Czech and English that the English version had a statement like "Service not included" while it was not found on the Czech menu. They said that restaurant bills always include the service (like in my home country Germany).

Another attempt to rip off tourists IMO.
Ingo is offline  

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