Prague Report April 2005

Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:27 AM
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Prague Report April 2005

First, let me recommend, as others have, an invaluable website called livingprague.com
I canít imagine going to Prague without having fully explored all the helpful information on this website.

Hotel: Hotel Adria, Wenceslas Square
My repeat disclaimer is that I did not make the hotel arrangements for this trip, my TCís friend the travel agent did, and my opinion of the travel expertise of most travel agents remains low. The hotel Adria was a neutral on this trip, it neither detracted from nor enhanced our experience, but I felt it was not a good value. The rooms were clean, a pretty good breakfast was included in our room rate (vile coffee, though, in a city that has great coffee) hotel recently renovated, room moderate in size, modern bathroom, but all lacking in charm. We had no view, though some rooms are said to overlook either Wenceslas Square or a monastery garden.
The rooms could have been rooms in any Marriott in any city. For a bit more money (or maybe the same rate) we could have had a charming hotel such as the Maximillian, and for less money we would have had perhaps a smaller room, or less of a breakfast, but more charm. No washcloths, no tissues, but there was minibar and built-in hairdryer. TV received one station in English, BBC World. Hotel provided a computer for internet access at 100 crowns for 15 minutes, about $4. The Adria is on Wenceslas Square in New Town. Now that Iíve stayed in both Old Town and in New Town, there is no comparison imo. New Town, which I saw hardly any of during my first visit to Prague, has much less charm per square inch than Old Town. Some have called Wenceslas Square Ďseedyí. I didnít think so, as in most of Prague, the streets are pretty clean and I didnít feel unsafe or offended. I just think itís hectic and commercial and a bit like staying in New Yorkís Times Square 2005. The streets may be swept more often, but itís still all hustle and cheap souvenir shops.

Czech Airlines, RT JFK ĖPrague. Coach seats uncomfortable, when the person in front reclines, you are left with only a few inches of space in front of you. People taller than I (Iím 5í7Ē) would have a serious problem with leg/knee room. The flight crews and ground staff were just this side of rude. You could just tell by their tight, frozen smiles and minimal responses that if they didnít need their jobs they might give some thought to poisoning your food.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:28 AM
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Sightseeing:
Good self directed walking routes can be found at www.czechtourism.com , also frommers.com

We used two guided tours provided by General Tours, and our knowledgeable and English-fluent guide, Jana Lukesova, freelances as well. Her email address is [email protected] She took my friend on a 3-hour general orientation tour of Pragueís highlights (I skipped that one, but my TC said it was excellent) and the following day we went with her on what turned out to be a private tour of Mala Strana. (No other people had booked the tour that day). Our tour of Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter) included the Strahov Monastery (http://www.strahovskyklaster.cz/ ), the Loreto Shrine (that was my second visit there and I still highly recommend it), the Our Lady Victorious Church http://www.karmel.at/prag-jesu/ (where the Infant of Prague is housed), and we ended at the Castle where we were free to explore further on our own. The Loreto closes every day from 12:15 to 1pm.

We also took a tour of the Jewish Quarter by booking with Precious Legacy Tours. Last time I used Wittmann tours. Both companies have well-trained guides. As with most tours, the guide quality is a matter of luck, and we were satisfied. www.legacytours.cz,
www.wittmann-tours.com

We saw all the usual Ďgreatest hitsí of Prague sightseeing, every guidebook lists them, and here under Destinations at fodors.com you can find suggestions for the must-sees. Iíll just add my special favorites here. As others predicted, the absolute best sightseeing activity we did, was to take the guided tour of Municipal House, Obecni Dum. This building has 650 rooms, the one-hour tour includes perhaps 10 of them, and these vary. The building interior is a treasure of Art Nouveau decoration and gorgeous detail, the pattern on the curtains in each room matches the patterns on even the radiator grilles. One room was decorated originally by Czech artist Alfons Mucha, and Iíll never forget it. These tours are limited in size and in English are offered on an infrequent basis and must be reserved in advance. www.obecnidum.cz I canít believe I didnít see this on my first visit, and obviously I highly recommend it. We had a lunch at the Kavarna (Caf&eacute on the ground floor of Municipal House. It is a beautiful room with mediocre food and, not surprisingly, high prices. Still, I found the setting thrilling, and likened it to having an overpriced drink or dessert at Café Florian on St Markís Piazza in Venice. Tourist trap? Maybe. But memorable.

Museum of Decorative Arts: A beautiful building with limited exhibition space, showcasing primarily glass, porcelain, silver, and textile collections. I canít call it a must-see, but if you are interested itís worth a look.

Because we were staying in New Town, I saw more of that area than I did last time. I took Ben Hainesís advice and went to Bethlehem Chapel. The original was where early church reformer and martyr Jan Hus preached and where the church service was first offered in the Czech language. In a city of Baroque splendor, the interior of Bethlehem Chapel is a masterpiece of simplicity. We also saw Charles Square and visited the crypt of the church of Sts Cyril and Methodius. In May 1942 the 7 British and Czech agents who had assassinated Heydrich, the brutal Nazi governor of Czechoslovakia, hid in the crypt of this church. When they were finally betrayed and discovered, they fought to the end, and then shot themselves to avoid capture. In their inhumane revenge, the Nazis murdered about 5000 Czech civilians, and razed two villages to the ground. In the crypt you can watch a film about the final moments of the battle at the crypt, and view the crypt itself. Open daily except Mondays.
http://www.curme.co.uk/prague.htm has history and pictures
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:29 AM
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You canít walk a few yards in Prague without someone giving you a handbill announcing a concert in any of many locations, from churches to concert halls to museums. Within a few days you could have a collection that would wallpaper your bathroom. We wanted to hear a concert in a Municipal House room, but the timing didnít work out for us. We instead heard one concert in St Nicholas Church of Old Town Square (there is another, even more beautiful, St Nicholas Church in Mala Stranaóthat church is a must-see.) The concert program was easy to like (Mozart, Beethoven) but I didnít think the acoustics were great

Maps: My previous favorite, ĎStreetwise PragueĒ, seemed inadequate this time. It might have been because on this second trip I had more time to explore Prague and some if itís less-well-known venues, and the smaller detail on Streetwise was too hard to see and decipher. I also had a National Geographic map which others on Fodorís have recommended. Itís an excellent map, d itís larger than Streetwise, but thatís also its advantage, since itís easier to see details and the many small streets. It is laminated and folds easily. It includes an inset map of the Castle, a metro map, info about points of interest, a street listing, even a map of the Charles Bridge with each sculpture identified. It might almost be a perfect map, but all of the sightseeing venues and other places of interest are labeled only in Czech, so in order to find, say, the Museum of Decorative Arts, you have to know that its Czech name is Umeleckopnumyslove Muzeum. That might be a difficulty for some visitors, especially first-timers. Within Prague is sold (at souvenir stands, newsstands) a paper map called Prague Panoramic Map Picture Guide. It has enlarged and excellent detail of the center of Prague, but doesnít include anything outside of Tourist Town. The overall easiest map: the free one given out by my hotel desk. It was easy to read, streets were easy to find (if you knew what you were looking for and its general location), and though it was thin paper and couldnít stand up to much use, there was always a free replacement to be had.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:29 AM
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Restaurants:
No one goes to Prague for the food. Well, maybe Czech citizens who live in the hinterlands think of Prague as a food mecca, but they may be coming from culinarily-challenged locales to begin with. Good cooking in restaurants is the exception rather than the rule, in my experience. I will offer one warning about Czech restaurant cuisineóavoid dumplings at all costs. A dumpling is not a savory meal enhancement, it is a doughy lump resembling a cooked baseball, but heavier and not as tasty. If you have one, you will have time to rue your choice, as it will stay with you for quite a while.

I donít know why I didnít realize this last time, but Prague cafes offer a coffee drink called Viennese coffee or Kava Videnska, which is espresso with a large topping of whipped cream. This is the Czech version of the Einspanner coffee drink I first had in Vienna, so I was very happy energized, several times per day.

My TC is not a foodie, so we indulged in only one great dinner-- that was a return trip (for me) to David, in Mala Strana. This is one of Pragueís great restaurants, it is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Equally-good food, more elaborate décor, more central location, all of these can be found elsewhere. But David provides something extra, a peaceful, enjoyable Czech meal of excellent quality, traditional cuisine and yet with some modern touches, professional and interested service, in a setting that seems like a country inn, on a narrow hilly street in an untouristed neighborhood near the American Embassy (if you take a taxi, it will be stopped for a search by the police). Itís only a 20-25 minute walk from Old Town Square. Iím a little worried about the future of this excellent restaurant, the night we were there only one other table was occupied. Dinner for two, with a bottle of excellent wine recommended by our waiter, was about 2000 crowns. www.restaurant-davod.cz open every day. If youíre going to have Czech pancakes for dessert, this would be one place to indulge. We were so full already that we opted for sorbets, and let me tell you that that the pear and the raspberry sorbets were no dessert compromisesóperfect!

We also had a very good meal at Le Café Colonial, in Josefov, at Siroka 6. It has a romantic atmosphere, very good food, and outstanding desserts. My TC declared the dessert sampler plate better than sex. Dinner for two, with a couple of glasses of wine, came to about 1600 crowns. www.lecafecolonial.cz

We had one dinner right on Old Town Square, across from the Astronomical Clock, at Café U Prince (attached to the hotel of the same name.) We had one lunch at a café on the other side of the Square, in front of the Tyn Church. The food at both of these was predictably mediocre and relatively expensive, but sometimes hunger and location, even when knowing itís a tourist trap, win out over common sense.

However, within a 5 minute walk of OTS are two pretty good places. One I had been to last year, Clementinum, Platnerska 9. In terms of space use itís as much a bar as a café, décor is modern and casual. Main courses were mostly under 300 crowns, many choices of wines and beers. Food is good, not memorable, but good. The night we were there credit cards were not accepted so I had to go out and bring back some cash. Due to the language barrier I wasnít sure if credit cards are never accepted, or if there was something wrong with the electronic credit card link that evening alone.

The other good café quite close to OTS is Café Metamorphis, Tynsky dvur, Malastupartska 5-- attached to the small hotel of the same name. Itís in the Ungelt, a small and quiet square behind the Tyn Church, which houses some charming cafes and shops (e.g., Papllio, an excellent antique shop, Tyn 1, www.papilio.cz ) The Ungelt also has one outstanding coffee house, the Ebel. At Café Metamorphis I sat outside (there are heat lamps), enjoyed the view of the Tyn Church, and had good soup and an excellent thin-crust pizza. They offer a wide range of other choices as well. I should have asked to look at a room in the Metamorphis hotel, as the location is outstanding. It gets mostly good reviews at tripadvisor.com

We had one lunch at Reykjavic, a well-known Icelandic restaurant on Karlova, the street that runs into Old Town from the Charles Bridge. They offer many choices, even a good hamburger, but specialize in seafood. This was the only restaurant where our surly young waiter, as we were paying the bill, suggested in clear English that we add on 10% for a gratuity.

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Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:30 AM
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Shopping:
For garnet jewelry (one of Pragueís tourist industries), I still recommend Granat Turnov, Dlouha 20/28, Old Town. This is a factory showroom and I think for the quality their prices canít be beaten. The shop is divided into two rooms, one with only 18K gold settings, the other with sterling silver settings. Browse elsewhere first, so you can compare prices and designs. They also have a few pieces of amber jewelry, but that is not the specialty.

For crystal, there are so many places to choose from, and you tend to see the same designs everywhere, but I bought something from the more unusual stock in Egermann, Maiselova 15, in Josefov, www.egermann.com
This isnít a souvenir shop, it offers more serious items, and lots of choices in colored glass. I feel that for the quality, I got a bargain.

I got back Thursday night and worked all day yesterday, so Iím still behind on sleep and readjustment. I can tell you that I still love Prague, and I will go back again.

I am updating my long Prague travel file; if anyone wants to see it, email me at [email protected]
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:33 AM
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Welcome back Elaine. It sounds like you had a wonderful time in Prague. How much did you pay for your English speaking tour guide?
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:48 AM
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Our two Prague tours were included in a pre-paid arrangement that included air fare, airport transfers in Prague, tours, plus the hotel. We paid the whole bill in $US, prior to the trip. I knew I didn't approve of that, and won't do it again unless I am more certain about the hotel choice and the a la carte price comparison.

I did a little calculation and figured that the cost of the two tours, built into the package, was about $50 per person per tour. I think when booked on an individual basis, lower rates will very likely be available.

The Jewish Quarter pp tour cost was about $20, I think.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:58 AM
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So the tour cost about $25/tour/person? If each one of the tour lasts for about 3-4 hrs, I think that's pretty reasonable. I was under the impression that it would cost about $25/hour, which I thought was high, therefore, I wasn't going to do it. I wouldn't mind a tour guide on my first day in Prague just to get a feel of what areas that I'd like to spend more time in, and then explore on my own for the rest of my trip. What are your thoughts?
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 05:01 AM
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Thank you so much for your report Elaine! I have been looking forward to your post before I depart for Prague come May ! I will email you for your Prague File update as well!

Just one question - how's the weather like?

Thank you!
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 06:21 AM
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Welcome back elaine!
I am so impressed that you are just back and working and posting an excellent trip report! You are a better man than I
This was very interesting and I do want to see the crystal you got ~
Scarlett
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 06:38 AM
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elaine: excellent report, chock full of sage observations.

Of course, I am inclined to commend any report that confirms my own impressions (and prejudices): dumplings, Czech airlines (makes the prison wardresses of Air Canada seem like geishas), Obecni dum (astonishing) and the Kavarna (not astonishing), Strahov, Loreto, Wenceslas Square, etc.

Well done!
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 06:59 AM
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thanks for all the comments.

I forgot to mention another item that I recommend avoiding: Marionette Theatre.
It's the cultural equivalent of dumplings.

There are MANY venues offering this, and the universal presentation seems to be Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, which premiered in Prague. I wasn't expecting a sophisticated theatrical experience, but we thought seeing the marionettes might be entertaining for a couple of hours.
It was dreadful imo, and we left at intermission. We disliked it so much, it may have permanently affected my opinion of Mozart, who really shouldn't be held responsible. The one we went to was the National Marionette Theatre in Josefov, but there are other productions by companies such as the Czech Marionette Theatre, and other similar names. The others might be better, but I'll never find out.

h2babe, the tours cost us the equivalent of $50 per person, per tour. I am sure less expensive arrangements for tours can be found, as I said, ours were part of a package deal and I'm estimating the tour component cost. Prague is not hard to explore, but for many people its long, and often beleaguered history, is not well known, so I think a good guide and a 'highlights' kind of tour can put the architecture, treasures, religious wars, and churches into a useful perspective.

Oh, guidebooks: Last time I used Eyewitness/DK for pre-trip research, and carried Fodors and Michelin Green. This time my friend brought the Lonely Planet book, but the only one we actually consulted during the trip was Time Out: Prague, and I highly recommend it as an all-purpose guide book. Like many books it has just a bit of history, next to nothing on art and architecture (go to Michelin Green for that) but good information on restaurants, shopping, and the most famous sights.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 07:04 AM
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weather was similar to what New York City's has mostly been lately--temps varying between 55 and 68 F during the day. We had one glorious day of full sunshine and 70 degrees, and luckily that was our most extensive walking day in Mala Strana. Those will be good pictures.
Other days were either completely overcast or a bit of sun during the day, drizzle one day, one day some heavy rain but we missed it because we were indoors.

On the overcast days cooler days last week I was glad to have a lined raincoat and I even wore gloves one day. On the other days, with temps in the low 60s, a light unlined rain jacket over a cotton sweater was enough, and sometimes I took off the jacket.

I always check weather forecasts before I go, but the various websites have differing forecasts, and none of them usually work out accurately anyway. So check the forecasts, but have a little flexibility in your outerwear, at least at this time of year.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 07:06 AM
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spelling correction

the antique shop mentioned above is
Pilio.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 08:23 AM
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I also meant to mention that Prague prices in restaurants, shops, etc, vis a vis the $US, seemed like a bargain to me, especially in comparison with cities like Paris and London. So I recommend taking advantage of its relatively low costs before they move to the euro on the retail level.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 10:46 AM
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A very nice report, inttuitive as always.
I remember when you read BTilke's report about Vienna and publically wondered if you had somehow "missed" some of the more interesting aspects of Vienna. I can see those days have passed.

I'm just sorry that you picked a Marionette performance that wasn't up to standards.
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 11:04 AM
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Are there marionette performance standards?
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Apr 23rd, 2005, 11:32 AM
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As usual, a nice, helpful report. Thanks much for all the internet references. We are looking forward to our second trip to Prague in September. Sorry, you had surly service at Reykjavek. I certainly found their food good when we were there.
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Apr 25th, 2005, 04:21 AM
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Julie, for our lunch we did think the food was good, especially surprising give its tourist-central location
We just had an annoying waiter
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Apr 25th, 2005, 12:17 PM
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Just adding a bit more, to keep it all together

Regarding public transportation, I have now spent a total of about 10 days in Prague, and have used the metro not at all, a tram twice. We took trams to go from New Town up to the Castle area (not the return trips, just outgoing.)
Everywhere else, we walked. I mention this to point out that for people with reasonable stamina, most of Prague 1, and even Prague 2, are eminently walkable,even with limited time, and walking in Prague is part of the experience of its beautiful architecture.
For this reason, I can't see that transit passes would be worth it for most visitors.

When boarding a tram, you can board either from the front or the rear, but you must stamp your ticket in one of the stamping machines that are on board, one is at the front, another at the rear. Trams do not have a/c, I would imagine in hot weather they are uncomfortable, even a week ago our cars seemed warm and stuffy.

By the way, I've had no problem, but caution regarding wallets and purses is advised, especially on the popular #22 and #23 lines.
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