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CZECH REPUBLIC

We included the Czech Republic on a summer outing to Europe. We initially flew into Frankfurt, Germany and then--using an East Rail Pass--took the train from Frankfurt to Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and to our last stop, Vienna. Making this trip were four of us--Cindy (my wife), our daughter Christie and her husband Russ.

I had been warned by many people about two problem areas in Prague---pickpockets and taxi drivers that rip people off. The warnings were not unfounded.

Upon arrival at the Prague train station we hailed two cabs to our hotel--the lovely Prague Hilton. We took two because there were four of us plus luggage and the cabs were small. The cab ride to the hotel took no longer than five minutes and each driver demanded the equivalent of $30 U.S.!!! So just getting from the train station to the hotel using two small cabs, we paid $60 friggin' bucks! Outright theft!  But...cabs are not regulated in Prague so there's nobody to complain to. I was pretty upset and threatened to catch the next train out! I don't mind being ripped off but this was ridiculous.

We decided to find a more affordable way of getting around--mass transit.  Since there was a Metro stop just about a five minute walk away from the hotel the Prague subway was the way to go. An all day, all you can ride pass that allows you to take busses, subways and trams is just a few dollars and it's a great deal. Not a lot of "average" people speak English in the Metro stations but if you just pay attention to the maps you can find your way around fairly easy.

The subway in Prague (Metro System) is very clean and efficient. As in many other European cities, you don't have to go through a turnstile each time you ride. You must, however, purchase and possess a valid ticket or pass and produce it when the checkers ask to see it. To our surprise, a guy came up to Christie (our daughter) and she thought he was trying to sell her something so Christie just kept saying "no thank you" and kept walking until he grabbed her. He was a subway cop!  We stopped with her and proudly produced our mass transit passes. He displayed a smirk and informed us that we were in violation. How could this be? Turns out in small print on the back of the pass, we had to sign the card and date it.  Without the signature and date, we were law breakers. He was actually fairly unpleasant about it and demanded that we pay the equivalent of a $6 fine each, which we did--right there on the spot. So if you go to Prague and get an all day pass--sign and date the damned thing!

Prices in Prague are extremely favorable. At one of the better restaurants in town, a dinner for four complete with appetizers, a bottle of wine and after dinner drinks comes to around $60 including tip. I had been warned that many restaurant servers in Prague and restaurants themselves were rip-off artists and that we should check the bill with an eagle eye. We did but had no problems with dishonesty or price gouging. I had read that one trick they use is to stick a small plate of nuts on the table with the patrons figuring they were free when in fact they might cost as much as one complete meal. Nobody tried to pull that one on us, though.

About the pickpockets...be careful if you go. At one Metro Station I watched a guy walk up to another guy who was standing with two other guys.  The approaching guy appeared to lightly slap the other guy on the butt as in a friendly, playful gesture. Immediately after the "pat on the butt," the recipient of the pat reached around and checked for his wallet.  By that time...the would-be pickpocket had swiftly gotten on a subway train going the other way just as the doors were closing. In this case, the bad guy didn't get the wallet. And I was surprised at the "suspect." He looked just like a  Japanese  tourist complete with a fanny pack! This little incident, however, was nothing compared to Budapest during this outing.  Three hours prior to our arrival on this trip, a car bomb went off in a packed tourist zone killing four and injuring 25 others as somebody got even with a restaurant owner who had pimped a gang or something! They were stopping lots of cars and searching although our taxis were not stopped. More on that little incident in the Hungary section of our Worldwide Travel Guide.

Prague is a beautiful city. It's known as the city of spires. The Vltava River is spanned by a number of interesting bridges with the favorite being the Charles Bridge. It's an old pedestrian bridge crowded with tourists and vendors selling everything from paintings to sunglasses to necklaces. Interestingly in a country where more people believe in UFOs than believe in God, various Saints are honored with statues along the way. It's a really nice experience but it's also a favorite of pickpockets.

I hope I haven't scared you off with all the talk about pickpockets. But it is a problem and one thing you can do to minimize your chance of getting ripped off is to wear a money belt around your waist under your clothing or one that hangs round your neck with your valuables protected under your shirt. It made me feel a lot more at ease!

We took one side trip from Prague since we had a pass enabling unlimited train travel. My son-in-law, Russ, read that Pilsner Beer had been invented in Plzen so we took a train there. What a bust!  It was a small, dingy town and we missed the brewery tour so we just turned around and headed back to Prague.

People in the Czech Republic drink more beer than anybody else on earth--even more than folks in Germany. The quality is excellent and the price is certainly right. You can get a good pint of Pils (as they call it over there) for as little as sixty-cents, US. Ninety cents was a common price and in the finer restaurants a pint might actually cost you two bucks.  Still not a bad deal!  Interestingly you'll see Budweiser beer there.  But it has no relationship to the Bud we slurp down in the U.S.  In fact, there's bad blood between the two brewski companies.  Read about it here.

Typical food in the Czech Republic is quite similar to what you'd find in Germany. One main meal consisted of "roasted pig knuckle" complimented by sauerkraut and bread.

Roaming around and getting lost in Prague's Old Town is a neat experience. Loads of people darting around tiny cobblestone streets. That's the one thing you notice about European cities that is so different from many US cities. European cities are alive with people!

I'd highly recommend Prague to you. The people were friendly and it's an interesting experience even if you do nothing more than we did on our two and a half day stay and just stroll around.

Prague is famous for red garnets so the gals wound up going home with a couple, of course!  And the price is quite good so check 'em out if you're over that way.

You'll need a valid passport to gain entrance to the Czech Republic but not a visa. The monetary unit is the Czech Crown. Driving is on the right. (Interestingly it had been on the left until the Nazis moved in and took control during World War II.) Language is Czech, natch.

 

        

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