Thoughts on Prague

The Astronomical Clock in Prague
The Astronomical Clock in Prague
This leg of the trip I’m on was never intended to be much more than an opportunity to see some of Europe that I hadn’t seen, before I head off on a cruise from Venice. My three days in Prague was nowhere near enough time to really explore the city, especially when you factor in a day of recovering from the flight over. Thankfully I should be back here in November for TBEX Europe where I can see some of the things I missed.

Here are some of my thoughts from the few days I’ve spent here:

English is a Germanic language with heavy French influence. In most Western European countries I can figure out what signs say even if I don’t know the language because there is some English word which is similar. In the Czech Republic, that is totally out the window. (Excuse the pun) They use the same western alphabet but trying to decipher it is impossible just using the knowledge I have of romance and Germanic languages. It sort of feels like I did when I was in Vietnam. They too use western characters, but you can’t derive pronunciation or meaning from what you know. (Yes, I am well aware that Vietnamese and Czech have nothing in common).

For some reason, I had the impression Prague was a rather cheap city to visit. That is not the case at all. It isn’t the most expensive city in Europe, but it is also not the cheapest. I’d guess 10 or 20 years ago it was a real deal to travel here, but now it is just like visiting any other major European city.

Czech Tourism arranged for me to have a guide for an afternoon to walk around the city. The guide they picked, Milos, couldn’t have been better. He was probably in his 50’s or 60’s and seen first hand all the changes which had happened to his country. He would show me a spot that was relevant hundreds of years ago, and then show me where Vaclav Havel goes to have a beer. Almost every time I’ve had a local guide show me around a city, it has been a great experience and they point out things I would otherwise never have noticed.

I was last in Europe about a year ago and I got used to routine of walking around a city with my camera. Most European cities are very walkable and I got used to walking everywhere I went. Since then I’ve done most of my traveling in North America, the Caribbean, and Asia where I got out of the habit of walking around with my camera and bag. I’ve been doing it again the last few days and my entire body is sore. I also made it a point of getting up at 5 am today to take sunrise photos on the Charles Bridge. At that hour, the only people I saw were other photographers. I guess that I normally walk at least 5 miles a day when I’m out taking photos, all of that with my camera bag and tripod.

Prague bomb shelter
Prague bomb shelter
This is my first trip to the former Soviet block. Growing up during the Cold War I have this mental image of drab concrete buildings. I have seen none of that during my time in Prague. My hotel in Prague was the Jalta Hotel. My guide Milos told me that it was one of the best examples of socialist realism architecture in the city, and had he not told me I would never have guessed. The renovations on the inside made it look rather modern and not drab at all. I never even would have guessed it from the facade. The one thing the hotel did have which was fascinating was a cold war era bomb shelter. The hotel manager told me it was designed to house Warsaw Pact generals in the event of a war.

Much of the Czech food had wheat in it so I wasn’t able to have any. What I did have struck me as being very similar to German food, which makes sense given its location. Lots of pork, chicken, cabbage, and potatoes. When I explained to Milos that I couldn’t drink beer I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone look so sorry for me before.

Tomorrow I head to the town of Budweis where I’ll be taking photos of two nearby UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Historic Centre of ?eský Krumlov and Holašovice Historical Village Reservation. Then I’m off to Vienna for two days before heading to Bratislava and Ljubenja.

15 thoughts on “Thoughts on Prague”

  1. I was also there in 2001 and on my student study abroad budget it was fantastic, $4 a night for a bed in a hostel, and $10 for an amazing bar crawl. It was also the first place I went to in Europe where I felt a little out of my element, and I think the language difference was the major reason. When we got out of the train station and I could not make out a single thing on a single sign, I felt (unreasonable now, I know) a slight twinge of panic. Until that time I don’t think I realized how much many of the European languages I “knew” (French from school, Dutch from study abroad) provided a bit of security blanket because I could still pretty much figure things out, in Prauge, I couldn’t. I wonder now, if being a little older and more traveled, if I’d have the same trepidation.

  2. I travelled to Prague about 10 years ago, and then it was reasonably affordable. I really enjoyed the architecture and the people there, but definitely can relate to being a little lost in translation. Thanks for the post!

    • I’m only going to Dubrovnik on the cruise I’m doing. I’ll have to return to explore more of Croatia.

  3. Long gone are the days of cheap Prague. When we moved there in 2001, the exchange rate was close to 40 CZK/$1. Now it’s under 20 CZK and on top of that there has been a lot of inflation so local prices are much higher, too. The combination makes Prague as expensive – or more – than most major cities in Europe. The one thing that is still cheap by European standards is beer, which doesn’t help you much.

    Enjoy Cesky Krumlov and the areas in the south. Don’t remember Budapest being that much cheaper than Prague, but it’s been a few years since our last visit.

  4. I just got back from Prague as well. I didn’t realize that you couldn’t eat wheat too!! I actually had 3 wonderful gluten-free meals while in Prague including gluten-free beer. If you are going back in the fall, I will be happy to share these restaurants with you.

  5. Gary – Love the posts. My wife and I just purchased tickets to see some of Europe this summer starting with Vienna and ending in Prague (with stops in Salzburg, Ljubiljana, Zagreb and Budapest in between). Hope the cruise is fun!

  6. Hope you do get to see Holašovice. I’ve yet to visit that UNESCO site. And I hope to get to see more of Slovakia than just Bratislava. I loved Bratislava when I made my first visit 15 years ago, but subsequent visits haven’t been as much fun. A bit too much flash and too little sincerity.

    • I’m actually on my way to Holašovice in 30 min. I have to take a taxi which I’m not thrilled about.

  7. Prague was definitely cheap 10-20 years ago, but it has become such a European hot spot that prices have risen dramatically. I’m glad you enjoyed your time there, I was disappointed on my visit but it may have been due to the weather.

    Wait until you get to Hungary (If you are going to Hungary) their language is absolutely crazy- it’s completely unrelated to any other language in Europe, except maybe Finnish.

      • Personally I liked Budapest a lot better than Prague. It’s very pretty and has excellent pastries (pretty much all you need to win me over). It’s definitely cheaper than Prague but nowhere near Asia cheap.

  8. Yeah I had misconception that Prague was cheap. Sure it’s cheaper than London or Paris but it’s actually more expensive than many cities in Germany.

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