James Pickering | www.e-worldbanknotes.com| Gold Newspaper No. 6 | 2017
One of the world’s most magical destinations, Prague makes you feel like you are falling into a fairytale book — filled with castles, kings, cobblestone streets, cuckoo clocks, horse-drawn carriages, and many other wonders. Disneyland is no competition — Prague is the real thing, not make-believe. It is a city deep in history, culture, and art: really one of the world’s must-see destinations.
Prague (Praha, in the local language) is the capital and commercial hub of the Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia. Without the Slovaks, Czechoslovakia had a bit of an identity crisis, trying to find itself a new proper name. They even thought of Czechobohemia as a name, but feared Bohemia would start to call for independence. So they ended up with the simple name “Czechia.” It sounds a bit like a cut-off name, so they added the word “Republic” to sound more proper — as the Czech Republic.
Prague is easily accessible from all points in Europe. It has an excellent modern airport, serviced by their flagship carrier, CSA airlines. Almost every low-budget scheduled carrier in Europe flies to Praha, making it an easy destination to fly to, non-stop, and enjoy 2-day mini vacations. Rail links, as well, are fast and convenient. Be sure to try the excellent JetRail train from Vienna to Praha, a four-hour journey in a wondrous, aerodynamic express train, where the interior design is on par with an airplane’s.
The Czech Republic offers very liberal and friendly visa regimes to countries not in the European Union, making it a nice point of reference for people who need visas to have their first entry to an E.U. destination. Praha receives mostly short-stay tourists, which generally come on low-budget excursions for a few days’ duration. Thus, the city is full and crowded each and every weekend. But the street activity with such crowds is just bustling with life, joy, and activity. It is definitely a city that never sleeps and is always alive. Many Germans from the border areas in the North enjoy this alternative lifestyle. Praha is also filled with great 5-star hotels to the benefit of the haute couture tourists, who want the experience of a five-star vacation. In other words, Praha has something for everybody.
The smart, conservative Czechs never fell for the euro fiasco and kept their national currency, the Krona (CZK). This decision kept prices stable, and foreigners find Praha a very inexpensive place to visit, especially considering such costs as accomodation and food. It is easy to exchange foreign currency for CZK, but there are a lot of cheating exchange offices, which will easly give tourists 50% less money than they deserve, and it is all legal — so, beware. Before exchanging money anywhere other than at a bank, tell the exchange office what amount you will be giving them, and how many CZK you expect to receive in return. Ask the exchanger for a round amount, like 10.00 Euro or 100.00 Euro, so that you can easily compare it to the amount you should receive in the local currency. If you should receive 2,400 CZK for 100 Euro, and they tell you that you will only get 1,500 CZK, just walk out of the office. (Not a bad idea to show them your middle finger, as well, as you walk out.)
Forget about the non-existent black market for changing money. Many hustlers on the street will offer to exchange your dollars or euros at a black-market rate much higher than the official rate. SUCH A RATE DOES NOT EXIST. Beware! It’s a pure scam, and if you exchange with these hustlers (most of whom are not Czechs), you will receive invalid old Czechoslovakian crowns — or even money from another country. It is popular for them to use the old Bulgarian 2,000 lev banknotes, in place of the 2,000 CZK banknotes, as the Bulgarian notes are the same size and feel like the CZK 2,000 banknotes. Be wise, and be smart, when in Praha. Anywhere you have a tourist Mecca, you also have tourist scams.
Local taxis are mostly honest, but there are a few alligators out there. It is always best to use Ůber or call a taxi service. Taking taxis that are waiting directly outside train stations, tourists sites, or airports can be risky, as these are mostly rogue taxis charging exorbitant rates. Always remember, if you feel you are being overcharged by a taxi, refuse to pay, and kindly ask the driver to call the police if he insists on being paid. Most often, he will kick you out of his cab, and you just get a free ride! It is a nice way to travel in Praha for free. 🙂
Before coming to Praha, there is an excellent Youtube presentation of Prague, given by a local there, who has made a whole series called “The Prague Guide.” It is a great introductory presentation to watch for free before going there. You can truly experience Praha before arriving, and you will know what the important sights are to see and what activities there are to participate in during your stay.
The most striking element of Praha is the Prague Castle, sitting on an elevated area above the city centre, across from the famous Charles Bridge. After the end of the communist adventure in 1989, foreigners flooded into Praha, firstly as tourists, and then as permanent residents. A new term was coined, as the city was seeing even a large number of Americans moving there. This term is Yappies, which means “Young Americans in Prague.” You will even find English-speaking Americans working at various Prague tourist venues. It is a truly international city.
Czechs statistically consume the most beer per capita worldwide. You can see this especially with middle-aged Czechs, with their rounded beer bellies. There is hardly a skinny Czech to be seen anywhere. Czech beers are world famous, and the best beers (from the Pilsner region of the Czech Republic) can be found anywhere in Praha. Beer is so available and abundant that it is more expensive to order mineral water than it is to get a beer. The high beer consumption in this city seems to be the reason for an outbreak of smiles and happy people roaming the streets all day and night.
When visiting Praha, forget about McDonald’s hamburgers. Czech cuisine, even the street food, will simply take over your taste buds. There are so many nice small snacks — from sausages, to pastries, to grilled foods sold at street pavillions. And the restaurants offer amazing unique Czech dishes. It is always best to take the metro or tram just a few stops away from the centre, to sit in restaurants where Czechs eat and drink, for a more authentic Praha experience, and to pay truly inexpensive Czech prices. If you find the right places, you can eat to your heart’s content for under 10 euros easily.
Holidays are wonderful times to be in Praha — and especially at Christmas, with Christmas markets in almost every square scattered around the city. Decorated to the maximum, with Christmas music humming from all over the square and wonderfully delicious Christmas hams cooking on an open fire, the markets will propel you directly into the true Christmas spirit. The Czechs love their holidays, not only Christmas, so any holiday seasons are always a perfect time to visit.
Praha is safe! Crime is minimal, although there may be the occasional pick-pockets lurking in the crowds. Czechs are friendly and welcoming! Do not hesitate to engage in conversation or get into contact with the locals. They are some of the coolest people you can meet, and they are always helpful to tourists. Ask a Czech a simple question — how to find a certain destination, perhaps — and you might make a friend for the day.
From Praha, there are many other Czech destinations located within an hour’s drive. It is easy to rent a car when taking day trips outside Praha. It is not recommended to rent a car if you are staying in Praha’s city centre, as parking is very costly and hard to locate. Also, many streets in residential areas are reserved only for locals to park there. So use the excellent public transportation — buses, trams and the super-fast metro. In Praha, local transport tickets are issued based on time. Some tickets are valid for 15 minutes, some for 30 minutes, and some for one hour. As a tourist, it can be hard to guess how long your trip will be, so for peace of mind, spend three to four euros on a full-day pass for unlimited transport use over a 24-hour period. Tickets are regularly check by inspectors, so do not think you can ride for free.
Karlo Vary is a must-visit destination only a few hours from Praha. It is where the locals go for a truly healthy mineral bath. Also nice to visit is the beer-producing region of Pilsner. There are so many choices of destinations from Praha, you can easily pass a week’s vacation there and see only some of the many amazing regions of the Czech Republic.
Shopping in Praha is not much of an advantage, as they are an EU country, so most items — from clothes, to electronics, to crafts — are priced at European standards. However, there are some exceptions. Of particular interest are porcelain plates and crystal glasses. Bohemia has always been a famous producer of such collectibles — there still are quite a few factories producing such items, and the shops selling them in Praha offer great prices for the quality. Always try to find the factory stores, which are those stores that import one brand from their own factory.
Enjoy Praha! Be sure to visit. It is never a disappointment and always a destination to return to.