Category Archives: Prague

Praha

… After only 5 posts, I’ve already lost the ability to create a witty title, that leads into the first paragraph, or creates an intrigue which is answered as you read on… So I’m not doing it, so there… This post is about our stay in Prague (Praha).

Our train journey from Berlin to Prague was definitely the best so far. Four and a half hours on a single train with no changes, in 6 seater cabin to ourselves, and stunning views of snow covered hills, towns, and forests along the Elbe river valley.

Arriving in Prague in the evening, with no local currency to buy a tram ticket, our first action this city, was a criminal one. After a short, bumpy, and rather anxious tram ride, we arrived at our hostel. Later finding out that they have plain clothed ticket inspectors who give a roughly £50 on the spot fine for fare dodging. Not sure how likely you are to get done, but we got lucky.

The hostel (hostel ONE) had the best atmosphere of any place we’ve stayed in. It was roughly £30 a night for a room with a fridge, kitchenette, and a balcony. Granted the cooker didn’t work, but it’s the thought that counts… “Ah, your room is on the 5th floor… I’m afraid the lift isn’t working at the moment” explained the genuinely helpful girl on reception. After a slog up to the 5th floor with our gear, I noticed cobwebs on the lift doors, and suspected that the lift hadn’t worked for a very long time… These aren’t real gripes with the place though, you can’t complain for the price (less than £15 each a night each). The young reception staff available 24/7 were all friendly and helpful, and the common room and kitchen areas felt like a proper lively travelers hub. Also – 3 days a week a girl comes in and cooks a free soup for everyone for tea! (you just give a little tip if you liked it).

Prague (or Praha) was our first experience of not being able to understand any written language at all. With our combined minuscule knowledge of languages, and a bit of logic, it was easy enough to get by in The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany – but Czech to our ignorant eye balls was pure, unadulterated  gibberish. There were plenty of signs and instructions knocking about that had English instructions, but also plenty that didn’t.

The Prague skyline certainly deserves its reputation. The Gothic towers and church spires on both sides of the Vlatva river are hugely impressive – and even more so at night.

We were staying in the Zizkov district (missing diacritics), proudly home to what was once voted the worlds 2nd ugliest building (now with added giant babies, see pictures). It was just 15 minute walk to the Old Town, not quite far out enough to be amongst all the big concrete communist tenement blocks – but far out enough to feel like we were seeing some authentic Prague, where locals lived and hung out. It was good to be able to walk into town seeing the place from a different point of view than the tourist trap.

One of the biggest downsides to Prague was the tourist atmosphere.  In comparison, based on our very limited experience, Amsterdam seems to have managed to blend tourism into a fully working, thriving city very well (although it can be a bit much sometimes). Berliners wouldn’t bat an eye lid if all tourism stopped tomorrow – the city works without it. And in Bruges, the tourism trade seems to be strictly managed so as to maintain the medieval integrity of the place… In Prague it’s a bit jarring to see people wearing “Special Offer” signs and handing out leaflets against the fairytale medieval backdrop. This is one of the main reasons why Prague can be a much nicer experience at night.

As amazing as the medieval old town and the castle are – some of the communist architecture is very impressive to behold as well (See pictures of the TV tower and the National Monument). The contrast of historical Prague and the brutal communist buildings are one of the most interesting things about the place – if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Prague like many cities, seems to have bit of a visible dark underbelly. In the places we’ve visited so far, for what ever reason, we have barley noticed a single homeless person or beggar. Here, in the tourist hotspots, the streets can be lined with them, kneeling, faces to the floor, hands outstretched. It’s sad, and it’s hard to know whether they are genuine homeless or opportunistic junkies (After dropping some money into one blokes hand, we looked round to find him walking across the street to his girlfriend and dog and hurrying off down an alley). It’s mix and a bit of both I would guess. Coming from Manchester – which has an obscene amount of homeless people and beggars on the street, we’re not judging, just noticing. We also saw two lads blatantly shooting up, sat in plain view on the grass between the train station and police station. I suppose loads of cities (especially in the UK) have these underlying social issues, it may just be more of a shock against such a beautiful background (A few smack heads are just part of the wallpaper in some areas of Leigh). And it was  more visible here than anywhere else we have been so far.

Food and drink (particularly drink) are very cheap. One night we treated ourselves to a meal each, a large beer, and a glass of wine, in an authentic Czech restaurant near the hostel – for the princely sum of £12. Pork, dumplings, and cabbage feature heavily in most of Czech dishes – great for us on a cold winters evening – not sure if I would be too enthusiastic about eating it through the summer though. For 500ml of excellent Czech Pilsner it costs an average about £1.27 (I know!). Due to this small fact, we may have ended up drinking a little too much during our stay in Prague…

A couple of times we went to a great little bar round the corner from the hostel – FUBAR. Owned and run by British ex-pat, and all round top bloke, Joe. It’s a nice cosy little place, that does all sorts of karaoke and open mike nights and the like – and it just has a genuinely nice, lively atmosphere with a great mixture of locals, ex-pats, and tourists. And you can get ace bar grub (burgers and mexican stuff) any time until closing time – which is, as far as I can tell, never.

One night in Fubar we were sinking a good few beers with Joe, and also occasionally nipping outside to try and get through some of this bag of thai stick that we still have left over from Amsterdam (Prague is pretty laid back about weed)… You can probably see where this is going… After a while Amy whispers in my ear that she needs to leave – immediately  So, helpfully propping all the buildings up as she went, we eventually managed the 30 metre stumble back to the hostel, and I heaved her into bed… It wasn’t long before I heard the Immortal words – “I need to get off this boat, the sea’s too rough” followed more alarmingly by “I’m not going to make it”. She was right, she didn’t make it. Amy leaned overboard, and hurled, into the brown wooden sea.

Some other things we learned about Prague:

Beer is VERY cheap – see above
Amy will never smoke and drink together again – see above
Prague looks better, and has a better feel to it, at night.
Dog walkers are provided with free poo bags!… But in the area where we were, nobody uses them. Bag dispensers on on lampposts on the corner of many streets, however the streets seemed to be absolutely covered in dog shit. That’s the only downside to the otherwise charming and buzzing little area we were staying in. Sort it out Zizkov.
The communist museum is terrible. (We don’t usually go in the museums and such as we are on such a tight budget, but ‘cos I’m really interested in this sort of thing, I unreasonably dragged Amy around, and on a hangover she’d like me to point out!). There are hardly any exhibits apart from the occasional trinket from the era. You just walk around reading from huge information boards. Interesting stuff, but I could of just looked it up in a book or on the net.

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On the road again…

On the road again…

This highly appropriate but rather dull Willie Nelson number (click the link above if you must) has somehow become the anthem for days when we are on the move… Once we are all packed up and ready to go, Amy will invariably try and start a little sing along with her glorious *ahem* silky velvet tones.

Seeing as we are on an actual journey, I thought we’d do a little blog about the traveling side of things – Getting about, modes of transport, and how we’re living on the cheap etc…

If you’ve looked at the pictures, you may be wondering why Amy appears not to understand the concept of a BACKpack. In truth, we both wander around looking this ridiculous. Our backpacks (they call them travel packs) are designed with travelers in mind, as apposed to hikers or adventurers, so they zip all the way round for easy access to you stuff, and they have a separate 10 litre day sack that zips and straps on to the main pack, piggy back style. This little pack can also be clipped on to the front, which despite how ludicrous we may look, is an absolutely cracking idea. All the stuff we want easy access to all the time goes in the day sack, so when we are getting trains, we put the big packs up on the racks, and keep the little ones with our essentials in with us. Also – we are going a fairly long way, for a fair old while, so our packs are heavy. Putting the little one on the front improves weight distribution massively and substantially reduces the amount of times you nearly kill yourself by falling off balance onto the train tracks.

We’ve had quite a few strange glances as we both stand fully packed up, staring blankly at the train arrivals board trying to decipher it, slowly spinning around in circles, bashing into each other like a pair of strange, slightly ill beetles… – but its worth it.

So far we’ve got: a train to Newcastle – a bus to the ferry port – a ferry to Imujdlik – a bus to Amsterdam – 3 trains to Bruges – 2 trains to Berlin – and a train to Prague…. And touch wood, it’s all been unrealistically easy so far. The train network that we’ve experienced in Europe (and the general inner city pubic transport) has been amazingly punctual, efficient, and easy to use. Trains are regular, and always seem to run on time, up to date electronic information boards are everywhere – and – there is leg room – something us Brits are not used to. The international and intercity trains (ICE and IC) are particularly luxurious, with large comfy seats and plenty of room. But even the smaller inner city trains all seem to be great – although it can get a bit mental in rush hour… – Unfortunately we may have been responsible for death (or at least severe annoyance) of quite a few commuters as we spin around in train stations bashing things with our immense rucksacks.

We are managing to stay well fed and watered whilst on a budget. At hostels, breakfast has often been included in the price, but where its isn’t we just buy cereal and milk (we have mess tins, and as its winter – window ledges provide a free fridge!). For lunch we shop at supermarkety type places, buying sticks of bread, cheese, tomatoes, meat, hummus etc – and this keeps us in sandwiches for a couple of days. Some places have pretty cheap food stalls too. For tea we tend to eat in cafe’s or from food stalls. There’s a big difference in cost from country to country, but roughly we can keep well fed and watered with the occasional coffee for an average of about £20-£25 a day (between us). This average may well start coming down as we get further into eastern Europe. (Just arrived in Prague and its mega cheap). Obviously if we’re having a few beers, thats when things can get expensive – so you just have to be careful.

We’ve just arrived in Prague (the scenic train journey here from Berlin was by far the best to date), but we’ll upload some pictures and some inane wafflings about Berlin first. I’m also pathetically trying to grow a travelers beard, so the pictures of this may be a laugh for some.