Not so much a trap just a disappointment
Wenceslas Square was a place that I had always associated with the people of the country making a stand against oppresiveness. I've seen the pictures of the late 60s and the images on tv of '89 have stayed with me as somewhere I must see. Having spent a few days in and around the old town and castle area we decided that we must take the opportunity to visit the square. It must be somewhere in a capital city I suppose but the large open quadrangle edged with characterless hotels and chain stores that can be seen in any town centre was unexpected. Needless to say the operation involved 1. in to square 2. take one picture and 3. get out again. I suppose the shopping arcades are more attractive than most towns but I'm not really a shopper I'm afraid.
Unique Suggestions: I never made it to the top end where the museum is, seen here in the picture. If you have to spend time here take this in and the statue in front.
Fun Alternatives: if you are stuck for time don't bother at all just stick with the old town.
Prague Excursion Pass: worst railway ripp-off
Here is the link one NEVER should use:
Prague excursion pass is sold for $98.00 (first class) or $73 (second class) round-trip.
This is $49 (first class) or $36.5 (second class) pro direction
This "pass" is being sold for Eurail pass owners who would like to visit Prague, most commonly from Germany or Austria.
To add to the insult: there is also a contition - the maximum stay in Praha is 7 days.
However, domestic train prices in Czech Republic are among the least expensive and even the price for international ticket is reasonable. These prices depend on the distance. The international tickets are valid 2 month, not 7 days.
Typically, an Eurail pass holder will enter Czech Republic from following directions:
Furth i. Wald/Domazlice (typically from Munich)
Cheb (typically from Frankfurt)
Breclav (typically from Vienna)
Schoena (typically from Dresden or Berlin)
Summerau (typically from Salzburg, but not the best option!)
Kuty (typically from Bratislava/Budapest)
Zittau (from Germany)
The most expensive regular international ticket on the territory of Czech Republic to/from Praha your money can buy in Austria/Germany is precisely Breclav(borderpoint)-Praha for 15.30 Euro one-way. From Germany it is usually even less than that, typically under 10 Euro. The traveller can't lose not buying the international ticket: at worst what will happen, he will be charged the same price by the conductor. This rarely happens - on most trains the conductors will charge a domestic ticket whic is about HALF of the international price, resulting in a fare of 5 - 10 Euro instead of $36.5
Unique Suggestions: Do not use the pass. Buy the international ticket for typically 10 Euro, round-trip 20 Euro from the border point in the city where you board the train or just form Czech Railway conductor as he comes after the Czech passport control.
Keep your Czech tickets or conductor receipt and invalidate the entire "Prague Excursion Pass" at any major railway station in Europe. Does not matter, what country - just let the manager of the station invalidate it.
As you return home, submit the invalidated Prague Excursion Pass for the refund. The 15% loss due Eurail refund policy is less than if you actually would use it.
Fun Alternatives: Buy an international ("TCV") ticket at the station where you board the train or even better, buy a domestic for half of the TCV price from Czech conductor.
Restaurants & Cafes on the Tourist Trail
Although you'll rarely have trouble, do be vigilant when eating and drinking in 'touristy' areas of the city. Many places in these areas have little to recommend them. The prices are marked up and their sole purpose is to make as much money as possible from tourists, without offering niceties such as atmosphere, service and good value. The main areas to be wary of are -
The area of Hradcany directly surrounding the castle and leading up to the Loretta.
Mostecka, the strip leading off Charles Bridge castle-side, and around Malostranke Namesti.
Karlova, the strip leading from Charles Bridge towards the Old Town Square.
Old Town in general, mainly along heavily trafficked routes.
They make the general assumption that tourists are wealthy, are not too concerned about how much they pay, and that tourists are unfamiliar with the currency and pay little attention to the bill. These are generalisations, but they are points on which tourist traps operate.
Unique Suggestions: Usually nothing worse will happen than picking up an extortionate tab for mediocre food and shocking service. But here are two examples that you should be wary of -
Example One: Check what you've ordered. On ordering a couple of glasses of wine, priced at 59kc each (still about double what you'd pay in a local wine bar), the wine arrives, accompanied by a jug of wine that the glasses have apparently been poured out of. There is enough wine in the jug for easily four more glasses. On asking for the bill, they charge you for the next wine up, priced at 99kc, claiming they're out of the cheaper wine. On top of that, if you're mug enough to top your glass up from the jug, you'll get charged for each additional glass, totting up to a potentially hefty bill.
Example Two: Check measurements and prices. Wine is usually served in 2dl glasses. The menus, however, sometimes show the price for only 1dl, so potentially you could get charged double for each glass you drink.
Always confirm prices and always check your bill. If you feel you've been cheated, argue the toss and don't be afraid to stand your ground. It'll get nasty, but only up to a point, and if they are ripping you off, they'll invariably back down.
Fun Alternatives: The alternative is simple. Although sometimes in Prague it feels like you can't have a shower without a coach load of tourists in there with you, it is still relatively easy to get away from them. They generally have a herd mentality and will follow the flow of the crowd, so ducking down side streets will often result in you finding far more charming, locally priced restaurants, bars and cafes.
- Budget Travel
This was the only thing I saw in Prague that I was a bit disappointed by. Golden Lane is part of the Castle area, and there are queues to get in - and it's incredibly crowded inside (not helped by the crowds of people huddling around their tour guides). The buildings are mediaeval and very well-preserved, but to me it all felt a bit Disney-esque.
Unique Suggestions: The blue house in the photo was once lived in by Kafka. By all means don't miss out on seeing the street - the Disney thing may just be a quirk of mine.
~ Bureau De Change: Commission Charges ~
If you need to change any money whilst in Prague watch out for Bureau De Change's in the Old Town, we didn't realise but Gaz changed some money and we got an awful rate along with a huge commission charge.
Unique Suggestions: Shop around the town and find somewhere which offers commission free currency exchange and also better exchange rates. We found one on the outskirts of the town and got a much better rate with 0% commission too.
Fun Alternatives: The best thing to do to avoid having to shop around is to change your currency back at home before you travel. I changed mine at work... i work for Thomson and its commission free along with excellent rates too.
A 3 day card for Prague's main attraction can be bought but you really will be a tourist if you manage to see all these, mainly museums and galleries in 3 days. You really don't need to pay the extra fee to have transport pass for this time either. Prague is so compact and single journeys are ridiculously cheap anyway. Note too it doesn't include all the things that tourists would want to do anyway - for example the astronomical clock tower and town hall vist or Jewish quarter attractions.
Cost in 2004 was 490CZK plus an extra 200 CZK with transport - remmber single journeys are only 12CZK!
Check the website to see what the card DOES cover first.
best hot dogs
Prague(Praha) had some of the best hot dogs i've ever had.. and only about a buck (25 cz).. you buy them at the big hot dog stands in the town center.. but beware.... everytime i bought a dog they failed to give me correct change.. the workers would play dumb and give me less change.... this happened 5 times at least.... but the dogs are really good.. just be careful
Unique Suggestions: ya gotta get a hot dog... prague is full of tourist.. but i was one of them and had a lot of fun....
Fun Alternatives: the prague castle was one of my favorite places to visit int europe... must see...
- Study Abroad
- Castles and Palaces
Nepomuck Statue - Charles Bridge
Of all the statues on the Charles Bridge there willl also be a cluster of tourists around the one in the middle . This is a bronze of St John Nepomuk. You willl notice part of the bronze is rubbed shiny clean by th myriad of hands rubbing it for supposed good fortune.
Fun Alternatives: Its woth remembering that these statues ae copies anyway - 6 originals can be seen in the dungeon casemates of Vysehrad.
- Arts and Culture
Price Rises Imminent
Prague at the moment is relatively inexpensive but I expect this will change once the Euro is in place here shortly.
Another thing I noticed in the Prague Post on the airplane on the way home is that restaurant prices will most likely rise in May 2004 due to a new restaurant tax - something like 19% I think was mentioned. With that I'm glad I've been now!
Unique Suggestions: A nice touch in the restaurants when you get the bill is that often a leaflet about the restaurant is included for you to keep - very handy when you come to build those restaurant tips!
It can get pretty crowded up around the castle...
Unique Suggestions: Getting up really early and going out to beat the crowds is a worthwhile experience in Prague. Be on the street by 8am and head up to the castle district and enjoy the space and the uncluttered views. (You might even be able to slip into Golden Lane without being charged to see it)
Prague in General
I found Prague to be a huge tourist trap overall and rather disappointing. If you want to see a somewhat similar but really beautiful, authentic city with much more grandeur and just as much to do (if not more), go to Budapest - Prague is just sort of cute in comparison. Budapest is much more impressive and less touristy (in this respect some say it is like Prague was 10 years ago) and also easy to navigate.
I was really surprised at how touristy Prague was - everywhere you went in the touristic areas it was nothing but tons of overpriced restaurants, money changers waiting to rip you off and shops selling either crystal, marionettes, stacking dolls or assorted souvenier crap. Yes, the buildings were nice, but the whole thing felt really artificial. Capitalism has hit Prague big time and its era of magic is gone. It sold its soul to tourism and it seems that everyone is out to nickle-and-dime you.
I'd go back to Budapest repeatedly, but never again to Prague. I've read that others who have been to Budapest first, then to Prague, often feel the same way. Hungarian food is much, much better than Czech food too. I also felt that Budapest was more "romantic."
For a less touristy Prague experience, get out of the centre. On our shopping day we went to the largest shopping mall in Prague, right around the corner from the Andel metro station in Prague 5 - not too far away from the centre. We had a great day shopping (same stores as in Wenceslas Square, minus the tourist crap, and a big Tesco) and saw a movie at the fantastic cinema on the third floor of the mall, and didn't see a single tourist (this was in November, though). There were restaurants and cafes in and around the mall with normal prices. Very quick to get there on the metro, saw trams as well.
The Astronomical Clock
I know that many people will not agree with me listing the Astronomical Clock as a tourist trap. The clock itself is beautiful and an amazing timepiece. But when the hour strikes the crowds get terribly large to watch the display. As you can see from this picture the crowds start gathering about twently mintes before the hour. As the crowd grows the excitement grows before the hour strikes. Then it happens. The little doors at the top open. The skeleton starts pulling his rope. And Jesus and the Apostle start appearing in the opened doors. Well in reality you have to look real close to see the skeleton moving. And its impossible to tell one apostles head from the other as they rotate throught the windows. In my opinion it was not very impressive.
Unique Suggestions: I do want to say that I encourge any tourist to go and see the clock. Like I said earlier, its beautiful and a real marvel to see. But if you have other things you want to see and your time is limited I would not bother waiting for the hourly show. If you really want to see it I suggest taking a table at one of the restaurants in the square and have a drink while you are waiting. At least you will not have wasted your time waiting.
Be prepared for a tourist city
Let's face it, If you are expecting anything but lost of tourists in the short break capital of Europe then you are being over ambitious. Just be prepared for the crowds and be sensible. Avoid the main tourist areas in the middle of the day and just take care of you belongings. We saw no evidence of the pick pockets but then again we took care. Prague is a capital city when all is said and done with all the characterisics of any city with over a million inhabitants.
Surprises on your bill
On two occasions we were surprised to find an additional charge for "bread and extras" on our bill. The charge was 15 CK and 20 CK the 2nd time. It's not a lot of money if you convert it, but it was a surprise. Especially when we had only ordered coffee at the one restaurant. We noticed that the locals didn't have the bread baskets on their tables.
Unique Suggestions: Make sure that if they are bringing bread to your table, that you are aware you'll be charged. (even if you don't touch it).
The hour at Astronomical Clock
Huge crowds gather some minutes before the hour to witness this unique moment. So many people looking up to notice every detail, that pickpocket are in paradise. Also, I've read a few testimonials about how disappointed people were: such a fuss about the clock and the hour, and then all is so quick that people comment "Was it all?”.
Fun Alternatives: So, we choose to follow the advice of a few and did the opposite. We planned our visit so that we were on top of the Tower at the hour. If you're in to photography forget the clock and go up the tower! Some of my favourite shoots of my Prague visit were made while up there.
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