Prague – Präha

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The Wenceslas Square will probably be your most visited spot if you are a walker and wanderer kind of traveler. It turned out to be our starting point on all days. Unfortunately the National Museum that is visible in the centre is closed for renovation till 2018.

We arrived in Prague after a 14 hour flight including a 3 hour stop at Frankfurt. Lufthansa surprisingly was more uncomfortable than our domestic flights, better seats were expected considering the long duration of the journey. Since we flew in he middle of night, about 3 am, I could not make any sense of any food being served to me at 4 am, that too with wine. Little did I know that I should’ve eaten it then nonetheless, because the wait for next meal was way too long. In the morning when we asked for breakfast, we were told it will be served in 30 mins, which didn’t happen for another 2 hours, and it was finally served right before landing – so you need to hurry up!
We finally ate something in peace at Frankfurt as we were hungry, next 1 hour flight to Prague from Frankfurt wouldn’t serve you anything either.

In Prague, we had booked a taxi for airport pickup and drop to our hotel (https://www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk), as we were not sure how to even get there. It costed us € 17 for 2 people in a shared taxi. The taxi picked up and dropped several other passengers along with us. We were provided with 2 useful maps each, and a booklet about all attractions in Prague. 1 map for city, another for metros and tram routes.

Most countries here follow the culture of leaving tips for any service you avail, condition yourself to add few € into your final bill. In Prague, it is considered decent to tip upto 10%, anything beyond that is also considered somewhat obscene as told to us by locals.

We checked into our apartment hotel at V Tûních 14 Praha, the room was beyond expectations, large, well-lit and well-equipped kitchen, also a good location – just few minutes walk to Wenceslas Square, a frequent visit that will happen over next few days of stay. Wenceslas Sq is just 5 mins away from the Old town square, the famous spot that brings you in vicinity to everything famous in Prague.
prague aptt

prague map

After check-in we were given another pamphlet with maps and ads for various tours and packages. As per our initial research we were anyway going to do a “Free walking Tour” of Prague 1 town centre. We chose to do the New Prague free walking tour (http://www.newpraguetours.com/). The tours thrive on tips and rewards given to the guides by the attendees, if you don’t find it interesting you can simply leave the group anytime, but inform the humble guide. It starts daily at 10:45 am & 2:00 pm continuing for 3 hours.

praha tour 1

Our Tour was being conducted by Filip, who says has been born and brought up in Prague. Ironically, that allows him to be more critical and sarcastic towards the place and its peoples’ achievements, he made a point to mention all the greatness of Czech history but with some sarcastic notes. The tour began in Old Town Square, where we were lead to by one of Tour guys who picked us up at Wenceslas Square at 10:30 am. It was luckily a sunny morning, with a complimenting chill in the air. Good weather.
The tour starts from explanation of the Astronomical clock, whose 11 am chime we missed by 5 minutes, as Filip couldn’t stop cribbing about how disappointing a tourist attraction it was in his opening speech at the Old town square. I think from a tourist’s perspective it may not be that bad a sight, however silly, it is nonetheless a mechanical achievement done back few centuries ago when we hardly had even electricity.
From there we headed towards Carolina University building & Mozart museum. There was a lot of information being fed to us by Filip, but I simply could not hold my attention.

Carolina Universitas & Mozart's Residence sometime in 18th century - now a museum

Carolina Universitas & Mozart’s Residence sometime in 18th century – now a museum

Further we were lead to Museum of Fine arts (Museum Ceskeho Kubismu), and the Old New Synagogue. I remember that as its name, because I had a good time while listening to Filip how he ridiculed landmark naming sensibilities of the Czech public. It was funny for sure!
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The third image is a monument of an important personality who kindled the movement to bring back a slowly diminishing Czech language, whose name I’m sorry I cannot recollect, neither could I find it online. The tour takes a short break in a near by pub here for about 30-45 mins where you get a chance to interact more with the guide, they patiently answer everything you ask. Last stop to our 3 hour tour was at the Rudolfinum, a music auditorium and art gallery. Here our host for the day, told us some dreading stories from his personal accounts of war while he was young.
This video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO7iCbtlcIc is shot at Rudolfinum.

Rudolfinum - Prague Castle across from Manesuv Most (vehicular bridge) - Malostranska tram station

Rudolfinum – Prague Castle across from Manesuv Most (vehicular bridge) – Malostranska tram station

After the tour we walked across the Manesuv Most to reach Charles Bridge on the left. Next day we had plans to visit Petrin hill, which is visible from this side. We discovered however, to get there we need to take tram either from Malostranska near Charles Bridge or any other station that goes up to Ujzed – the only station that is at the
foot of Petrin. Apparently a funicular train runs on Petrin to transport you to the top, unfortunately it was closed due to some reason, may be due to non-touristy season.

Transport within Prague:
Prague offers transportation passes for using all public transport for 24 hour – 48 hour – 72 hour. A 24 hour pass costs 110 Kc (crowns), which can be bought off at any grocery or small shops. You can buy a station to station ticket, which is in terms of time at a minimum i.e. valid for 30 mins, costs 24 Kc. Once you enter a tram, you need to punch the ticket into a small yellow machine installed at entrance – it prints the time you have started using the service. There are heavy penalties if you don’t punch your ticket or don’t have one on you.
Exchange:
It is better to carry Euros while you travel here, you can change them for Crowns at any “Zero commission” shops, please do not go into any shop that does not say so, you will lose money. Many places would accept Euros itself, but they may apply conversion rates as per their will irrespective of current market rate.
Food:
Most restaurants in and around Old town square are expensive. We found a relatively cozy and less crowded eatery near the I.P.Pavalova Metro stop, called Pizzerie U Melsneho – very warm hosts and a good menu. The portions were however large for our apetite, we often had to pack half of it and take away, but it could be just us!
Do not forget to taste Trdenik, a Czech traditional savoury sweet, an outlet on road after Charles bridge towards Old town square serves it with name Chimney, serves variations of it like with strawberry cream & chocolate.
Ofcourse we tasted few of local Beers, more than me my friends did and they seemed to enjoy them. I enjoyed the Dark Beer a lot. Apparently Czech people are one of largest consumers of Beer in the world, and tourist consumption is counted in to it 😉
The farmers market is high on recommendation by locals, it is an interesting place to find fresh fruits and veggies if you are in mood to cook
prague farmers market
Mini-markets/shops:
Most of the little markets around town are run by Vietnamese migrants, sorry for sounding racial but I do that because we had really bad experiences each and every time we went to those shops when we needed something. They somehow scorned at Indians, and would be rude in general. Once a guy even started abusing us for nothing, we had to rush out. So just be careful if you are brown skinned 😛 as they were behaving well with others. Sometimes they accept cash-only, sometimes Euros too.

Prague Castle:
On the 2nd day of our trip we ascended the hill to see Prague Castle, it has various circuits defined, with varying fees of entrance. Circuit A has all the zones included, if you have all day or are good at zooming through things, you can choose it. Circuit B has 3 things lesser than A, costs about 100 Kc lesser. Circuit C seems silly. We chose B and It took us about 3 hours to completely finish it off.
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Charles Bridge:
It is always so crowded! but a nice place early morning or late night. Lot of art and handmade stuff being sold here, but if you are finicky about prices, might be worth it checking out market on the street towards Old town Square.
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Petrin Hill:
As I mentioned earlier, we had to take a tram to station Ujzed, where we had to trek up as the funicular track wasn’t functional. On way to top there is a small cottage called Magic house, it has a lot of paintings by some long gone painter, if you are into art you may like to walk in. The caretaker, does not have a fixed entry fee..he reduced it to 25 Kc for us. The souvenir shop at the hill tower is particularly nice, if you like to collect nifty stuff. It costs another 120 Kc to climb up the tower to get a panoramic view of Prague, plus 60 Kc if you want to take the elevator.
petrin hill

National Gallery of Art / St.Peter’s Gallery:
This gallery is not easy to spot, it is in some alley not easily findable, but it is nice. However, most painting are nameless, and nothing famous, you can check it out if you are into medieval era art. They have a lot of beautifully wood-carved Church alters collected from all over Czech Republic. Just follow what google says, you’ll get it. Its opens 9 am – 6 pm. 240 Kc. Expensive for painting by unknown artists, but worth those intricately carved wooden structures. No pictures allowed.

structure art prague

Various arts and structures around Prague

Prague was in all a hit, loved the people who are extremely friendly and helpful. Except …..

Prague to Cesky Krumlov bus ride:
We had advance booked the 9 am bus run by Student Agency by paying online. About 12 Euros per head, as it is usually sold out. It was a mistake, we rushed that morning to catch the bus at 9 am, due to various logistical issues like finding the right stop and tram to take to our final bus stop, buying a ticket etc. Bus stop has no signs or message boards to direct you anywhere, we asked a ticket counter lady, she directed us somewhere, saying no.1 with her fingers. We could not figure it out and it was already 9 am. We were standing near that spot, but somehow were confused, when we finally reached the bus it was 9:04. And the bus conductor turned us down. She said, we were late and she already sold our tickets. She was still in process of selling the tickets to others standing there, I could make that out. She simply didn’t let it go. We lost that money. After an hour of cluelessly waiting at that stop, the 10 am Student Agency bus arrived. They wouldn’t even look at you, or answer anything you ask. This bus conductor started taking people in at 10:50 am, and when we asked, pat came her reply, I’m sorry we’re all booked …no extra seats. It appeared as if Student Agency were determined not to let us in. How the hell did the previous bus sell our tickets before it was even 9 am? when this lady wasn’t doing it before 10 am?
Just behind this bus was a general bus in white color, no WIFI or other services, but it did sell us tickets on spot and we got in for 190 Kc per head. We reached Cesky Krumlov in 3.5 hours.

you can read all about experience in blog posts for Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg & Vienna.

Central Europe in September 2015

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Our preparations for this trip ofcourse had to begin in June, considering so many factors that are essenial for a backpack into europe. First and foremost, we heard a lot of generic advise about how Sepember is a bad time to travel in Europe. The thing people miss while saying this is Europe has many countries divided in various regions – geography! Since we were not visiting the otherwise short on summer countries like UK, France etc. we were okay.

Itinerary for his trip was devised by my friend who was going to accompany me for this trip. We planned to fly to Prague from Bangalore, and head on some cities in Austria and take a flight back from Budapest in Hungary. It was a good 15 day trip, all well adjusted to long weekends of September adding up to about 9 days of leave from work. However, due to several reasons I cancelled out the last few days for Budapest and flew back from Vienna itself.

My blog posts are to inspire women who think they can’t do it on their own. For someone who has doubts about visiting Europe by themselves or is looking for assured first-hand information. I’m aware for experienced ones, this would sound kiddish 🙂

checklist for newbie backpackers:

  1. Decide on countries that interest you and are easily connected, so you can alter your plans if need be. Since Europe Schengen countries are well connected by public transport means, avoid spending on flights.
  2. Look for accommodation and flights atleast 3 months in advance, ofcourse you know that!
  3. try look for online stay deals that allow you to pay when you get there, and allow you to cancel a few days before in case you change your mind.
  4. gather every document mentioned on the Schengen visa website, they do ask for all. Follow their checklist exactly, to avoid missing out on a Visa.
  5. if you are really sure of your itinerary, you can save some more by booking your train tickets in advance. There are discounts on train tickets about 2 months in advance.
  6. plan your clothing according to the weather conditions. Your shorts and mini skirts may go waste if you don’t carry the right kind of stockings and accompaniments. Always carry those jackets, evenings often get slightly chilly. Indians tend to have slightly different tolerance than rest of tourists there.
  7. Create a rough list of things-to-do in each city, research on available tours or packages to cover items at a lesser price, this will help you plan your budget likewise. As a guarantee though you may end up not following all of your list, but it is good for reference.
  8. Decide on a budget roughly – or + Rs. 30,000
  9. Forex: look at a good time to convert your money to euros so you get good deal. No need to go to agents who often charge higher commission. Buyforexonline.com is a pretty good option, they let you order part cash, and part money into a ATM card. The ATM card provided by them, does not have any extra costs when you withdraw cash while in Europe. On the other hand, HDFC travel plus multi-currency card is a very reliable option, as it can take care of all your online payments and swipe transactions without any extra charges, but ATM withdrawals are chargeable on this one. What I did was – ordered € 300 cash + € 200 in ATM card from buyforexonline.com. And ordered a HDFC multicurrency travel card of € 100, later I transferred another € 100 into this card based on better exchange rates in the market. Both orders were delivered to me next day itself. How these 2 type of options helped me, you can read about it in my other posts for each city(links at bottom of this post).

Once we made sure about the weather, we started looking for flights. We chose to use multi-city options so we can fly-in and fly-off different destinations. As planned, we managed to get our to & fro tickets for about Rs. 48,800/-. Next we started looking at hotels/hostel/apartments to suit our budget. Hostels and apartment accommodations allow you to prepare your own quick meals with some basic supplies, as any backpacker often doesn’t want to spend in european restaurants for each meal. Number of days to spend in each town/city was decided while we looked at attractions and things-to-do in a city. By beginning of July, all our bookings were made on Booking.com or Expedia.in ..most of them without paying anything. Except when some low price deals were applicable only on non-refundable bookings, my credit card for charged for them right away.

Our budget so far looked fine, about Rs. 80,000 (about 1000 Euros as per rates then) including flights. We seemed to have some money left for local commute and food while in Europe.

Next we had to arrange the plethora of documents required for visa application. With a lot of effort and juggling between chores we were able to apply for Visa in July end. It took a good 10 days to arrive. Since Bangalore does not have embassies for Czech Republic or Hungary, we had to apply for Schengen visa to the Austrian embassy located at VFC office in Bangalore. You are supposed to apply to a country where you are spending most part of your trip. Luckily for us we were infact spending 50% of our tour in Austrian cities.

you can read all about experiences in blog posts for Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg & Vienna.