Czech This Out!

Monday, May 26, 2014

We are back in Valencia. We arrived Saturday around 6:00. Our routing was Prague to Munich and Munich to Valencia. Both flights were uneventful and, to my surprise, Lufthansa offered free snacks, sandwiches and beverages including wine and beer. Additionally, at the gates in Munich there were a number of coffee machines that offered a variety of choices including hot chocolate. That was also a free service.

Yesterday was a very nice day weather-wise and so we decided to explore the Parque de la Cabecera that is at one end of the Turia. The Valencian zoo, Bioparc, is a bit beyond the park, but we did not get that far. The park features an artificial lake where one can rent a boat and there are a number of green spaces were groups of people were enjoying a Sunday picnic. We stopped at the cafeteria that overlooks the lake and had several tapas. We got there and back home via the metro. The park is two stops and a ten-minute walk away.

Our visit to Prague was even more than we hoped it would be. All of our friends had told us that Prague was a must visit and they were right. We were fortunate to have good weather for most of our stay. When we arrived last Monday it was raining quite energetically, but it stopped by the time we had picked up our suitcases and exited the terminal. There are two cab companies located within the airport that offer transportation to town. They are both authorized by the local government and the charge a fair price for the journey. The same companies offer a 20% discount on the return fare.

We stayed at the Sheraton that is located in Charles Square. It is a modern hotel with all the amenities that one has come to expect from Sheraton. We were upgraded to a junior suite that was located between the second and third floor. There was a second suite next door and both suited were well separated from the rooms on the second and third floors. That meant that we heard almost no noise during our stay at the hotel. All personnel in the hotel spoke English, so communication was never a problem. English is widely spoken in Prague and there were only one or two occasions, when we were lost and looking for directions that we ran into people who did not speak English.

Charles Square was a good choice because it was equidistant between the old town and the river. It took a good twenty-minute walk to get to either and it meant that we would get in good mileage during our stay. All told we logged forty-two miles during our stay. In addition to exploring the city on foot, we took a city tour in an open car. Susan and I were the only passengers and, in addition to a tour of old town we also made it to Prague Castle. We also took a forty-five minute trip on one of the many boats that ply the river. We basically toured the inner basin of the river and that was fine with us.

The food options in Prague are diverse. In additional to traditional Czech cuisine there are no lack of Italian, French and Asian restaurants. Pizza is everywhere and at one point I would have sworn that there were more Italian restaurants in Prague than in Rome. We saw one or two burrito places, but no Mexican restaurants per se. There are no Spanish restaurants, although we did discover a store that featured Spanish products. There is a Bodeguita en Medio in Prague that specializes in Cuban food. There is a branch in Puerto Vallarta, as well as the original in Havana. America is well represented in terms of numbers rather than quality of cuisine. Many of the chains are there – McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Hooters. Finding good wine is not problematic in upscale dining sites and the beer is legendary. Espresso is ever-present and that was good news especially in the morning.

Tourism was booming last week and we saw droves of people who came from all over. There were a number of Asian tour groups, and a goodly number of visitors from English speaking and Spanish speaking countries. I heard very little French in the spaces we frequented. There were a lot of college students. Old Town Square attracts multitudes that wish to see the Astronomical Clock and its tower that offers a 360-degree view of the city. The Jewish Quarter is relatively close by. There is a cluster of synagogues and museums that start with the New Old Synagogue and the other buildings are literally steps away. The Spanish Synagogue is about ten minutes away from the others and the Jerusalem Synagogue was in the opposite direction of where we were and we saved that visit for another day.

Prague’s Jewish population today numbers some seven thousand. Sixty thousand Jews died at the hands of the Nazis in concentration camps. Here is a link that will provide you with more information. It should be noted that on the back of the ticket that admits you to the Jewish sites there are a number of icons that prohibit a number of things like pets, food, flash photography and those icons appear on the back of tickets to other tourist sites. However, there is one icon that appears only on the ticket of admission to the Jewish sites and that icon is NO GUNS. In some ways things have not changed very much.

The Charles Bridge sees thousands of tourists every day and the river way offers a number of places where one can rent a boat, take a cruise or simply dine and watch the world float by. The bridge and the river were perfect setting for photography and Susan took many daytime and nighttime shots. You will get to see some of them at the end of this post, as well as on Facebook.

The economy of Prague appears to be booming. As already noted, tourists abound. There is a great deal of construction going on both private and governmental. The public transportation system is excellent and is always crowded. There is a metro, as well as trams or streetcars, as I call them. One has to be wary of taxis because there are a number of gypsy cabs that charge exorbitant prices and you have no recourse except to pay those exorbitant prices. The good news is that there are other cabs that are regulated by the city and metered. We used AAA Taxis all of the time.

There is no lack of places to shop especially if you want a souvenir or Bavarian crystal. What impressed me were the number of bookstores including one called The Palace of Books that was two stories high and seemed to go on forever. Prague is a modern city that has everything today’s traveler might need. It is a city that will accommodate most any budget and one can spend as much or as little as he or she cares to. Prague is definitely on our return visit list, but the return visit will have to wait until we make it to some of the other cities on our list.

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