Prague at the end of October By Philip Suter
Visitors to Prague in the Czech Republic speak very warmly of the city, culture and it's people. It was interesting to spend a few days there in late October to find out if this was all true.
It was a wet and not too warm Saturday afternoon in August 2010 when we decided to go on line and arrange a short break in Prague in the Czech Republic. We checked out flight costs using either British Airways or easyJet and then thought about hotel accommodation.
We looked at lastminute.com and found that we could arrange hotel accommodation, flights and airport parking at the same time and in fact the flight costs were the same as those being advertised on the two carrier's websites.
Equipped with two pocket size guide books - TimeOut and Lonely Planet we were then prepared. Although the Czech Republic is in the EU, like several of the EU countries they are not in the Euro. To gauge how much money to take out at ATMs in Prague we changed Ł100 at London Stansted airport.
We had a very early flight to Prague and arrived at Prague airport an hour and half later at 9.15 in the morning local time. Vítejte v Praha. We followed the advice in the guide books and took an AAA yellow taxi. Apparently there has been problem in the past about overcharging tourists and the guide books and the airport advise you use properly registered taxis. It is not far into the city centre and we had a fast driver in his VW who overtook on both sides of the road and like many taxi drivers we saw, did not bother with seat belts.
The law enforcers also appear to take a similar attitude although the wearing of seat belts in the Czeck Republic is compulsory. (See Guides_to_driving_abroad_Europe-Czech ) .
We checked in to the very smart Hotel Jalta at Vaclavske Namesti - Wenceslas Square and the room with a balcony overlooking the square on the 7th floor was ready. The hotel was built on a site that had a house on it that was bombed in 1945 by mistake by the Soviet Army in the May Revolution. In 1952 the Czechoslovak socialist government decided to build a 'luxurious' hotel on the site of the original building. In 1954 work commenced and It was designed by architect Antonín Tenzer . It was finally opened in 1958. Although it has been modernised over the years retains it's original charm and has 94 bedrooms. They have a very good website at http://www.hoteljalta.com/ Since our return I filled in their comment form and received a reply within minutes. Just like the hotel itself, excellent service.
The weather was cloudy on arrival day Thursday 28th October and we set off walking through Wenceslas Square past a collection of European retailers like C & A, Marks and Spencer and Debenhams towards the Old Town Square area - Staromstské nám?stí with Prague's Old Town Hall and the Astromonical Clock - Pražský orloj
and the Church of our Lady Before Týn. We moved towards the Vltava River and passed the Opera House and walked along the riverbank to the famous Charles Bridge - Karluv most. We left the bridge and headed down to area that has the "John Lennon Peace Wall" It is covered in grafiiti and it was a place in the 1980;s where youg Czecks would express their desires of freedom. Although the wall was constantly painted over, new images would appear overnight.
We walked over a small bridge from Malá Strana to Kampa Island and saw the "Love padlocks" overlooking the mill. Moving on closer to the river we came across the Museum Kampa a modern art museum and the buildings are as interesting as their contents. We returned the next day for a serious visit. By this time the sun had broken through the cloud and it stayed vet sunny on the Friday and Saturday.
We continued our journey uphill towards Prague Castle - Pražský Hrad passing an Irish Pub, then the Irish Embassy, French, US and Italian embassies and arrived at the gates.
The changing of the guard takes place every hour. We went into the St. Vitus Cathedral and then climbed the 287 steps up to the top of the South Tower. There are superb views over the city from here.
Behind the Cathedral in St. George's Basilica tickets were being sold for a concert the following evening. Presented by the Prague Royal Orchestra featuring music by Mozart, Dvorják, Bach and other composers. We bought our tickets and headed back to the hotel taking in a drink in outside (but heated with gas heater) café in Old Town Square. There are numerous concerts being held in the city during the day and in the evening.
The Hotel Jalta has an excellent restaurant "Como" comorestaurant.cz and it was only a short walk from the hotel's lifts. We had a great meal of local Czech food and Czech wine. Yes they produce a lot of wine and every drop we tried was very good. A Jazz trio was performing in the evening and they have different artists appearing throughout the month..
Following a fine Hotel Jalta buffet breakfast we set off towards the Jewish area, taking a look at Marks and Spencer in Wenceslas Square to see how this branch compared with the British and Irish counterparts. We then crossed the river and headed for the Petrín Hill. Instead of taking the funicular that runs from Ujezd to Petrín Hill we walked most of the way till we came to the station in the middle. We were only on the train a minute or two and were very close to the summit and a beautiful rose garden by the station. The Petrín hill which was once one of King Charles' vineyards offers beautiful views of Prague and you get even better views when you climb (or take the lift) on the Petrín tower.
This is a miniature of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It is only 690 metres high compared to it's French cousin that is 300 metres high. You get some great views all around and even on a calm day you can feel the movement when you reach the top.
We walked back through the park and back to the Museum Kampa.
This is a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours, seeing the the more contemporary art, plus modern art and exploring the building. The price for two is around €8.50 and if you going on a sunny day you can take some amazing photos. They have a riverside bar and restaurant and if it is a little cold, like most outside bars and restaurants in Prague you will either find blankets on the chairs or be provided with them. We came across this excellent idea in Berlin as well.
It was then back to the Castle for the concert followed by an excellent meal in a typically Czech restaurant.
Saturday would be our final day and we had already done a fair amount of walking. Prague has an excellent Metro system and tram network, but we walked everywhere. We headed via the shopping are to Municipal House located in Republic Square. Municipal House - Obecni dim is the premier Art Nouveau building in Prague. According to the guide book, in the early 20th Century, Czechs were seeking independence from the Austro - Hungarian Empire and some 30 leading artists and architects poured their efforts into this building that was completed in 1912. It is an amazing building with an American Bar in the basement - suterén. We went back there in the evening for a drink. .
We crossed over the Cechuv most bridge and climbed to Letná Hill with it's strange red and black metronome on top and into the Letná Gardens stopping at the Hanavský pavilion. This is a restaurant and bar built in 1897 and on a sunny Saturday late in October is a great place to take a lunchtime drink with yet more great views of the river and city below, We walked through the park that forms part of the Castle gardens past the new high tech and older orangeries back into the Castle..
We crossed the Charles Bridge for the final time and being a hot Saturday afternoon was packed and took quite some time. Time was moving on so after stopping for a coffee we walked along the riverside and came to the Dancing Building.
It was bbuilt during 1992-96 by Frank Gehry and Vladimir Mulunic,It is a piece of controversial Prague architecture, and because of it's shape has been nicknamed "Fred and Ginger".
Our day ended by eating out in Old Town Square within close proximity of the Astromonical Clock. There was a large audience in front of it waiting for it to strike on the hour. That is another place you can climb, but were now too tired. We had a most enjoyable meal and as usual found the service very friendly and good. We returned back to the hotel and a printed note had been left for us (as it would have been with all guest) saying the clocks were going back at 3.00 am so we could have an extra hour in bed.
Sunday was quite overcast and the hotel arranged a for a taxi to take to the airport. This time it was a "private hire car" and the driver wore his seat belt, drove carefully and avoided the speed cameras en route to the airport.
Prague is a beautiful city and they work had to keep the tourist economy going well. There has been a 30 per cent drop in tourism this the worldwide economic problems of late, but they know how to look after their visitors. Another important factor was we were very lucky with the excellent weather. Had it been wet it could well have been a different story.
At Prague airport my passport was checked by a very pleasant female member of the passport staff who was interested in the book I had in my hand as she had just read it. On arriving back at London Stansted the man from UK Border agency who was checking people's passports was shouting at the young family in front telling them to keep back behind the line and never mentioned to say good morning, good bye to anyone. He was probably having an off day....Welcome to England!!
Lastminute.com - When we made our booking back in August, I honestly believe we ticked the box and paid for one item of "hold" luggage. When we checked in with easyJet at Stansted Airport we were told that this was not the case and would have to pay. We had to pay £36 for the outward and return journey, much higher than if you pay when you book. We were told by the very helpful easyJet representative that this this situation is always happening when customers think they have paid for it and it has been booked via a third party. She said the problems mainly come from lastminute.com and Expedia.
Booking via Lastminute.com meant you could print off everything at the end, but personally I would suggest, you make an "adobe" print of each setion as you progress through the booking process and keep this on your computer. Keep them in case you have to take up the issue with the company concerned. In our case Lasminute.com replied very quickly, but said "I do understand your frustration and disappointment however I am unable to offer you any compensation on this occasion as at the time of the booking you had an option to add the bag. The booking went through without booking a bag therefore I am unable to offer you financial compensation."
Enjoy your visit to Prague, Czech Republic
All photos ©jml Property Services November 2010
© jml Property Services November 2010
This article was located at the euro-rentals.com website until March 2018
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives