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Travel & Holidays in later life

PULLING BACK THE CZECH CURTAIN

A corner of the Old Town SquareFor many postwar years, Prague had a neglected, run-down appearance. But in the past decade public buildings have been given a major face-lift. The blackened grime of past decades has been scrubbed away, to reveal the beautiful pastel colours of the original stonework. 

Prague ranks high among the beautiful capitals of Europe, and was almost untouched by two World Wars. Sited on the River Vltava - itself a lyrical theme for painters and musicians - it's a city of several hundred spires that dominate the skyline.

There's enough to keep sightseers busy for several days. Prague abounds in picturesque old streets that wind up steep cobbled hillsides, with Hradcany Castle as the highlight. Palaces are preserved as museums. There is plentiful mixture of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

Travel Facts

 

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TRAVEL FACTS

The exchange rate for Czech koruns varies around 30 korunos to the pound. Check here. But beware of high  commission charges made by some bureaux.

Three modern Metro lines have made transport around
Prague much smoother. Otherwise clanky old trams and buses still operate. All services use the same tickets, bought at kiosks etc. When starting a journey, you time-punch your ticket. All the Metro lines are accessible for wheelchair users.

Public transport is cheap -with a range of single tickets and 24 hour (100 czk), 3 day and 5 day go anywhere tickets available.
Check here for prices.
Worth buying is a 3-day Prague Card which gives unlimited city
transport and entrance to 40 of the sightseeing highlights.

More information: Czech Tourist Authority, 13 Harley Street,  London W1G 9QG. 

Travelsphere escorted holidays

 

By night, Prague offers good opportunities for opera and ballet, orchestral and chamber music and puppet shows. Leading hotels feature Western-style night-clubs and dancing, with reasonable prices.

With a strict policy of preserving the historic appearance of the city centre, the modern international style of glass and concrete has been kept a decent distance away. 

A low-profile Inter-Continental Hotel on the river bank does not obtrude, and high-rise hotels have been kept several Metro stops away from the centre. 

If you visit Prague somewhat off-season, all the great city attractions can be enjoyed without the huge crowds of peak-summer tourists. And accommodation is then easier to reserve. Many apartment owners let out rooms or offer bed & breakfast. 

On your first evening, the priority is to see the Illuminations, for a dazzling impression of the Czech capital. The focus is on the Old Town Square, where floodlighting brings out the pastel colours with gorgeous clarity.

For many years the historic 14th-century Tyn Church was wrapped in scaffolding, but now it glows with rich colour. On the northern corner of the square is the baroque church of a former monastery.

Join the crowds that gather just before every hour at the Astronomical Clock. Built by a master watchmaker in 1410, it's the oldest of its kind in Europe to be still operating. Two upper windows open on the stroke of every hour, to unleash a procession of the 12 apostles. 

Baroque facade of the former Pauline Monastery in Old Town SquareAn astronomical sphere indicates the three different times used in the Middle Ages. Standing on each side are figures representing human vanity and miserliness, a skeleton and the figure of a Turk.

From there, a stroll to Charles Bridge offers a superb view across the River Vltava to the brilliantly lit Jesuit church of St. Nicholas and thence to the skyline towers of Prague Castle.

Busking on Charles BridgeThe bridge itself is always thronged with sightseers, craft vendors and entertainers. Everything is pure theatre, a delight to the eye. It gives an appetizer for the following morning's guided sightseeing.

The standard city coach tour normally starts by disembarking outside Prague Castle and then through the entrance gates with a visit to St Vitus Cathedral. Here the patron saint of the Czech Republic, Good King Wenceslas, is buried. His name lives on in Prague's principal shopping street called Wenceslas Square, supervised by the Good King's statue at the top end. 

But the most popular highlight within the castle grounds is the delightful Golden Lane that was an R&D centre for medieval alchemists, trying to turn base metal into gold. 

Food and drink are always a key part of any journey abroad, reflecting something of the local cuisine. 

Czechs are hearty eaters who scorn health food and nouvelle cuisine. Typical meals are built around dumplings and sauerkraut, usually with pork. Fruit dumplings are popular, filled with plums, apricots, strawberries or cherries. Particularly good is Prague ham, which also can appear at breakfast. 

People in Prague eat early, and hotel dining rooms close earlier than in other Continental capitals. Restaurants generally follow a 'No Smoking' policy during the busiest hours of midday till 2 p.m., and around 7 p.m. Outside those peak hours, smoking may be permitted.

However, there's no shortage of smokers in the beer taverns and the recent law requiring provision of smoking areas is making little difference to the smoky atmosphere. The Czech Republic is famed for its beer, rated as the world's best, so if you can stand the smoke, a visit to a beer tavern is an essential part of any holiday in Prague.

Golden Lane within Prague Castle grounds The top choice is U Fleku - an enormous beer hall, established in 1459, the oldest and largest in the Czech capital, with its original brewery attached. For centuries it has been crammed with Czechs, drinking a famous black beer helped down with goulash and dumplings.

Just before 7 o'clock every evening, the streets leading to the U Fleku tavern echo to the sound of tramping feet. Tour-group crocodiles come marching in, following their guides' waving umbrellas.

Usually, every room of the 1,000-seat beer hall is packed with German and Austrian visitors, and French, American, British, Italian and Japanese. Amid all the Babel, it's only the waiters who speak Czech. Reservations are essential for lunch or for the two evening sittings at 7 and 9 p.m.

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Where else to visit in Central and Eastern Europe

BUDAPEST - Try a short break

KRAKOW - the pub capital of Poland

MOSCOW - See the transformation for yourself

SLOVAKIA - for old-time price levels


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Czech & Slovak Republics - The latest edition of an Insight Guide classic, superb for anyone wanting to explore deeper than just Prague alone. Excellent in-depth coverage of the two republics' cultural and political history.

"Lonely Planet: Prague & teh Czech Republic" by Neil Wilson & Mark Baker - an in-depth guide to the sightseeing, and the cultural and historical background. 

Prague (Eyewitness Travel Guides) - a 3-D guide to the city, with good maps. The walking routes are especially good. This is a relaunch of a highly popular format which adheres to an attractive visual impact.

The Rough Guide to Prague - an in-depth handbook giving all aspects of Prague life and culture, past and present.


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