Overview
Costs
Exchange rate
Internet
Weather
Health
VISA
Security
Getting around
Photos


25 - 29 August 2004

24.08: Munich
25.08: Munich -> Prague
26.08: Prague
27.08: Prague
28.08: Prague
29.08: Prague -> Munich



Overview and overall impression
This is a report of a five-day trip from Munich to Prague, which we did by car at the end of August 2004. Since my first visit to Prague in 1993 a lot has changed. The country has modernised itself and a lot of infrastructure investment has been done (and is still going on). The central part of Prague looks great - clean streets, beautiful buildings, a vibrant atmosphere full of life. You get the impression that the Czech are proud of having made it into the European Union and have high hopes for the future. Shopping complexes are open seven days a week, and on Sundays downtown Prague is full of activity, with tourists doing sightseeing and locals shopping.



Costs
Rooms in Prague are not cheap and in fact room rates are pretty much in line with rates in any Western European country, despite the fact that local wages are much lower than in Western Europe. Essentially most hotels in Prague cater to tourists. Eating in Prague is a bit less expensive than in Germany or Austria, if you avoid tourist traps such as the Old Town Square for instance, but is not too cheap. Fuel for the car (98 ROZ) was around 30 Kc/liter - only 10% less expensive than fuel in Germany. Overall the cost of a holiday in Prague is medium to high - more or less in line with what a holiday would cost in Germany or Italy. Staying in Prague is for example much more expensive than staying in Portugal.



Money  / Exchange rate (August 2004)
1 Euro = 1.22 US $ 
1 Euro = 32 Kc
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.



Internet access
Several Internet cafes are available in Prague. We used the one at the tourist information in the old town.
 


Weather
Mostly cloudy the first days, a bit fresh. The weather improved towards the end of our stay.



Vaccinations
None required or necessary.



VISA / Entry requirements
EU nationals and nationals from several other countries need no VISA. For more information contact the Czech embassy of your country.



Security
Well... in theory foreign branded expensive cars get stolen (from what I've heard) and in fact for safety reasons we left the car in a guarded parking at night. But then we drove with the car into town, parked there and nothing happened. Pickpockets probably exists, but nobody stole anything from us.  




Getting around in Prague
Prague has an extensive public transportation system, with three underground lines and several bus and tram lines. We thought that it would make sense to use this system, since we read that driving and parking in the centre was complicated and were afraid somebody might steal the car.
On the first day we did indeed use the public transportation system, but found out that if you are with a baby in a baby buggy it is tiring and complicated to get around with trams and underground, because the surface transportation system is not adapted to buggies (buses and trams are not at ground level and to get in you have to walk up a staircase). In the underground stations which we saw, there were no elevators and even no escalators in some parts, forcing you to carry the buggy down the stairs. Also, if it's 10pm and you are downtown and are tired after a full day of sightseeing, you may not want to negotiate your way back to the hotel with the public transportation system. In addition taxis in Prague are expensive (we payed 580 Kc to get from downtown to Prague 3). So, the other two days we tried using the car to get downtown, and to our surprise this was much better than taking the public transportation system. It was easy to get downtown and very easy to find a parking - although I suspect that where we left the car a zone permit was necessary. It looks like most if not all parking spots downtown are available only to people who have a permit. Leaving the car in a parking would have been complicated as there are not so many parkings in town and you have to find them (difficult if you don't know the town). Nevertheless apparently the Czech police showed mercy for our car (or closed one eye) as we were not fined. Also, nobody broke into the car. To summarise it, unlike Budapest, getting around by car in Prague was great - very easy to get quickly from A to B. 





24.08.04: Munich (preparing for the trip)
It was quite complicated to find a hotel in Prague, because initially we were looking for a four star hotel. It turned out that hotels in Prague are quite overpriced, with even some three star places charging more than 100 Euro/night. The good value four star hotels we found were all fully booked. After a lot of debating on whether to stay in an apartment or not, we finally settled on a three star hotel - Hotel Populus in the Zizkov area, which charges 56 Euro/night for a double. Other places we found were the Strachov hostel which charges 23 Euro for a double with private bath (which we ruled out as the rooms are quite basic), Hotel Crystal (60 Euro/night for a double, but fully booked on August 25th and a bit too out out town) and some apartments, which we ruled out since they cost almost as much as hotels but don't provide safe parking. At least the Hotel Populus has its own guarded parking area (I do hope it's guarded, as I heard it's not safe to leave a middle-class car in the roads of Prague), is modern and the rooms look quite neat on the Internet page. We will leave tomorrow around 3pm and I hope we'll reach Prague before 9pm. In theory it should be possible to reach Prague leaving from Munich in four+ hours, but we are travelling with a baby and there might be trafic jams. The weather is the big unknown - or should I say disappointment - because right now all forecasts are saying that it will be cloudy or raining between Wednesday and Saturday. How to shoot good photos with an overcast sky ?




25.08.04: Munich -> Prague
Hotel Populus, Prague. Mid-range three star hotel, 56 Euro/night for a double with bath. Hotel is ok, but not too great. Rooms are clean with TV, decently furnished. It's a newly built building, but the location seems a bit inconvenient. To go downtown you have to take a bus. Guarded garage is 200 Kc/night.
Weather: Sunny with clouds, very little rain. Nice blue sky with sunshine alternates with an overcast sky. Overcast sky in the evening when we arrive in Prague.

We manage to leave Unterhaching at 2:45pm and the 389 km trip which in theory could be done in four hours, in reality takes a bit over six hours - we reach the hotel around 9pm after a couple of stops. Alissia, our four months old baby, is very quiet and sleeps most of the time. She only starts briefly to cry at 6pm, because she is hungry.

Everything runs (almost) smooth in the German part of the trip as there is just a small traffic jam a bit out of Munich. However when we pass Regensburg along the A93 motorway and should change to the E50 which continues to Pilsen and Prague, we miss the exit. I have to say that the exit is not properly marked. Instead of getting out in Wernberg we continue for about 10-15 km before turning back and getting back to Wernberg where we fetch the E50.

Surprise, surprise the E50 is not a motorway. It's a narrow and winding road which only becomes a motorway close to the Czech border. Long convoy of cars behind very slow trucks.

At the border they let us through with no problems in less than one minute. The lady just has to check with her colleague the passport of Shirley. I guess it doesn't happen that often that a Malaysian crosses the border there.

The 10 day vignette for the Czech motorways (actually there is just one motorway from the border to Pilsen, Prague and Brno if I'm not mistaken) costs 7 Euro. I change some money at the rate of 29.50 Kc/Euro (the interbank rate is 32 Euro). I also refuel the car - surprised to see the cashier at the petrol station wearing a white shirt and a tie (like an investment banker).

The Czech motorway is quite new. You can really see that there has been some infrastructure investment recently in the Czech republic. Lots of modernisation since I visited Prague in 1993. Around Pilsen the motorway is "broken", i.e. you drive for some time on narrow country roads before getting again on the motorway. We spend 245 Kc for a dinner in a motorway restaurant.

We finally reach Prague around 8:20pm and then manage to reach the hotel a bit before 9pm, after getting lost once (wrong motorway exit - we find ourselves on the edge to nowhere).




26.08.04: Prague
Hotel Populus
Weather: sunny with clouds in the morning; by the time we we leave the hotel at 11:30am the sky is already overcast. Later it rains intermittently and towards the evening the situation improves - probably tomorrow the weather will be good. Quite fresh the whole day.

It's a challenge to play the role of the tourist and do some sightseeing with a four months old baby. I have to say that our baby is probably more quiet and easy going than other babies, and manages to follow us during our sightseeing without complaining too much (except when it's food time and she is hungry). All Alissia wants is to be carried in the arms every now and then and also to enjoy the sightseeing. Alissia is a very curious baby and likes to explore its surroundings. Still it's not easy to spend the whole day sightseeing with a baby.

I wake up at 8:30am, but we only manage to leave the hotel at 11:30am (Shirley wakes up at 9:45am - the baby made some trouble last night and kept Shirley awake for a long time - in case you are wondering why I slept, the answer is that I was using earplugs...).

Anyway, we manage to catch the 11:34 bus Nr 133 to the Florenc underground station. We arrive there approx. 13 minutes later and the first hurdle shows up: no escalator to go down (only to go up). We have to roll the kinderwagen down the stairs. Well, further down there are escalators which go in both directions, but then there are parts in which one direction has no escalators, only stairs. There also is no elevator - I wonder how people on wheelchairs use the underground here.

We take the B line to the Namesti Republiki station and from there start our walk at 12:15pm. I'm impressed at how artistic and beautiful the buildings are. We slowly walk towards the Old town square with the St. Nicholas and Our Lady before Tyn churches, then continue towards the Prague castle, crossing the Karlsbrücke. Over the next hours and until the evening we alternate walks, sightseeings and stops in restaurants and pubs. I even manage to drink three beers (actually three Radlers - mix of beer and lemonade), which is quite impressive as I rarely drink beer. Around 6pm we try to walk up to the castle, only to find out that it is only possible to reach it by walking up a long staircase. Try doing that with a kinderwagen.

Dinner is at 8pm in an Italian restaurant along the Vltava river. I can't finish the pizza as I'm already full.

It gets quite cool in the evening. Around 10pm we are in the St Maria Tyn square and since we are tired and it's complicated to get back by public transportation with a kinderwagen we simply take a taxi - which however isn't cheap at all at 580 Kc (19 Euro).

Tomorrow we'll drive by car into town and will leave the car in a parking. Should be less complicated than taking the bus and the metro.




27.08.04: Prague
Hotel Populus
Weather: overcast with sunshine in the morning, the weather improves a lot in the afternoon with sunshine and a blue sky, then overcast again in the late afternoon/evening. No rain, fresh but warmer than yesterday.

We sleep long until after 10am, thereby missing the breakfast which is only available until 10am (buffet style). In the morning I check with the reception if we can extend the stay for one more night, but the hotel is fully booked. So I call the travel agency which booked the hotel for us and ask them to book a new hotel for us.

We leave the hotel around noon and this time we go into town by car - when leaving the hotel I expect problems navigating through Prague, finding a parking and possibly having somebody break into the car (everybody keeps telling me that foreign cars get stolen often in Prague). We manage to reach downtown quite easily and park the car in the Dlouha street near to the Old Town square. From there it's a short walk to the Old Town square, where we have lunch in an Italian restaurant around 1pm. After lunch, around 2pm we climb on the town hall tower for some great panorama shots of Prague. By now the weather has considerably improved.
At 3pm we walk to Josefov, the Jewish quarter of Prague. The idea would be to visit the old Jewish cemetery and some synagogue. It turns out that there is a steep entrance fee of 300 Kc (almost 10 Euro) per person, just to see the cemetery and a few synagogues. Steep compared to the other entrance fees in Prague (40 Kc for instance to get on the Townhall tower). The cemetery is quite interesting, but the synagogues are a disappointment - quite boring with nothing to see and to top it all photography not allowed. Hard to understand why there are no entrance fees for Christian churches but there are instead for Jewish synagogues.

Anyway, we finally get out of the Jewish quarter at 4:20pm (by the way, except the cemetery there are no ancient buildings there - everything looks as if it was built in the 19th century). We walk back to the car and drive to the Letna park opposite the river which we reach around 5:15pm. There is a point in this park from which you have a quite impressive view of Prague and the Vltava river. We stay there until after 6pm, then get back to the car. I drive around the castle to get an idea how to get there tomorrow. Then we drive back to Prague centre and stop in a shopping complex, where I check my emails while Shirley does some shopping. Dinner is at 9pm in a restaurant in the Old Town square (overpriced, food is so-so). We are back in the hotel at 10:30pm.





28.08.04: Prague
Hotel Prokop: this place has quite good rooms (better than those of the Hotel Populus), but the location is a bit arkward. A car is necessary to get to this place.
Weather: overcast in the morning, improves in the early afternoon, then gets overcast again. No rain the whole day; fresh.

We pack our things in the morning and leave the Hotel Populus before noon. Getting to the Hotel Prokop involves reaching the southern motorway ring, following it until after the bridge over the Vltava river, taking the first exit and from there and then finding the way through a maze of roads. The area looks like kind of a rural area, forgotten by god (or by the development). Anyway, the hotel manager is friendly and the room is nice.

After unlaoding our stuff we immediately drive into town, this time heading towards the castle area. We pass by a stadium and park next to the Strahov monastery. Not sure if parking is allowed there or not but we don't get fined and nobody steals or breaks into the car. Then we start our daily sightseeing by visiting the Strahov monastery, whose main church however is closed.

From the Strahov monastery we walk down and realise that we are very close to the castle (by the way nice views of Prague from here). So basically we walk to the castle from there - no need to climb stairs up or down with a kinderwagen as we assumed would be necessary yesterday. We find out later that it would have been even possible to get even closer to the castle by car.

We reach the castle at 2:10pm and spend two hours there - until 4:15pm. The St Vitus cathedral, currently undergoing restoration, is breathtakingly beautiful inside - finally a "world class" church in Prague.
Then we drive to the shopping complex which Shirley had spotted when we drove from the hotel to the castle earlier today. It turns out that this is the Andel shopping complex, open seven days a week and one of the bigger and most modern shopping complexes in Prague. Since we are very hungry and tired (already 4:45pm and still no lunch) we have some food at the nearby KFC restaurant.

A half past five we start exploring the area - Shirley is looking for the shopping complex main entrance. We find instead an Internet cafe (cheap at 50Kc/hr) where I check my emails, while Shirley feeds the baby. At 6:30pm we split - Shirley goes shopping into the shopping complex, while I head towards the national theater for some photo shooting. The sky is now free of clouds and the evening sunlight is beautiful.
I'm back in the shopping complex shortly before 8pm. Shirley continues with her shopping and we leave the shopping complex around 9pm. After we drive to Wenceslas square where we have a light dinner in a Chinese restaurant. We are back in the hotel at midnight, after getting lost a couple of times in the maze of streets surrounding the Prokop hotel and stopping at a petrol station to refuel the car (petrol here is about 20 Euro cents/liter cheaper than in Germany). The baby refuses to sleep until 1:30am - I guess she is either too tired and has seen too many things today (or perhaps we came back too late).





29.08.04: Prague -> Munich
Weather: overcast in the morning, then the sun comes out at noon (blue sky). Later it gets overcast again and on the motorway it rains.

We manage to get up before 10am to still have some breakfast, then pack our stuff and check out. We then drive into town. Actually it's quite easy and fast to get into town from the Prague 5 district where the hotel Prokop is located - if you know the way.

We try to get to the shopping complex near Namesti republiki square, but get lost in the maze of roads and then stop somewhere downtown after Shirley spotted an open air market. It turns out that we are right behind the beginning of the Wenceslas square. Shirley goes for her shopping while I have a look around. Despite the Sunday all shops are open and the Wenceslas square is full of life. Compare that to German towns which on Sundays are dead and boring.

After lunch we leave Prague at 3pm and manage to be back in Munich at 7:20pm - a good time and that includes a 20 minutes stop at a Czech petrol station near the border. Alissia is quiet during all those four hours


Copyright (c) 2004 Alfred Molon