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My Prague City Break – Part 1

Praha

If feels like ever since I began my life in Europe two years ago, I have been hearing about how beautiful, amazing and inexpensive Prague (or Praha) is. Naturally I added it to the list of places I wanted to visit. Finding a travel partner can sometimes be a daunting task, and for the most part I really do not mind traveling alone. However going with someone is usually the better, and certainly cheaper, choice. For females, it is also a much safer choice.

So last fall I found a travel buddy, my old flat mate Sahar, and we got everything booked for a 3-night stay in Prague in mid-October. In just a few weeks I was finally going to visit this city that I had heard so much about.

Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

The Flight

We chose to go with the budget airline, Wizz Air. It’s similar to Ryan Air and Easy Jet, and they mainly fly to Eastern Europe. Wizz Air flies out of Luton Airport, which is an hour north of central London so it’s not the most convenient airport to fly out of for some people. Still, the return flight, including fees and such was less than £100 per person.

The Hotel

As I am sure I’ve stated before, I’m not keen on hostels. Perhaps with the right group, on the right trip, for a couple nights, I could get behind it. This was not that type of trip. Prague has a number of inexpensive hotels, including a number of Ibis hotels around the city.

We chose to stay at the Ibis Old Town location, which I highly recommend. It was slightly more expensive than the other Ibis hotels in Prague (by £8 or $12/night), but we couldn’t have been in a more perfect location. Ibis is a ‘no frills’ hotel, but it’s clean, they offer free Wi-Fi, and the rooms are efficient enough for a 2-3-night stay.

Transportation

Prague has a good public transportation system, which you can find plenty of information about online. There are buses, an underground metro and aboveground trams. A 90-minute ticket was less than £2 ($3), and that is plenty of time to get from the airport to anywhere in central Prague. There are 1-day and 3-day passes, but everything is so close in the city that taking the metro or tram is not necessary.

As with many other countries, you must remember to validate your ticket when you start your journey, whether it is on a bus or metro. We used public transportation 2 of the 3 days we were there, and were stopped twice by metro officers asking to see our validated tickets.

Day 1

By the time we got checked in and settled in the room, it was time for some lunch. We eventually wanted to get to the Old Town Square so we tried to chose a restaurant from the ones I had researched before that was on our route. The restaurant we ended up at was called Touch.

Touch, like many good restaurants, is tucked away from the main road on a street that eventually led us right to Old Town. The waiter that greeted us at the door was nice, the specials looked good and the prices reasonable. We were in!

Asparagus cappuccino soup with truffle oil

To drink, the waiter suggested we try some Hot Wine, or Mulled Wine, to help us warm up. We decided to give it a try, along with the asparagus soup with truffle oil (£1.57/$2.50) as a starter and roasted rabbit leg with mashed potatoes (£4.85/$7.75) for the main meal. I rarely order soup at restaurants, in fact, I rarely have soup period. However the asparagus soup at Touch was so delicious that after I tried a little of Sahar’s, I decided to order my own.

Roasted rabbit leg with mashed potatoes

As seen by the photos, the meal was large and tasted just as good as it looks. The entire meal for two people, including tip, came to 550 Czech Koruna (£20 or $30). If you are ever in Prague, you MUST visit Touch. There is plenty of seating, the food was delicious, and best of all it was inexpensive. Our waiter was even nice enough to give us a card for 10% off if we came back.

Just be warned: they are closed on Sunday.

After lunch, we continued to make our way towards the Old Town Square, home of the famous Astronomical Clock. The medieval clock is the 3rd oldest in the world and the only one that is still working.

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

Anyone who has been following this blog knows how much I LOVE to climb to the top of towers and duomos. So when we found out that we could go to the top of the Astronomical Clock tower, I was very happy tourist. The trip up to the top costs 100 Koruna (£3.50/$5.50), and unlike many of the other towers, this one has an elevator to take you up. Given its location in the center of the town, the tower offers a beautiful 360-degree view of entire city of Prague.

The view from the tower

From the square, we continued heading west towards the river. We passed by a number of shops and cafes on our way, including a delicious chocolate shop and one of many marionette shops. Soon we had made it to the famous Charles Bridge. The bridge was bustling with people, painters and even a band! It is also a great place to snap a photo of the Prague Castle.

On Charles Bridge

To keep us entertained at night, we decided it would be fun to try a couple different options. The first night, we made a reservation at The Medieval Tavern. Located west of the river, the tavern offers food, drinks, and on Friday and Saturday nights, medieval entertainment. There are a number of ‘rooms’ (they are more like cellars than rooms) descending floor-by-floor deeper underground, each with a bit of unique flair.

Our Medieval dinner

The food is very traditional, the beer is cold and the entertainment is worth the money!For about £20 each ($33) we ate a medieval meal, drank 3 large beers, a hot wine and were treated to a different show every 20-30 minutes.

Enjoying a beer before the first round of entertainment

The entertainment included a belly dancer, a sword fight, a juggler and even some tricks with fire…

One of the entertainers – A belly dancer with swords

The final show of the night at the tavern

The Medieval Tavern was a fantastic way to spend our first night in Prague and definitely a unique experience. While the tavern is open during the week, the shows only take place on the weekend, and it’s highly recommended that you book in advance.

That’s all for part one of my Prague weekend. Stay tuned for part two (yes, I promise there will be a part two).

Ciao,

Sheila

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Travel Tip #1 – Hotel Hunting

Despite the fact that people say, “What difference does it make, all you’re doing is sleeping there,” I still believe that finding a good hotel (or hostel) is key to having a good vacation. You may only spend your time sleeping there, but traveling can get tiring and a good nights sleep is sometimes the only thing that keeps you going!

Most people in their 20’s think hostels are the only way to go when traveling through Europe. This is NOT true! If you spend some time doing your research, you can almost always find a decent hotel at an affordable price.

Personally, I’m not the hostel type of girl. I never went backpacking through Europe with friends so I’ve never experienced it. While some friends have told me they enjoyed their experiences, I believe I’ve past the point in my life where sleeping in a hostel would be considered fun and exciting. Most importantly though, I can find 3 stars hotels in good locations that are reasonably priced (often times only £5-10 more per night than a hostel).

So how do I do it? Well, here are some tips to help plan your next vacation…

1) Give yourself plenty of time – It has never taken me less than 2 hours to find a hotel, and if you’re traveling to a major city, the same should apply to you. Do you know how many hotels there are in a city like Rome?? Have some patients, pour yourself a glass of wine, and expect to spent at least a couple hours doing research.

2) Become familiar with the city – Until you know where you’re going, it’s difficult to find, let alone pick, the right hotel. Do a little research on the city you’re visiting so you know what area to book your hotel in. Knowing about things like public transportation can help you decide between one hotel over another. On a recent trip to Dublin, our hotel was within walking distance to several bus stops, Trinity College (that houses the Book of Kells), many local pubs, and the airport shuttle bus.

 

Weber Ambassador Hotel - Capri, Italy

3) Search here or there? – There are so many search engines out there to help you book travel, it’s sometimes impossible to know where to start. My biggest suggestion: don’t just use one site! There’s a reason why there are so many options, so why not take advantage of a few. Typically, I start with Kayak. I like the features it gives you to help narrow down your search, and it also allows you to search other sites like Priceline and Expedia all at the same time. It’s like shooting 4 birds with one stone.

4) Read reviews! – I can’t remember the last time I booked a hotel without checking out reviews on Trip Advisor. Every hotel is going to make their establishment look pretty in the pictures you see online, but for the real story, you need to read what your fellow consumers have to say. Trip Advisor is my go to site for many reasons: they allow reviewers to post their own photos of the hotel, you can sort reviews by rating or by trip type (business, family, friends getaway, etc), and every hotel has a popularity index number (do you really want to stay in the hotel that’s rated #99 out of 100?). There have been a couple instances where the hotel I was looking at had terrible reviews, but by using the popularity index I was able to see the top hotels in that city and found a higher rated room at a cheaper price.

O'Callaghan Mont Clare Hotel - Dublin, Ireland

5) Don’t Procrastinate – Sure, sometimes you can find last minute deals, but do you really want to wait until the last minute to book your hotel? Booking early can not only help save you money, but you’ll have so many more choices! So don’t put it off!

6) If you’re feeling adventurous… – I almost hesitate to bring this up but as long as you know what you’re getting into, Priceline’s Name Your Own Price option can be a great deal finder! Why is it a risk? Because you give them your offer and commit to a room without knowing which hotel you will be staying at until after the deal is accepted. Keep in mind, you do pick the quality (number of stars) and the location (another reason why it is important to know about the city) so you have some idea what you’re getting into. I used this feature when my girlfriends and I went to Chicago for a weekend in 2009 and it was perfect. Our room was small but the 3 of us stayed at The Palmer House Hilton (a 4 star hotel) for 3 nights and it only cost us $90 each.

 

The Palmer House Hilton - Chicago, IL

7) Traveling Hotel – If you’re trying to visit different cities/countries in Europe during your vacation, be sure to look into overnight trains. When you need to travel distances over 6 hours, this is the way to go! Why waist that time during the day when you can sleep and travel at the same time? Each cabin sleeps 4 to 6 people, an private cabins can hold up to 3 people. There is also a restaurant on board incase you get hungry. They run between most major cities and when booked in advance, cost about the same as a hotel. I’ve used the overnight train 3 times and I was very happy with it.

8 ) Mix ‘n Match – If you don’t mind staying in hostels but still want a guaranteed hot shower every few days, you can always mix and match throughout your trip. A couple friends of mine did this several years ago and it worked out great for them. They stayed in hostels for 2-3 nights and then stayed at a hotel for one night. This helped cut down on their cost, but still gave them the comfort of  sleeping on a nice bed and a warm shower every few nights.

I hope these tips help some of you in future hotel searches. I know at times it can be frustrating trying to find the right place, but once you get there, it will all be worth it.

Also, just remember that the most important thing is that your hotel or hostel is in a safe place. Sometimes it can be wiser to spend a little extra to ensure your safety.

Ciao,

Sheila

 

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