Subject: Prague
Hello Tom/Ziners:

Prague is a remarkably beautiful city. It has architecture that spans (my guess would be) about 800-1000 years. It is very easy to get around in. I learned this, because my botel (boat-hotel) room had some 'problems' with some rooms on the day of my arrival, and they had to ship me off (no pun intended) to another botel, which was way around on the other side of the city. This necessitated a rapid immersion into the Prague rapid transit system. Tickets for travel are sold according to set time limits not per trip like in North America. Tickets (called jizdenki) are available in newspaper kiosks and in all Metro (subway) stations. They come in 15 minute, 1 hour, 24 hour, 72 hour and 30 day denominations. Make sure you stamp your ticket when you board the tram, or at the entrance to any subway station. I have a 72 hour ticket that's not stamped, that you can have if you like, just send me your mailing address. The transit system is efficient, and quite easy to use, so don't be afraid of getting on a tram or bus or subway; since your ticket is 'time' dependent, you can get off and back on another tram/bus/subway without too much to worry about. If you want to use taxis, call AAA taxi, their number is 3311-3311. They are the most honest cabs in the city. I called ahead to have a driver pick me up at the botel to take me to the airport. He was right on time, and the fare was 320 crowns, about $15 CDN.

Prague is also a city of contrasts. The chain hotels (Hilton, Marriott etc.) are ridiculously expensive, while some of the smaller local hotels are a bit more reasonable, however, the nicer ones are still expensive. Food/drink on the other hand is really quite inexpensive, but not that there isn't a price to pay (as it were). I found that many Czech natives and European tourits smoke (a lot!). Restaurants do not have non-smoking areas; and therefore if you eat in the smaller down to earth restaurants that many of the locals frequent, and you're a non-smoker, then it can be quite an unpleasant experience. We found that eating in a pricier restaurant (but still not overly expensive by North American standards) afforded you more space, and generally had fewer smokers in it.

The food is wonderful! Portions are generous, but everything is itemized; meaning that if you order the steak don't ask what it comes with, because you have to order your potatoes, veggies separately. I found that many of the meat entrees usually incorporated a delicious (but almost always rich/heavy) sauce. If you don't like your food 'drowned' in sauce, then likely the options will be for something fried. In a word, the term low-fat doesn't figure into local cuisine. Regardless, enjoy, it's all wonderful, and the portions are very generous. If you like, I can let you know about some of the restaurants we ate in.

In terms of tourist sites, there is so much to see. I only really had a day and half to see the sites. The Charles bridge is wonderful, but I found all of the vendors on it pushing their wares really detracted from the experience. The most fun was just wandering the narrow cobble stone streets (bring comfortable shoes!) and admiring all of the buildings. Many have had their exteriors refreshed, and have beautiful trim, plaster work, and mosaic frescoes. The old town has lots of crystal and jewellry shops. The crystal is (IMHO) a little cheaper than here at home, but I didn't find the savings to be huge; if you factor in the shipping costs to get sets of glassware or chandeliers sent to the US or Canada, then the savings are even less. The native precious stone is the Garnet, and many jewellers have lovely rings, earing, necklaces and bracelets made with this precious stone. If you think you might purchase something of this nature, price it at home first to see if the savings are real; everything that I looked at seemed quite expensive, but I don't know how much similar items cost here.

If you have any other more specific questions, drop me a line. Regards, John Wiernikowski Hamilton, Ontario