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Thanksgiving Alternatives / Thanksgiving Travel / Travel Deals / Fall Travel / Virgin / Virgin Vacations / Prague / Prague Travel / → All Tags
Are you a last-minute planner when it comes to big holiday travel times like Thanksgiving in Christmas? Yes, we are too, especially because everything looks so darn expensive and plain booked up. This year, it's either another Thanksgiving of ordering Chinese takeout or booking it out of the country for some autumn appeal overseas...like in Prague.
Remember that it's not Thanksgiving over in the Czech Republic, so that means no dinner reservations or pressure to eat cranberry sauce. Virgin Vacations seems to have the best deal we've seen for this, with a 6-night hotel, airfare, and daily breakfast starting at $669 per person. Sure they have other deals for Thanksgiving to Barcelona, London, Paris and Rome, but the Prague trip sounds like the most fall foliage and old school charm for the lowest price.
Events / Paris / Prague / Art Travel / Seattle / Food Festivals / → All Tags
You hit Miami's Art Basel and you've already passed through Venice for the Biennale, but what about swinging through The Czech Republic for even more art, and this time with feeling? Prague is throwing its own Biennale, the fourth annual, and this year brings the largest assemebly of young painters ever120who'll bolster the size and reputation of what is already a hugely significant exhibition of Central European art and photography. Find it all this month at Karlin Hall, Thamova 8 in Prague 8, and American are sure to be pleasantly surprised by the event's extra little show of "The Newest New York Young Photographers from the Big Apple."
Events / New York City / Prague / Orlando / Paris / London / → All Tags
· Orlando: Technically on Cocoa Beach, the 45th annual Ron Jon Easter Surf Fest is an entire weekend of hanging ten, going shoeless and using words like "cowabunga" and "radical." Kicking off tonight at 8pm with a free al fresco film screening of a surf movie, the festival even includes an Easter egg hunt at 11am tomorrow. Check out the full schedule for info on every awesome event.
If you've ever wandered through the streets of Prague (with your eyes open), at one point you probably looked up and spied the Old Town Hall's Astronomical Clock. Chances are, you then looked down in the confusion of not being able to tell what time the clock displayed and walked on.
We'd like to say that we will clear up all the mysteries of Prague's Astronomical Clock, but we aren't sure we can. We have quizzed local Czechs, asked Wikipedia and Googled it to death, only to come up more bewildered than before.
There's a zodiac ring, a 24-hour clock, sun and moon indicators, and even a part showing "Old Czech Time," which starts at 1 every time the sun sets. There are also plenty of arrows that we think are secret pointers to the best pubs in town, so we recommend only studying the Astronomical Clock long enough to decide which direction to go for the next beer.
Send us your thoughts on the Astronomical Clock if you got 'em.
[Photo: Helen & Simon]
There's nothing we like more than a record-breaking tourist attraction, and Prague Castle makes it into Guinness as the largest castle complex in the world. That's reason enough to stop by, but not only is it huge, it's also impressive in other ways. The president still sits there, but the Bohemian crown jewels do too, and every hour there's a changing of the guard to rival London's, with a musical addition at midday when band members stand in various windows of the castle and peform.
The official castle visiting information site can give you more details on what there is to see, but it also includes a disturbingly long list under the headline "What you cannot visit." Some rooms only open for concert performances, some manage to open up on two random days a year, and some parts are just plain closed. Just think positive and be sure that the friendly Czechs have opened the good bits, at least, for the world to see.
[Photo: Psycho Crow]
Languages / Prague / Czech Republic / Students / → All Tags
Who knew that learning hard languages could be so popular? Sure, the US government can't find anyone who speaks Arabic, but according to the Prague Post, record numbers of students are learning the Czech language. As one of those students (ages ago) we can relate to their pain and suffering: Czech is the hardest of the Slavic languages to learn. Only Hungarian is more difficult, because it's from an even harder linguistic tree.
As the Prague Post notes, it's not just the grammar that's hard; idioms are confusing too:
Czech is also rich in idioms that are virtually untranslatable and can throw off even the most determined language student. Take sbal si svých pět vestek a bě, a way of saying "get lost" that, translated verbatim, means, "Take your five plums and run."Didn't Biff say that in Back to the Future?
[Image via cuellar/Flickr]
· Record Numbers Studying Czech [Prague Post]
Does using the honor system for public transportation actually work? Setting aside debates on the relative morality of different cultures, it would appear that it's not the best for catching people in the act, in Prague at least. The city uses the honor system for its network of subways, trains, and buses, but according to the Czech media, only .3 percent of those who "ride black" each year are caught.
There are several problems; inspectors--of which there are only 150 in number for the whole system--are paid based on the count of tickets they hand out. Many riders feel these folks pocket the fines instead of reporting them, and the shambolic look of the inspectors doesn't add much credibility in their defense. Still, it's too expensive to add turnstiles or gates to every station, so it looks like things will stay as they are for the time being. Our solution? Bring in the MTA--if they run the Prague metro like they run the L train, no one will ride black, or at all, before the year is out.
[Image via mrphillip/Flickr]
· Free Riders [Prague Post]
Hotels / Prague / Smackdowns / → All Tags
Cute story in the Telegraph this week on the best hotels for a-stayin' in Prague. We always thought of the Four Seasons there as last-resort luxury (i.e., it's the only option for people who are discerning about their toilet paper). It's not as impressive compared to the more laudable Budapest site, but it's still considered number one in Prague. We doubt that will last much longer.
Why? The Mandarin Oriental is opening in Prague next month, that's why. The Four Seasons was pretty untroubled by the Aria, which never had the quality of staff to compete with them, but the Mandarin--located in pleasant part of Mala Strana--will likely knock the Four Seasons off the top of the heap. Suites have three LCD TVs, and all rooms have high-speed internets plus the Mandarin goodies you'd expect. It certainly will be interesting to see what develops.
[Image via elle rigby/Flickr]
· Where to Stay in Prague [Telegraph]
Prague / Food / Restaurants / → All Tags
We missed it when it came out last week, but this article by Dave Faries in the Prague Post contains some sane advice for visitors to the city who crave Czech cuisine--for whatever reason--in the center of town but don't want to get stuck at a tourist trap or visit the increasingly shoddy Kolkovna. At some of these places, beer is up to $4 a half-liter, which is obscene.
According to Faries, the answer is the few authentic Czech pubs that have survived in Nove Mesto and Vinohrady without turning into tourist bilking-establishments, including XXX and Hloupy Honza. Remember, though, that you're in for an authentic experience, not necessarily a delicious one:
Don't be put off by tacky dumplings or overcooked meat. Depending on which pub you happen upon, the same dish can be dry, greasy, heavy, bland or weighed down with heart-stopping amounts of salt. Rarely does any of it approach sublime. Whether you dine in a tourist trap or a neighborhood joint, this adage holds true: Traditional Czech food may not be great, but at least they give you a lot of it.Our advice? It's hard to mess up fried cheese--think of it as the equivalent of ordering a burger at a diner. And besides, at least the beer is cheap.
[Image via NO-HA/Flickr]
· Get Out of Old Town [Prague Post]
· Prague [Jaunted]
It's not just newspapers that are suffering at the hands of the internet; it's bookstores, as well, especially landmark ex-pat bookstores. OK, that might be a bit of a stretch, but the changing times have certainly had an effect on the recent troubles of Prague's most famous (and first) ex-pat bookstore, the Globe.
The current owner, a German who bought the place in 2003, is looking to sell. He blames himself for many of the Globe's problems, which amount to a loss of $120 a day. But he also blames the Prague Post for outing him as a gay man in a profile when he bought the bookstore, which he says led to a drop in clientele shortly thereafter.
While that's a possibility, it's more likely a combination of smaller factors. One, as the Post notes, ex-pats don't need to leave the house to search for apartments; they can do it from home, even before they leave, instead of meeting each other at a bookstore. And they can order English-language books online, too. What's more, the café in the Globe was never great, and it steadily got worse in recent years--we were served spoiled food the last time we were there. So it was hardly a "destination".
Ultimately, though, let's blame the internet for this--it makes sure all those potential ex-pats never leave the U.S., instead finding cushy apartments in Williamsburg and Echo Park. They won't be missed abroad, we can guarantee that.
[Image via ruffnex/Flickr]
· Final Chapter [Prague Post]
Food / Prague / → All Tags
Ah Czech-Mex. Is there any other cuisine that sounds so unappealing to the ear? It's fine in person--far, far better than it used to be, certainly--but that was not always the case. This week's Prague Post catalogues the curious history of this strange fusion fare.
OK, so fusion is overselling it a bit; when we see a sauerkraut burrito you'll be the first to know. But in the early days of Prague's popularity with Americans, there was plenty of demand for the filling Tex-Mex cuisine ex-pats remembered from their recent college days back home, but supply was a problem. Mexican ingredients and spices were hard to find and overpriced, and Czech palates were intimidated by the spiciness, according to the owner of Jama, one of the first Czech-Mex restaurants in Prague: "They were infatuated with Mexican food but in fear of it." The result was some mighty bland grub.
It's quite tasty these days; the Mexican food in Prague is no worse than what you'd find at an average place in New York (which is to say, good, not great). Thank the wonderful world of the EU, globalization, and the tiniest improvement in the sophistication of the Czech palate for that bump in quality. If you're looking for Czech-Mex in Prague, we'd still recommend Cantina, the old standby. As for their tequila--that part of the Czech palate is already quite developed.
[Image via beebo wallace/Flickr]
· Tex Message [Prague Post]
Prague / Alcohol / Absinthe / → All Tags
Is Czech absinthe improving? It certainly can't get any worse. As the Czechs never had the ban on the green liquor that swept across the rest of Europe and the U.S. at the beginning of the 1900s, quite a few manufactures tried to cash in on the name during the 90s with kitschy brands. What they distilled was hardly authentic absinthe--hence the term Czechsinthe--it was closer to a green Windex. And that's being kind to the flavors involved.
Czech absinthes are heavy on wormwood, which was the ingredient that many thought caused absinthe's hallucinogenic properties; recent studies have shown that not be the case. Which is a pity, since beyond the purported visions, all wormwood adds is a bitter flavor.
It's not all bad. Toulouse Lautrec Absinthe is the best of the new bunch of Czech absinthes. It's not made in the classic old style, which was the subject of a recent New Yorker article, and is near impossible to do successfully, but the "flavor profile" is a close as Czech absinthes get. So the next time you're in Prague and absinthe is what everyone asked for you to bring home, that's the one you should grab at the Duty- Free. Cheers.
[Image via Sevensven/Flickr]
· Worthy of their Name [Prague Post]