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Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

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West Vancouver...
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Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

I visited Prague in July 2012, the height of summer, when the sun's rays were intense during the day and the air was cool after sunset. The city was as advertised, a living museum of relics from the middle ages and from the more recent past. It was like Vienna but not as refined, its buildings not as clean, its public transport not quite as efficient. Life appeared to be somewhat on the gritty side, even with ample evidence of prosperity in stores and public places. Strip clubs, massage parlors and dark bars were never far from the main thoroughfares, signs that the veneer of affluence is not too deep and life is perhaps not very comfortable for the average citizen of Prague.

This may explain why we tourists feel like walking targets with Euro or dollar signs pasted on our heads. To be fair, Prague is listening to tourist complaints about petty theft, cheating taxi drivers and money-changer scams. Police abound in the main tourist areas and highly visible warning signs about changing money and taxis have probably improved these practices, while scaring away some customers towards ATMs and mass transit. There are still many opportunities to be fleeced, although mostly on a petty scale. Once you are aware of it, it's almost like a tourist tax. For example, the roast ham stalls (and others) alongside the Old Square advertise a price that sounds like a good deal, until you realize the price is per 100g, and they are already piling it on the plate. When you try to reduce the amount, you are told that the minimum purchase is a weight more than you want, at which point you can walk away to verbal abuse or take the plate - and that's not the end! You can be shorted on the weight (two ways: inaccurate measurement and not getting all that was weighed), and then a convenient increase over the calculated price to include another tip, even if not a rounding. OK, they've got to make a living, I've factored all this into the price, and there's still a lot of work to be done to change Prague's image as a place where tourists have to watch their wallets, not because things are so expensive, but because transparency of transactions is still a novel concept.

If Prague is a living museum, visitors get a hands-on lesson in the history of western civilization, which we are reminded was not that pleasant at times. Brutality was common; conflicts, persecution, wars, famines and epidemics shaped what we see today, in the form of architecture and monuments that were not bombed in the last war and remain in excellent states of preservation. Ironically, these attractions that make Prague a famous tourist destination are what give the city a dour, contemplative personality. You get a better idea of why Franz Kafka wrote what he wrote.

the Czech Republic
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1. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

it is always what we chose to focus on that determines our experience.

When I read what you experienced in Prague and when I compare it to how I experience Prague, it makes me wonder how much I miss out on while traveling just because I focus on the fact that the cup is half empty instead on the fact that it is half full.

Prague, Czech...
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2. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

"Strip clubs, massage parlors and dark bars were never far from the main thoroughfares"

I love it! Did you see a strip bar in Mala Strana or Old Town?

A massage parlor in Prague is exactly that.

Dark bars? Is that something bad? Is each one a den of iniquity?

Very entertaining post I must say, thank you.

Edinburgh, United...
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3. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

I am actually wondering if you visited the city or made this report up from some stuff you have read

Kansas City...
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4. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

From my point of view Prague is a great destination. So it's not as polished as Vienna, no biggie. The exchange rates make Prague a bargain even if they over charge you for that delicious ham on the square. Prague more than makes up for it if you stray off the main tourist map and just walk into one of those dark bars and order up a pivo. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face! As far as the money changersgo just a bit of common sense should be enough to get you by without a hitch. Use the ATM's if you need money and you know inside if you are somewhere you shouldn't be!

JMHO

Miami, Florida
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5. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

"Strip clubs, massage parlors and dark bars were never far from the main thoroughfares

I must have missed them on my 3 visits....time to get my eyes examined.

Czech Republic
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for San Antonio, Lubbock
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6. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

and no stag parties?

sorta with Gus on this one...that's not the city I know..

Prague, Czech...
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7. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

Now you really made me wonder - I work in Prague - in the centre no less - and I swear I did not notice any strip club there....

I agree that there is a lot to be improved! We cannot erase 50 years of communism in 20 years ! But when I compare the life then and now - wow, what a difference! Sure, people coming from countries, where their development and continuity and tradition was not interrupted may get the feeling you describe....

Bristol, UK
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8. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

QUOTE 'Life appeared to be somewhat on the gritty side,'

Maybe Prague isn't the polished, completely finished object - but isn't that part of the attraction. Maybe the check-list, whistlestop tourist may miss this aspect, or not appreciate it if they do notice it.

However, the ones wanting to get under the skin of a central European city in the 21st century have realised the appeal - and I count myself in this category. We keep coming back for more.

There are plenty of sterilised, bland cities in Europe, eg. Brussels. Somewhere like this would probably bore the boxers off of me. I'll keep the gritty side, and keep enjoying what my favourite city has to offer.Thanks for the trip report, but I only recognise some parts of it by your descriptions.

As for dark bars - at least you noted one of the main attractions.

West Vancouver...
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9. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

I seem to have struck a nerve with my post. If after my observations and impressions, I had added: "Despite some petty annoyances, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and see Prague as a dynamic, complex and evolving city with a rich history that takes more than four days to fully appreciate", it would not have been untrue, and perhaps I would have made more friends. But if Tripadvisor wants honest observations and fresh impressions, that's what was offered.

I do agree with whitespirit that the gritty side of a city is what adds to its interest over "sterile" cities; note that I did not say whether this was good or bad. Lima and Cuzco, Peru, for example, are fascinating in their own gritty ways, and make for excellent tourist destinations, given appropriate precautions. On the other hand, there are gritty parts of Los Angeles and Chicago that I would not planning to visit anytime soon. (Prague is like none of those cities.)

As another aspect of "grimy", personal safety and comfort are important considerations for tourism, especially for first-time visitors who do not speak the language. Prague in 2012 is quite manageable in this regard, so that's not the main focus of my post; what's more interesting is learning what makes the city and its people tick, getting insights into a national psyche. Visiting its museums, reading its history, walking through the side streets of the city, riding public buses, observing and listening all provide but glimpses of the subject.

Czech Republic
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for San Antonio, Lubbock
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10. Re: Why I liked / didn't like Prague - first impressions

certainly nothing against your original post.....

and not really a nerve its just that some guidebooks are still perpetuating some myths or urban legends that are simpy not true or a thing of the past...hence, the sarcasm about a stag party

we do appreicate your post.

in the similar context, a colleague once used 'edginess' to describe Prague..