Difference between revisions of "Czech Republic"
Revision as of 14:10, 31 March 2008
The Czech Republic ,  is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, situated south-east of Germany and bordering Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia (with which it used to form one country of Czechoslovakia) to the south-east.
The Czech Republic is divided into 3 historical regions:
There are 14 political regions which are subdivided into districts.
Following the First World War, the closely related Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia. During the interwar years, the new country's leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Sudeten Germans and the Hungarians. After World War II, Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence.
In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize Communist party rule and create "socialism with a human face". Anti-Soviet demonstrations the following year ushered in a period of harsh repression and conservatism within the party ranks. In November 1989, the Communist government was deposed in a peaceful "Velvet Revolution".
On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Now a member of NATO (since 1999), the Czech Republic has moved toward integration in world markets, a development that poses both opportunities and risks. It's also been a European Union (EU) member since 2004.
The Czech Republic is not a large country but has a rich and eventful history. From time immemorial Czechs, Germans, Jews and Slovaks, as well as Italian stonemasons and stuccoworkers, French tradesmen and deserters from Napoleon`s army have all been living and working here, and all influencing one another. For centuries they have jointly cultivated their land, creating works, the majority of which still command our respect and admiration today. It is thanks to their inventiveness and skill that this small country is graced with hundreds of ancient castles, monasteries and stately chateaux, and even entire towns that give the impression of comprehensive artefacts.
The Czech flag (see above) is the same one formerly used by Czechoslovakia, having been readopted in 1993.
Habits and Customs
The Czech Republic has joined the Schengen agreement, which means that you can enter on a European Union Schengen visa and there are no longer any ID/passport controls on the EU borders. Citizens of EU can stay in the Czech Republic without visa indefinitely. Citizens of the Canada, USA, Australia, and New Zealand do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Be warned that while before joining the Schengen agreement the 90 day limit for citizens of these countries was not enforced, several long-staying American citizens were recently warned to get the visa or leave the Schengen area. Specific details for all countries can be found at Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Check czechembassy.org for more current information.
Other international airports are in Brno (with flights to London, Moscow, Barcelona and Prague), Ostrava (flights to Vienna and Prague), Pardubice, Karlovy Vary (flights to Moscow and Uherské Hradiště).
There are dozens of low-cost airlines going to/from Prague. Ryanair flies to Brno. Other nearby airports are Nuremberg (200 km) and Munich (320 km) in Germany, Vienna having a bus shuttle to Brno city (260 km to Prague, 110 km to Brno) in Austria, Wroclaw (200 km) in Poland (might be a good idea if you want to go to the Giant Mountains) and Bratislava – hub for SkyEurope Airlines but without shuttle (280 km to Prague, only 120 km to Brno) in Slovakia.
International train service runs from most points in Europe with direct connections from Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania. If you are in Bavaria, Saxony or Thuringia, the cheapest way to get to the Czech Republic is to take a "Bayernticket", "Sachsen-Ticket" or "Thuringen-Ticket" (up to 5 people per ticket, which costs 25 EUR; only regional trains) to the border and then buy a Czech group ticket there.
IDOS offers an exceptionally useful website with integrated timetables for all trains and buses in the Czech Republic, including all intra-city and inter-city transports. The German version is available.
There are domestic flights from Prague to Brno and Ostrava. They are operated by CSA Czech Airlines. There were also flights operated by Discovery Link, from Prague to Uherské Hradiště, but this airline stopped its flights in 2005.
A cheap and excellent means of travelling between Prague, Brno, Plzeň and Liberec are the buses from Student Agency. A line to Ostrava via Olomouc was introduced recently. Apart from this operator there are many other bus companies that link Prague and many other cities regularly. The buses leave Prague from Florenc Bus Station or Černý Most Bus Station (both are also Metro stations). Except for the Praha-Ostrava line, the buses are bit faster and cost less than the Czech trains (not considering discounts). Usually, you do not have to book a seat but if you travel on Fridays or before holidays from Prague, it is recommended. Timetables are available on the IDOS website.
Driving in the Czech Republic is not as expensive as it is in other countries, but there are specific things that must be kept in mind.
The first thing is that the Czech Republic is a zero tolerance country. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of any amount of alcohol, and violations are very heavily punished.
The people in the Czech Republic drive sometimes aggressively, but it is not same "madness" like in southern Europe countries for instance.
In order to drive on the well-kept motorways, however, you need to purchase a toll sticker. These stickers cost about CZK 100 for ten days, but can be purchased for longer periods of time as needed. If you do not have a toll sticker on your car when you drive on the motorways, the fines can be very steep.
The condition of many roads is improving, but to be safe, drive on the motorways as much as possible, although if you want to get the remote parts of the country you will be forced to take bumpy side-roads sometimes.
Speed limits in the Czech Republic are usually 130 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h off of motorways, and 50 km/h in towns. Petrol is not so expensive (CZK 31 / 1,15€), but it is expensive compared to the United States.
Traffic fines are to be paid on the spot.
The trains go even to the most remote locations of the Czech Republic and unlike buses, they also operate regularly during off-peak hours. However, outside the modernized main corridors, the standard of travelling is often the same as it was in the 1970's, and therefore it is quite time consuming to get to the provincial towns or villages. The trains tend to meander around the countryside and while this may sound like a nice afternoon ride, it's usually more hassle than it's worth. However, things are changing constantly and we can expect some further modernization in the near future.
Due to the complicated discount policy of the Czech Railways (especially for foreign travellers), the standard one-way tickets are twice as expensive as the bus. However, you can get a discount for a return ticket, for group tickets (two travellers are considered as a "group") or with a special "customer" card. Especially the group discount is very useful, because you get the same fare as using the customer card (about 70% of normal ticket) even for two people and from the third traveller on you pay half of the customer card price.
The customer card (Karta Z) costs 600Kc and is valid for three years. This makes the trains much more useful, sometimes even cheaper than buses. Its price can be recovered quickly but it takes some time to issue the card and you need a photograph. For the complete list of discounts in English visit Czech Railways' website.
Categories of trains:
If you take Supercity (SC) Pendolino, you have to tell at the counter when you buy tickets because they do not know what kind of train you will travel with. There are extra charges for these trains mentioned above. If you are not sure, try to ask for help some younger people waiting in the queue as they should speak some English.
Although many train stations were repaired and modernized, the rest is still like a trip back in time to the communist era including the main station in Prague (main station in Czech is abbreviated as hl.n.). There is no need to be afraid but try to avoid them in the late night hours. Trains are generally safe (there are regular police guards assigned for fast trains) and very popular mean of transport and they are widely used both by students and commuters. Especially Prague has pretty good network of local trains connecting it with suburbs and surrounding cities and the tickets bought for these trains are valid for municipal transport. Check Prague integrated transport (PID), in Czech only.
The Czech Republic is an excellent place for cycling. There are lots of pleasant country lanes, cycling marked paths and picturesque villages along these paths (always with a pub...), it's easy to find the way, and the trains have bicycle racks in the baggage section for when you get tired. Try cycling in South Moravia region (close to Austrian borders) where you can find dozens of well-marked paths that will lead you through beautiful countryside full of vineyards, vine cellars and colorful villages (do not drink and drive, remember "zero tolerance" to alcohol).
Also border mountains (Krkonoše, Šumava, Jeseníky etc.) are more and more popular among mountain-bikers. There are usually no fences along the trails but always keep to the marked paths here as these mountains are "CHKO" (i.e. protected as national natural heritage) and you can be fined if you cycle "off the beaten track".
CzechCycling.info  is a non-profit website with cycling information for Prague and surrounding areas.
In addition to walking in the cities, there are a great number of hiking paths and scenery-rich trails going through the Czech Republic's forests and natural areas, and the Czech Tourist Club (Klub českých turistů, a member of the European Ramblers Association) has mapped and marked these trails so that walkers can easily locate and navigate thousands of kilometers of scenic paths, in fact it is probably the best maintained system of marking in Europe. You can buy maps of their paths on their website, or in the Czech Republic in most bookstores, tobacco shops or museums (green maps, marked with the organization's symbol and the words EDICE TURISTICKÝCH MAP KČT 1:50000 at the top). These maps are based on military maps and very precise. It's also possible to go by train to a small village at the edge of a forest and find the on-site map of the surrounding area, and four possible paths will be visible, marked in red, yellow, green, and blue (nice tourist maps). Nearby such a map will be a set of directing signs, usually posted to a tree, pointing the initial direction on any of the colored paths. The path's color will be marked on trees throughout the path: three short horizontal bars, the outer two white and the innermost the color of the path you're on. This symbol at times will appear as an arrow, indicating a turn. Bus and train stops will also be indicated on signs. You can also register to become a member of the Czech Tourist Club, where you can camp for 30–50 Kč a night in cottages around the Czech Republic.
Travelling by boat is an interesting way to get between Budapest and Prague, but be prepared to take some time because you have go through a large part of Europe, via Slovakia. The Vltava (Elbe) mouth opens into the North Sea, whilst the Danube mouth is in the Black Sea.
Take care to use very a clear gesture with the thumb pointing upwards. A gesture looking like you are pointing to the ground may be mistaken for prostitution solicitation.
Try a letter-sized (A4) piece of paper with the destination written on it so it is clearly visible where you would like to go. See some other Tips for hitchhiking.
The main languages spoken are, not surprisingly, Czech and Slovak. Czech and Slovak people are very proud of their languages, and thus, even in Prague you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the main tourist areas). Many older people are also unable to converse in English, so it's good to learn some Czech or Slovak before heading off. However, most young people speak at least some English, as it has been taught in most schools since 1990. Czech and Slovak are VERY similiar, yet distinctive languages (at first, you might think they are dialects of each other)
Most Czechs and Slovaks speak a second and often a third language. German is probably the most widely spoken second language among older people. People born c. 1935-1980 can usually speak Russian pretty well as it was taught very extensively and is mutualy intelligble with Czech and Slovak to a certain extent, although the intervention of Czechoslovakia by USSR and other Warsaw Pact forces has given this language some negative connotations, even though they realise that many Soviets (not just ethnic Russians) were also against the intervention. Other languages, like German, French or Spanish, are also taught in some schools, but you should not count on it. Other languages are not so common, although people may understand other Slavic languages (Polish, Serbo-Croatian, etc). Don't expect older people to understand English outside Prague or Bratislava.
The languages are very difficult for English-speakers to grasp, as Czech and Slovak, like their sisters, can be tongue-twisting languages to learn (especially Czech) and take time and practice to master, especially if you're not really familiar with the other Slavic languages, including Russian. However, if you can learn the alphabet (and the corresponding letters with accents), then pronunciation is easy as it is always the same - Czechs and Slovaks pronounce every letter of a word, with the stress usually falling on the first syllable (except foreign words). The combination of consonants in some words may seem mind-bogglingly hard, but it is worth the effort!
The currency of the Czech republic is the koruna (crown), plural koruny or korun. The currency code CZK is often used internationally, but the local symbol is Kč (for Koruna česká). 1 koruna is made up of 100 haléř (haléřů), abbreviated to hal..
The exchange rate is approximately 27Kč = €1, 37Kč = £1 GBP, 19Kč = $1 (US), or 19Kč = $1 (Canadian). As of 24 December 2007, €1 = 26.45Kč (Czech Central Bank)
Coins are issued in 50hal, 1Kč, 2Kč, 5Kč, 10Kč, 20Kč and 50 Kč. Notes are issued in 20Kč, 50Kč, 100Kč, 200Kč, 500Kč, 1000Kč, 2000Kč and 5000Kč. Notes 20Kč are valid but their occurrence in circulation is rare. See some banknote samples.
Some major stores will accept Euros, and it's also fairly common for accommodation providers to quote the price in Euros.
Never exchange money on the street. There is no "black market" with better rates, but there is a good chance you'll end up with a roll of worthless paper. Be very careful when you are exchanging money at a small exchange kiosk. They try to use tricks in order to give you a bad exchange rate. Ask for the total amount you will get and recompute it by yourself. Do not trust "0% commission" in big letters signs (usually there is "only on CZK buy" amendment in small letters). Here www.kurzy.fin.cz you can get good overview of reliable exchange places and rates.
Major stores throughout the country accept Visa and EC/MC, as do all the tourist stores in Prague.
Entering Prague on the train, particularly from the southeast, one sees the infamous panelaks, or giant concrete housing blocks. Czech and Slovak housing blocks have a very surreal quality to them - driving past the Brno suburbs late at night is visually reminiscent of the movie Blade Runner. Petrzalka in the Slovak capital of Bratislava is the biggest panelak complex. Czech writer Iva Pekarkova’s novel "Truck Stop Rainbows" does an amazing job of expressing the particular sort of inhumanity panelaks are known for breeding. If someone lives in a building that is an exact copy of all the others for miles around, so alike that even residents get lost, what does that bode for the community living there? In a particularly ironic twist, the real-life panelaks are crumbling as quickly as the communist regime that built them: literally falling apart at the seams.
If you end up in Panelaks be aware that the elevators are not likely to be kept up and may be prone to missing a door, or to stopping at the designated floor but will not open to let you out. If a door is missing there may be some minimal caution exercised by the residents in the form of a baby gate placed inside the elevator. If the elevator looks shifty, take the stairs. Yes, even if your friend lives up on the 15th floor. Also be aware that during extreme weather such as high winds, earthquakes or excessive rain the panelaks do not do well. There are too many cases of Panelaks toppling over eachother like dominos, flooding, etc. Use common sense and realize that these buildings were built cheaply to house as many people as possible, and now they are old and sometimes in disrepair.
Alternatively though the Panelaks in contrast to what one finds in Western European or American housing projects, are relatively safe and friendly places albeit it bland. The dark exterior shell hides a generally quite nice internal environment that is usually well maintained by the inhabitants living inside. The majority of people who live there are a cross section of the lower to middle classes of Czech society (including a large number of students and retired elderly people). Haje in Prague at the end of the red (C) metro line is well worth the half hour metro trip to experience a real live communist 'settlement.'
On the bright side, recently more flats in these panelaks have been being bought, changing these developments from Communist compartments into owned and cared-for properties. Unlike in Western Europe, panelaks in the Czech Republic are being lived-in and owned increasingly by the middle class, which tries to paint them lively colors and individualize their appearance inside and out. Some residents in such buildings don't find them isolating at all, and on the contrary feel that they foster a communal atmosphere.
Czech Republic has an excellent and sophisticated system of trail blazing, marked trails are about everywhere. Choose an area, buy a hiking map for the area (best brand is "Klub českých turistů", 1:50000 military based maps covering the whole country, available in most large bookstores) and go.
Many places in the Czech Republic are great for swimming, and there are many designated public swimming areas (called koupaliště). A list of places suitable for swimming is available here. However, be aware that in hot weather the quality of the water in some places can fall below EU standard regulations.
Although the Czech Republic is a land-locked country, it does have a lot of nudist/naturist beaches near lakes. A full list is available here. Full nudity on other beaches is legal, but rare, and usually only happens in non-crowded places.
There is a Pub Crawl that meets every night under the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square of Prague at 9:15. Its cheap and they take you to some cool pubs, bars and you end up at a night club. Its a really good way to see what the Prague night life is really like. Even in the off season.
Geocaching is a popular sport in the Czech Republic, there are thousands of caches both in the cities and in the country. Czech caches are usually listed on geocaching.com and the descriptions are often bilingual (Czech and English).
Czech food is hearty and suitable after a hard day in the fields. It is heavy and quite fatty, and is excellent in the winter. Traditional food inclues knedlíky (translated as dumplings but more like slices of white bread), served as a side-dish with Czech classics such as guláš, similar to Hungarian goulash but with a thinner sauce and less spicy; Svíčková na smetaně, beef sirloin with a creamy root vegetable (carrot, celeriac, parsnip) sauce, served with a tablespoon of cranberry sauce, a slice of orange and whipped cream; Vepřo-knedlo-zelo, the combination of roast pork, knedlíky and sauerkraut. The latter combines very well with the world-famous Czech beer, the major brands being Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Budvar, Staropramen, Velkopopovický Kozel and Krušovice.
Other Czech dishes include pečená kachna, roast duck again served with bread or potato dumplings, and red and white sauerkraut; moravský vrabec, known as 'Moravian Sparrow', but which is in fact pork cooked in garlic and onions; smažený kapr, fried carp breaded and served with a very rich potato salad and eaten on Christmas Eve; pečené vepřové koleno, roast pork knee, served with mustard and fresh horseradish; bramborák, garlicky potato pancakes; smažený sýr, breaded deep-fried edam (the most popular cheese in the Czech Republic) served with boiled potatoes or french fries and tartar sauce; párek v rohlíku, long, thin hot dogs with crusty rolls and mustard or ketchup. If you must, you can always get hranolky - french fries. And of course, the ubiquitous zelí (raw cabbage), which is served with absolutely everything. Game is also very good, and includes dishes such as kančí, wild boar, bažant, pheasant and jelení or daňčí, both types of venison. These are almost always served either with dumplings and red and white cabbage, or as guláš.
Don't expect a wide selection of zelenina, vegetables, unless in the countryside - peppers, tomatoes and cabbage are the most commonly-seen side dishes, often served as a small garnish.
US-citizens may be surprised when they find "American potatoes" in the menu. These are like fried or baked potatoes, usually spiced.
Also try traditional beer snacks, often the only food served in some pubs (hospoda), and designed to be washed down by a good beer:
Czechs also have a sweet-tooth so try some of the following:
Spa wafers from Mariánské Lázně and Karlovy Vary (major spa towns in Western Bohemia better known by their German names of Marienbad and Karlsbad) are meant to be eaten while "taking the waters" at a spa, but they're good on their own, too. Other major spas are Karlova Studánka (favourite destination of Václav Havel - former Czechoslovakian president), Františkovy Lázně, Jánské Lázně, Karviná, and Luhačovice.
Try Bábovka, a traditional cake, similar to marble cake, fairly dry, and usually served dusted with icing sugar; Buchty, traditional buns filled with tvaroh (curd cheese), mák (poppy seeds), or povidla (plum jam); Jablkový závin or štrůdl, apple strudel, often served with whipped cream. Rather popular are Koláče, flat tarts topped with various sweet fillings like tvaroh, povidla, mák, fruit jams, chopped apples and nuts. Their size ranges from bite-sized ('svatební koláčky') to pizza-sized, which often contain several fillings combined into an elaborate pattern ('Chodský koláč'). Try also the wide variety of rich cream cakes usually found in a Kavárna (a cafe), or a Cukrárna (a shop which sells all things sweet together with ice cream and drinks, found throughout the Czech Republic and often the only place open in small towns and villages on Sundays). Czech cakes are similar to their Viennese cousins due to the shared history of both countries under the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sample also Vídeňská káva (Viennese coffee), coffee served with a mountain of whipped cream. Recently "trdlo" is being offered in Prague. It is the medieavel sweet roll from eggs and flour.
Tipping is a standard 10%, and is not normally added to the bill. Don't be confused by the percentage figures listed at the bottom of the bill - by Czech law, a receipt must show the VAT paid (19% in most cases) - the VAT is already included in the final amount, and you should add 10% to this. It is normal practice to give the waiter the tip BEFORE you leave the table. Tip is not obligatory - if you weren't satisfied with services offered, don't bother tipping.
In a vast majority of better restaurants located in major cities you can pay by credit card (EC/MC, VISA), but don't be surprised if a few will not accept them. Make sure to check the door for respective card logos when entering the restaurant or ask the waiter before ordering. Czechs sometimes use special tickets (stravenky) to pay in some restaurants - these are tax-prefered and subsidised by employers. You won't get these tickets unless you get a job in the Czech Republic, just don't be surprised when you see them.
The Czech Republic is the country where modern beer (pivo in Czech) was invented (in Plzeň). Czechs are the heaviest beer drinkers in the world, drinking about 160 litres of it per capita per year. Going to a cosy Czech pub for dinner and a few beers is a must!
The best-known export brands are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), Budweiser Budvar (Budějovický Budvar) and Staropramen. Other major brands which are popular domestically include Gambrinus (produced at the same brewery as Pilsner Urquell, and the number one choice for discerning Czechs), Kozel, Bernard (a small traditional brewery, with very high quality beer), Radegast, and Starobrno (made in Brno, the capital of Moravia). Other fantastic beers worth tasting are Svijany and Dobřanská Hvězda. Although many Czechs tend to be very selective about beer brands, tourists usually don't find a significant difference. And remember, real Czech beer is only served on tap – bottled beer is a completely different experience. High-quality beer can almost certainly be found in a hospoda or hostinec, very basic pubs which serve only beer and light snacks. Take a seat and order your drinks when the waiter comes to you - going to the bar to order your drinks is a British custom!
Beers are sometimes listed by their original sugar content, which is measured in degrees Plato (P/°). The difference is generally apparent in the final alcohol content. Normal beer is about 10° (such as Gambrinus and Staropramen, which results in 4% ABV), lager 12° (such as Pilsner Urquell, which results in about 4.75% ABV). The latter is stronger and more expensive, so you should specify which one you want when you order. Czech lager is nothing like the fizzy lagers found in many other countries. Instead, it has a very strong, hoppy, almost bitter flavour, and goes very well with heavy dishes like duck or pork and dumplings or strong cheeses. It always has a thick skim on the top when it is served, but do not be afraid to drink "through" it, it is fun and it slowly disappears anyway, nevertheless do not drink the beer too slowly as the fresh cold taste (especially in hot summers) quickly fades – the "true" Czech connoisseurs do not even finish this "tepid goat," as they call it.
Wine (víno in Czech) is another popular drink, particularly wine from Moravia in the south-eastern part of the country where the climate is more suited to vineyards. White wines tend to be the best as the growing conditions are more favourable for them. For white wines, try Veltlínské zelené (Green Veltliner), Muškát moravský (Moravian Muscatel), Ryzlink rýnský (Rhine Riesling) or Tramín (Traminer), or red wines such as Frankovka (Blaufrankisch), Modrý Portugal (Blue Portugal, named after the grape, not the country), or Svatovavřinecké (Saint Lawrence). Also try ice wine (ledové víno) made when the grapes are harvested after they have frozen on the vines, or straw wine (slámové víno) made by leaving the grapes to ripen on straw) – these wines are more expensive and are similar to dessert wines. Bohemian Sekt is also popular with Czechs, and is a sweet, fizzy wine, similar to Lambrusco, and drunk at celebrations. The best places for wine are either a wine bar (vinárna), or a wine shop (vinotéka) which sometimes has a small bar area too.
For spirits, try Becherovka (herb liqueur, similar to Jagermeister, tastes of a mixtures of cloves and cinnamon, and drunk as a digestive), slivovice (plum brandy, very popular as a pick-me-up), hruškovice (pear brandy, less fiery than Slivovice), and so on. Spirits are made out of almost every kind of fruit (Plums, Peaches, Cherries, Sloes, etc.). Czech unique tuzemský rum (made from sugar beet, not from sugar cane as the Cuban rum, sold under brands like Tuzemák to conform with EU market rules). Be careful as all are about 40% alcohol.
For non-alcoholic drinks, mineral waters are popular, but tend to have a strong mineral taste. Try Mattoni, or Magnesia, both of which taste like normal water and still claim to be good for your health. If you want bubbles, ask for perlivá. If you want it non-carbonated, ask for neperlivá. Sometimes you can see jemně perlivá – it is "lightly bubbled" water. Kofola, a coke-like drink is also very popular, and some Czechs say it is the best thing the communists gave them. Many restaurants don't make any difference between "sparkling water" and "sparkling mineral water".
Restaurants and pubs do not offer water for free. Not surprisingly, as beer is the national drink, it is usually the cheapest drink you can buy, with prices ranging from 15–60 Kč (0,50–2 EUR) per half litre, depending on the attractiveness of the pub to tourists. Drinks are brought to your table, and often each drink is marked on a small slip of paper which is kept on the table in front of you, so you can keep count of what you have had. When you are ready to leave, ask the waiter for the bill – he or she will calculate the bill according to the number of marks on the paper. It is common to share tables in busy pubs and Czech people will ask Je tu volno? (Is this seat free?), before they sit down.
Try also svařák, hot mulled wine served in all pubs, and outdoors at Christmas markets, grog, hot rum and water served with a slice of lemon - add sugar to taste, and medovina, mead, again usually served hot, and particularly good for warming up at a cold winter market. Finally, if you are heading into Moravia, try burčák, a speciality found only around the end of the summer, or early autumn. It is extremely young wine, usually white, and is the cloudy, still fermenting stage in wine production when the wine is very sweet, and very smooth to drink. It continues to ferment in the stomach, so the alcohol content at the time of drinking it is unknown, but it is usually high, creeps up on you, and it is very moreish. Czechs say that it should only be drunk fresh from the vineyard, and many small private wine makers are passionate about it, waiting up into the night for the moment when the wine reaches the "burčák" stage. You can see it at wine festivals around the country, and sometimes in markets or wine bars too.
Grocery stores do not sell what Americans consider over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin. You will need to go to a pharmacy (lékárna), which is usually open between 8am and 7pm, Mondays to Fridays. There are 24-hour pharmacies in the bigger cities, and you should find an address for the closest one to you listed in the window of the nearest pharmacy to you. If you are in Prague, the most central 24-hour one is in Prague 2 - on the corner of Belgická and Rumunská streets - they dispense both prescription and non-prescription drugs from a small window on Rumunská out of hours - ring the bell if there is no-one there.
Tap water is good, although the chlorine can be quite strong.
A reputable hospital in Prague is Nemocnice na Homolce, Address: Roentgenova 37/2, Prague 5 (tel 257 272 350). There is a foreigners' clinic (Cizinecké oddělení) there with English-speaking receptionists who can make appointments for you. Most doctors speak some English, and the level of care is of a very high standard.
Central Europe and parts of the Czech Republic have ticks (Ixodes ricinus) which can carry Encephalitis or Lyme Borreliosis. Ticks hide in grass and bushes, so try to stay on trails and inspect exposed areas of skin after a hike. Vaccination against Encephalitis is available and recommended. If you want to bushwhack, make sure you have the vaccination and wear long trousers. A good insect repellent (which contains DEET), might be helpful, too. Ticks like to cling to any soft, warm, well-perfused areas of your body (undersides of knees and elbows, skin around ankles, groins, neck area, behind your ears etc.) and if not removed, they'll suck your blood until they grow about 1 cm big. Never try to scratch a tick off or pull it out, because damaging it can cause you a serious infection. The sooner the tick is removed, the smaller the chance of infection. Either ask a physician to remove a tick for you, or try to remove it by yourself: lubricate your finger with any greasy lotion and gently wag a tick from side to side until it wobbles free. Then burn it - never crush it to avoid infection. Watch the affected spot: if you see a growing red spot developing there anytime during next several months, immediately visit your physician and tell him about that - you might have contracted Borreliosis. It is dangerous, but it can be easily treated with antibiotics during early stage. Be wary that American vaccination against Borreliosis most probably won't work against European strains (B. afzelii and B. garini). Note that ticks are sometimes present even in city parks, including Prague.
Czechs don't appreciate when foreigners assume incorrectly that Czechoslovakia was part of Soviet Union or the Russian Empire -- both definitely false -- although it was part of the Soviet Bloc and, until 1918, an Austro-Hungarian territory. Commenting about how "everything is quite cheap here" comes across as condescending about the country's economic status, and in any case is no longer true (other than beer).
Czechs are one of the most atheist nations in the world, and many Czechs are very proud of it. This is true especially in large cities of Bohemia. Don't assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or have a passion for Christianity. Respect that and your religion will also be respected.
Always say hello (Dobrý den) and goodbye (Na shledanou) when you enter and leave a small shop as it is polite.