The Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, situated south-east of Germany and bordering with Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia (with which it used to form one country of Czechoslovakia) to the south-east.
Cities in Bohemia
Cities in Moravia
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 Ruthenians (Ukrainians). 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. With the collapse of Soviet authority in 1989, Czechoslovakia regained its freedom through 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, the Czech Republic has moved toward integration in world markets, a development that poses both opportunities and risks. In December 2002, the Czech Republic was invited to join the European Union (EU) and acceded in April 2004.
The Czech Republic is not a large country but however small, it 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 of 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.
Habits and Customs
Tourist Traps in Prague
Citizens of the EU, USA and Canada do not need a visa. The Czech Republic has not fully implemented the Schengen agreements yet, so there are still ID/passport controls on the EU borders. Specific details for all countries can be found at Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Check czechembassy.org for more current information.
Ruzyne Airport - located about 10km west from the center of Prague. Other international airports are in Brno, Ostrava and Pardubice. There are dozens of lowcost airlines going to/from Prague, Ryanair is newly flying to Brno too. Other nearby airports are Vienna in Austria and Bratislava in Slovakia
International train service runs from most points in Europe with direct connections from Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. If you are in Bavaria, the cheapest way to go to Czech republic is to take a "Bayernticket" (up to 5 persons per ticket, which costs 22 EUR; only regional trains) to the border and then buy a Czech group ticket there.
Apart from renting a car, you can get around using bus or train. Time table for almost all intra-city and inter-city transport can be found at www.idos.cz .
A cheap and excellent mean of travelling between Prague and Brno are the busses from http://www.studentagency.cz/. They leave in Prague from Florenc Bus Station and arrive in Brno in front of Grand Hotel.
České dráhy operates the Czech Republic's train services.
Traveling by boat is an interesting way to get between Budapest and Prague. (but prepare to take it some time because you have go around the whole Europe, Vltava (Elbe) mouths into the North sea, Danube mouths to the Black Sea)
Take care to use very clear gesture with the thumb pointing up. A gesture looking like you were pointing to the ground may be mistaken for prostitution solicitation.
The main language spoken is, not surprisingly, Czech. Czech people are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Prague you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the super-tourist areas). Many older people are also unable to converse well in English, so it's good to master some Czech before heading off. However, most young people speak at least some English, as it is tought in almost all schools since 1990.
German is probably the most widely spoken second language among older people. People born before 1980 speak some Russian. Younger people often speak English, and sometimes French. Other languages are not so common, although people understand Slovak and may understand other Slavic languages.
The currency of the Czech republic is the koruna (crown), plural koruny. 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, abbreviated to h. The exchange rate is approximately 30Kč = €1, or 25Kč = $1 (US).
Coins are issued in 50h, 1Kč, 2Kč, 5Kč, 10Kč, 20Kč Notes are issued in 50Kč, 100Kč, 200Kč, 500Kč, 1000Kč, 2000Kč and 5000Kč. Coins 50Kč and notes 20Kč are valid but their occurence in circulation is rare. See some banknote samples.
It is not illegal to use Euros in the Czech Republic and some major stores will accept them. 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).
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.
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 external 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 metro line is well worth the half hour metro trip to experience a real live communist 'settlement.'
Try knedlíky. (It's very hard to translate it, usually it is translated as dumplings but it has only little common with them. Sometimes you can hear a German variation knödel but I wouldn't recommend using it.) Knedlo-vepřo-zelo, the combination of knedlíky, pork and sauerkraut, is very tasty. Do not forget to drink Czech beer with it.
Other Czech dishes include roast duck, carp at Christmastime, palačinky, thin crepes, usually filled with fruit and topped with whipped cream; bramborák, garlicky potato pancakes); smažený sýr, fried cheese - like a giant mozzarella stick, except made of Edam - served with boiled potatoes; párek v rohlíku, long, thin hot dogs with crusty rolls and mustard; svíčková na smetaně, beef sirloin with a creamy root vegetable sauce, served with a tablespoon of cranberry-like sauce and whipped cream, usually with the infamous Czech bread dumplings; and guláš, like Hungarian goulash, but thinner and served with knedlíky.
Spa wafers from Marianske Lazne 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.
Don't expect many fresh vegetables unless in the countryside - peppers, tomatoes and cabbage are the most commonly seen side dishes, usually pickled.
Czech Republic is the country where modern lager beer was invented (in Plzen). Czechs are the best beer (pivo in Czech) drinkers in the world, drinking about 160 litres of it per capita per year. Going to a cosy Czech pub for a dinner and few beers is a must!
The best-known export brands are Pilsner Urquell (Plzensky Prazdroj), Budweiser (different from American, courts about the brand are being held for years) and Kozel. Other major brands include Gambrinus, Staropramen, Radegast, Starobrno. Although many Czechs tend to be very selective on beer brands, tourists usually do not find significant difference. And remember, the only Czech beer is on a tap - bottled beer is a completely different experience.
Beers are sometimes listed by their sugar content, which is measured in degrees. The difference is mainly in the contents of alcohol. Normal beer is 12 degrees, with alcohol level between 5-6%.
Wine (víno in Czech) is another popular drink, particualrly wine from the south-eastern part of the country - Moravia. Try Veltlinske, Rulandske or red wine Frankovka.
From liquers, try Becherovka (similiar to Jagermeister) and Slivovice (plum brandy). Be carefull, both are about 40%.
From non-alcoholic drinks, popular are mineral waters, however most of them are of very strong mineral taste. Try Mattoni or Magnesia, both of them taste like normal water and still claim to be good for your health. Mineral water can be bought even with several flavors, but do not expect miracles.
Restaurants and pubs do not offer water for free. Suprisingly, beer as a national drink is usually the cheapest drink you can buy, with prices from 80 cents to 2 EUR per half litre, depending on the attractivity of the pub for tourists.
US-citizens may be surprised when they find "American potatoes" in the menu. These are like fried potatoes.
It's very hard to get any sleep in Czech Republic as there are too many drinking and pub going opportunities.