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Czech Republic Prague, Paul McCartney, and Pickpockets


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By Barb (and Art) from Italy, Spring 2004
JUNE 2004 - A six day trip to Prague, centered around the Paul McCartney concert

This trip report was originally published on SlowTrav.


There is no succinct way to sum up the city of Prague. It’s beautiful and ancient, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, Rococo, Art Nouveau, and more. The history is long and interesting. Prague was once the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and the importance of the city is still obvious today. It’s a city of art and music. The “Bohemian” lifestyle is alive and well in Prague. Classical concerts are touted on every corner, and are performed every day of the week. Crystal is everywhere, as is glass of every shape and color. Art galleries abound, and the city itself is one gigantic work of art. We recently spent six days in Prague, and this is our story.

When I read that Paul McCartney was going to start a European tour, I checked to see if he would be playing in Italy. Of course he wasn’t, but when Art heard me say “Prague,” he perked up. “Prague! We’ve always wanted to go there, so why don’t we go to see Paul in concert and see the city?” Of course I said no, but eventually he wore down my protests. After all, wasn’t this one of the reasons we had moved to Italy, so that we could see the rest of Europe quickly and easily? After much discussion, I gave in. We knew the tickets to the concert wouldn’t be cheap, but we thought the rest of the trip would be fairly inexpensive. Boy, were we wrong!

While the cost of living in Prague may be fairly reasonable, the cost of hotel rooms and tourist services is not. After much searching, I finally found a small apartment to rent for less than I had seen any hotel rooms. Now it’s true that we could have found cheaper hotel rooms farther outside of the historic district, but on the few occasions when we’ve done that, we’ve always regretted it. In a city such as Prague, where everything in the historical center is within walking distance, it just doesn’t make any sense to stay far away. I know there are people who would argue that a quick bus or train ride into town isn’t a problem, but then you have to come prepared for the day, and carry everything you buy with you. You have to be prepared for changes in the weather, and if you want to rest, you have to take the bus or train back to your room. And then of course you’re at the mercy of the bus or train schedules. Maybe they’re convenient, and maybe they’re not. You never really know until it’s too late. So that’s why we like to stay in the center. We can return to our room whenever we like, to rest, to drop off souvenirs, to add or drop off a jacket.

The apartment was found through the www.venere.com website, so I felt reasonably sure that I could trust that the apartment was at least clean. The map showed a police station just down the street, so I hoped that meant the area was safe. The pictures on the web looked good, but cynic that I am, I still wondered, “yeah, THAT one looks good. I wonder what OURS will look like?” As it turned out, the apartment we saw on the web was the one we rented. The website for this apartment is www.pragavacanze.cz, and we dealt with Paolo Forni, an Italian who has lived in Prague for the last ten years. For us, this apartment was ideal for many reasons: First of all the price was right at €70 a night. Secondly, the location was great, close to the center, but off the beaten path so it was quiet at night. And thirdly, we could rent for less than a full week, and the rental didn’t have to start on a Saturday, as is usual for so many vacation rentals. We had decided to arrive on Wednesday and return home on Tuesday, so for us this was an ideal arrangement.

Once we had found reasonably priced accommodations, our next job was to find a good airfare. We wanted to use the Perugia airport, which is only about forty minutes from our house. We could have gotten a direct flight from Rome to Prague, but then someone would have to take us and pick us up, or we would have to take the train both ways. Neither of these ideas appealed to us, so we flew from Perugia to Milan, then Milan to Prague. We thought we would be able to get a really good intra-European airfare, but we found out quickly that this was not the case. We ended up paying about $500 each for our airfare, and I was beginning to grumble to Art about this “bargain” vacation. Of course we had already bought the concert tickets, since we had to know if we could still get them, so we were committed. And once you pay the airfare, you may as well stay several days as to just stay one or two, so that’s how it worked out. Cheaper airfares may exist on some of the bargain carriers, but not from Italy to Prague. Our seatmate out of Milan told us that he had paid the same price as we had, just for the Milan to Prague leg!

Now that our arrangements were made, we had to read about Prague, to find out what there was to see, and what we wanted to do. I found several helpful Prague websites, and through one of them I found Sarka Pelantova, a personal guide. We liked her website, www.prague-guide.info, and emailed her for more information. She was very helpful from the start, and helped us to refine our plans over the course of several weeks. She made several suggestions for what to see in Prague as well as in the surrounding areas, and gave us several options in price. We decided that we would do a half-day tour of Prague with Sarka on our first full day there. We would begin in the morning, then have the afternoon free. The next day we would take a morning tour with Martin Tours (www.martintour.cz) to Kutna Hora, then finish touring Prague with Sarka in the afternoon. On Saturday we planned another tour with Martin Tours, this time to KarlStejn Castle. This company has kiosks in several locations, and offers a pickup service, which we took advantage of. They also offer a variety of tours, both within the city and to surrounding areas.

Sunday was the day of the concert, and we planned to ride the funicular to the top of Petrin, the green hill that overlooks the Prague castle. We left Monday and Tuesday unplanned so that we could revisit anything we had seen earlier, or so that we would have time for any new places we found. Our flight left Prague at 6:10 pm on Tuesday, so we wouldn’t have to leave for the airport until four o’clock, and could enjoy several hours in Prague. This was our plan, and now I’ll tell you what REALLY happened!


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We arrived around five on Wednesday evening in a pouring rain. Pragavacanze offers airport transportation, and for the reasonable price of €16.50 for both of us, we would be met at the airport and taken to our apartment where Paolo would meet us. Under any circumstances it would be nice to be met in a strange city and not have to worry about which bus to take or if the cabdriver was a crook, but in the pouring rain it was an even better choice! We were taken to a van along with another family. This family was Italian. Our plane from Milan to Prague had been filled with Italians on their way to Prague and we would later discover that Prague was filled with all things Italian.

We didn’t get to see much of the city due to the rain, but once we got to our apartment, Paolo arrived and showed us in. We were on the first floor of a nice building at number 13 Konviktska. (Konviktska means Convent Street) The street looked as if it contained mostly office buildings. The apartment was nice, a large tiled entry hall, with a huge living room to the left. The floor in the living room was wood, and there was a large area rug to warm things up. There were two large couches, which I assume converted into beds. Also in the living room was a wardrobe with both hanging and shelf space, a table with four chairs, a television, and an upright piano! The front wall was covered in windows, and it was a very sunny room. There were two sets of Venetian blinds, to control the sun, and also the metal covering on the outside that could be opened or closed. These exterior shades are also a great security measure. The bathroom was small, but there was a huge tub…just what I like after a long day of walking. The kitchen was small too, but serviceable. There was a small refrigerator, and a small stove with four burners and an oven. There was plenty of storage space, and an adequate supply of pots, pans, dishes and utensils. We even had dishwashing liquid, salt and pepper and sugar. The bedroom was nice - a large bed flanked by nightstands, a wall of built-in storage, both hanging and shelves, and a dressing table with mirror. The bedroom had a large window with an ugly view of the back of another building, but at least it had a window for cross ventilation with the wall of windows in the living room.

Paolo told us to give him a call if we needed fresh towels after a few days, or if we had any problems. He said that he would be back on Monday to collect payment, and calculated it in Euro as well as Czech crown. Although the Czech Republic has just entered the EU, they won’t change to the Euro until 2011. We would discover that many shops would accept Euro, but usually at a very UNfavorable exchange rate.

Our first night in the apartment went just fine. We found the first of many Italian restaurants, Sach Mat, just down the street. It wasn’t as good as home, of course, but it was very good. Art had a pasta dish and I had a pizza. Art also had the first of many of the famous Czech beers. We hadn’t realized that beer was invented in the Czech Republic, but we would later see on the map the towns where Pilsner, Budweiser and Carlsbad beer originated. We even learned that “Roll out the Barrel” was a song that began in the town of Pilzen, as U.S. GIs waited for the advancing Red Army during WWII. The melody was an old, old song, that says “oh, all the things I’ve done for love, now look at me…”, but the GI’s put their own words to the melody, making it the much happier, beer hall song that we know today.

The bed in our apartment was a typical bed for many parts of Europe, two mattresses side by side, with separate blankets for each side. The pillows were covered with a satiny cover, and were quite large. The closet in the bedroom was filled with extra pillows and blankets, and I grabbed an extra pillow to use. The pillows are usually my biggest problem when I’m not sleeping at home. They’re too soft or too hard, and are usually too small. These pillows would have worked fine except for one thing: I had forgotten to bring a pillowcase. The one pillow on the bed had only the satin covering, which matched the duvet, so I guess it was more like a sham, and the pillows in the closet didn’t have any pillowcases at all. If I had only thought to bring my own pillowcase, I would have rested so much better. Putting my face into a pillow that someone else had slept on just grosses me out! Luckily I was able to sleep on my back, and I hope I learned a good lesson: Take your own pillowcase!


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Promptly at nine a.m. the next morning, Sarka arrived at our apartment. We sat around the table and she gave us a brief overview of the history of this amazing city. She had printed up a wonderful timeline chart, showing who was in power, what type of art was in style, what religion was prominent, etc. We started out on our walk through the city, and around each corner was another great view, another incredible building, another fascinating story. Sarka, as a licensed guide, is required to pass a test to make sure she knows her history. She was always careful to point out which bits of “history” were just legends or unverified, but then those are always the most interesting stories!

We worked our way through the Jewish section of town. Once a wealthy and thriving district, it had become a walled ghetto in the thirteenth century after Rome decreed that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. The walls were not torn down until 1848, and much of the area was later cleared to make way for new apartment buildings. The Jewish community was all but eliminated during WWII, and now only about 6000 Jews remain in Prague, a city of 1.2 million people.

We stopped in the office of the ticket service we had used to buy our concert tickets, but were told that they had not yet arrived. The concert was on Sunday, and this was Thursday! We wanted to get more information about the concert, since Paolo had told us that he knew there were problems with the concert site. We had received an email several weeks earlier, telling us that the concert venue had been changed, but with no explanation. Unfortunately, the person who knew about the concert wasn’t in, so we would have to return later. At least we now knew where the office was.

On our way through Prague, we stopped in a pharmacy. On Tuesday afternoon Art had broken out in a rash on his back. We both assumed it was an allergic reaction, but neither one of us could figure out from what. He hadn’t eaten anything new or different, and hadn’t been working outside. We were baffled, but assumed that it would go away, and I began putting a hydrocortisone cream on it to stop the itching. By Thursday not only had it NOT gone away, Art was now getting MORE bumps, and they were moving down his back! We were almost out of the hydrocortisone cream, and decided to stop in a pharmacy, both to let someone look at the rash, and to buy whatever they recommended. The pharmacist really had no idea what it could be, but did recommend more hydrocortisone cream. We bought two tubes, and Sarka said that she could call an English-speaking doctor for us. Once again, the joy of having a cell phone! Sarka was able to make an appointment for Art later in the afternoon. We would end our tour near the doctor’s office. Perfect!

We worked our way to the Old Town Square, where we saw the statue of Jan Hus, the founder of the Hussite religion. Jan Hus was one of Europe’s earliest Christian reformers. He preceded Martin Luther by a century in his questioning of the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church. Sermons were preached in Czech, not in Latin, which was a heretical act. Jan Hus was eventually burned at the stake in 1415, but he had succeeded in uniting the people of Prague in their growing resentment of the wealth and corruptness of the Church.

The Old Town Square also contains the tower with the famous astronomical clock originally built in 1410, then improved in 1490. On the hour the statue of death rings the bell, the moneychanger shakes his purse, and the twelve Apostles parade past. The amazing thing about this clock is not this scene, but rather the intricate working of the clock itself. Hours are tracked, as well as minutes. The phases of the moon are shown, as well as the houses of the zodiac. The hours of sunrise and sunset can be determined from this clock, and seasonal scenes are shown. How in the world anyone could figure out how to synchronize all of this, much less do it in the 15th century is beyond me!

We took the elevator to the top of the tower for a wonderful view of the city: the famous Prague Castle, Prazsky Hrad, on the other side of the Vltava River, the pedestrian only Charles Bridge, the Powder Tower, and one magnificent building after another. Just behind the Old Town Square is one of the many churches named St Nicholas. We could see the place where the huge statue of Stalin had once stood, and the unbelievably ugly tower that had been erected by the Communists when they were in power. We also saw the one-sixth-size Eiffel Tower that had been built in 1891 for the Prague Exposition.

We then headed down a small side street and worked our way to the Powder Tower, where the gunpowder stores had once been kept. We saw the beautiful Art Nouveau building that is called Municipal House, where concerts are regularly held. By this time, we were all very hungry, and we asked Sarka if she would take us to a traditional, non-touristy place for lunch. She said there was a place nearby, but she wanted to warn us that there were some bawdy cartoons on the walls, and she wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be offended.

I guess I should stop and say a few words about Sarka. She’s in her mid twenties, I guess, and lives with her boyfriend, a graphics designer. She’s been a tour guide for six years, and holds a degree in philosophy. Due to her age, she was just a young girl when the Velvet Revolution occurred in 1989. This nearly non-violent uprising led to the resignation of the Communist leaders, and put an end to forty years of Communist rule. Sarka still speaks Russian, since this was the language taught in the schools until then. Her English is excellent, and she speaks more than “textbook” English - she constantly surprised us with her American expressions, like “it’s nothing to write home about”. She says her English is so good because she is very curious, and she likes to talk, so she talks to lots of English speaking people. Sarka was more than willing to take us on the tour WE wanted. Her card carries the line “Tours according to your wishes,” and we found that to be completely true.

Anyway, for lunch we entered a small pub and went downstairs. Lining all the walls were large cartoons, apparently famous cartoons in Prague. They all depicted scenes involving men who drink beer, and the women who have to put up with them. For most of the cartoons, no translation was necessary. Once the menus were brought to us, we got our first look at a “real” Czech menu. Art went for the goulash, and I decided to try the sampler platter. Sarka ordered the beef with dill sauce. And of course Art had a beer.

When the food arrived, we couldn’t believe the size of the portions. The waiter had told Sarka that we wouldn’t be able to eat all the food, and he was right! My sampler platter included roast pork, ham, duck, bread dumplings, potato dumplings, vegetable dumplings, gravy and sauerkraut. I guess I ate about half of what was on my plate, and knew that Czech food was not going to be my favorite. I loved the pork and the ham, but not the dumplings. And sauerkraut has never appealed to me. When you combine all this with the fact that I don’t like beer either, than it’s not hard to see why I didn’t like Czech food. I wish I had gotten the name and address of this restaurant, in case anyone else might like to try real Czech food, but I just forgot to ask Sarka, or to get a menu.

After lunch we walked towards Wenceslas Square. “Good King Wenceslas,” who was really only a duke, made Christianity the main religion during his reign in the tenth century. He is the patron saint of the Czech Republic, and Wenceslas Square features a large statue of him near the National Museum. It was in this square that 750,000 people gathered in 1989, in protest of Communist rule. Within a month, the Communist leaders had resigned, and the “Velvet Revolution” had returned the Czech Republic to a democracy with very little violence.

At this point we said goodbye to Sarka for the day, and walked to Art’s doctor’s appointment. After Art completed a short information sheet, he was seen by the doctor, and after a few minutes she came to get me. She explained to us that Art had the adult version of chicken pox. Apparently this virus can be carried in your body for years, and stress or a weakened immune system can cause an outbreak. Art’s symptoms were very typical she said. His back had begun to break out at the shoulders, and progressed down his back. The breakout was symmetrical, and didn’t extend beyond his back. Art was lucky that his bumps just itched - I’ve heard that shingles, as they are called, can be extremely painful.

The doctor told Art to be sure to take a multi-vitamin, and also prescribed a B vitamin. She wrote him a prescription for a powder that would be mixed with water and applied to his back to stop the itching and to dry up the bumps. She also gave us a supply of antibiotics that were to be taken four times a day. All this for only about $150, which we can submit to BC/BS back in the states. We went to the pharmacy around the corner for the powder, B vitamins, and the Czech equivalent of Tylenol. The Tylenol was the most expensive - about $8.00 for ten tablets! The prescription, which came already mixed with water, and the vitamin B were about $30.

After getting turned completely around, we eventually found our way back to our apartment. Art took his medicine, and I applied the cream to his back. It wasn’t an oily cream, but rather a paste that dried to a powdery coating. By the end of our stay, everything around us was covered with white dust.

We went to the large Tesco grocery that was only a few minutes from our place. Tesco is a British chain - a combination grocery store and department store. We never did go to the grocery store in the basement because they had a mini-market right by the front door that had everything we needed - bread, yogurt, milk, Nutella, cereal, fruit, water. Since Art had brought some instant coffee with him, we were now set.


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On Friday morning at nine, the bus arrived to take us on our tour of Kutna Hora. This tour cost €25 per person, and lasted for five hours, including the drive time. Kutna Hora is an old silver mining town that once rivaled Prague in importance. Kutna Hora is about an hour southeast of Prague, and the drive there was beautiful - rolling fields of grain alternated with dense, dark, forests of pine. Once in Kutna Hora, we saw the huge Gothic Church of St Barbara, who is the patron saint of miners. We toured the Italian Court, built in the 14th century and used as both the Royal Seat and the Royal Mint. We walked around the town, which is quite cute. Once the silver ran out in the 18th century, Kutna Hora’s importance declined, and new construction was stopped. For this reason, many of the buildings remain from earlier times.

We returned to Prague just before three, and were dropped off right in front of Municipal House. We had seen lots of ads for lots of concerts in lots of different places, and had decided to attend a concert in Municipal House on Monday evening. We decided to go ahead and buy our tickets, since we didn’t have to meet Sarka until 3:30. We picked this particular concert for several reasons: it was in the main hall, Smetana Hall, the largest and grandest. It featured a piece by a famous Czech composer, Smetana, and also a piece by Dvorak. Additionally there would be traditional folk dancing. It sounded like a great combination. We bought tickets for the balcony. Seating was on a first-come, first-served basis, so we knew we would get there early for the 8:30 performance.

After a few minutes of relaxing in our apartment, Sarka arrived and we set off to catch the electric tram and ride across the river and up to the castle. The transportation in Prague is cheap, and tickets are validated in the machines on the tram or bus. The same ticket can be used on the tram, the bus, the subway or the funicular.

The complex of Prague’s castle, Prazsky Hrad is the largest ancient castle in the world. There has been a settlement on this site since the ninth century, and has always been the seat of Czech rulers. The main Cathedral, St. Vitus, is a huge Gothic church constructed over a period of nearly 600 years, beginning in 1344 and finally ending in 1929. Both Wenceslas and King Charles IV are buried here, along with several other former kings. There is an impressive stained glass window designed by Art Nouveau artist Alfrons Mucha, and the incredible all silver, Baroque tomb of St. John of Nepomuk, the patron saint of bridges, since he was thrown to his death from a bridge.

Once we left the cathedral, we walked from courtyard to courtyard, and Sarka always had an interesting story to tell. W never felt overwhelmed by facts and figures, we just felt as if she was telling us an interesting story abut this building or that area. We made our way to a cute street called the Golden Lane. During the day it’s necessary to have a ticket to enter this street, but after six o’clock, the guards go home, and it’s possible to enter the street for free. As Sarka pointed out, the afternoon is also a great time to visit the castle because it’s much less crowded. St Vitus church is closed at five o’clock, but the grounds stay open until seven, so it’s possible to wander around without the crowds.

After we left the castle grounds, we walked down through Mala Strana, (Little Quarter). This is where most of the Americans live, and where most of the embassies, including the United States Embassy, are located. We walked past more beautiful buildings with interesting stories. Many of the buildings still had the emblems that used to identify the house. Queen Maria Theresa didn’t like this system - too many people wanted to have an important symbol, like a lion or an eagle, making it difficult to know if you had the right house, so she instituted the system of numbering houses.

We stopped for a snack at an outdoor café. I had bread with cheese and butter, and Art had a drowned sausage, a sausage marinated in a vinegar solution. It was served with onions, and to our surprise, was very good! I took every opportunity to enjoy the delicious rye bread, since I don’t get that in Italy. We said goodbye to Sarka and headed back to the other side of the river, stopping first at the John Lennon wall, across the street from the French Embassy. We strolled through a nice park at the edge of the river, and stopped along the bridge to listen to a Dixieland band playing on a river cruise boat.

Once we got back to the apartment we relaxed and tried to decide where to go for dinner. I wanted to try a different place every night, since Prague is filled with restaurants, pubs, and cafes’. Paolo had left us an information sheet giving information about transportation, restaurants and nightspots. We decided to try his number one choice, Ambiente, which was just a short distance past the Old Town Square. (Celetna 11, www.ambi.cz) This would give us a nice walk to and from the restaurant. Ambiente is one of five restaurants owned by the same group. This one features fresh pasta and a Mediterranean cuisine. It’s in an old Roman vault, down two flights of stairs.

We were lucky to get a table without a reservation, although we did have to sit in the smoking section. As in much of Europe, smoking is still very much accepted in Prague. Most bars don’t have non-smoking sections, but many restaurants do. The décor was very nice, decorated with racks of hanging dried pasta and bottles of wine. The menu was absolutely fabulous, and we really had a hard time deciding what to get because everything sounded delicious! We ordered water, two glasses of Chianti Classico, and for a starter I had a large Insalata Raperonzolo con Pancetta, while Art had the fettuccine all’Ambiente…pasta with cream, lemon, chicken and parmesan.

My salad was huge, and I really could have been satisfied with the smaller salad. The pancetta was in strips like bacon, and had been fried. The strips were laid across the top of the salad, and the smell of the warm ham was wonderful. The salad consisted of mixed greens, arugula, tomatoes and croutons, which were small thin slices of toasted bread, rather than cubes. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar were offered as dressing. Both dishes were delicious, but we agreed that of the two, mine was the best. Any restaurant that serves balsamic vinegar as its main dressing is okay with me!

For our main course Art ordered the chicken with a basil crust, accompanied by fresh green beans with ham and a potato puree. I ordered the filetto alla griglia…a 200 gram steak with herbs and butter, and I substituted the green beans for the seasonal vegetables. My dish also came with potato puree.

Once again, both dishes were superb. The chicken was tender and delicious, although I thought it could have used more basil. Although I had requested the green beans offered with Art’s dish, mine were prepared differently than his. His green beans were served whole, wrapped in a piece of warm bacon. My green beans had been cut, then lightly sautéed with pieces of bacon. They were absolutely the best green beans I have ever eaten in my life! The were cooked to perfection, with just enough crunch…normally I like my green beans simmered with a ham hock for hours until the are soft, but in this case I made an exception. My steak was also cooked to perfection, and we both just savored our meals.

For dessert I HAD to try the chocolate fondue. It was offered in a choice of dark, milk or white chocolate, with your choice of bananas, fresh pineapple, or mixed seasonal fruits. I selected the dark chocolate (heart healthy!) and half bananas, half fresh strawberries. The dish was large enough for two to share…maybe even three people could have split this one. It was a delicious and decadent ending to a wonderful dinner. Our bill, including the cover charge, was Kc 1296…about €40, or $50. We could have used a MUCH longer walk home, but it was worth it!


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On Saturday morning we were once again picked up by the Martin Tour people for our tour of Karlstejn Castle, located about 40 minutes southwest of Prague. This tour cost €30 per person and included lunch. Our group went in two smaller vans, which were not nearly as comfortable as the small bus we had ridden to Kutna Hora. Our van was filled with the English speakers, and the other van held the German speakers. In general, we didn’t see too many Americans during our stay in Prague. We did see lots and lots of Italians, and a good mix of Germans, Brits and Australians. Also worth noting is the fact that Europeans seem to be getting taller. The Dutch are now the tallest people in Europe, but everyone else can’t be far behind. There were times when Art, at 6’1’’ felt dwarfed, even by the women! The day had started out with nice weather, but as usual, the clouds moved in. So far, the rain had been light and sporadic, so it really hadn’t caused us any delays or changes. Today we had brought along the umbrellas just to be safe. Once we arrived at the castle, we walked through the town and up to the castle. It’s quite an imposing site from a distance, and is well hidden by surrounding hillsides. This hidden and high location, combined with excellent fortifications, ensured that Karlstejn was never captured.

We were lucky enough to catch a wedding party that was taking pictures in the courtyard, then realized that this happened once every hour or two. This is a popular site for weddings. We saw the beginning or ending of three weddings during our two-hour stay at the castle! I wandered around and took some pictures from various locations while we waited for our English-speaking tour to begin at noon. This tour took us through most of the castle, and although the furniture is gone it was still very interesting. The local guide did an excellent job. We learned that the castle was founded in 1348 by Charles IV, a king who was quite forward thinking and guided the Czechs successfully for over thirty years. Under his guidance, Prague became one of the largest and most prominent cities in Europe. Karlstejn Castle was built to house the crown jewels, although today they are kept in the Prague Castle.

After the one-hour tour was over, we walked down to a local restaurant where we were served a typical Czech lunch, beginning with the very traditional bitter Czech liquor, Becherovka. A large tureen of soup was waiting at each table, and we served ourselves as drink orders and lunch orders were taken. We had a choice of fried cheese or pork, and we chose the pork. We sat with a young man from Australia who was traveling throughout Europe, and a couple from London. Our conversation was so interesting that I really don’t remember much about the food. Obviously it wasn’t anything spectacular. An apple something or other was served for dessert, once again good but not great.

We had about 35 minutes after lunch to walk back to the bus, past all the souvenir shops. Most of them were filled with the usual touristy stuff, along with lots of crystal. Most of the shops weren’t worth stopping for, but then we noticed a rather nice-looking crystal place. Since this area is known for its crystal, we had thought we might bring back one piece of something nice. Originally Art had suggested wine glasses, but for wine we really prefer a simple clear glass bowl, and if that’s all we were going to get, it wouldn’t be uniquely Czech. We wanted to find something in a cut or etched pattern that we liked, but really didn’t know what to get. We did know that we didn’t want any useless chotchky to collect dust!

The store that we had seen turned out to be the factory outlet of the Egermann Company, one that Sarka had told us was quite good. The salesgirl told us that the prices were cheaper here than they were in Prague, and we later found that to be true. We found a crystal decanter that we thought we could use for scotch or bourbon, and also a small cup made of amber and gold that I wanted to use for a votive sized candle. Amber and garnet are quite common in this area, and I had seen this amber design at the Egermann store in Prague. It was so beautiful and VERY expensive, even more so than the crystal. We paid Kc1690 for the decanter and Kc1000 for the small glass, about €90 total.

After we returned to Prague, we went back to the apartment. Tthat crystal is incredibly heavy, and we didn’t want to carry it for any longer than we had too. We relaxed, took a nap, then set out to find a place for dinner. After walking for about forty minutes, we finally decided to give Czech food another try at a nice-looking, local sort of place. When we went in we were told that they were only open for another fifteen minutes, so we were back to square one. We ended up going back to an Italian place we had seen, not far from our apartment.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many, many Italians in the Czech Republic, as tourists AND as residents. Italian restaurants are everywhere, as are shops filled with Italian goods. This restaurant, Trattoria Vecchia Modena, located at Michalska 6-8, was quite charming. We felt as if we were back in Italy, especially since the staff spoke Italian. We enjoyed our dinner there, but the service left something to be desired. I don’t know if our waiter was new, or had too many tables, or was just bad, but as the night went on, we saw less and less of him. To emphasize this point even more, the owner had taken the two young boys sitting next to us under his wing, and checked in with them every few minutes. The one nice thing about this was listening to them speak Italian! Does any language have a more beautiful, melodic sound?

When the bill was brought to the table (finally!), we discovered that we had been charged with two antipastos, and we had none. Since our waiter was nowhere to be found, Art took the bill into the other room and spoke with the owner. Once the owner discovered that Art spoke some Italian, he was very friendly, very apologetic, etc. That was nice, BUT in my opinion, you shouldn’t have to speak Italian, or know the owner, to receive good service. The bill was corrected, reducing the bill by about one third. I would recommend this restaurant for the food, but give a caution about the service. Maybe we just got the wrong waiter, or caught him on a bad night.


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On Sunday morning we walked across the bridge nearest to us to the Mala Strana. We rode the funicular up to the top of Petrin Hill. At the top was a lovely park, intersected by the 14th century castle wall. We walked through the park to the replica of the Eiffel Tower and climbed to the top for a great overview of the city. We relaxed with a beer and water, and then wandered through more of the park. There’s an observatory which is open to the public, and an absolutely HUGE rose garden with roses of every color imaginable! Art relaxed on a bench while I wandered and took some pictures.

We then found the path that lead down the hill. It was paved and quite wide, so we had a pleasant stroll through the woods to a restaurant that sits half way up the hill. The views are spectacular at Nebozizek Restaurant, and once again we lucked into a table without having reservations. The meal was wonderful…served at a very relaxed pace, and we savored the view as we ate. I had a salad and the mixed grill, which was delicious. Art had chicken medallions wrapped in bacon and asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Both dishes were presented so beautifully that I took pictures of them!

There is a stop for the funicular here, so we rode back down to the bottom of the hill. We decided to walk over to the Charles Bridge for our return, since we hadn’t yet seen the most famous bridge in Prague. The bridge is pedestrian only, lined with statues of saints, and of course there are many people selling touristy souvenirs. The bridge was built in the 15th century, making it Prague’s oldest bridge. We had been warned about pickpockets in this area, so Art put his wallet in his front pocket and kept a tight hold on it throughout our stroll.

We watched (another) Dixieland Jazz Band playing. Jazz of all sorts is quite popular in Prague, and many restaurants and bars feature live music. We also saw the beginning of a boat race, several long boats with teams of oarsmen raced down the river, but for how far I don’t know. Since it was Sunday and the weather was beautiful, there were lots of people out. We reached “our” side of the river and headed back to the room for a nap. Tonight was the concert!

Before we left for the concert we found an internet café. They’re all over the place, as expected. We checked our email and sent one to Paolo, asking him to meet us at the apartment on Monday at five to pick up his money, and asking him to arrange for us to be picked up at four on Tuesday to go to the airport.

The station where we would catch the underground train for the concert was just behind the Tesco, so we stopped in Tesco to buy some food for later. We bought ready made sandwiches, some sour cream and onion potato chips (!) and some cookies and chocolate for dessert. On the other side of the Tesco was a Little Caesar’s Pizza Place! Hard to believe, but true. We had noticed on our way in that they had fountain cokes, so Art bought us a diet fountain coke…without ice, of course. We then headed to the subway station.

I had put the few things I would need into a fanny pack. I had the concert tickets, our passports, and a little money in the back zippered section that was against my body. In the main compartment I had my gloves an umbrella, and the return subway tickets. When we had started to watch the weather forecast for Prague, colder temperatures with rain had been forecast, so we had both come prepared for the worst. I ended up wearing a long sleeved cotton turtle necked shirt with a lightweight boiled wool jacket over. It was quite comfortable, but I thought maybe when the sun went down it might get cooler, hence the gloves. Art wore his leather jacket.

Once we got down into the station, we were amazed to see how crowded the trains were. Since it was about 6:30, we hadn’t expected it to be as crowded. Once our train arrived, we were pushed on by the crowd behind us. At each stop, more people crowded in, until we were squashed like sardines. I told Art to watch his wallet, but he was concerned with keeping me from being crushed and didn’t hear me. I braced myself against the far wall of the train near the door, and held fast whenever the crowd tried to push me. Once we arrived at the stop for the concert, everyone piled out. As we made our way up the escalators, I asked Art, “Got your wallet?” He reached around to feel for it, and said, “No, it’s gone!”

We asked a policeman at the top of the stairs where to go, and he directed us outside and down the street. We stopped along the way to ask another policeman, and he told us we had to go back to the previous subway station. He also told us it was only a ten-minute walk, so rather that waste our return tickets, we headed down the road. During this time, Art is of course kicking himself mentally for being so careless. Why he even brought his wallet neither of us know, and why he didn’t think to put it inside his jacket once we saw how crowded the train was is also unknown. I asked him if he hadn’t heard me tell him to watch his wallet, but he said no, he hadn’t. We were both extremely upset, walking AWAY from the concert we were supposed to be going TO!

Once we got further down the road we saw a police station. Although it looked deserted, there was a bell to ring. The man who came to the door spoke no English, but a young girl was just leaving, and she spoke enough English to help us. The man was telling us to go across the street to the train station, which is where the second policeman had told us to go. We still weren’t sure if they could really help us at this other place, and at this point, on a Sunday night, we didn’t think it would make much difference if we waited until the next morning to report it.

Luckily I had brought Sarka’s card with us, and the girl who spoke a little English had a cell phone, so we called Sarka. She spoke with the girl, and it was decided that we would wait until the next morning to report the loss. Sarka told us she would go to the police station with us. As I mentioned earlier, the police station was just down the street from our apartment, and we were hopeful that it would be the RIGHT police station.

With that settled, we started to walk back to the concert. I don’t know if you can imagine how we were feeling, but it was an overload of emotions. Of course Art was mad at himself…why had he even brought his wallet? Why hadn’t he put it inside his jacket once he saw how crowded the train was? He still couldn’t believe that he hadn’t felt a thing! And of course he was feeling angry and violated.

I wanted to be supportive, but I too was thinking, why didn’t you put your wallet up? Why didn’t you hear me when I told you to? Why didn’t I say it louder? This concert was the main reason we had come to Prague, and now it would be difficult to enjoy it to the max. We bickered, argued and sulked the whole way to the concert. In a way, I guess the long walk was probably good. It gave us time to cool off, and time to burn off some of our anger.

Once we arrived back at the concert site, the line was still unbelievably long, and it must have been close to 7:30. We slowly worked our way into the stadium. There were half-hearted security checks at the gate, and then we were in. As I mentioned earlier, the concert venue had been changed. This must have been the OLD T-Mobile stadium and it look like an abandoned drive-in site. The ground was covered with rocks, except for the places that were just mud. The crowd inside was even bigger than the one outside, and the area we were in was just NOT moving. We slowly pushed, shoved and wormed our way through the crowd, trying to see where we needed to be, trying to find someone who knew where our seats were.

Once we got through the thickest part of the crowd, we were finally able to see that the stands set up to the left of the stage were marked “A” and “B”. We were in section “B,” and eventually we found our seats, just as the pre-show was ending. This show consisted of Cirque d’Soleil type performers, and it had lasted about fifteen minutes, I guess. We were too busy trying to find our seats to pay much attention. And then...

PAUL!!!!!!!!!! He looked and sounded great, and he launched into one great song after another. Songs from the early days. Songs from Wings, songs from his recent albums. At the beginning of the concert it was hard to enjoy the music, and that upset me even more. I kept thinking that this would probably be the last time I would see him in concert, and I wasn’t even going to be able to enjoy it! Eventually the sheer joy of the music overtook both of us, and we were finally able to enjoy most of the concert. I know I should have kept notes about the songs, but I didn’t. He sang “In Spite of All the Danger,” which was the first song he ever recorded, long before “Love Me Do”. He sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Here Today” and “All Things Must Pass”. He sang “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be”. He sang “”The Fool on the Hill,” “Band on the Run” and “Yesterday”. “Helter Skelter,” “Blackbird,” “Hey Jude” and “Get Back”. “I’ve Got a Feeling” (which REALLY missed John), “Eleanor Rigby,” “Penny Lane,” “Live and Let Die,” “Lady Madonna,” “Back in the USSR,” “Calico Skies,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Let Me Roll It,” “For No One,” “Got to Get you Into My Life,” “If I Needed Someone,” and I know I’m forgetting some of his solo stuff. The only two songs I could have wished for that he didn’t do were “Hello Goodbye” which is what he opened his last tour with, and my favorite Paul song, which he’s never done in concert, “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” He did two encores and ended with the medley from “Abbey Road,” which was, of course, the perfect ending.

Well, I just found the play list on another website. Thank god for the internet! Here it is, for those of you who are interested:

The Set List of the show was: Jet Got To Get You Into My Life Flaming Pie All My Loving Let Me Roll It You Won't See Me She's A Woman Maybe I'm Amazed Long And Winding Road In Spite Of All The Danger Blackbird We Can Work It Out Here Today All Things Must Pass Follow The Sun For No One Calico Skies I've Just Seen A Face Eleanor Rigby Drive My Car Penny Lane Get Back Band On the Run Back in the USSR Live and Let Die I've Got a Feeling Lady Madonna Hey Jude

ENCORES Yesterday Let it Be I Saw Her Standing There

MORE ENCORES Helter Skelter Sgt. Pepper/The End

Needless to say, it was a fantastic concert! Paul was in a great mood and spoke quite a few phrases in Czech, which made a big hit with the crowd. He even had his English ramblings translated into Czech and shown on the huge screens that flanked the stage. The crowd was very animated and appreciative. This was the first time Paul (or any of the Beatles) had played the Czech Republic. There were several times when I just broke down and cried, because of the memories the songs recalled, thinking about the fact that John and George are gone, the beautiful words. These songs are the soundtrack of my life. If you’re not a Beatle fan, or a Paul fan, I don’t know if I can describe the feelings. Intense happiness mingled with a sense of gratitude -- gratitude that Paul (and John and George and Ringo) shared their genius with us, took us along for the wonderful ride, and now, for sharing it with us once again. It’s wonderful to sit at home and listen to music on a great sound system, but nothing can beat the excitement of a live concert. After the concert ended, we sat for a few minutes, knowing that the train ride back would be as crowded as the one in. We struck up a conversation with the couple next to us. They were from Ireland, and had come to Prague for exactly the same reasons we had, to see Paul, and then a vacation planned around that. After a few minutes we made our way out of the stadium and towards the station. Trams were pulling up every few minutes, and the line to the subway kept inching forward. Someone was playing the soundtrack from “Back in the U.S.” And Art commented that the girl walking next to us knew all the words. I told him that at a Macca concert, MOST of the people knew the all words. I think for these concerts, there are two types of people in attendance: those who know all the words, and the people who came with them. Once we made it into the station and rode down the escalator, it was only a minute or two until the train came. Once we were home, we collapsed. We were both physically and emotionally exhausted!


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Art was up the next morning before the alarm, then I got up and dressed. We went outside to wait for Sarka, who arrived about eight. We walked to the police station and she told them what our problem was. We sere sent to a bare waiting room on the second floor, and after a few minutes they brought us a form to fill out, listing name, address in the Czech Republic and at home, what happened, what was taken, etc. After waiting for a few more minutes, Sarka asked someone when we would be finished. She was told that we had to wait for the OFFICIAL translator, who would arrive in thirty or forty minutes. Although Sarka had told us that most Czech people speak English, this apparently doesn’t apply to the police. We later saw signs telling tourists which police stations had translators available.

Sarka had to leave to give a tour, and we assured her that we would be fine. We tried to pay her, but she refused to take our money. As a matter of fact, she had brought us a few things about Prague, just as a gesture of kindness, and was very concerned that she had forgotten to tell us about watching out for pickpockets. We assured her that she had told us to be careful, and that Art had held on to his wallet while we walked across the Charles Bridge.

After waiting in the police station for about two hours with no translator in sight, we were finally told to come back in about three hours. Luckily for us one of the younger policemen spoke a little English, and was able to relay this message. We decided this would be a good time to call to cancel our credit cards. We headed to the main post office where we knew we could place the toll-free calls we needed to make. We had three credit cards to cancel, and after speaking with the first bank, they told me I would need to call another number in order to request an emergency replacement card.

When I called this number, I discovered that this was a central MasterCard number, and they could also report the other two cards to the appropriate banks. We were told that the first card could be sent to us in Italy, and should arrive on Wednesday. We didn’t really believe this, but would be happy to see it whenever it arrived. In order to receive the second card we wanted, we would have to call back because this bank’s system was down for routine maintenance. After all it was still the middle of the night in the states. The representative who was helping me told me that her aunt had also had her wallet stolen on the train in Prague. She also told us that our emergency replacement card could not be used in Bancomat machines and could not be swiped. The account number would need to be entered manually. This was because it was sent out so quickly and the magnetic strip on the back was not encoded with all the regular information. We would later find out that this was going to be a problem, at least in Italy

We also called Paolo to make sure he had received our email. He asked if it would be possible for us to meet him at two o’clock, but we told him about Art’s wallet and the fact that we had to return to the police station. He was checking someone in to another apartment at two, but understood our situation and agreed to come for the money at five. He told us that we could write him a check since the wallet had been stolen, but we assured him that we still had his money. Besides, I hadn’t even brought my checkbook!

When we returned to the police station, the receptionist recognized us and waved us upstairs. A French woman was waiting to make a report that her pocket was picked and her wallet was taken while she was in the New Old Synagogue! Petty theft in Prague was turning out to be very common! Luckily the translator arrived after about fifteen minutes, and we simply re-told our story and she made a list of what we had lost in Czech. A document was printed in Czech listing the items, we were given a copy, and that was it! We were told that if the wallet were to be found in a garbage can or an alley, it would be sent to us in Italy. I’m sure it was dumped into a garbage can and covered up forever. Luckily Art had most of his money in his pocket, and only lost €50. The credit cards weren’t really a problem, just a pain to deal with, but most importantly, he had lost his codice fiscale (Italian tax number), his Carta D’Identita (Italian I.D.) and his U.S drivers’ license.

We went back to the apartment and were lucky enough to run into Paolo, so we took care of that business and set up a meeting for Tuesday at four to return the keys to him before we were taken to the airport. Paolo told us that the newspaper had an article about how poorly organized the concert was, and we agreed. Since the new T-Mobile Park seems to be having so many problems, no one is sure when it will be ready. Santana and David Bowie have concerts scheduled, and I’m sure none of the artists will be happy with the old stadium. I later read that this was an old factory site, and I could certainly believe it.

Now we had the rest of the day. We had some money left, but didn’t want to withdraw any more from the bank. When we had changed money the other day, we had gotten a rate of USD$1 = Kc 25.5 and now just had to worry about our meals for Monday and Tuesday. We had made dinner reservations for Ambiente for Monday night, before the classical concert we planned to attend. Since we had already bought the concert tickets, that was still a go, and we finally decided to go ahead and keep the reservation at Ambiente, using a credit card that Art didn’t have in his wallet.

I had wanted to see the inside of St. Nicholas Church in the Old Town Square, so after a rest, we headed off in that direction. An American group had just finished performing a concert and was having a picture taken on the steps of the church. The inside of the church was much smaller than we had expected, and of course it was beautiful. I took a few pictures of the stained glass windows because the light was behind them, hoping that they might turn out.

As we approached the Astronomical Clock, I heard bongo-type drums and looked around. A couple who had just gotten married was emerging from the doorway beneath the clock. Everyone in the group was dressed in colorful flowing robes. It almost looked like something out of San Francisco during the summer of 1965, but then we spotted the bride and groom. She was a statuesque blond with long hair plaited into tons of tiny corn rows. She had on a long purple gown with ribbons around her waist, or rather above and below where her waist had once been, because she was VERY pregnant. The groom was a bit shorter than the bride and he was dressed in green flowing cotton pants with a long matching shirt. He was VERY black, one of the blackest men I’ve ever seen. The three bongo-type drums of various sizes kept playing, and the bride and groom danced wildly in the middle of the group, occasionally joined by one or more friends. This celebration turned into a photo opportunity for quite a few tourists, us included!

After some window shopping we headed back to the apartment to get ready for dinner. Although we didn’t have any dressy clothes, we tried to dress up the best we could. The restaurant wasn’t as much a concern as was the concert. The Municipal House is beautiful, and we didn’t want to look TOO out of place.

We had requested a table in the non-smoking section at Ambiente, and for about the first half hour we were all by ourselves. We enjoyed our second dinner just as much as the first, and would not hesitate to recommend this restaurant, but we strongly recommend making reservations.

We got to the concert hall a few minutes before eight, and found about ten people already in line. We were told that the doors would open at eight, and our seats were first come, first served. Once the doors opened, we found our way to the main hall, and were directed upstairs. The “B” section was quite large. It was a balcony section, and we chose seats in the first row, just left of center. We watched and listened as the orchestra tuned up, and then at 8:30, the concert began.

I had never heard of this Czech composer, Smetana, before, but the piece, “My Country” was enjoyable. The Dvorak piece, “From the New World” was next, and during the second movement, the dancers appeared. Two women flitted around the stage, doing ballet type moves. Not exactly what I had expected. During the fourth movement, the women reappeared, this time accompanied by two men. The women were now dressed in long gray dresses that seemed to hamper their movement. Personally, I prefer my ballerinas in tutus.

For the last two movements all four dancers were dressed in more traditional costume, and although the dances were a bit more Slavic in nature, it was still ballet. When the Dvorak piece ended, the concert was finished. It has lasted just over an hour. I’m not sure that it was worth the €30 (each) we paid, but live and learn. We had decided to attend this concert for the reasons previously stated, and also because most of the other concerts were held in churches and churches are usually COLD.


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On Tuesday morning, we had our last chance to have breakfast out. We had originally thought we would have two or three restaurant breakfasts. Our Lonely Planet guidebook listed several choices for breakfast, restaurants with bagels, and restaurants with endless cups of coffee. Also listed were several restaurants that offered typical American and English style breakfasts. We decided to try Cafe Louvre, because it was the closest to us. It was just a few steps from the Tesco, at Narodni 20.

The guidebook said this restaurant had good food, American style breakfasts, elegant surroundings and good prices. What more could you want? The restaurant is upstairs and we were shown to a table immediately. Even though it was later in the morning, they were still fairly busy. We both ordered the “Cowboy breakfast” or the “Western Breakfast.” I don’t remember what it was called, but it consisted of eggs, bacon, freshly squeezed orange juice, and some sort of apple strudel thing for dessert. All right! A restaurant that serves dessert for breakfast! My kind of place! We could have ordered an English breakfast complete with baked beans, or better yet, a typical Czech breakfast complete with beer and pickles! YUM!

A large basket of rolls was brought to the table, and we asked for butter which was promptly supplied. Once our breakfasts arrived, we discovered that we each had THREE eggs, along with the bacon. The juice was delicious, and the apple dessert was very sweet. The total cost for our breakfasts, including coffee for Art and a cover charge and tip was less than $12.

We strolled back to the apartment to finish packing. I had brought an extra suitcase nested inside another so that we would have room for the souvenirs we might buy. Although we didn’t need a lot of additional room, we did need some for the crystal decanter, and also for the bottle of the bitter Czech liquor, Becherovka, that Art had bought. Our only other souvenirs were a few postcards and a Calvin and Hobbes (knock-off) tee shirt that I bought for our grandson, who is our very own Calvin. After wandering up to the Old Town Square, we stopped to buy a (Polish) sausage from a stand, since the only sausage we had eaten so far was the drowned sausage on Friday. The sausage was served hot off the grill with a slice of rye bread and a pile of brown mustard on the side. Art bought his last Czech beer and I had a bottle of water. We found an empty bench to sit, eat, and people watch in Prague for one last time. Our six days in Prague had gone quickly, and interestingly, to say the least.

And I’ve just realized that somewhere along the line I missed a dinner! Hard to believe I’d forget anything to do with food, but this was in a beer hall type restaurant with typical Czech food, so it wasn’t really my thing. The restaurant was U Medvidku, located on the street of the same name, just off Narodni . We walked right past it every time we went to the Tesco. Once again we got lucky and got a table without a reservation. This was probably our least favorite place due to the smoky, beer hall like atmosphere. Seated right next to us were two Czech men who both puffed away like chimneys, and when you’re in a beer hall, it just doesn’t seem right to ask someone not to smoke. We just toughed it out and tried to fan the smoke the other way.

Art ordered an appetizer, which was gorgonzola cheese on fried bread. He knew he wouldn’t be able to eat the appetizer and his meal too, so he offered some to the two men who were sitting beside us, and they accepted his offer. For the main course, all we can remember is that Art had a steak with French fries. I have no idea what I had. I don’t think that the food was all that bad, just that we didn’t care for the smoke, or the abundance of Czech food. Yes, I know it’s Prague, and this restaurant serves typical Czech food. If this is what you like, combined with good beer and a festive beer hall atmosphere, than this is the place for you. The prices were dirt cheap. We did give the Czech food several tries, and just didn’t care for what we had. We never had any problem finding something that we did like in any of the restaurants, so if you find that you don’t care for Czech food, don’t worry. And of course, you can always skip the traditional places and just find a good Italian restaurant!

Oh, I forgot to mention the COWS!!! I don’t know the story behind this, but I do remember that various cities in the U.S. have had this exhibition of cow statues, decorated by different artists and displayed throughout the city. When we were in Kentucky last month we saw that Louisville had used this idea with horse statues. They were on display all over the city. Anyway, for whatever reason, Prague now has over 200 cows on display! These cows are decorated in every imaginable color and style possible. Some make statements and some are just for fun, and they are everywhere!

To sum it all up, it was a great vacation with a FANTASTIC concert, and one very terrible incident. We found Prague to be everything we had expected and hoped for. It wasn’t a city that either of us fell madly in love with, but it is a place we would highly recommend to anyone interested in a beautiful city filled with art, history, good food and good beer. And if Paul McCartney is there, even better!

Post Script: the emergency replacement MasterCard arrived via UPS on Wednesday afternoon as promised. We would later discover that none of the merchants we dealt with had the capability to key our account number in manually, thus rendering the card useless! We called the bank again and were told that our permanent cards would be sent to us in Italy, hopefully in two weeks.


Martin Tours
Prague Guide

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