Experiences and Impressions after a month in Prague
Last weekend marked one month since we started our new life on the road. The transition from Montreal to Prague has actually been surprisingly easy. We’ve had a few challenges but few have actually had to do with our new destination.
Here is a summary of insights, experiences and perceptions after one month on the road, as well as some tips and resources for anyone looking to spend time in Prague.
I’ve written previously how inexpensive the basics are in Prague. Costs for the first month came out to approx $1,500, the major components being rent ($500), food ($300), alcohol ($150), and restaurants ($300, for 7 outings). We could have trimmed expenses more if we had tried. If there is anything that we ‘wasted’ money on in our first month it was taxis; we spent $80 on two taxi rides. The public transport in Prague is fantastic (more on that below) and unless you really have a lot of luggage with you there is no use taking a taxi. And, as we learned, never take a taxi from the Old Town Square at night – it’s the most expensive place to take a taxi in Prague. A 20 minute ride from the Old Town home ended up costing 750 Kč, about $40, double what it should cost. When I gave the taxi driver a hard time he told me that rates rise after 11pm. As a tourist how are you to know? Rates seem to vary depending on time, place, and the taxi company used. We’ve learned to just avoid taxis.
One of the first things I did in Prague was to get a SIM card for my Android. It cost 200 Kč (about $10) at Vodafone. So we have a Czech telephone number and we’ll probably get through 2 ½ months without having to top off the card. It’s already been invaluable when texting work or arranging visits to the dentist.
As a Canadian you’re probably saying “WTF ??, $10?? For almost 3 months??”. Canada’s wireless providers have among the highest rates and provide the worst service of providers in the world. Locked into a 3 year, $60/month plan? Yup, happened to us and still happens to most Canadians. One of the things you realize when travelling is how out-of-whack certain things cost back home (I’ve previously mentioned alcohol, another industry controlled by provincial monopolies).
Vodafone: at Náměstí Republiky in the Old Town. There’s also one at the airport.
I’ve written about Czechs. They’re definitely not the warmest or friendliest people in the world. The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Czechs has a section addressing how they behave towards minorities: “It is an unfortunate fact that Czechs generally treat ethnic minorities worse than they do farm animals. Ask a Czech person to explain this and he’ll say that horses are better at pulling carts, and cows taste better”.
I’ve read so many things about how rude Czechs are that we were prepared for the worst. And Lissette was braced for dirty looks or racist slurs. Our first month has actually been incident-free. During our first week here we met a few people in the building, some of whom would pass us in the hallway with a curt “Dobrý den” (“Hello”). We have an old lady living next door who regularly stands outside our window, throwing the ball to her dog. Lissette smiled at her one day. The lady looked at her with a blank look on her face – like a deer caught in headlights – before slowly turning away.
In the last few weeks people have gotten friendlier. The tellers at the local supermarket recognize us and even smile. Yesterday a young guy tried out his English with us. One of the tellers, a lady with a Russian looking face, has befriended us and thinks we’re Italian because we’re always eating pasta (and because Lissette says “Ciao” when leaving). She sees us and says “spaghetti” with a smile on her face. The only one we haven’t cracked is a 40-something year old, bald guy. We call him the “Czechout Nazi”. Twice last week he yelled at me; once for leaving the empty basket in the wrong place, another time because he saw my face and decided to close his cash register. Lissette laughed out loud right in front of him. More reason for him to hate us next time.
As for the old neighbor lady, we met her in the hallway. She said “Dobrý den” to both of us individually, making a point to say it to Lissette. This week we again ran into her and she smiled at Lissette and tried to engage in a conversation. Neither could understand each other so in the end they both shrugged and waved goodbyes.
Czechs won’t win any congeniality contests. But they’re not the ogres that many make them out to be either.
Language on packaging
Funny thing about the Czech Republic. If you travel to most places in Europe you’ll find at least one language you can read on the food packaging. Not here. Languages are usually Czech, Romanian or Bulgarian. Last week we bought fish sauce instead of soy sauce (which made my stir fry taste really funky). This week I bought buttermilk instead of regular milk and gagged out my cereal.
Resources in Prague
A huge resource to anyone coming to Prague is Expats.cz. Not just for expats, great for travelers as well. We’ve used it to order food over the web (you can order from local restaurants on an English website and have it delivered to your door), find a dentist, a business center, or use it for off-the-beaten-path tourist attractions.
Our dentist visit
Lissette had 3 dental implants done before leaving Montreal and breathed a sigh of relief when we left. The last 6 months were a never ending series of dentists shoving their hands down her throat. So she almost went into depression last weekend when she started feeling a looseness in one of her implants. I contacted a few dentists on Monday (again using Expats.cz) and we had an appointment the next morning. They drilled through the crown, tightened the screw, filled it up. Half an hour and 900 Kč later (that’s $48!) she walked out of there with a perfectly-tight implant.
Dentist Office H33. The dentist looked like he came out of GQ magazine and all the ladies who work there look like Victoria’s Secret models.
We had to do some printing, scanning and copying for work. We used Copy General, again close to Náměstí Republiky metro. They’ll even do it for you if you’re not a whiz on a computer.
The point is that we’ve been very surprised how efficiently we’ve gotten everything we’ve needed done; whether it’s getting a SIM card, dentist, or getting work stuff done. I’d even say that things are more efficient and easier to arrange here than in Canada. I admit that I had a bit of a prejudice that the Czech Republic was ‘Eastern Europe’, that it would most likely be lagging behind ‘Western Europe’. I was wrong. Infrastructure is great, and that doesn’t even include the fantastic transportation network. Even with the language barrier it’s been really easy to get things done in Prague.
Metros, buses, trams
Montreal’s public transportation system is good. But Prague’s is even better.
What is unique is that it is works on the honor system; you can access buses, trams, and the metro without having to go through gates or barriers. And the ticket machines are everywhere and very simple to use. All you have to do whenever getting on the system is to get your ticket validated by sticking it in a stamping machine at your point of origin. But make sure you get it stamped; fines are high if inspectors get you with an unstamped ticket.
The metro is actually very similar to Montreal’s; clean, frequent and extensive. Some of the metro stations are works of art. But Prague’s system is better because of its trams and buses. In Montreal you can wait 25 minutes for a bus. In Prague we’ve never had to wait more than 5 minutes for either a bus or tram.
Great site that tells you time of bus/tram/train departures and arrivals and routes to take: DPP.CZ.
Other odds and ends
People you work with: Working relationships are funny. Some people at work are ‘work friends’, others are people you sometimes barely tolerate. You can work with people for 10 years and you figure the relationships will continue as they always have, no matter the physical distance. But then you leave and people surprise you. People you’ve had close relationships suddenly drop out. You’ll get a work email but it’s otherwise silence. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. Other people, who you maybe had fractious relationships with in the past, suddenly become best friends from a distance. Isn’t it funny how that happens?
What time is it? Lissette works Montreal hours on Czech time, which means 2pm to 10pm. It’s a nice arrangement; we can sleep in, have breakfast watching the previous evening’s National news, then slowly get to work. You’re in advance of everyone back home who staggers into the office at 8am…And you can work in your pajamas or shorts. But it’s strange getting used to the time difference. “Lunchtime” is 7 pm, late afternoon here. We go out and people are coming in from work, the grocery store is full. We walk in the park and the sun is starting to go down in the sky. When we go back to work, it’s starting to get dark. You finish at 10pm, have supper, watch a movie…then usually go to bed around 1-2 am. It’s a great arrangement – but it’s like perpetual jet lag that we haven’t quite gotten used to yet.
Insurances: I’ve been working on insurances for the remaining 10 months of our trip. I’ll have a detailed post coming up in the future on Travel/Expat Insurances for Canadian Travelers. So I’ve mentioned Canadian wireless companies and provincial alcohol monopolies – have I mentioned that insurance companies are evil money-grubbing connivers? I’ll get to that over the next few weeks.
Time is running out: A month in and we’ve spent most of our time in Prague, with just a weekend trip to Český Krumlov. We woke up yesterday to realize we have 6 weeks left before we have to leave for Asia. We’ll have to crank it up. Places we want to visit before leaving: Kutná Hora, Telč, Karlovy Vary, Olomouc (all in the Czech Republic), Dresden (Germany), and Budapest (Hungary).
Netflix and Hola: On our first post here, I mentioned that we couldn’t connect to Netflix because it “wasn’t available in your country”. A couple of people recommended getting the Hola toolbar which, from my understanding, basically blocks servers from knowing where you are logging in from. It’s been fantastic: not only can we now log into Canadian Netflix, but we have access to the US version (which has a lot more choices). We can now watch our favorite foreign movies and series. Thanks to the people who recommended this! And I used to think the internet was only for porn.
SUMMARY: we are incredibly happy being in Prague. It’s been an adventure and we appreciate all our readers who’ve been following us as we live this experience.
Update: We’ve been back to Prague and the Czech Republic many times since we started travelling full-time. It’s the closest thing to “home”. See the most updated posts and guides on our Czech Republic page.
Ps. If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.