(And that wraps up my limited knowledge of the Czech language)
You know when you land in a new city / country and find yourself struggling to find the ticket counter for the metro train? Or find yourself in the middle of complicated calculations trying to decide if you should buy that day pass or not?
Fear not, this new feature – ‘Know Before You Go’ is going to enlist a few tips culled from my visits to a few cities that should help you find your way around, just a little bit easier.
Here are some useful things to know for your first (or repeat) visit to the City of a Hundred Spires, Prague a.k.a. Praha.
Prague (and the rest of the Czech Republic) is a bargain, compared to a lot of other European cities, especially ones that lie west of it. You will find prices reasonable in general – but in my case, this sometimes leads to overspending, due to my falsely perceived ‘wealthiness’.
Service staff in restaurants sometimes tends to be grumpy. Legend has it that this has to do with the Communist occupation of the city. Smile and don’t forget your ‘hello-please-thank you‘ routine.
Beer is cheaper than water – at least the local brew is, at the kind of non-fancy places that locals might frequent. This has serious potential to throw your sightseeing plans off-track though. 🙂
The best place (and sometimes, the only place – true especially at night) to buy public transportation tickets is a news stand / tobacco shop inside the train station / near the bus stop. Don’t bother with the old-looking ticket vending machines that don’t have very clear instructions. Single ride tickets valid for the stated time (32 CZK / 1.2 EUR as of Mar ’15 for the 90-minute one with transfers allowed) and are usable across multiple modes of public transport like metro, trams etc. An extra half-ticket is needed for a large piece of luggage – don’t avoid buying this; it isn’t expensive and you don’t want to mess with the ticket inspectors in Prague (see next tip for why).
You MUST validate your ticket before getting on the bus / tram / metro – a friend of ours had to pay a 500 CZK fine for not doing so (and was almost handed over to the police by the ticket inspector for arguing with him).
There’s no direct public transport to the airport from the city – the quickest way is to take the metro line A to Dejivicka from the Old town or Wenceslas Square and then the Airport Express bus; the entire trip takes under an hour – IF you can manage to squeeze yourself and your luggage on to the bus (which only comes once every half an hour, so be prepared to jostle and nudge your way in)
There’s art hidden in corners and inconspicuous alleys of Prague – like this statue of Saint Wenceslas on an upside-down horse by David Cerny in the Lucerna Pasaz:
English is spoken quite widely and well by the young, so you will not struggle too much for your lack of knowledge of Czech / Slavic languages.
Vegetarians, rejoice – Even though traditional food is meat-oriented, vegetarianism is better understood in the city than others because of a growing international population and you have options of multiple restaurants like Beas, Govinda, Maitrea,Lehka Hlava (all recommended by our guesthouse owner and reasonably priced) – some of these are cafeteria-style places that sell food by weight and tend to be sold out by evening (a hard lesson that was learned by finding empty trays on a hungry Monday evening). Happy Cow should also be able to fix you up with some good options. Below is a Bramboracka, a very filling, traditional Czech soup that’s vegetarian and served in a bread bowl (seriously – you can eat the bowl).
Possessing small quantities of drugs is apparently legal in Prague. Not consuming, weirdly, only possessing for personal use. I did not look too much into this, for lack of interest, but if you’re inclined, you should check and double check with multiple sources, lest you get into trouble.
Like a lot of other European cities, Sundays are kind of dead in Prague. The streets are dark and deserted after evening – keep the phone number of your hotel / hostel handy in case you’re arriving on a Sunday after dark and can find noone to ask directions from.
Overall, Prague is an interesting, lively and largely low-profile city – though its party scene has quite the reputation in Europe. Pack yourself some comfortable walking shoes and warm clothes for nippy morning and evenings and you’ll be set to explore!
If you’d like to read a bit more about Prague / see some sights of the city – go here.
Have you been to Prague? What are your top tips for the city?
Travelling as a vegetarian around the world brings with it the familiar challenge – how do you eat well, for a good price and get a variety of choices? While my meat-eating friends can’t stop raving about wurst in Germany, babi guling in Bali and kebaps in Turkey, I’m usually scouring through Happycow before my trips to figure out how to keep myself well-fed. A hungry traveller is not a happy traveller.
Here’s a list of the best countries for vegetarians that I’ve been to:
India – Okay, this is no surprise. Nearly half the population of the country is vegetarian (In India, this usually means no eggs too) and in some regions like the West and the South, you might have a tough time finding a restaurant that’s not ‘Pure Veg’. Almost every regional cuisine in the country comes with vegetarian and meat-based options for almost every dish. Hell, even a popular chain of ‘Fried Chicken’ advertises itself as ‘So Veg, So Good’! Vegetarians might want to pack clothes a couple of sizes larger if they plan to stay here for a couple of weeks.
Italy – Of course. Italians, especially in smaller towns have a hard time wrapping their heads around the ‘vegetarian’ concept but ‘senza carne’ seems to get the message across. Other than the ubiquitous ‘vegetariano / margherita‘ pizza and cheese-tomato-lettuce panini (sandwich), you’ll find a number of options in antipasti and primi piatti (that’s appetizers and first course, respectively) – grilled vegetables, focaccia, ravioli, gnocchi, cannelloni and other pasta with vegetables. Vegetarian lasagna, alas, is not to be found on too many menus. Beware that a lot of Italians consider tuna to be vegetarian.
Turkey – Apparently, meat was prohibitively expensive at one point in the past in Turkey, so they’ve learnt to innovate with vegetables and lentils. Add to it the beautiful local produce – it’d be tough to go wrong with that. Turkish breakfasts are feasts for vegetarians – cheeses, olives, eggs, fresh bread, marmalade, cucumber and tomato slices, homemade yogurt and fresh fruit juice. Meat-lovers need not fret – the spread also includes sausages. Local lunch /dinner/snack options without meat include gozleme and borek (both pastries with different fillings), pide (closed pizza), lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves (these come in both vegetarian and meat options), kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes) and the very interesting vegetarian testi (pottery) kebab that comes in a pot that you can crack open.
UK – Umm, wondering if you read that right? The home of ‘fish & chips’ is also home to a sizeable number of vegetarians and a large international population. Therefore, vegetarian burgers, burritos, wraps, curries are easy to find, especially in tourist-frequented places like London, Bath etc.
Other places that I found to be easy for vegetarians –
Sri Lanka – curries, rice and roti; South Indian vegetarian food is available in Colombo too.
Thailand – It may have been because I stayed at resorts / hotels – these usually have large spreads for vegetarians too. Be careful about the generous use of fish sauce even in ‘vegetarian’ cooking.
Munich, Germany – In the heart of wurst-loving Bavaria, you ask? Germany actually has a rapidly growing vegetarian population and restaurants have a couple of vegetarian dishes to accommodate their preferences. Even the Oktoberfest menu now has two vegetarian dishes. And the Turkish Doner shops / stalls serving falafel are everywhere.
Ubud, Bali – Ubud is a popular meditation and yoga centre, therefore, has a number of restaurants with only vegetarian or vegan menus.
And the misses:
Spain and Portugal – only Spanish potato omelettes, patatas bravas and vegetarian paella (sometimes) in Spain.
Norway and Denmark – times when I’ve survived on cheese slice-and-mustard sandwiches; their neighbour, Sweden, is more pro-vegetarian, surprisingly.
Croatia – even with all that lovely local produce – your options are limited to vegetarian salad and spinach-and-cheese burek. Breaks my heart when people don’t know what to do with all those fresh vegetables. *sigh*
France – French cuisine does not acknowledge the existence of vegetarians – try the quiches, maybe.
Other expected challenges on my still-to-visit list – China, South America, Japan, Russia, Philippines, Africa, Iceland. I’d be very happy to know if I’m wrong about one or more of these places.
Share your recommendations, experiences and warnings for meat-free eating around the world – where have you feasted and where have you starved?