Tourism in Prague (I)
Very few people would argue about whether other not Prague is a beautiful city. Its centre remained largely untouched during World War II. Monumental buildings have been carefully maintained since the fall of communism. No wonder that so many tourists find their way to Prague. Today, I am asking a couple of them how they experience the city.
Located at the heart of Europe, Prague serves as a magnet to people from all corners of the continent. For Western European visitors, Prague provides a nice and relatively inexpensive introduction to the beauty that for entire generations went hidden behind the Iron Curtain. To Eastern European visitors, Prague functions as a pleasant bridge between familiar terrain and Western European tourist infrastructure. Prague offers everything a visitor could wish for: a rich night life, cheap beer, many tourist sites, plenty of cultural events and shopping facilities stretching well beyond the average selection available in many other Central and Eastern European cities.
`I was already impressed by Prague before I even got to the old town`
Maria (23) and Andrej (22) are two out of the many Russian people populating the streets of Prague. `We first visited Krakow on the way, which was also very beautiful. Prague is bigger though and busier as well. Prague is cheaper than most of the other European hotspots like London and Paris, and it`s much closer by. All of that combined makes it a popular destination for middle-class Russians who want to take a short break.`
Unlike many tourists from Western Europe, Maria and Andrej are positively impressed by the friendly service in Czech shops. `On average, I would say that they are more polite than Russian shop keepers. We don`t expect people in shops to be friendly, so we take every sign of hospitality as a friendly gesture.` Maria and Andrej occasionally get by speaking Russian, but will always first use English when they enter Czech shops.`
Matthias (32) and Kristin (32) from Sweden suggest that Prague is giving them appetite to see more of Central and Eastern Europe on future trips. `We have been to Greece and Turkey before, but not to any of the countries from the former communist block. The sites are beautiful, with the cathedral probably as highlight of all. We somehow expected the Czechs to be very impolite and offensive, but thanks to that expectation, reality turned out to be doable. They obviously don`t seem to smile a lot. Less than what we in Sweden are used to `, Matthias says.
Daniel (27) and Lauren (27) are in Prague for 2.5 days of discoveries: `Our friends told us about Prague and how beautiful it is, so we decided to give it a try. Since we are both Jewish, we have a special interest in the rich Jewish heritage in Prague`, Daniel says. `After Prague, we are not particularly tempted to discover other sites in Eastern Europe. My gut feeling is that East from Prague, the standard of living will quickly decline and everything will look less attractive.` Lauren is impressed by the punctuality, affordability and efficiency of the public transport system. Unfortunately, the procedure of buying tickets is quite confusing. At some tram stops, it`s not possible to buy tickets and they are not sold inside the trams either.`
Hens and stags
Rick (28), Matt (25) and Billy (21) from England have noticed striking resemblances between Prague and Barcelona, `especially with the Gothic quarter over there`. The threesome have come to Prague for a three-day stag party. `This place does not really look what we would have expected Eastern Europe to look like`, they say. They readily admit that their main motive to come to Prague consist of booze and ladies. `We didn`t do much cultural site-seeing, just the regular party stuff.`
As the three English lads prove, Prague is a popular destination for British stag parties. Few days go by without groups of English people in deviant clothes dragging along the streets of the old town. David (32) is also part of a stag party, but without the strange costumes. `We spent four days in Prague, and there was quite a bit of clubbing and drinking involved. But we haven`t spent all of our time drinking either. This is my first time in Prague and I find it very rich in architecture and history. I think Prague is quickly becoming Westernised, so now is a good time to see it. It doesn`t yet appear to match Germany and France in terms of what I expect the living standards to be like, but I`m quite sure the Czechs are better off than the Poles.`
David is less impressed by the graffiti on the walls, and the smell of the drains. `I was also annoyed by the many black people who tried to convince people to visit this and this night club. I actually expected everything in Prague to be a lot cheaper than back home, and was disappointed to see that prices for everything except the beer are almost the same, especially in the city centre.`
Katie (26), Ted (27) and Keith (26) are from the United States, but came to Prague from their current basis in Berlin. `We all work on a scholarship in Berlin and we were thinking of doing a trip to some European capital nearby. Out of Amsterdam, Copenhague and Prague, we chose for the latter without any specific reason. It sounded like a cool place to visit and it is. The main streets are way too crowded, but every random alley on the side can offer surprisingly beautiful views on the monuments.` Katie is upset by seeing so many tourists walk around with Starbucks cups, which she considers a strange consequence of globalization.`
Kate (18, Australian) came to Prague from Switzerland, where she works as an au-pair. `I am only here for three days and I still need to learn about the nightlife. After two days of almost continuous walking, I was simply too tired to go anywhere for a beer in the evening. I will give it another try tonight and then get back home again tomorrow.`
Norwegian Sven (26) and Kine (21) drove all the way from Norway to Prague, visiting Danish Bornholm and Polish Auschwitz on the way. `For both of us, this is our first trip to Central Europe. We just arrived in Prague so it`s hard to summarise our impressions at this point`, Sven explains. However, it seems like people here are more friendly than the Poles we met so far.`
Roy (30) and Ashling (26) from Sligo, Ireland, were brought to Prague by Ryan Air. `Air Lingus was actually cheaper in our case, but the flight times were not convenient. Since we only stay for a few days, we though we`d opt for the most favourable schedule`, Roy explains. `We didn`t expect Prague to be as crowded as it is, but the beautiful architecture and cultural heritage easily make up for it.`
Pauline (23) and Christophe (30) from France came to Paris to visit Pauline`s sister who is studying in Prague. `We met up with both our families here. It`s a pleasure to be in Prague. Everything is impressive. Most things in a positive way. The service in bars and restaurants struck us as impressive in the negative way. I have no idea how they can get away with such customer-unfriendly personnel. But for the rest of Prague, I wouldn`t have been able to imagine that it is as beautiful as it is, and how it is different from all other cities that I have visited so far`, Christophe says. `It would be nice if the tourist crowd was a bit smaller. Charles Bridge is hard to cross, packed as it is with tourists.`
Jasper (25, photo) from the Netherlands came to Prague for a weekend, together with a group of friends. `We are here to visit a colleague from work who is traveling around Europe for one year. It`s a good excuse for me to discover a city I have never been to before. Whenever I go to new places, I always try to go there with blank expectations. In spite of that, I do think that Prague looks like what the name of it made me think of. Upon arrival, I was already impressed when we crossed the river on the way from the airport to the apartment. The river, the bridges and the buildings are all marvelous. History is almost visually shining off Prague. It`s much more imposing than Amsterdam. Apart from that, I enjoy the holiday feeling that this excursion is giving me.`
After mainly visiting many within the Euro-zone over recent years, Jasper notices how he lost the habit of calculating exchange rates. `Fortunately, the numbers on Czech coins and banknotes are a lot bigger, so I feel forced to pay attention.`
Budget airlines have turned Prague into a popular and affordable destination for weekend trips. Most tourists seem to embrace the flying option by just booking a return flight from their home country: spending a few days in Prague as an isolated holiday. Certainly, Prague also attracts backpackers. Numerous are the Americans, Canadians and Australians who visit Prague on their way, arriving and leaving by bus, train or even hitch-hiking. Once in Prague, however, they blend into the anonymous crowd of return-trip visitors.
Many visitors, especially from the United States, Russia and the Far East, visit Prague as part of a group travel. School classes from all over Europe do the same. In both cases, excursions float on the rich history and architecture of Prague.
Indeed, Prague is a must-see for culture lovers, history fans, party makers and beer drinkers, provided that they can handle the stress of ongoing tourist queues, puking and screaming fellow tourists, summer heat or winter cold, endlessly inflated bills in restaurants and, at least for Western Europeans, being offended by actively unfriendly service personnel. With air fares on the rise, local price levels keep creeping ever closer towards Western European standards, causing the city to slowly lose its competitive edge as a discount destination. This consideration makes it hard to predict how popular Prague will remain over the years to come.
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