Prague photos for my parents and advice on foreign cash withdrawals

imageThey didn’t ask for them, but we did talk about their possible future Prague trip yesterday. So, here are my photos from a trip to Prague last August. And you’re welcome.imageimageimageI had long wanted to visit Prague, even though I really knew nothing about the city. The inspiration came from my cousin who had visited something like ten years ago. There was something about the idea of a short holiday in Prague that sounded so completely European I filed away the intention under ‘things to do when I have a chance’. Last summer we had that chance, between going to Poland for a wedding and Matt attending a conference in Vienna. How very international.

I have an actual physical memento from that same ten-years-ago trip, my cousin, who is a much better gift giver than me, bought me a pair of earrings that I not only still own, I actually have them here in Italy with me. Because they’re so nice! Despite that, I did no jewellery shopping of my own on this trip. In fact, I don’t even think I bought anything.imageThis was somewhere near our apartment in Žižkov, on a hill and a tram ride/long walk away from the old city centre. We liked it a whole lot. imageimageimagePrague has just a little of the same feel of Budapest. A river runs through it, there are many  bridges and a large castle complex on the hill. We tried to visit the castle but arrived at the ticket office too close to closing, and they wouldn’t let us in.imageMore impressive than Munich’s nouveau ancien glockenspiel, Prague’s astronomical clock is actually from the middle ages. And the pieces still move! They were being cleaned on rotation while we were there. In this photo the top left two are missing, the next day they had been replaced and another two were gone.imageWe were in Prague in August and it was hot and crowded and hot. I do not recommend it, unless you like heat and crowds.

Also, advice from a walking tour guide for cash conversions and withdrawals in Prague: do not use the money exchange bureaus to buy Czech Koruna, they will rip you off. Nice! We needed cash as soon as we arrived at the train station and got a baaaad deal. Instead, use a reputable bank ATM to withdraw cash and, here’s the kicker that I guess applies everywhere and we didn’t know until then, when the bank machine asks if you want it to exchange the money for you (or convert it or change it into local currency, whatever it says) or somehow offers to do the conversion to your home currency, say no. What happens if you say yes is that the foreign bank/ATM owner will do the cash conversion and they will use a less-favourable rate. When you say no (which, at the time, seems like the wrong thing to do based on the wording and the fact you want some money) you let your home bank do the exchange, with a better rate.

This is apparently called Dynamic Currency Conversion. We were able to compare rates a couple of times, because the ATMs would say how much the withdrawal would cost us in euros if we chose yes. Our bank sends an SMS for any large cash withdrawal we make so we could instantly compare the Czech bank rate to our bank’s rate when we chose no, and our bank always gave a better deal. I’ve noticed when using my Italian bank card in the UK that a number of shops will offer to let me pay in euro (amazon also does this) and I assume the good rate/bad rate applies here too. Always choose to pay in local currency and let your bank do the conversion!imageimageimageFrom the Vysehrad cemetery, where each headstone is rather like a work of art. imageimageimageFrank Gehry’s Dancing House on the riverfront in Prague. The design was chosen to optimise the small space available.imageHere Matt tries to escape the heat with an ice cream and the shade of a street light.imageimageThe end!


A sleepy afternoon in Prague

Prague Charles Bridge AugustGroggy notes written after waking from a nap, and a couple of photos of Prague, too..

I woke from my nap two hours ago and I’m still in that groggy stupefied state – so sleepy and so tired. My afternoon of last minutes Prague sight-seeing was interrupted by a text from Matt; he had headed home earlier and we forgot to do the key exchange. So back up the hill I went. For a burrito, a sweet Jaritos soda and a nap. You can tell I was in Prague, right? It wasn’t a bad end to the afternoon, but it involved a little less Prague than I would have liked.

And so I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around our apartment (a comfortable little number in Praha 3, if anyone is looking for a recommendation I can send you the airbnb listing) – reading, snacking, internet browsing, future wondering. So achieving little, really.

Prague old town square AugustThe first time I really heard of Prague was when my cousin visited there, gifting a pair of earrings to me in the process. It sounded so exotic to me, so European. And we finally went. And there were so many people! There’s that travelling in August thing again. Never a good idea. And that wave of heat has still been sticking around.

So the old city was so hot and so crowded. And yet we still went out in the heat of Thursday to do one of those Sandemans three hour walking tours. And all those tour groups (ours included) kept having to squeeze past each other to reach such and such monument or sight, or such and such piece of shade. It’s around this point that a city starts to stop looking like a city and more like something of an amusement park. And the buildings are so beautiful and so ornate that they only add to this illusion, they could almost be unreal.

Often, halfway through these longer trips that we sometimes take, I start to wonder why I am so keen to travel, on the idea of travel. That conversation in my head starts to revolve around the same points, of whether this is all just one long holiday – nothing more enlightening or worldview expanding about it. Just another form of mass consumption, of pleasure seeking and leisure.

And, actually, on this trip we have both been working, so these thoughts are a little more unnecessary than usual. Even my holiday reading is an Italian book, so I’m still studying alongside. I would likely write more here, but we’re travelling with only Matt’s computer and he needs that for real work. So.

Prague old buildingsOn the walking tour, our guide was discussing different perceptions of history around the world – what 1000 years looks like to someone from New Zealand, compared to someone from Europe, compared to someone from Egypt. This haphazard European history lesson we have been putting ourselves through the past two years has been one of the many valuable things i have got our of our regular travel. (That, and the food.) I know far more about empires, kingdoms and wars than I ever used to. It could have been learned through books, but, if anything, any desire to read those history books comes from visiting certain places. And of course, all this can only help next time I play Trivial Pursuit against my dad. So it’s good for something!

Travelling in August

Prague: isn’t she beautiful?

We’ve spent the past week city (sometimes small town) -hopping through our sumer holidays. Four cities in three days, in fact. We’re busting through Central Europe as if it wasn’t 35 degrees outside, and as if those trains we were taking and that hostel we spent four nights in had air conditioning. As well as Inowrocaw, where we stayed a few days to attend the wedding of friends’, we whirled through Torun – birthplace of Nicholas Copernicus, did you know – Dresden and now we’re cooling our heels in Prague. 

Travelling in the middle of August is something I know you shouldn’t do – it’s hot, Prague especially is ridiculously crowded and it becomes blindingly obvious that you should have just gone to the beach instead. Or at least booked someplace with a swimming pool. 

Because it is still so hot. I may have made vague promises about not discussing the weather, but it’s barely dropped below 30 degrees in more than a month, something has to give. That wedding we went to? It was the hottest day of the year, perhaps even in a century, and we were trying to look put together and wedding guest worthy while wearing layers of clothes and makeup in 37 degree temperatures. 

Last week I spent a few hours in Warsaw where fire hoses had been set out in the main squares, sending a cool spray over anyone who wanted to get close. Matt got a sprinkling from a similar set up in Prague. And everywhere, any kind of fountain or running water display has become a waterpark for children, who run through the jets in whatever level of clothing or bathing suits to hand. 

Hot hot hot hot hot. We arrived home yesterday evening covered in that sticky layer of dried sweat and sunscreen so beloved of summer holidays. My hair was flattenend and matted against my head from the straw hat I had worn all day. And of course our legs were worn out and tired, because despite this heat we still walked all over the city. 

And today we will likely walk all over it again, because there is a skeleton in a church that I want to see and I got its resting place wrong yesterday. And because it’s both only our second and second-to-last day here in Prague. And this city isn’t going to see itself.