I’ve been to Prague three times now, and each time was very different. The first time I went with a group of college girls and stayed in a hostel. This was a short trip, two nights, tacked on to our study abroad experience in Berlin. The location was perfect! We were steps from the St. Charles Bridge and a short walk from Old Town. There were six of us sharing a room with three bunk beds and one bathroom, but the price was right. Of course, we spent little time in the room so the lack of space wasn’t a big deal. The important thing was the location! We came in late the first day and left early on the third day, so basically we were only there for a single day. Definitely not enough time to see this wonderful city. I was determined to come back when I had more time.
The next year I brought my husband. We rented an apartment in Mala Strana, the “Little Quarter.” Our apartment was at the base of the steep steps leading up to Prague Castle. It was build before Columbus arrived in America! It’s hard for those of us from the USA to wrap our heads around how old the cities in Europe are. It was a beautiful building with plaster walls, windows covered with ancient wooden shutters, a cobbled courtyard and window boxes. But even though it was more than 500 years old, it was warm and cozy and had wifi, a washer/dryer and a terrific bathroom. Across the street was a medieval bar with period music, servers, and food. It had been open continuously for more than 500 years! We stayed for three days and had a lot more time for exploring this wonderful city. We found the people in Mala Strana, Old Town, and the Prague Castle area to be friendly and helpful. We could almost always find someone that spoke English and had no problem communicating or getting around.
This year I went for four days with my daughter (#3). I couldn’t find an apartment for our dates in Mala Strana or Old Town, so I rented one in Vinohrady. It was close to transportation and didn’t seem far from where I had stayed before on the map. But after arriving I discovered it was a world away! Of course, the apartment itself was very nice, but it was located in a neighborhood made up of old Soviet era building filled with elderly tenants. Stores were close, but almost no one spoke English. I never came across anyone in the local stores that I could communicate from. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to communicate. This hadn’t bee a problem at all during my previous visits. It was terrible just trying to get around!
I’ve found that countries in western Europe are relatively easy to navigate because the names of streets and buildings can be pronounced or at least visually make sense to someone that speaks English. Czech words are totally unfamiliar and streets are winding, hilly, and narrow. Pařížská, Vodičkova, Křížovnická are just a few of the street names. Many buses don’t have screens so the driver either expects you know where to get off (when you’re coming from the older former Soviet residential areas), or pronounces the names in such a way that it’s hard to even catch what they say. Streets often don’t have signs, and they don’t run in a grid. So we would wander a lot. We muddled through, but wasted hours everyday hunting for places we wanted to visit.
While Prague is a wonderful place to visit, it is important to stay in the tourist area unless you speak Czech!