Saturday, 3 November 2007

Top ten Czech travel tips.

Top ten things to make Czech travel easier and cheaper

1) The online timetables

The online timetables are just about the most useful resource imaginable for transport around the Czech Republic. They show trains, buses, prices, times, even distance between train and bus stations if you need to switch. You can click to see your journey displayed on a map, find out the end destination of your bus or whether you can transport a bicycle or buy a meal on your chosen train.

The website can be used in Czech, English and German and shows not only services operated by the government owned Czech Rail and Czech Buslines, but also the major private operators like Student Agency and Asiana. I check this website before every trip I make.

2) How to buy tickets

Tickets for train trips are ideally bought in the station half an hour or so before departure. A normal ticket (jizdenka) is just a fare for the journey, and is not issued for a specific train, let alone a specific seat. If you want to reserve a seat on a specific train, you need to also purchase a seat reservation (Mistenka). It’s usually not necessary to reserve seats in advance, except perhaps on Friday or Sunday afternoons, or just before or after a public holiday.

Larger train stations usually have separate ticket windows for international (mezinarodní) and domestic (vnitrostatní) tickets, but in smaller places, one person sells all the tickets as well as probably being the information officer, luggage clerk and chief gardener.

If you’re travelling by bus, you can buy your ticket in the bus station up to an hour before departure, thereby guaranteeing yourself a seat. When the bus arrives and the doors open, the driver will call for everybody who has a prepaid ticket to come to the head of the queue and get on the bus first. Everybody else will simply state their destination, and pay the driver with close to the correct amount of cash. (500-1000Kc banknotes will not make you a friend in the drivers’ seat).

3) Discount train tickets

It’s commonly perceived that buses are cheaper than trains, but if you’re travelling with somebody else, and buy one train ticket for both (or all) of you, because two or more people travelling together are eligible for a substantial discount of up to 40%. In most cases this will make the train as cheap as, or cheaper than the bus.

4) Walk to Poland

International train tickets include taxes and fees that can be avoided by travelling to the border station, walking across the border and getting another train or bus from the other side. The best place for this is Český Těšin between Olomouc and Krakow. The original town of Těšin was divided when an international border was redrawn along the river that flows through it. Half the town became Czech Těšin and the other became Polish Cieszyn. It’s an easy 2km walk through town, across the bridge that forms the international frontier and to the bus station on the other side. You save about 8 Euros like this, and it’s a bit of an adventure to boot.

Zvětšit mapu

It’s not really possible to walk across any of the border crossings into Slovakia, and the savings are slimmer in any case. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has done something similar across the German or Austrian borders-please leave a comment below.

5) Too early to say thank you

Tipping in the Czech Republic mostly consists of rounding up to the nearest whole figure. The usual etiquette is to tell the waiter how much you would like to pay, so that they don’t waste time scratching around for small coins only for you to hand them back immediately. So if you have soup, roast chicken and a beer and it comes to 114Kc, hand the waiter your 200Kc note and say 120. Don’t say thankyou (Děkují) until just before you say goodbye, because ‘thankyou’ in this situation also means “keep the change, all the change”.

6) What the phrasebook won’t tell you

I’m consistently surprised by phrasebooks that don’t include or explain the phrase “Prosím Vas” (pron. Pro-seem vaas). In many cases, these are the first words that should leave your mouth when you’re asking for something. Like asking directions on the street, asking if this bus does actually go to your destination, or attracting the attention of a busy waiter. It’s almost impossible to offend anybody by misusing it and unlike Děkují or Nashledanou it’s easy for English speakers to pronounce.

7) I don’t like Mondays

Watch out for Mondays. If a castle, chateau, or museum is not open seven days a week, Monday is likely to be the day of rest. The bone chapel in Kutná Hora and the fortress at Terezin are notable exceptions, but apart from them it’s probably good to double check opening hours for specific attractions. Be aware also that some things will close or at least reduce their hours in the colder months. See winter opening hours for details.

8) Czech dot CZ

The official website of the Czech Republic is an excellent resource whether you’re interested in practicalities, history, culture or trivia. It’s well worth checking out.

9) Stamp it!

While using the public transport in larger Czech cities, you need to have a ticket and to validate it in the small stamper as you enter the bus or tram. All those people without tickets are not travelling for free, they have monthly passes. And there ARE inspectors.

10) Crying over sour milk

Your milk hasn’t gone bad, you bought buttermilk or acidofilus milk with a live culture. For fresh milk the word you are looking for is ČERSTVÉ-fresh. If you don’t see this, you’re on dicey ground. If you really can’t remember the word čerstvé, there’s an informal colour-coding of the packets. Go for the ones with as much blue as possible and no green or red. This is not foolproof though, it just ups the odds slightly if you can’t remember the word čerstvé.

Tap water is fine to drink everywhere except in really old houses with poorly maintained plumbing. If you do buy bottled water, blue lids often mean still water, while red is for sparkling/carbonated and green is inbetween-lightly carbonated. Again this is not foolproof, Mattoni for example have blue lids on their sparkling water and it’s easy to be dazzled by the yellow, pink and orange lids of lemon, grapefruit and raspberry flavoured waters. Like milk, the only surefire system is to learn a word, and in this case it’s perlivá. If you think of bubbles in water as pearls, it’s easier to remember; perlivá for bubbles, neperlivá for no bubbles.

And čerstvé for fresh!

11) The comfy pillow

Tip 11 came about when our friend 'webstereo' was trying out his new video-editing software. Consider it a free bonus ;-)


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Andrew said...

Hi-great post!
We were lucky enough to have our Luxury Holidays in Czech Republic this June. We had a fantastic time - the people, food and scenery were amazing. Can't wait to go back!