Growing up a child of the “Cold War” and having served in the military overseas for 6 years (2 more in the U.S. – yes, I’m a veteran!), I have always had a healthy curiosity about eastern Europe. I lived in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down. That was years ago, though, and now there are an awful lot of places, tourist destinations, where I wasn’t allowed to go in my younger days. Prague is one of those places. I’ve always wanted to see Prague. As I began looking for a “C” destination, the Czech Republic moved quickly to the top of the list and stayed there.
Thank goodness for the internet! I planned my trip to Prague because I was able to find a little boutique hotel (U Tri Korunek) that was just two blocks off the streetcar line. Staying outside the city center means saving a lot of money. It also means lower cost restaurants and typically better grocery stores. That’s important because getting to Prague and seeing what I wanted to see was going to test the edges of my meager budget. Here are a few cost cutting tips:
Whenever possible, stay in a hotel that offers free breakfast and eat a hearty one. Hey – you’re paying for it, take advantage, but don’t be rude and try to sneak food out for lunch or something (well, maybe ONE piece of fruit).
Dinners can be had on a shoestring from just about any grocery store. Grab a half a roast chicken (most grocery stores I’ve found in Europe and even South America sell them), a roll from the bakery, a fresh piece of fruit, maybe a tomato and VOILA! dinner in your room for a LOT less than you’d spend in a restaurant.
If you’re going to travel on a tight budget, pack for it – you might want to throw in a set of silverware from the dollar store and a corkscrew. Trust me on this one. You’ll need a knife for cutting up fruit or tomatoes … but only if you’re checking your luggage, otherwise you can usually borrow one from the hotel.
TAKE THE BUS … or streetcar, or subway or whatever. Taxis are expensive. Rental cars are ridiculous – you’ll spend way too much time trying to read a map and figure out where you are and looking for parking spaces. Besides, you can meet some really interesting people, or at least ask for directions and pointers, from the locals on the bus.
Part of the plan in going to Prague was to take an overnight side trip to Czestochowa, Poland. There’s a very famous Catholic religious icon there known as “The Black Madonna” at the Jasna Gora’ Monastery. It’s also the home parish of Pope John Paul II. I hopped on a late train out of Prague and slept until daybreak, crossing into Poland sometime during the night. It was foggy and cold when the train pulled into Czestochowa, but my research served me well and I walked the road up to Jasna Gora. It was such an amazing experience! I felt a little like a pilgrim. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay longer, but I had a return train to catch. A quick stop at the gift shop and I was headed back to the train station and Prague.
Prague is magical! There’s just no other way to describe it. My introduction to this “ABC plan” is all about my trip to Prague. I often say I try not to go back to a place twice because there are too many places I haven’t been yet, but Prague is a place I really hope to see again.