Castles, cafes and calories

Trip Start Jan 09, 2006
Trip End May 29, 2006

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Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Monday, February 27, 2006

We made a short detour to Prague and Vienna after the Olympics to wait for the tourist crowds in Northern Italy to thin out before we returned to Venice. We expected chilly weather and we weren´t disappointed; we got "10 pm-Italian-Alp-while-watching-bobsled" weather at every corner. We would have better adjusted had we had more goulash, dumplings, potato cakes and wienerschnitzel to give us more winter fat, but we had a poor head start.

Where did all the tourists come from? Charles Bridge was jammed with tourist groups and we heard more English, French and Spanish than Czech in the old city center. We thought the week of Carnivale had translated into holidays for many, but in any case, our plan to stay clear of the Olympic hordes was foiled.
Unscathed by WWII, the sights of old Prague are straight out of a movie set. Price inflation will soon shake you back to reality. Prague is still cheaper than some other European cousins like Vienna, but the bargains of 8 or 9 years ago have mostly vanished. Low-cost air carriers and a boom in tourism have opened Prague's enchanting gates to millions. Foreign owners of second homes and flats have also driven out bargains. Beer, however, is still a bargain in the Czech Republic: $1.50 for a pint of lager at the most cosmopolitan places in Prague, and it only gets cheaper from there (like 50 cents per pint outside the tourist zone). As a side note, Czechs drink the most beer per capita of anyone in the world. And you'll need some beer to keep you warm and sane during the winter!

Complete cafe culture. The Viennese pride themselves in the finer arts and delicacies, knowing full well they can not compete with the industrial might of their German neighbors. So they focus on coffee, cakes, music, opera, and chocolate--even if the costs reach exorbitant levels. We wondered where all the affluent descendants of old Austrian aristocracy lived, beacuse someone must afford all these expensive luxuries. For the less affluent, there are city trams for contemplation, and plenty of bookshops and litterati cafes where one can ingest a heap of cigarette smoke and debate philosophiocal thought.
We stuck to the more mundane: Sacher torte and apple strudel.
We were also impressed with the way Mercedes barreling down at demonic speeds would come to screeching halts in order to yield the right of way to pedestrians. Everything is very orderly and regimented. Everything that is, except queing, when it's still every man and woman for themselves. It may be the capital of finer arts and social philosophy, but it's still Europe!
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