Tag Archive: budget travel

Can you believe this was taken on November 1st??!!

Can you believe this was taken on November 1st??!!

We have been to Olympos twice, and it’s one of our favorite getaway places! Our first trip to Olympos was last fall. We discovered that we had a very long weekend, thanks to the national holiday, Republic Day (October 29),which marks the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Friday and Monday were declared school holidays due to the elections on November 1st.  So, we headed for the otogar (bus station) and got into a dolmuş (public transport mini bus) and headed for Olympos. The dolmuşes leave from the far end of the bus station about every 10 minutes, so it is easy to get there via public transport.

An hour and a half later, we were dropped at this cafe, where we had some tea while waiting for another dolmuş to take us down the canyon to Olympos. Not a bad place to wait, eh?

Tea and snacks available while you wait. Lots of vans pull up to drop passengers heading to Olympos.

Tea and snacks available while you wait. Lots of vans pull up to drop passengers heading to Olympos.

Olympos is well known for its rustic charm, with dozens of tree house and cabin pensions. We stayed in Saban’s, recommended by a friend. We loved it!  Half-board was included, and the food was delicious. We had a little one room cabin, surrounded by fruit and pine trees, nestled by the hills. We left our gear and headed out to explore the ruins that everyone comes here to see.

The sound of silence was fabulous to this city-dweller's ears:).

The sound of silence was fabulous to this city-dweller’s ears:).


Saban’s has fruit trees all around; these are pomegranate trees.


This was breakfast! Dinner was a buffet meal of delicious home-cooked Turkish food, including mezes and salad.

Andy first visited Olympos with a friend.  Here’s the tree house he stayed in!

Turkmen's Tree Houses

Turkmen’s Tree Houses


Be sure to try some fresh-squeezed juice!




Kadir’s Tree Houses is said to be the original tree house/bungalow pension.  It has a very artistic, hippie-like feel to their cabins, and it’s still very popular with the younger, backpacking crowd.

From Saban’s it is a ten minute walk to the entry of the ruins.  If you live in Turkey, be sure to get an annual museum pass; you won’t have to pay the 20 TL fee, which also allows you access to the beach. Those  of you don’t live in Turkey can get a pass for 10 entries for 7.5 TL. You need to pass through the ruins to get to the beach.


The ruins to the right of the creek bed are “untamed” but are worth the hike. It’s the “Indiana Jones hike”.

Olympos  was founded during the Hellenistic Period, and became a prominent city of the Lycian League by the second century BC.


The city was built inside the river valley, behind the mountains, to conceal its wealth from pirates.


However, this strategy didn’t work: Olympos was later used as a base by  a powerful group of pirates. There was an infamous pirate called Zeniketos who operated from Olympos.


After the ruins you arrive at the sea!

A Roman commander of Julius Ceasar conquered the city in the first century BC to neutralize the threat from the pirates.


People continued to live in Olympos until its decline in the 1400’s.


This was a lovely October day. Notice my twin on the right.

We returned for a quick weekend trip in May. This time we stayed at Olympos Orange Bungalows, which also was a good place to stay: nice food, clean rooms, and a lovely garden area.


Orange Bungalows garden area

One of the “must-do” things to do near Olympos is something we haven’t done yet: visit the eternal fires of Chimera which are natural gas-fueled flames that are never extinguished. It’s a popular place to hike up to at sunset or after dark.  North American visitors are known to bring marshmallows and other ingredients to make smores:)  We are told it’s easier to get there if you have your own transport, but you still have about a 3 kilometer hike up (then back down) the mountainside (in the dark), so be sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring a flashlight.  So we are told!  Nate has been three times; twice while camping with his class, and once while he was at summer camp.


Instead, we roasted marshmallows by the fire at Orange Bungalows; we substituted graham crackers with tea biscuits (cookies) and it was GOOD!!

Since most of the pensions in Olympos provide half-board (breakfast and dinner) in their rate, it’s fun to try the little restaurants for lunch.  Here’s one of our favorites, not far from the entrance to the ruins:


You said you wanted a close up on our plates? Ok!

So, what are you waiting for? Come and see for yourself why Olympos is a great getaway place!

The Bay of Kotor

The Bay of Kotor

We stayed for four days in Herceg-Novi, in Montenegro.  One day we decided to go for a drive around the Bay of Kotor.  Think Norwegian fjords, Hawaiian lush landscape, spectacular bays and crystal clear water…stunning!

We felt as if we were at a lake, because we were surrounded all around by mountains.

We felt as if we were at a lake, because we were surrounded all around by mountains.

We drove along the bay and decided to stop at the entrance of the town of Perast.

Ok, this was the view from the parking lot!!

Ok, this was the view from the public parking lot!!

We walked toward the little town of Perast, and found an area to go for a swim.

The water was clear and wonderful!

The water was clear and wonderful!

We dried off and visited the little town of Perast. It has a long and colorful past, dating back to 3500 BC with evidence of a Neolithic culture found in caves above Perast.  Other archeological finds include evidence from Roman and early Christian periods.



This little city has changed hands frequently over the centuries. It was part of the Byzantine empire in the 10th century.


It was a free city of medieval Serbia in the 1100’s.


Perast enjoyed a brief time of independence between 1395 to 1420.



It changed hands from the Venetian Republic of Venice and Hungarian control between the  1400’s and the 1700’s.


Perast was under French occupation in the 1800’s until 1914.



It was then ruled by Austria from 1914-1918. Perast became part of Yugoslavia in 1918.



Mussolini annexed the territories around Kotor to Italy in 1941. Perast later became part of Yugoslavia again after WWII.

Perast has been part of Montenegro since its independence in 2006. What a past this little city has!

The modern Perast has a sleepy, relaxed vibe with lots of character.  Perfect for a day trip to include a swim, a boat ride to one of the little islands, and a meal at one of the outdoor cafes!





Enchanting Venice



This past summer we spent a week in Italy as part of a three week road trip in Europe.  We used Verona as a base to see Lake Garda, Vicenza, and Venice. We had been to Venice in April 2012; but once in Venice is not enough! So we went back for a day trip.


Did you know that Venice was founded by people fleeing the invasion by Attila the Hun?  Apparently the Huns hated going near the water.  Lucky for us:)

Venice looks like a magical floating city. Venice is an archipelago of over 100 islands in the middle of a shallow lagoon, at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea.  It was built by setting wood pilings on the 118 submerged islands.  We constantly felt like we were walking around a movie set!


Typical Venetian architecture

The best way to explore Venice is to get lost in the winding streets, crossing over picturesque bridges, and watching the gondolas go by.



The alleys are narrow because the real streets of Venice are the canals The main entrances of palaces and normal houses are on the canal-side.  Like other cities, Venice also has a parking problem of its own… there are too many boats and too few docking spaces.

Nik and me

We are on one of the 400 bridges to be found in Venice! Behind us is one of the 170 canals.

The Rialto Bridge was completed in 1591. Before it was built, people scoffed at the idea of building a bridge out of stone. Apparently, the following were common sayings prior to the bridges completion: “It will be constructed when I have 3 legs” or “I’ll set myself on fire if the construction is ever completed.”  The architect had a sense of humor because today you can see two people carved in the arches of the building beside the bridge: a man with 3 legs and a woman sitting on a flaming brazier!

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

Apparently Rialto Bridge was the finish line of a race that criminals were forced to run. The race was a form of punishment and started at San Marco Square.  The local people were allowed to hit the runners with sticks, whips, rotten fruit, or anything else they decided to throw.  There is a statue of a hunchback on the bridge, and the convicts kissed the statue because they were so glad to be done with the race, having earned their freedom after enduring the punishment along the way.

When in Italy one MUST eat pizza!

When in Italy one MUST eat pizza! We had a great lunch at this restaurant by a canal.

Gondolas have been used as transport around the narrow Venetian canals for more than 10 centuries. Gondolas are iconic symbols of  Venice, and a gondola ride is a must-do on every tourist’s list…although they are very expensive!

We didn't want to pay 80+ Euros so we rode the gondola across to the other side for about 2 euros.

We didn’t want to pay 80+ euros so we rode the gondola across to the other side for about 2 euros!  April 2012

Did you know that only 3 or 4 Gondolier licenses are issued each year? Gondoliers have to undergo intensive training and pass a rigorous exam. There are only 400 licensed Gondolas operating in Venice today.


You are safe with me!

The photo below was our view from a public water bus (vaporetto); one of two main forms of public transport.  The other main form is walking!  No bicycles are allowed in any part of Venice; in fact, anyone caught on a bicycle is given a hefty fine.

The Doges Palace and San Marco Square

The Doge’s Palace and San Marco Square

Speaking of breaking the rules…not long ago, actor George Clooney got in some hot water for driving a small water taxi without the required license.  A local lawyer made a complaint and asked that the city police take action against the star. Later, when Clooney was asked about his new space thriller “Gravity”, he quipped that navigating the canals of Venice was tougher than being lost in space!

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal

More than 150 buildings line the Grand Canal.  Most of them date from the 13th to the 18th century. The Venetian nobility spared no expense to show off their riches by building their “palazzos.”


When two buildings are joined by an arch, it indicates that both buildings were owned by the same owner.

Venice was the greatest seaport of medieval Europe. It was Europe’s main trade and cultural tie to Asia.  Marco Polo was born here!

Other famous people who were born in Venice include the famous lover Giacomo Casanova, the composer Antonio Vivaldi, and painters Titian and Tintoretto.

I wonder about the lives of the people who have lived in this flat....

I wonder about the lives of the people who have lived in this flat….

Did you know that Venice has no sewer system? Waste flows into the canals and is washed out to sea with the tides. No wonder we never noticed anyone swimming!


Next to the Doge’s palace

St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice, whose symbol is a winged lion. The lion rests its paw on an open book; the Latin inscription can be translated as: “Peace be with you Mark, my Evangelist”.

The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Do you know how St. Mark became the patron saint of Venice? According to legend,  a few Venice merchants in Ninth century stole the remains of St.Mark from his tomb in Alexandria, Egypt and brought it to Venice, where it is said to remain to this day.

The story (as told by William Lithgow in 1619) goes that the merchants placed the corpse in a large basket covered with herbs and pork, which Muslims wouldn’t go near. The merchants cried “pork!” if anyone came to search their cargo, and thus safely brought the remains to their ship. Shortly after they got out to sea, the ship was buffeted by a great storm.  St. Mark appeared and warned the captain to strike his sails, preventing the ship from being wrecked on hidden rocks.

The merchants delivered the remains of St. Mark to the Doge, and the local religious and civic authorities elected St. Mark as Venice’s patron saint after hearing their story.  So that is how St. Mark’s symbol of the winged lion became the logo of Venice!

April 2012: Nikolas' favorite pastime...chasing pigeons:)

San Marco Square, April 2012: Nikolas’ favorite pastime…chasing pigeons:)

San Marco Basilica is. STUNNING. It’s in my top two favorite cathedrals…the other being the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

July 2013:  Nate still loves chasing pigeons...look behind me!

San Marco Square, July 2013: Nate still loves chasing pigeons…look behind me!

The Doge’s palace was built in the late 1100’s. It was the residence of the Doge of Venice, who was the supreme leader of the Venetian Republic. The architecture is incredible. The photo below is just a teaser.  I really need to do a post just on San Marco Basilica and the Doge’s palace!

Inside the courtyard of the Doge's Palace.

Inside the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace.

Apparently Carnival started as a celebration after a military victory in 1162.  It continued until it was outlawed in 1797 by the King of Austria.  The festival of Carnival was reinstated in 1979, and now approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year to join in the festivities.

Tourist shops are full of masks, from cheap masks made for tourists on a budget to really expensive, exquisitely handcrafted masks.


Trinkets and souveniers

Historically, masks were not worn only for Carnival. Venetians loved to wear masks for any possible occasion.  Apparently there were many laws which specified when, where and who was allowed to walk around masked, especially for security reasons.


If someone didn’t keep up their house in one’s neighborhood it would detract from the value.  In Venice, the fading paint and peeling plaster seem to add character and charm!

City planners with a sense of humor decided that Calle del Diavolo (Devil’s Street) should intersect with  with Calle dei Preti (Priests’ Street). Apparently Calle del Diavolo, was named this way because there is a bridge at the beginning of the street which was known for its very steep and slippery steps where people would slip and fall, letting loose with some colorful expletives!


My two men:)

We spent a wonderful afternoon exploring Venice, until dusk came and we decided to head back to Verona.  It was lovely to see Venice light up as we made our way back to the train station by vaporetto.


Good night, Venice!

You can see some photos  from our 2012 trip to Venice with an interesting twist from Nate’s point of view here:


Venice is one of our top three favorite cities.  There’s just no place like it!  Be sure to put it on your bucket list!

Sunset on the Holy Land!

The end of our first day!

The end of our first day!

We arrived in Israel with our friends and their family at 3:15am.  I think Nate was the only one who got a semi decent night’s sleep.  So we picked up our rental cars, drove to the home we are staying at, and crashed for several hours.

We woke up, had a late lunch, and headed off to the beach… just a five minute drive away. We were shown the way to this particular beach by the house sitter of the people whose home we are staying in.  There was hardly anyone there!

The water was about 80 degrees Farenheit!

The water was about 75 degrees Farenheit!

This kid LOVES the water!

This kid LOVES the water!

So does this BIG kid...he's doing the Gangnam style dance out there!

So does this BIG kid…he’s doing the Gangnam style dance out there! Bet you didn’t know that Andy can dance on water!

This pooch was thoroughly enjoying the water as well and swam with us the whole time we were there.

This pooch was thoroughly enjoying the water as well and swam with us the whole time we were there.

The sun started making its way down...

The sun started making its way down…

Time to get out and dry off...

Time to get out and dry off…

Praise God, we are in the Holy Land!

Praise God, we are in the Holy Land!

I got the whole group to pose like this, but instead of a "Praise God!" photo it looks more like "Stop, don't shoot!"

I got the whole group to pose like this, but instead of a “Praise God!” moment, it looks more like “Stop, don’t shoot!”

Then we watched the sun go down over the Mediterranean.

Then we watched the sun go down over the Mediterranean.

Cute kid!

Cute kid!

It was a lovely secluded beach. We were shown it by a local:)

It was a lovely secluded beach.

I think I must have touched the camera lense with a wet finger, because there’s a red circle on some of the photos, but they are still amazing shots to capture the lovely sunset.







It was a wonderful end to our first day in the Holy Land! Many more great days have followed since then.  We’ve been to the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth,  as well as three days in Jerusalem. It’s amazing to see the city of David, to see where Jesus walked and taught, and to experience the sights and sounds of this fascinating country!

Kutna Hora!

Kutna Hora: view of St. Barbara’s Cathedral!

We are briefly back in Prague before leaving on our next set of adventures!  This post is especially for future guests arriving soon. Kutná Hora is a lovely day trip from Prague.

If you saw my post on the Bone Church in Kutná Hora, you may be intrigued enough to see it for yourself.  However, even if you think the Bone Church isn’t “your cup of tea” you should still go see Kutná Hora.  The historical town center and St. Barbara’s Cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Kutná Hora has not one, but several stunning cathedrals, which more than make up for the gruesome Bone Church!

Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and John the Baptist.

Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and John the Baptist.

The town began in 1142 with the settlement of  Sedlec Monastery, the first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia.

German miners began to mine for silver in the mountain region in 1260, which the miners named Kuttenberg. The mountain was part of the monastery property.

These are the relics of St. Felix, donated by Pope Benedict X!V in 1742 on the occasion of the monastery's 600th anniversary!

These are the relics of St. Felix, donated by Pope Benedict X!V in 1742 on the occasion of the monastery’s 600th anniversary!

Kutná Hora’s wealth was built on mining. There’s a legend that goes like this: when a lazy monk named Anton woke up from a nap in the monastery orchard, he found three pieces of silver sticking out from the ground near his face. Anton laid down his robe (‘Kutna’, in Czech) to mark the place. Anton’s fellow monks investigated further and discovered what was to become the silver mines. Kutná Hora would later become the richest silver mine in the Kingdom of Bohemia.

It was wonderful to wander the streets and see the fine architecture.

It was wonderful to wander the streets and see the fine architecture.

The prosperity of Kutná Hora silver mines reached its climax in the 14th and 15th centuries when the city became one of the richest places in Europe. It was one of the most important political and economic centers of Bohemia at that time, second only to Prague.

I have a weakness for taking photos of cute window boxes:)

My husband will confirm that I have a weakness for taking photos of cute window boxes:)

Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to take a tour of the silver mines.  I’ve heard that the tour is very interesting, so we will definitely go back!

It was fun to wander the streets!

St. James’ Church

St. James’ Church is one of Kutná Hora’s famous landmarks. Construction of St. James began in 1330, and was completed in 1420.

This is the Church of St. James, built in the 14th century.

Inside the Church of St. James, built in the 14th century.

Pope Martin VI declared a crusade against the Hussites in 1419, shortly before construction of St. James was completed. The Hussites were followers of Jan Hus, a Czech priest who was considered the first Church reformer because he lived before Luther and Calvin.

St. James was the principal parish church of medieval Kutna Hora.

St. James was the principal parish church of medieval Kutna Hora.

In 1420 Emperor Sigismund used Kutna Hora as the base for his unsuccessful attack on the Taborites (considered heretics by the Catholic Church) during the Hussite Wars…leading to the Battle of Kutna Hora. In that battle, the Taborites were encircled by the superior forces of Sigusmund; however, under the leadership of famous Czech general Jan Zizka they were able to break through the lines and escape.

St. Barbara's Cathedral in the background.

Thanks, Elsa, for these photographs!

According to Wikipedia, Jan Zizka is considered to be among the greatest military leaders and innovators of all time. He is one of six commanders in history who never lost a battle . There is an enormous statue of him in Prague, which can be seen from miles away. The surrounding area is called Zizkov!

All these photos came from Elsa's camera, since we forgot to recharge our camera before coming to KH.

On the way to St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

St. Barbara’s Cathedral was founded in the late 1300s by the rich mine owners of Kutná Hora. They were trying to compete with the grandeur of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral. Building plans were interrupted by the Hussite battles, so construction didn’t resume until 1482.

The stained glass windows are stunning!

The stained glass windows are stunning!

Kutna Hora passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. Things went downhill after that…the mines were flooded, insurrection against the Holy Roman Emperor brought harsh punishment, followed by plague and the Thirty Years War.  The city  was devastated by fire  in 1770. The mines were abandoned not long after.

The view from the balcony.

The view from the balcony.

Kutna Hora remained part of the Austrian Empire under the Hapsburgs during the 1800’s. It became part of Czechoslovakia after World War I, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The fun angels:)

The fun angels on top of the organ!

For more information about Kutna Hora, including how to get there from Prague, look here:



So, if you are in Prague for more than a few days, definitely make a trip to Kutna Hora…you won’t regret it!

From the castle walls!

From the castle walls!

We have hosted more than 50 guests since we moved to Prague in 2011!  Many more will visit us this year. Below is my top ten list of things to see and do in Prague if you have only a short time.  I’ve also included our favorite inexpensive restaurants (main dish for under 200 CZK ($10/8E) near the sites.

1. Prague Castle and Gardens

Take a picnic lunch with you to the gardens.  Or stop at the outdoor restaurant on the way down the hill to Malostranska. It is surrounded by an ancient vineyard and has the most spectacular views of Prague.  They usually advertise dessert and coffee for 99 CZK($5/4E)…other items are quite expensive.

See my post for insider tips about Prague Castle:


The view of the castle from the gardens.

The view of the castle from the gardens.

2. Charles Bridge and Old Town Square

Going inside the clock tower is quite interesting. By some crepes (palacinky) from one of the food stalls in the square and enjoy the excellent people watching opportunities.  Don’t eat at one of the cafes around the square unless you don’t mind paying exorbitant prices!

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Old Town Square in 2010.

Old Town Square in 2010.

3. Jewish Quarter and Museums

Allow several hours to see this area, as there are six sites to visit in the Josefov district. Here’s a link to find out information about the ticket costs and other information:



The Jewish Cemetary

The Jewish Cemetery

My friend took this photo in the Spanish Synagogue before we were told no photos are allowed.

My friend took this photo in the Spanish Synagogue before we were told no photos are allowed.

Find your way to the Cartouche restaurant for an interesting atmosphere and decor that makes you feel like you are in a tavern from the 1700’s. It has a pricier menu but there are a few Czech and other dishes for 199-249 CZK.


Inside the Cartouche.

Inside the Cartouche.

Celebrating our 10th anniversary last year!

Celebrating our 10th anniversary last year!

4. Wenceslas Square

It’s a pleasant walk from Old Town Square to Wenceslas Square.

This is looking towards Old Town Square. The blue building will be on your left if you are in OT Square heading for Wenceslas Square.

This is looking towards Old Town Square.

Nate with dear friends Curt and Sandra, AKA Doc and Marmee.

Wenceslas Square with dear friends Curt and Sandra.

The Powder Tower and Municipal house are also a short walk away from Wenceslas Square.

The Powder Tower. There's an interesting little museum inside.

The Powder Tower. There’s an interesting little museum inside.

This is the view from the Powder Tower.

This is the view from the Powder Tower.

If you have some time, stop in at the Museum of Communism…

LOVE this sign!!

LOVE this sign!!

If you are hungry, try one of our favorite restauranst in Wenceslas Square: O Balouna.  It says “Traditional Czech Restaurant” on the outside. Here’s the website:



It’s a few doors down from the Thai Massage place with big tanks of water in the window, where tourists sit with their feet in the water, allegedly getting their dead skin nibbled away by the fish. I say allegedly because my friend Elsa tried it and didn’t notice a difference…but it was a great photo op!

She said it tickled!

She said it tickled!

Elsa attracted lots of attention...she is in photos of other random tourists who stopped to watch.

Elsa became a tourist attraction…she is in photos of other random tourists who stopped to watch!

5.  Stroll along the river and rent a paddle boat.

Take a walk along the river from Charles Bridge heading south. After passing another bridge (Most Legii) and the National Theater (Narodni Divadlo)  you’ll see a small bridge leading to a little island (Slovanski Ostrov) which is pleasant to walk around.  You can rent paddle boats from here.

Our river walk in 2011.

Our river walk in 2011.

When you are ready for a meal, enjoy one of our favorite restaurants, Club Cestavalu (Caravanserai on the sign outside, a mint green building across the street from the island). The food is Arabic and Lebanese, with Indian menu choices as well. They have unusual photos of exotic places as part of their decor.  They also have some free exotic snacks for the brave of heart (which I was not)!


What are they holding? Why does Nikolas look like he is going to throw up?

What are they holding? Why does Nate look like he is going to throw up?

Fried grubs! Nate and Andy said they tasted like fried styrofoam!

Fried grubs! Nate and Andy said they tasted like fried styrofoam!

Another favorite restaurant of ours is Grosseto’s Marina. We love taking guest here because the views of the city and of Charles Bridge are spectacular, and the prices are reasonable.


The view from the boat is outstanding.

It looks like a boat but it isn’t.

6.  Take a boat cruise on the Vltava River.

There are many different companies with a variety of cruise options, from a quick one hour spin to a several hour dinner cruise.  Our favorite is Prague-Venice, because it is a one hour cruise on a small boat which takes you through some hidden canals as well as along the Vltava.  Currently it costs 290 CZK ($14/11E) and includes a drink and ice cream.  You can buy tickets from the guys in white sailor suits at the end of Charles Bridge on the Old Town side.


You can see the boat sign behind Nate. We also went to a concert in the church behind him.

This is the area to buy the tickets. Taken in 2010

Cruise with Grandma and Grandpa, summer 2012.

Cruise with Grandma and Grandpa, summer 2012.

There are several other options.  I have heard good things about the Jazz Boat.


We did a dinner cruise with the Zidek family. That's Vikki and me:)

We did a dinner cruise with the Zidek family. That’s Vikki and me:)


Sunset is a great time for a cruise!

There’s also another cruise option, free with your transportation ticket!  It’s a little boat that zigzags along the river; especially fun for kids. We found it when we were walking along the river and hopped on.

The free boat (with your valid public transport pass).

The free boat (with your valid public transport pass).

7.  See an opera or ballet.

We  have seen three operas and one ballet and have really enjoyed them…even Nate (although he looks bored in the photo below)!  You can pay a lot of money to sit up close, or you can sit up high in the middle for 480-530 CZK ($25/20E) at the Prague State Opera. You will have a great view of the stage and orchestra, and the acoustics are great.

If you forgot to pack your opera clothes, it’s ok…at least in the cheap seats:)

The Prague State Opera House.

The Prague State Opera House.

Buy your tickets from Bohemia Tickets.  They don’t add a surcharge like other sites.  You can purchase them online, or get them when you are in Prague.  Go to the Mustek metro stop and follow the Na Prikope exit. The address is Na Prikope 16.  If they try to tell you they don’t sell the lower price tickets, tell them a local friend told you that they are available (unless they are truly sold out, which you can verify online).


In front of the Estates Theater.

In front of the Estates Theater.

8.  Go to a classical music concert in one of the beautiful churches or other historic buildings like the Rudolfinum or the Municipal House.

We went to one at Saint Salvatore Church and loved it! The music, acoustics, and atmosphere were outstanding.

Waiting for the concert to start.

Waiting for the concert to start.

9.  Take the funicular up to Petrin Hill.

It’s free to ride the funicular with your valid transportation ticket.  Take a picnic lunch and enjoy it in the gardens at the top. Climb the “Prague Eiffel Tower”.

There's a nice view of Prague waiting...

There’s a nice view of Prague waiting…

Kids--big and small--will love the mirror maze at the top.

Kids–big and small–will love the mirror maze at the top. Taken in 2010.

Head down the hill...

Head down the hill…

Quench your thirst with the world's best beer--or apple juice:)

Quench your thirst with the world’s best beer–or apple juice:)

10. Take a day trip to Karlestejn Castle.

The castle was founded in 1348 by King Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. It is easy to get here by train from Hlavni Ndrazi.  See the websites below for how to walk to the castle from the train station…it’s good exercise!  The town below the castle is very picturesque, with many options for restaurants and shops.  Souvenirs are cheaper here than in Prague.



Taken with our friend Vanda in summer 2010.

Taken with our friend Vanda in summer 2010.

This was taken in March...the views are more spectacular in spring, summer and fall.

This was taken in March 2012…the views are more spectacular in spring, summer and fall.

It's pretty fun to stand on a real drawbridge!

It’s pretty fun to stand on a real drawbridge!

So, that’s my list!  There are so many more wonderful things to see and do in Prague.  I’ll get to them in a future post.  Are there any other places you would count in a top ten list?

Plaza de Espana, Seville

Plaza de Espana, Seville

We had a wonderful eleven-day vacation in Spain last month.  We visited Seville, Cordoba and Granada.  Usually we use public transport when traveling, but discovered going by train within Spain is very expensive.  We stayed with friends in Seville and Granada, but the location in Granada was outside the city, so we needed to rent a car.

Since I am the family travel agent, I went online to research car costs, and was delighted to find a compact car that cost about $34 a day with insurance included.

The Alcazar gardens in Seville.

The Alcazar gardens in Seville.

When it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t good or true!  Here are our lessons learned:

Tip #1: Go with a well-known, proven agency and read the fine print in the offer.

I didn’t.  I LOATHE reading fine print! We booked with Marbesol. Marbesol?? When we arrived to pick up our car, we discovered that we had a “meet and greet: pick up with a full tank and bring it back empty”.  Sounded good to me when I booked, but I didn’t read that “the company may charge you for gas”.  We were told that we would have to pay 108 Euros for the privilege of bringing the car back empty (no refund for a partially full tank) AND we’d have to pay an 800 Euro deposit because the insurance didn’t cover everything. The car was tiny, and we knew a tank of gas would be much less than 108 Euros. Our other choice was to pay 129 Euros, which included full coverage, but we had to bring the car back with a full tank.  So, we chose the second plan. Our good deal was now a not-so-good deal.


The Albayzin in Granada

Tip #2: Read the contract carefully before you purchase.

Full coverage may not be full coverage!  When we returned our car, the couple ahead of us had the misfortune to have a fender bender.  Nothing serious, but they were relieved that they had purchased full insurance. The agent congratulated them on having full coverage and said they only had to pay 245 Euros for the time the car would be out of commission for repair work.  They argued that they had full coverage; but the agent said it didn’t cover the days the car would be out of commission.  ARRRGGHHH!

The Albayzin; the Moorish quarter of Granada.  Notice the Alhambra in the background!

The Albayzin; the Moorish quarter of Granada. Notice the Alhambra in the background!

Tip 3: Don’t pay for insurance with a third party company when you book the car online.

The few times that we have done this, the “independent party insurance” never covers enough, so you end up purchasing additional insurance from the car rental company.

We got to see an authentic flamenco concert. We were the only tourists there!

We got to see an authentic flamenco concert. We were the only tourists there!

Tip #4: If you are going to a major European city, don’t rent a car!!

Even if you park it and use public transport, parking fees are 15+ Euros a day. Public transport is usually much more efficient and cost effective.


The amazing Mezquita Mosque-Church in Cordoba.

Tip #5: If you do rent a car, rent the smallest possible car that will fit you and your baggage.

Our car was tiny, but driving in Granada was very stressful because there were dozens of tiny one-way streets that would be more aptly called alleys.  They had treacherous two foot metal posts about six inches on either side of the car that lined the alleys (to prevent parking).  The street/alleys were so narrow that Andy sometimes had to do a three or four point turn just to make a right or left turn!

Parking garages often have insanely small parking spaces, with only about eight-foot aisle between the front of your car and the car opposite.  We spent almost thirty minutes trying to get our tiny car into a tiny parking space!


That’s how close another car parked to ours!

Tip #6:Update your GPS!

Our Garmin is two years old, and as we were driving to the airport there was a split in the road in real life, but only one road on our Garmin.  Then our Garmin told us we were driving on unpaved roads and wanted us to turn around, when in reality we were on a newly built highway.  Fortunately we eventually found our way to the rental agency, but there were a few stressful moments!

We will do another car rental for a Germany-Italy-France trip in the summer, and we will hopefully learn from our own mistakes.  We hope you can learn from our mistakes as well!  Do you have any tips for us?


View from the Powder Tower

Make sure you read these tips before arriving in Prague!  They will save you money and help you to enjoy your trip more.

1. Choose one of these three options to go from the airport to your accomodations:

A. When you exit with your bag, look for AAA Taxi Kiosk.  Give the taxi driver the address of your accommodations written on a piece of paper: avoid misunderstanding because you don’t know how to pronounce the street name!  A 15 minute taxi ride to where I live costs about 450 Crowns/CZK ($23/18 Euros).  They will give you a coupon for 47% off your return trip to the airport (which we think means you pay regular price). This is pretty reasonable for taxi fare, but read on to save more money…

B.  Leave the terminal to the outdoor parking lot.  You will see taxis of other companies coming and going.  Call Speed Taxi (see number below) and ask them to pick you up from the terminal parking lot (specify exactly where you are). Doing it this way  costs me 150 CZK less($8/6 Euros) than using the official AAA taxi. Read on for the most cost effective way…

C.  Buy a public transport ticket and take the airport bus #119 to Dejvicka. You can then enter the metro and proceed to your destination.  Alternatively, you can take a tram from Dejvicka or nearby Vitezne Namesti to your destination.

View from Prague Castle

View from Prague Castle

2.  Take public transport from Hlavni Nadrazi (main train station) to your accomodations:

NEVER use the taxis waiting at Hlavni Nadrazi Railway Station.  It will be double the cost! Instead, go upstairs and exit by Fanta Kavarna.  Call a taxi from one of the recommendations below and ask them to pick you up at Hlavni Nadrazi outside of Fanta Kavarna. See the link below so you know where to go:


However, it is really easy and much cheaper to arrive at your destination by public transport.  There is a metro station at the train station, and you can easily reach all parts of the city.

Basilica of St. George at Prague Castle

Basilica of St. George at Prague Castle

3.  Use a reliable taxi:

Never !!  call a taxi that is waiting on the street.  You will be overcharged!  Instead, call or send a SMS to one of the two taxi companies below.  Generally taxis are not expensive, from about 150 to 300 CZK.

Speed Taxi: +420 722 234 234 (my favorite, most reliable)

Taxi Nejlevnejsi:  +420 736 300 299

SMS: Please pick us up at ________address________.  My name is _______________.

The company will send a confirmation SMS with the make and model of the taxi, and its arrival time.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

4. Get these three free apps for your smart phone!

MHDapp:  You can enter your location and your destination and it tells you exactly how to get there on public transport. You need to enter the name of the tram, bus or metro stop and it does the rest.  The app even tells you how many minutes before the bus or tram comes, so you know if you need to run!


CG Transit: Similar to MHDapp, and  it also shows you on the map how to walk from your current location to the bus, metro or tram stop.


Tripadvisor city guide for Prague: I love this app!  It gives you suggested itineraries, restaurants, and descriptions of the top attractions.  You can download it with WiFi, and use it offline.  It has a great map feature, and helps you find your way using your smartphone signal.


Prague at dusk

Prague at dusk

5.  Get a Czech sim card at any Vodafone office (airport, Vitezne Namesti, Wenceslas Square and more).  They are only 200 CZK ($10/8Euros) and include prepaid credit for calls, sms, and you can add data for 175 CZK ($9/7Euros). You avoid  roaming charges, and you can use the travel apps and Google Maps online using 3G. Any calls or SMS you send will be at the local rate.

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

6.  Don’t bother with expensive tours or the Hop on/Hop off bus!!

Prague’s public transport system is excellent. Trams are fun to ride as they wind their way around this beautiful city! Get a good map with the metro and trams marked, and you can navigate the city like a local:)

Here is the website for the transportation system.  You can find tariff prices, and you can use Journey Planner to figure out how to get from one area to another.


If you stay for more than 6 days, consider purchasing a one-month pass.   You can buy them at most major metro stations, including Hradcanska. The pass is transferable, and you can make someone’s day by giving it away at the airport or train station when you leave, to a tourist who is just arriving!

The “green” or “A” line will take you to almost all the important sights in the city center.  Here are some of the stops and what you will find at each of the stops:

Hradcanska: You can walk to the castle in about ten minutes from the metro at Hradcanska. Walk down K Brusce to the right of the old gate (Pisecka Brana, now a café), out to Marianske Hradby. You will see the Summer Palace (now a porcelain museum) across the street.  Go in the side gate and you will see the castle gardens.  It is a lovely walk through the gardens to Prague Castle…and no steep hill to climb!  Note:  the gardens are closed in winter, so instead take the tram one stop from Kralovsky Letohradek to Prasky Hrad.

The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace

You can also walk to Letna Park from Hradcanska.  It has lovely walking and cycling paths, with lovely views of the Vltava river and the city.

The views are stunning!

The views are stunning!

Fall 2011

Fall 2011

Malostranska:   You will be around the corner from the bottom of the path to the castle.  There is also a lovely walled garden, Wallenstein Gardens, which has its entrance next to the metro. Walk to Malostranska Namesti to see St. Nicholas Church and Charles Bridge.

Wallenstein Gardens

Wallenstein Gardens


St. Nicholas Church in Mala Strana

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Staromestka:  You can get out here to walk to Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and the Jewish Quarter.


Old Town Square

The Jewish Cemetary

The Jewish Cemetary

Mustek:  This stop takes you to Wenceslas Square.  You can also change to the yellow line. From here there is a nice walk to Old Town Square. You can also enjoy all the shops, and walk to the Municipal House and the Powder Tower.

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square

The Municipal House

The Municipal House

The Powder Tower

The Powder Tower

Muzeum:  Prague State Opera is here.  You can change to the red line here.

Prague State Opera with Mom and Dad

Prague State Opera with Mom and Dad

Tram Stops:

Malostranska Namesti is the stop to see St. Nicholas Church, and the Mala Strana side of the Charles Bridge is a short walk away, just around the corner.

The tower at Charles Bridge

The tower at Charles Bridge

Ujezd is the stop where you can take the funicular (included in your public transport ticket) to the top of the hill.  There are pretty gardens, the Prague “Eiffel Tower”, cafes, and a mirror maze (great for children).

The Prague "Eiffel Tower"

The Prague “Eiffel Tower”

Ok, so there is a lot more to tell you about, but I’ll save that for another post.  What are some of your favorite places in Prague?  What tips do you have for getting around Prague in the most efficient and enjoyable way?