28 December 2009

Prague chocked with charm, contradictions

The Vltava River runs through the center of Prague.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic—To call my experience here a mixed bag is an understatement.

On one hand, it is a spectacularly beautiful city with an incredible abundance of classical European architectural styles from the last few centuries as well as some notable contemporary designs, like the “Dancing House,” a creation of Frank Gehry. It has a vibrant arts and music scene ass well as a wide variety of restaurants (although about half of them appear to sell pizza).The city also has its inexplicable idiosyncrasies: more retailers of sexual toys and aids than I thought imaginable.

It is also a city loaded with thieves and con artists. I hadn’t got to my hotel room before my pocket was picked of my wallet that contained a bunch of cash, ID, driver’s license, and credit cards. A curse on the responsible asshole

Most of the currency exchanges advertise no commission, which means no commission as long as you exchange a minimum of 1,000 Euros (about $1,500). Anything less than that amount is subject to a dramatically lesser exchange rate plus a commission of about 20 percent, none of which is posted anywhere. Prague taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging customers, according to the tour guides.

I’ve been wanting to visit Prague for years and the city is every bit as attractive as I was led to believe—and at the same time worse than I ever imagined.

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