Iâ€™m writing this on the bus from Prague to Vienna after spending 4 nights in the city.
My first impressions were of surprise at how wealthy the city is. I knew very little about the country or city before I left, and I just bundled it into the â€˜Eastern Europeâ€™ category, along with everywhere east of Germany. Needless to say, my ignorance led to a bit of a surprise!
When I say the city is wealthy, I mean that Iâ€™ve seen Ferraris and Rolls Royces driving around, and high end brands like Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Hermes (to name a few) all have stores here. I wasnâ€™t just surprised at how wealthy it is compared to what I expected, but compared to cities in the UK.Â Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Monaco, but it’s definitely not Scunthorpe.
However, it’s most striking feature is that itâ€™s incredibly beautiful. The buildings around the city centre are amazing, and not just the historical landmarks, the regular streets are beautiful too.
Lots of Beer!
Most of the food I had was pretty good. Thereâ€™s a wide range of choices, although I noticed that there is a lot of French, Italian and German influence. I had a couple of things worth noting â€“ firstly, a TrdelnÃkÂ (photo on the right). Mega! On my last night I ate at LehkÃ¡ Hlava, a vegetarian restaurant and that was a pretty cracking meal too.
Drinking is fairly straight-forward. They love beer. I went to a pub outside the city centre and they had 19 beers on tap. I didnâ€™t try that many, but the ones I did have were pretty good. I overheard a tour guide saying that the average Czech drinks 160l of beer a year, and you can pick up half a litre in a bar for less than Â£1, so I can understand why.
I felt that in general Prague was very clean and felt very safe (despite being told about pickpockets a few times). The police were relatively visible around the city, but they didnâ€™t appear to be heavy handed â€“ they were just strolling around. I saw a few beggars, including one getting his details taken by the police and moved on, and they dealt with him very decently.
I was a little surprised that I didnâ€™t get hassled anywhere, at all. Iâ€™m not entirely sure why, as there were guys hassling other tourists (eat in my restaurant, take my boat trip etc). Perhaps because I was a guy on my own, or perhaps because they thought I was local. Most people have spoken Czech to me unless I spoke first.
Iâ€™ve also been very impressed by how widely available broadband internet is. When the internet was down in my hotel I asked if they knew anywhere I could get online. The reply was â€œanywhere â€“ just walk down the street, any cafÃ© or bar will have free WiFiâ€. Thatâ€™s pretty much what I experienced.
Even the bus Iâ€™m on right now has WiFi! The idea that a 5 hour international bus has a TV with free headphones and a good selection of movies, games and radio, WiFi, power sockets, free hot drinks, a selection of cold drinks and snacks to buy, and a stewardess to provide all of this and look after you, is pretty amazing. The fact my ticket cost less than Â£9 is unbelievable.
Iâ€™m not sure if this bus company is subsidised in some way, or perhaps fuel is very cheap here. Iâ€™m also not sure what the wages are like. Someone told me that a cleaner will make approx 600 euros a month which doesnâ€™t sound like a lot, although Iâ€™ve got no idea what the cost of living is like. Food/drink is definitely cheaper than the UK but there are other factors to take into account as well.
In the more physical sense, Prague has a pretty developed tram network which seems to work well for them. They also have buses and 3 underground lines and your ticket works on all 3. Perhaps Edinburgh City Council should visit and take some notes!
On the whole it feels like Prague is vested in moving forward and embracing technology. When I compare that to Edinburgh or even London, I simply canâ€™t understand why free WiFi is not more readily available, or why 1 tram line costs Â£1B+. It seems like weâ€™re lagging behind. As a comparison, it feels a bit like the UK is a big corporate business, resistant to change, focussed on the bottom line, hesitant to invest in new ideas, while the Czech Republic is a fresh new startup embracing new ways of doing things, giving free meals to their staff and putting PlayStations in the lunch room. We might be creative and dynamic, but if we spent a little more time and effort in enabling those skills and connecting those people with the world, our economic outlook might be a little different.