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Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary: May 2019

I hesitate to write this report and allow it to get too lengthy but I am also reminded of how much this website helps me when planning travel so I hope this report will do the same for others.
GENERAL NEWS: Just returned from 17 days in the above mentioned countries. Is it easier because we are getting better at this or is travel so common now that people are better equipped to handle it? We hade NO difficulties at all in Europe with pickpockets or clipboard-bearing folks.....and the street-begging, while certainly there, was not nearly as prevalent to us as it was even a year ago. We did feel like the crowds were everywhere...is May getting to be a more popular time to travel than the summer now? Had no difficulty at all using a credit card for all purchases and a debit card with a pin for cash withdrawals with ATM machines wherever you needed one. Prague even took our euros but wanted to give change back in korunas. English seems to be more and more common and especially where serving tourists. If you get out early in the day the crowds are better though many sights and stores do not seem to be open until 10 or 11......and BTW.....usually nice weather in May as we have traveled but cold and lots of rain this trip.....

AUSTRIA: Flew into Prague, got a wonderful taxi driver to Hotel Josef and began our stay. Great hotel near the Jewish Synagogue that seems updated and new. We loved the option to breakfast in the hotel at the buffet each morning before we set out. Prague seems to have caught up with the tourist trade financially.......10 years ago it was so cheap but now they realize they can up their prices. We loved the hotel location and walked everywhere we went.......eat what you want, walk 6 miles everyday...it works! We had been to Prague before and loved it so we had seen sights 10 years ago but love this city’s charm. It did not disappoint! We took the PRAGUE COMMUNISM AND NUCLEAR BUNKER TOUR and loved it. Our guide was Katie, who was excellent. She was a year old, in a stroller with her Mom, at Wenceslas Square when the Velvet Revolution in 1989 took place and had some really interesting insights to the changes in her city since then. We also walked to see one of 300 Soviet bunkers left in Prague.......4 stories underground and creepy but so informative. I highly recommend this. It was cold and raining but she had us on a bus part of the time and we managed fine. We also took THE BEST OF PRAGUE CITY WALKING TOUR AND BOAT RIDE the next day with Marcella. She was great as well......she walked us across the Charles Bridge, up to the castle and back down to a wonderful pub lunch before putting us on a 30 minute boat ride......nice to get new vantage points for pictures. I recommend it as well......Marcella was a wealth of current info on food, politics, beer to order, etc. She was a delight. This was a rainy day as well but her mood helped us push through. We toured the other 2 days on our own.....had already seen the Jewish quarter that we highly recommend and a concert so we enjoyed 2 really nice night meals at the Bellevue and Zlata Praha. Both meals were pricey and good....the first is on the river, white linen tablecloths for a beautiful setting....and Zlata Praha is the rooftop restaurant at the Innercontinental Hotel......incredible night view of Prague. We walked to Breakfast at the Cafe Savoy our last morning ....nice walk, lovely neighborhood but the food was just so-so. Saw the Dancing House building....lots of fun. On to Cesky Krumlov in our rented car.

Posted by
1622 posts

Hi Jane, following along with your trip as we will be touring these countries in September. Appreciate all the detailed info. Any local foods you’ve enjoyed? Have fun!

Posted by
2875 posts

Jane, also "tagging along" as well. We will be following a similar path but starting in Hungary. Enjoying all your tips so far. Excellent report!

Posted by
203 posts

Following as well for my September trip. Thanks for posting!

Posted by
84 posts

"We hade NO difficulties at all in Europe with pickpockets or clipboard-bearing folks.....and the street-begging"

This has always been overblown by American tourists and their guidebooks and it is more common in Southern and Western Europe(and some parts of the Balkans and Scandinavia) than in Central Europe which is one of the safest, tamest part of Europe as you have discovered. Homelessness and street begging seems to me much more common in many American cities than in Europe.

It is the (mostly easily avoided) scams and overcharging which abound in Budapest and Prague. You must have been either wise or lucky to have avoided these.

I agree that Prague is getting more expensive, but it is still relatively cheap if you go the local way. Public transit and beer is still amazing value.

"May getting to be a more popular time to travel than the summer now?"

Spring and fall have always been the main season for city trips. In summer most Europeans head to the beaches(seaside, lakeside) or the mountains or take extended holidays.

Top destinations cities like Prague and Budapest are busy year round, but slightly less busy during the weekdays.

The weather in May was indeed awful, we had better weather in March this year, but we had to heat a little bit even in May. Usually May is a very good time to travel here, not too hot and not too cold.

Posted by
2875 posts

@Marduk, would you be willing to expand on your experiences with "scam and overcharging" in Budapest and Prague? Anything other than knowing the local currency converter? We will be traveling there this year and we will be using a converter chart. We've used this method in other countries without incidents.

Posted by
84 posts

You can find lots of stories if you google "scam" + "Prague" or Budapest, although lots of these are not scams just ignorant tourists. It's pretty common in Budapest and to a lesser extent to Prague that tourists are fined for not having their transit tickets validated and they come to the travel forums to whine that the transport companies of Prague and Budapest exist only to scam naive tourists. The fool proof solution to this: Buy a day or multi day pass, which you have to validate only once or not at all and it is the easiest and best value option anyway.

There are real scams however, but most of these are nothing new for the experienced traveller, since these tricks are practiced to some extent all over the world, like the "three card trick" or the "lonely lady inviting the lonely male tourist for a drink to an expensive bar and the bouncers escorting the tourist to an ATM to milk his account if he doesn't want to pay 500 dollars for 2 drinks" trick.

The website of the US Embassy to Hungary used to have a list of bars and restaurants where scams were common, but I can't find it now. Perhaps it is less of a problem than it was a few years ago, but it still happens from time to time. If a place gets closed by the authorities it opens in a few months under a new name.

https://dailynewshungary.com/police-shutter-bar-overcharging-tourists-budapest-video/

Some personal experiences:

Taxis in Budapest.
Overcharging still happens, despite the efforts to regulate the market. The solution: Don't use taxis, the Public transit is excellent or call a reputable taxi company. I lived in Budapest, but used taxis extremely rarely. Once I arrived to Keleti station(main railway station) after midnight due to a train delay and had to take a cab, becase the metro stopped running and I was too tired to wait for night buses. We took a cab with a girl heading the same way, and as the driver turned on the engine the girl asked me if I knew approximately how much we have to pay and I told her my estimate based on the fare, then the taxi driver overhearing this turned to us and warned that it'll be much more than that. We promptly left the taxi and I called a taxi company which was fine. We were lucky that the driver warned us, but I don't think he would have warned a foreigner in a similar case.

Changing money in Prague.
Most bureaux de change in the centre have rip off rates, it takes some effort to find one with an honest rate. Other than that they're often trying to trick customers by prominently displaying the selling rate as if it would be the buying rate, that there is the map trick, which I personally fell victim. They hand over a simple tourist map of Prague when you change and you assume it is a gift(since these are kind of the tourist maps you can pick up for free all over the city), but in fact they charge you for it.

Posted by
84 posts

Bummer! I accidentally hit the delete tag after editing my long response about scams.

Sorry, I won't type it again. Just use your common sense and you'll easily avoid most scams. If you want to prepare a bit than google scams in Prague or Budapest, but take it with a pinch of salt.