The Czech Republic: Western-Style Living for Less
Since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic has rapidly approached Western living standards. However, costs are substantially lower than in the country’s western neighbors, Germany and Austria.
Tourists rediscovered its capital, Prague—which was compared to Paris in the 1920s—cheap and arty, with its history, culture, and architecture. Prices rose, of course, as the world’s writers, artists, tourists, and investors came in greater numbers. But few ventured outside the capital, and, even today, the Czech countryside remains somewhat undiscovered.
Prague the Golden, the City of a Hundred Spires—what Goethe called the “prettiest gem in the stone crown of the world.” No doubt about it, Prague (Praha to its citizens) is one of Europe’s most wonderfully atmospheric cities.
The Old Town is a bedazzlement of gilded statuary, Gothic spires, pastel-colored houses with russet roofs, and baroque palaces adorned with cherubs. Cross the Vltava River over Charles Bridge—lined with watchtowers and ornate statues turned to blackened stone—and you’re in the equally historic Castle district.
The Czech Republic divides into the regions of Bohemia and Moravia. Blessed with hot summers and Christmas-card winters, Bohemia is a spellbinding mosaic of romantic castles and towns straight from sword-and-sorcery tales.
Frescoed houses and Rapunzel-style turrets are fairly common throughout Central Europe—and Bohemia has its share.
The countryside is studded with wildflower meadows…dense forests of silver birch and spruce…and ponds full of fat, lazy carp. You’ll also see fields planted with hops, enough to meet the Czech thirst for beer.
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- Population: 10,627,448
- Capital City: Prague
- Climate: Temperate; cool summers; cold, cloudy, humid winters
- Time Zone: UTC+1 (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
- Language: Czech
- Country Code: 420
- Coastline: Landlocked
- Location: Central Europe, between Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria
It’s not so much the peeling paint or statues of winged angels that catch my eye in this ancient chapel…it’s the pillars of skulls holding them aloft. A church decorated with bones—thousands and thousands of human bones—might sound like a macabre monstrosity. But not so in the Czech town of Kutná Hora, where it takes pride of place among the locality’s other attractions.
I’m a real sucker for pastries. I can’t resist the melt-in-the mouth, flaky pastry of a fresh croissant or better still, a pain au chocolat with its bonus hit of dark, sweet goodness in the center. Of course, eating baked goods prepared by a top patisserie chef while sitting in a glittering salon—and knowing that this is just one stop on a three-day gastronomic odyssey—makes it taste all the more delicious.
For as long as they could remember, Doug and Diane Jones’ retirement dream had been a small organic farm in the Oregon wilderness… So it came as a surprise when, nearing retirement, they realized that they were tired of working sun-up to sundown on the farm and a new and unexpected retirement dream—of living in sunny, rural, authentic southern Italy—had taken its place. “We worked most of our lives because we didn’t come from money and we had to work for it. We always spent our vacations visiting family—you know, the guilt-trip thing. We never took trips abroad. We were too poor in both vacation time and money.”
For decades the Iron Curtain divided Europe in two. Folks in the U.S. and Western Europe were afforded only glimpses of life in the Eastern Bloc. The political situation severely restricted travel. And half of Europe became an uncharted and unknown land. Then the Berlin Wall fell and a dozen or so nations opened up, embracing new freedoms. Visitors were welcomed and discovered a history going back thousands of years, regions of untouched natural beauty, and a seriously low cost of living.
In the Kisama Heritage Village in Nagaland, northeast India, the Hornbill Festival is a huge celebration of the indigenous warrior tribes of the region. Taking place between December 1 and 7, the festival is named after the Indian Hornbill, a large and colorful forest bird. You’ll need a government permit to visit, but it’s worth it to experience the beauty contest, archery, wrestling, and lots of singing and dancing.
Wrought-iron spires pierce the sky and ghastly gargoyles gaze down on the tourist throngs. The Czech capital, Prague, is one of the world’s most visited cities, home to historic palaces, theaters, and stately houses.
I wake up and glance over at my wall calendar—no deadlines for the rest of the week. Time for the beach! Or maybe I could work on my novel. But it’s such good weather, what about another day trip? Welcome to the life of a freelance writer where every day is wide open, and every day is yours.
I love to travel…but the experiences I have tend to be a little different from the usual vacation. That’s because these days, I get special treatment wherever I go.
It’s a Tuesday morning in the Czech Republic and I’m sitting up in the light and airy third floor cafe above one of Prague’s most renowned theaters, trying out their special red espresso alongside a warm slice of juicy, black currant tart. From the long wall of windows to my right, I can see the sparkling Vltava River with its parade of long green, white and red boats.
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My hands stained purple with blueberry juice, I stop to watch a group of older Czech women. All bent double, they’re picking berries and singing Wallachian folk songs, imperfect voices made perfect by easy happiness.
Hidden cafés on cobblestone lanes, window sills bursting with flowers, medieval castle views at sunset…. I find the neighborhood where I live near the center of the Czech capital of Prague every bit as enchanting today as it was four years ago, when I first moved here.
If you love House Hunters International, you’ll love this idea: In the Czech Republic they remodel castles.
A new nose in Prague…a facelift in Thailand…a curvier chest in Mexico…cosmetic surgery used to be for the rich-and-famous only. But these days, it’s so affordable overseas, the middle-class masses are picking up their passports to seek a better-looking physique oceans from home.
In the buildup to the 2012 Olympics, London is turning into the world’s most tourist-friendly city. Long gone are the gray days of an unhealthy city with bad food, high prices, and serious-looking people.
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With low-cost airlines such as the new Czech Smart Wings offering discount travel, a large beer costing $1.50, plenty of “girly bars,” and a McDonalds on (nearly) every corner, Prague has certainly changed over the years. Still, downtown Prague seems to have been largely unassaulted by the times; the modern buildings fit in with the old, and the city is still among the most beautiful in the world. A maturing property market makes Prague the…