Planning Prague: Save Money

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Prague, Czech Republic. February 2019.

Anyone who has read this blog longer than the revival knows that I am a girl who likes to go with a plan. I am all for being spontaneous but if you want to see as much as you can and in turn save money that could be put towards future travels my answer is always the same: go in with research and a plan.

As I have said, now that I am married and traveling in very different circumstances, I am much more aware of every new expense in our lives and weigh the money we spend very carefully.

On top of all that, we were traveling with new people and every time that happens you have to take into consideration what other people may want to see, their budget, group or individual game plans, and their style of travel – but that is another post….

I tried to do something a little different this time around when it came to visiting Prague. I still used Google Maps – there really is nothing better for tracking where the things you want to see are and how long it takes to get from one to the other! – but instead of doing a day by day breakdown, I broke the city into parts and started from there:

Basically, I found that I had three areas, plus Charles’ Bridge that I would really want to explore:

OLD TOWN PRAGUE

We were staying just outside of Old Town so we walked through here pretty consistently. In this section was Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (which is one of the locations that inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle), Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Tower,  and finally, The Estates Theater.

SOUTH OF OLD TOWN

This is all below Old Town but still walkable, at least if you have decent walking shoes which are kind of a must in Prague. South of Old Town is much more spread out but unless you have tons you want to do in this part of the city, it’s easiest to keep it all as one section.

The southern part of the city contains The Sex Machine Museum which is on the border of Old Town, The Mucha Museum, Wenceslas Square and the National Museum, and the Dancing House. There are also art pieces by David Cerny, a local street artist, throughout this section of the city, so just wandering is a great option here!

CHARLES’ BRIDGE

This one pretty much covers itself and it’s free unless you buy any of the knick-knacks from the vendors lining the bridge. The views of and from the bridge are spectacular, but beware of your timing! This is a huge thoroughfare so you can definitely get run over by human traffic if you stop in the middle and it’s so crowded getting a clutter-free picture really is impossible.

ACROSS THE RIVER

In terms of what to see and how you can save money, this side of the bridge is where you will probably spend the most time and money! You have The Prague Palace Complex which includes The Old Royal Place,’The Story of Prague Castle’ exhibition, The Cathedral of Saint Vitus, Saint Wenceslas Cathedral, The Church of Saint Adalbert, Saint George’s Basilica, Golden Lane (Daliborka and Powder Towers), and The Rosenberg Palace; Petrin Hill which houses a park and a couple of attractions (we’ll talk about these in a future post) as well as The Monastery and a couple other restaurant options; There are also a few beautiful gardens if you are there in spring or summer – namely The Grotta and Havlicek Gardens; and finally, Lennon’s Wall, however, I heard from friends that this one was pretty covered over by graffiti and underwhelming.


Now this isn’t to say we hit all of this, because it is a lot but had we made some different choices, our three days really could have handled this load. Still, that doesn’t answer how it saved us money.

Prague is a party town that is also full of history, so if you don’t plan on partying all weekend and you don’t mind wandering about 5 minutes outside of the tourist district, you really can find great places to eat and see for really cheap. It also seemed like everywhere that was touristy had pretty amazing deals for families, so as long as you avoid the traps, even a group with kids can save!

Let’s get the big one out of the way: The Palace Complex.

Talking about this will be a post all on its own, so we are going to stick to budgets here. The price for this attraction is broken down into different circuits that group the varied attractions within the complex so you can pick whatever works for your group. We picked Circuit A which has everything listed above after the Palace Complex – this had the best price for the most places within the complex.

Of course, it doesn’t cover everything; some things you can only purchase on their own, but it was an amazing day for Ryan and I. Plus, this ticket let’s you explore over the course of two days, so if you want to space things out, you absolutely can.

And again, about the affordability with children: Ryan and I spent the same amount of money on these tickets as our friends and their two kids! The only downside is that these family tickets requires the family stays together going into every exhibition and you can only enter them once – it is litterally one ticket for the entire family.

Going into the Towers at Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock have a similar family deal.

Petrin Hill can be a money hole if you don’t go in prepared (it is pretty minor, however, every penny matters, right?), especially because not all the attractionas are as good or strong as others but you can buy a ticket for about seven dollars to get into everything – I honestly recommend the Tower, but everything else is kind of a bust.

Finally, everything else of note was either around ten euros, for donation which gets used for upkeep, or completely free.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

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Planning Prague: Save Money

Driving and Parking in Europe

Our experience of driving in Europe isn’t necessarily the norm – I’ve never rented a car in Europe but now that we live here, we have had to get used to a lot of craziness as to native Angelenos we were not expecting! Growing up driving in LA, you get used to people talking about crazy drivers and traffic and freeways and speeding and terrible parking, but this is nothing like what we have experienced here.

First off, living here and driving means we are required to get a German drivers license as well as an International drivers license for crossing borders which involved taking a driver’s class and testing to make sure you understand German driving laws. Overall, this isn’t too bad since most of the laws are fairly common sense as long as you understand European street signs.

The biggest part of driving in Europe is the policy of Confidence which basically means if you are driving, the police and other drivers will assume and behave like you know what you are doing and if something occurs because you are too timid or don’t know what you are doing, it is your fault.

This can be very, very stressful. I remember sitting in the back of the car in Prague where we crossed a five-point intersection that had so much cross traffic and an array of lights and signs but no lines indicating which direction each lane was supposed to go. The street included trolly tracks and a very uneven surface. We honestly had no idea how we managed it not once but twice because this bit of craziness was very busy. Plus, after a certain time, many street lights are turned off and you have to simply know the rules in order to get through a city. Again: Confidence.


Most Americans have assumptions about driving in Europe because of the autobahn and can’t wait to get on the road to really hit the gas. There are two points to this: First, if you drive recklessly, you are violating the policy I talked about before and that will nail you; second, unlike in the States, when there are speed limits posted, they are actual speed limits. In the states, you can be ticketed for speeding but especially in places like LA going 80 on the freeway is generally considered the speed of traffic and you don’t have to worry about it.

In Europe that is simply not the case: the speed limit is an actual limit even when it is not specifically posted (such as entering and exiting towns). You are expected to know what you are doing and follow those rules. You can also be cited for violations picked up by speed cameras which go up and down constantly. Living here, we are notified when large speed traps go up all over town – they are legally required to – but if you are visiting, you won’t know until the ticket gets to your house. Well, if you aren’t pulled over for it immediately, in which case you may have to pay a fine on the spot and while being very, very polite.

Let me make something clear: Europeans drive insanely and they do not always obey rules, especially speed limits. They will ride your bumper if you obey the rules, but stay calm and keep going. You really don’t want to deal with fines and figuring out how international marks might affect your ability to drive and the status of your license at home.

Also, the alcohol limit is much lower than in the US so if you have had any alcohol, have another person drive. In that vein, if you are pulled over and given a citation, do not go home and drink! After a citation, the police can follow up and breathalyze you then; if you score, the law’s assumption is that you were driving under the influence. Yep.


Now that the Legal part is over, parking in Europe is crazy…. mostly because many times it involves having your car up on the sidewalk.

European streets are tiny and oftentimes even without cars parked Ryan and I constantly second guess whether we are driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction – and then they add cars parked on the sidewalk!

If you are uncomfortable parking like this, there are always parking lots or actual spots along the street but cash is a must and it can get fairly expensive. Even hotels that say they have parking when you book sometimes email you about the fee that parking with them actually is – yes, this has actually happened to us!

That isn’t to say that there aren’t cheap ways to park and explore places when traveling – they just tend to look a little bit sketchier. Also, as a rule, never keep anything (valuable or not) in your car visible when you are out exploring. The rule is if you have left something out, you have unduly made your car a target so any damage or problems that can occur are partially your fault and responsibility.


If you are driving in going across borders there are also a few things to know:

When you cross borders, even open borders, there are sometimes signs that indicate differences in road rules. Take a picture of these! Generally, the rules are pretty similar, but little things like the unposted speed limits can vary as much as 10 kilometers an hour. Having a picture of these rules can be a very handy guide to take with you.

More importantly, are Driver Vignettes. These are tolls and placards that you buy crossing borders which allow you to drive for a designated time in that country without registering the vehicle there. The prices vary from place to place and depend on the length of time from a few days to a year, allowing you to drive in or through the country. And yes, on a road trip, every country you pass through required one. So, driving from Germany to Slovenia required that we buy two vignettes; one for Slovenia and on for Austria even though we never stopped in the latter.

Finally, while vignettes have been described to me as a kind of toll, this isn’t like buying a toll pass in many places in the states. Just because you have bought and displayed proper vignettes does not mean you have paid any and all tolls you come across in another country. In Slovenia, the vignette was about 15 euro for about a week of driving, but there are also multiple tunnel tolls between the border and the capital city and you need money (between 7 to 12 Euro) for each.

So when you plan to drive, I have some advice: have cash on hand (it is just simpler and quicker and sometimes the only option) and budget as much as you can ahead of time. There are a lot of rules to driving in Europe posted and unposted so be careful, be safe, and consider public transportation when you can!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Driving and Parking in Europe

Half a Day in Wurzburg

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Wurzburg Palace and Gardens. January 2019.

Two friends and I really needed to hit an athletics store that would sell swimsuits year round (because of course we did) and, since the closest store is about an hour away, we decided to throw a little extra fun into the trip. This felt especially urgent to one of the companions who simply couldn’t understand how neither of us had ever visited this cute little stop in Germany. She had no choice but to correct this problem and I love that she did!

We didn’t have much time out because of school timing, but we decided that we could very easily accomplish The Wurzburg Palace to help make the trip worthwhile. And the palace was so worth it.

Parking at the palace is a little weird but the rates are really good. The weird part about the parking lot is that while it is within a city and therefore meant to house a lot of cars, it’s also a huge part of the square in front of the palace gates which has a statue at the top with no directional lines of how to drive through the square or really where to park. it was the weirdest thing having to avoid pedestrians and drive through the open center when the closest side was full.

If you are an English speaker, especially if you have a sense of humor, take the tour even if you have to wait a little while. In that time, you can wander around the gardens or the palace itself – you don’t need to do the tour in order to see the whole palace but it helps to get all the fun information.

We all loved our guide. He was very sassy and made a lot of jokes at every countries expense – there were a whole lot of American jokes to be made thanks to the world fresco – but he was very tactful and read our group well enough to hit all the right notes. It can be difficult to do so I was impressed. He also wasn’t shy about sharing his knowledge beyond what was in the palace; our guide thought it was hilarious that he traveled all the way New York only to discover pieces from “his palace” sitting in the exhibits of the MET!

The art featured and that makes up this palace is magnificent. The stucco work is world class and I implore you to listen to everything your guide has to say about the White Room – I liked our guide’s suggestion that if you wanted to sit in that room for longer with kids, you should have them play Count the Dragons. There are so many interwoven all in beautiful white stucco and I could cry thinking about how the whole room was done by hand, each section had to be done very precisely but quickly to not let the stucco dry before you were done shaping the pieces.

The frescos are also amazing but you have to pay attention to all the details. Spoilers: skip to the next photograph if you don’t want to know: the ostrich, in particular, in the Americas’ fresco above the stairs is the scariest thing I have ever seen. The animals can be scary enough when angry so I would hate to see what they could do with the legs they have in the painting!

Every room and piece of art have so many tiny details from painting appearing to jump out of the frames and others that actually do. But there are also details like fabric drapings that aren’t even fabric! These designers and artisans were brilliant. As someone who has studied art, I was blown away completely.

The funniest pieces for our group to discuss were probably the chandeliers. You aren’t likely to see chandeliers like this in any period film – generally, you see gold and some glass but nothing like in Wurzburg. If you wanted to show your wealth in this time, you bought Venetian glass and for a little extra, colored glass that was blown and shaped. These were definitely of the time and we delighted ourselves debating which were the ugliest (by today’s standards of course) and which ones we thought would cost more – we were always very wrong.

Plus there’s a pretty cool fact: these chandeliers were moved across Germany in butter! Yes, butter from the kitchen because soft enough not to break the Venetian glass but sturdy enough that it can handle shaking when being transported across country roads without modern shock absorbers.

The end of the official tour isn’t the end of what you can see in the palace so don’t run off just because the guide leaves you! You can still walk through the women’s quarters and you absolutely should. When entering this wing, you should ask about the differences time has made on the wallpaper of the first room and the techniques they used. It is already beautiful aged but it would have been striking in its day – it was all of our favorite room.

There is also an art gallery which is included in the ticket price. it’s all pretty normal fare but I laughed at how many pieces I recognize.

This was right at the beginning of the new year, so we took a quick walk around the gardens which are free to see but I can only imagine how beautiful they would be now that it is Spring or later in the summer and the foliage fills out.


After the palace, we ended up finding an amazing vegan and vegetarian restaurant, Burgerheart Wurzburg (one of my companions is vegetarian so we were loooking for interesting food that she could have too) to grab a bite at and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Every this was amazing but definitely ask which burgers are made in house – there is at least one that isn’t and if you are hitting a trendy vegan place, why’d you want to buy something that was frozen and shipped?

Then we were off on our shopping trip.

If I had been able to spend the whole day, I would have loved to climb up to the fortress. Apparently, this is a fairly quick hike but it is cool and has great views.

Who knows, now that the garden should be in bloom and Ryan is getting more used to traveling with me, we can hit the palace again and add in the fortress. I will never knock second visits to truly magnificent places!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Half a Day in Wurzburg

Germany’s Fairy Grotto: Please Have Kiddos…

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Fairy Grotto, Germany. December 2018.

When we started planning our Dresden excursion, I did what I always do: I sat down and researched. I got on blogs and Pinterest, read all about the history of the city, the main attractions, the smaller attractions and then cool places in that part of Germany that we can quickly hit as bonus stops.

There were two:

Kromlau (or the Devil’s) Bridge: All you have to do is a quick image search to see why this is such a cool spot to quickly run up north to see, which is why I was really bummed when, thanks to getting sick and starting out late our first day, we did not have the time to go. Thanks to a post soon after we arrived home, however, it turned out that this was for the best.

Based on research, it turns out that the lake has been drained or at least mostly empty with some algae overgrowth for over a year. There’s also a fence around the lake and what was described as construction going on, maybe reinforcing the bridge. Of course, this is all hearsay since we didn’t get there, however, it’s not the beautiful area I was expecting so I am not too bummed we missed it.

Leaving Dresden on Monday relatively early – since we knew that things weren’t going to open soon enough for us to do anything – we headed down to the Saalfeld Fairy Grotto.

I will be honest, this time I did not do my due diligence or was far, far too sleepy when doing my research to fully understand what I was looking at. Therefore, this is the Warning:

This is definitely a place to come if you have children. It is silly to come and pay this money if you do not have children. That’s the warning!

Alright, then. Let’s move on.

So what made me confused? These are old mining caves that have a fanciful fairy legend which on the surface is pretty cool – I’ve don’t trips to other cave exploration and actually just booked another in Slovenia, but none ever looked like this. You can rent out specific caves for weddings and other events which also made the cave system seem grander than what Ry and I experienced. Finally, the pictures did not show what this almost themed park/playground really is: a network of children-themed play areas and activities which are centered around the miners’ fairy legend.

Again, I said I researched and the posts that talk about amazing Fairytale places to visit had these caves listed as an amazing, not- to-be-missed wonder, and they are a wonder. But dressed up as this location is, the caves are lovely but that’s all we got out of it.

The tour was fairly crowded even in winter so keeping up with the tour and still seeing things at their best (without all the flashes from cameraphones) was a real challenge. Then of course, not being a native speaker, we were left with audio guides that gave you great information but none of the character we could see our guide definitely had.

If you have kids, one of the very cute things you get to experience is seeing them dressed up. you are all given capes which will keep residue from the cave walls off you but the kids get a little more cutesy costumes to look life storybook gnomes. The kids are also the center of the tour; they were the volunteers; they opened boxes; they were front and center at all times.

But onto practical matters: When talking about clothes, remember these are caves and you are underground, so dress warmly even if you don’t think it will be necessary. The cloaks I said everyone is given as a costume help a little but not as much as you will want if you aren’t properly outfitted – remember these are damp mining caves!

Remember how I said the audio guide had no character? well, it’s true. Audio guides can’t handle jokes because they are just prescripted guides who aren’t doing this day in and day out, but it doesn’t make it any easier when you can tell you have a really interesting and enthusiastic guide. However, this doesn’t mean we didn’t find a silly bit of humor with our English audio guide – even if it was completely unintentional:

In the actual Fairy Cave, the tour stops to take in a light show. We were unfortunately blocked by a lot of tall people, however, the best part was when the guide narrated that the light show would be set to classical German music or music created just for this show in order to give us the proper ambiance for the wonder that is the Fairy Cave. Instead, we got to listen to music straight off The Lord of the Rings instrumental soundtrack, followed by The Sound of Silence by Disturbed….

Yes, very, very German.


Now, if you do have kids and want a stop that will let them get out and play, summer is going to be the best time to come. In the colder months, a lot of the park is closed due to the cold weather. But remember in the warmer months you should still dress appropriately for the caves while also staying prepared for small hikes, fairy themed scavenger hunts and playgrounds – good shoes and layers are key.

As a plus, the adults can definitely enjoy lunch at the restaurant – which felt oddly elegant for the location but with a menu full of troll and fairy themed and named dishes, is really suitable for all ages – but make a reservation! We watched many people who didn’t come in and get turned away because most of the tables were already reserved.  if this is an issue, there is also a basic food cart out front which smelled delicious.

This is Leave on the Wind, Warning you off and helping you soar.

 

Germany’s Fairy Grotto: Please Have Kiddos…