8 of the Best Times to Visit Prague

March is a busy month in Prague – there’s two film festivals, a half marathon and a football derby between the city’s fiercest rivals. It’s always great to match a sightseeing visit to a city with an event, special season or a festival so, here is a list of eight of the best times to visit Prague.

1)      Prague Museum Night – June

Once a year Prague hosts a nocturnal festival of free museums throughout the city. A diverse range of museums, including the National Museum, the Jewish Museum and some exhibitions at Prague Castle, are all open for free from the early evening into the small hours. A complimentary bus service is also in place to shuttle you around the city and there are many musical events at the various attractions to liven things up. This night is a great way to learn about the history and culture of Prague without spending a fortune and getting them all out the way in one night lets you spend the daytime exploring.

2)      Witches Night – April 30

On the April 30 the Czechs gather in parks throughout the country to burn effigies of witches on bonfires to signal the end of winter (makes more sense than the UK’s Guy Fawkes night). So, find a park in Prague (you may have to go out into one of the suburbs) or go local and travel to one outside of the city, and you will find plenty of lively entertainment, crowds of locals in an excitable mood and lots of fire.

3)      Burčák Season – Autumn

Burčák is a (literally) explosive wine that comes to fruition in autumn and grips the drinkers of Prague. It’s a sweet wine that hasn’t quite finished fermenting so it can be pretty dangerous as the process keeps going when bottled and even when in your stomach which can lead to messy consequences if the pressure valve is not released or your consume too much. This brightly coloured beverage basically tastes like a mix between lemonade, fruit juice and wine and can be tasty and pretty strong (the quality and strength varies from batch to batch). With its arrival also come a number of markets and little festivals that sprout up around the city as they bring the usual accompaniments of sausage and Prague ham. A nice way to see out the warmer months.

4)      Prague Marathon, Half Marathon & 10k – March, May and September respectively

Surprisingly, this is probably the most stress-free way of seeing the Old Town. The streets are closed off to traffic and, more importantly, pedestrians and you have the freedom of the streets. Sure, it’s crowded but the steady torrent of runners always keeps going at an acceptable pace and rarely do you get stuck in a frustrating bottle-neck. These three runs are some of the most beautiful urban runs going and depending on how hardcore you are, you can jog along the historical streets of Prague over 13 miles at the end of March, 26 miles in May or a more feasible 10 kilometres at night in September.

5)      Easter and Christmas Markets – the run up to Easter and Christmas

Although the squares of Prague always look pretty, the markets of Easter and Christmas give them a little bit more personality. Hundreds of market stalls cluster round the monuments selling handicrafts, Czech specialities and hot and cold alcoholic beverages to suit the season. At Christmas there’s usually an ice rink to try out your ice skating skills and keep an eye out for carp tanks on the pavements selling live fish to be cooked later for the Czech’s Christmas dinners. Easter offers more of the same with another slightly odd tradition making the difference. You’ll come across many colourful wicker sticks that, as tradition dictates, are used by guys, mainly outside of Prague, to playfully spank their ladies. Probably best not to try it out yourself though.

6)      Sparta vs Slavia Prague – twice annually between August and May

The derby can sometimes get out of hand

See the locals at their passionate best (and worst) at this inevitably heated football game. Until recently Sparta and Slavia Prague were the two best teams in Czech football but Slavia’s fall from grace has not taken away from the intensity of this bi-annual match that gets the raucous fans out in numbers. The atmosphere in the always sold out stadium is normally electric and far out-weights the below-average quality football on show. The two teams normally play twice a year at either Sparta’s AXA Stadium in Letna, which is the easier to get to from the centre, or Slavia’s Synot Tip Arena Stadium, which boasts better facilities but is out in Prague-Vršovice.

7)      United Islands Festival – late June

Throughout the spring and summer Prague hosts many little outdoor music festivals and events and United Islands is one of the most hyped and impressively-attended of these. Set in fantastic island surroundings, right in the middle of Prague within viewing distance of Charles Bridge and Narodni Divadlo (the national theatre), there’s no better place to relax and soak up the friendly atmosphere and variable-quality of music. With no entrance fee and a central location you are free to come and go as much as you like so this doesn’t have to be the be-all-and-end-all of your trip if it isn’t to your taste.

8)      Jeden Svět and Febiofest Film Festivals – March

March is movie festival month as there are two distinctly different small-to-medium sized ones to choose from. Jeden Svět is a collection of human rights themed documentaries that will both entertain and, at times, depress and Febiofest concerns itself with mainstream and independent efforts from throughout the world. Neither are on the scale of Berlin, Cannes or nearby Karlovy Vary but they boast an unpretentious and lively atmosphere and give you a chance to sample some below-the-radar films that usually only come to this final outpost many months after the rest of the world.

An Englishman in Prague – Castles, Hairy Backs and Lenin in Budapest

This weekend was my second visit to Budapest. I had been before when I went interrailling about four years ago but this visit showed me how poorly I had done it the first time round. Last time, the weather was horrible, my travelling buddy began to smell slightly funky after his showers became less frequent, bars were a real mission to find and we didn’t really do anything. That was except for one of the weirdest tourist attractions in Europe – Memento Park. This crazy spectacle is basically a field outside of Budapest where they dumped a load of statues of random Communist leaders for posterity. To be dwarfed by surrounding giant stone replicas of Lenin and heroic workers wrestling with evil Nazis is a surreal experience.

The coach tickets were a present from my girlfriend and there was a twinge of ‘couldn’t you have chosen a different city?’ But I’m glad we went as now I know what a great city it can be.

Budapest and Prague are close on the map but seven hours apart on a coach. We went by Student Agency who are a much better version of Eurolines for travelling around Central Europe, if only because you get free hot drinks and movies to keep you occupied. They’re normally better than the trains too because they’re much cheaper and in this part of Europe they tend to build railway lines in concentric circles that eventually bring you to your destination.

Sometimes the aggressive form of customer service that was the inspiration for Guantanamo Bay really annoys me but occasionally the lack of political correctness, health and safety and not caring about offending anyone is strangely refreshing. Take the unusual choice of movies on my coach journey which included a kids movie, a film about grieving and incest and ended with Venus, a hugely disturbing Brit-flick following a pensioner’s attempts to get into the pants of a teenager, casually showing boobs and dropping C-bombs to at least ten kids on the bus. I used to work for a travel company in the UK and that would have resulted in a lawsuit, nationwide housewife boycott and a televised apology by the Queen.

The first thing you notice about Budapest when you arrive is that the language is very. very confusing, making it the most westerly country in Europe where you feel totally out of your depth. I always try and at least mumble incorrect foreign at people but this time I didn’t even try, it was a lost cause. First stop, McDonalds. Don’t judge me.

The second thing you notice is that their underground system is not exactly aesthetically pleasing. The blue trains – or in the words of the American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, more of a dirty blue – turn up looking like they made it all the way through the Communist era only to end up in a drag race. However, these little stallions did their job pretty efficiently alongside the excellent, and less depressing, tram system.

The highlight of our trip – as any guidebook will tell you – was the thermal baths (an impossible phrase for someone who can’t say their ths). We stumped up for the Szechenyi Baths which are one of the more expensive ones but amongst the elite for getting your sweat on. This really was a pleasant Sunday morning experience as on a freezing cold day we uniquely got to sweat out the Hungarian wine in an boiling hot outdoor swimming pool. We also made use of the indoor thermal pools and saunas and got to see more hairy backs and middle-aged women who shouldn’t be wearing two-piece bikinis than you can shake a stick at.

After regaling you (four readers) with the inanities of a bus journey and the Budapest transport network, I should probably at least mention the sightseeing attractions of this predominantly (the new town is pretty seedy and has more stripclubs that I could visit in a night) beautiful city. Castle Hill and the Matthais Church are really impressive, peaceful places to spent a few hours and the happy snappers will have a ball. Buda, on the West of the Danube, is where most of the sights are at and from here you can get great views of Pest and the pretty remarkable parliament building that puts London’s to shame.

Budapest isn’t the kind of place you’d travel from far and wide to go for a wild night out. The bars in the centre are a little sparse but there are a few decent efforts if you stumble down the right roads near the Oktogon. There are some unpretentious bars that are very welcoming and sell Hungarian wine (no idea if it’s good wine but it’s generally cheaper than beer so had my attention), like Szimpla (on Kertész utca), which was packed with locals to listening to a weirdly eclectic mix of music and having a good chat. We also stumbled upon a bar themed entirely on the 1953 6-3 humbling of the English football team by the Lions of Hungary which reinforces the view that Hungary have not exactly been a sporting powerhouse since then.

Like in most cities we ended the nights with a kebab – not, don’t judge me again, Hungarian goulash. There are a lot to choose from here as the Turkish influence is pretty huge and I wasn’t complaining as mixing the sophistication of wine and the dirt of a kebab brings the night out to a nice, neat zero balance. This again reminded me of my interrailing days when, from the overwhelming Greek Feta Kebabs of Brussels to the near perfect Durum Kebabs of Germany, we accidentally embarked on a kebab tour of Europe. Now I can tick the Hungary box.

An Englishman in Prague – Teaching English to the Capitalist Classes

Looking up at the whiteboard, in an office-turned-classroom covered, with the four Conditionals – the relativity theory of English grammar – prettily annotated with timelines and in a way that my student actually understood made me just a touch proud of how far I’ve come as an English teacher. I’m not deceiving myself by thinking that I’m a good teacher, as a lack of confidence, serious application and decent chat hinder elevating myself to that plain, but I’m certainly better than the rookie of March 2011.

When I started my TEFL course in Prague alongside twenty-two other scared and confused potential teachers of the world’s most lucrative language, I was shocked by how little grammar I knew. In fact, it was the Dutch contingent, learning vocabulary from terrible English-language films and grammar at school, who had the jump on us. A pronoun and a verb were as far as I could go whereas vital grammatical terms like the Past Perfect Continuous or the Gerund (which, to be honest, still perplexes me) just sounded like complicated nonsense.

By trial and error I now know enough to get by in most situations until an advanced English speaker calls me up on it and inevitably embarrasses me. Being a grammar Nazi is definitely a curse as you hear mistakes from native and non-native speakers outside of the classroom and the smartarse part of your brain wants to point them out but you know you will always sound like an obnoxious know-it-all, so you can’t. There are also the depressingly geeky arguments to be had with friends; ‘Is stupider a word?’, British English versus American English, and so on. And not forgetting a Scrabble war but the less said about that the better.

I work full-time for a school who use their client database to give me lessons with adult learners either in businesses or public courses in their premises. Like with any job, teaching English has good points and bad. For one thing, it’s an incredibly disjointed affair as a typical day involves four hour-long lessons spread over twelve hours with the gaps usually filled in with lesson planning and travelling to far flung areas of Prague. Since Capitalism began steamrolling through the country post-1989, multinational corporations have been popping up in every spare space in their glass fortresses. So, this forces me to regularly travel from one end of the Metro line to the other then to Narnia and finally to the Centre of the Earth, with a good book as an essential anti-zombie device.

On the other hand, the pay is pretty decent. It’s nowhere near the standards of the gold mines of South Korea and the Middle East where they pay you in Swarovski diamonds and unicorn dust but I earn enough to live in a flat in the most beautiful area of Prague next to the Old Town Square and eat out and casually drink more than I could ever afford to in the UK. This is subsistence living though as I’m very unlikely to ever save for as much as a pair of jeans. What’s more, I often have long days but I don’t work long hours. Not many other jobs would give me the time and flexibility to lounge around a park all afternoon when it’s hot, watch a Tuesday morning Sopranos marathon in my boxer shots or write this blog in the middle of the day (fully clothed).

The differences in language and culture allow for many humorous moments to collect and share. Take the following disturbing exchange from my first ever private lesson whilst still in training.

“So Katja, what are your interests?”

“I like my dogs.”

“Okay, what else?”

“I like baking cakes.”

“Nice.”

“And I like handjobs.”

“… I’m sorry?”

“Handjobs.”

“Hmmm how do you mean?”

“Sewing, knitting…”

Once I had worked out that she meant handicrafts, my heart retreated back down my windpipe. After all, Katja is certainly not a beautiful, blond Czech nineteen year old but a housewife in her sixties who likes knitting jumpers and baking chocolate sponges.

There are also many other small instances that brighten up an average day spent with frequently dry businessmen, like a student repeatedly referring to the outcome of a project as ‘the final solution’ and my own accidental ability to make my drawings of the United Kingdom look like incredibly detailed penises (or is that peni?).

You also learn a lot about a country. For instance, the Czech Republic as a whole is pretty tolerant but is a tad racist towards certain groups. A shameful tried and tested method amongst English teachers to fill any dead space at the end of a lesson is to merely utter the word gypsy. This incendiary term is like saying immigration to a closed-minded Brit or like a drop of blood to a shark. Inevitably, the incredibly racist person begins with the ominous stock phrase of ‘I’m not a racist but’ and lurch into a fifteen minute tirade about the gypsy evil.

At the end of the day, it’s a job that lets you live in some pretty cool places and all you need is your mother tongue. Looking towards the summer when I will most probably move on from Prague – the world is my oyster.

About Me

Hello

I’m John Guzdek, a twenty-six year old freelance copywriter and reviewer and part-time English teacher, originally from Leeds and now based in the heart of Europe in beautiful Prague.  Since successfully graduating from the University of Northumbria with a First Class BA Hons in History and Sociology in 2007 I have been building up a portfolio of freelance writing jobs for a range of happy clients.

I am currently engaged in a number of thriving, ongoing freelance writing projects. I have built up an archive of over two hundred well-received film reviews for an established movie website and over four years I have been writing focussed marketing copy for brochures, sales emails and websites for a reputable travel company. Also, in my spare time, I love to write travel articles to chronicle my wide travelling experiences from East Africa to Australia and many places in-between. I have even dabbled in model essay writing (God help me).

My part-time work as an English teacher complements the day job brilliantly as I am really getting to grips with the components of what makes really good writing as well as turning me into a member of the grammar police.

My job is to please you – I can be witty, serious, low brow, high brow, technical, or straightforward and, most importantly, I can write for any audience you choose. Deadlines are no problem, you can always be assured of a high quality end product to meet your specifications with a quick turnaround.