Back in our planning stages, I loved reading travel blogs to day dream, but the practical side of me was always wondering: how much did it cost? Here’s a brief breakdown of our average daily cost to travel through Europe. This figure does not include supplies or gear; costs at home; misc. fees like ATM fees; or most significantly, major transport (which we define as anything that takes us from one overnight destination to another, whether it be plane, train, bus or rental car). Basically, the average daily cost includes things like accommodation, meals, snacks, alcohol, activities, and minor transport like subways. Any oddities are noted below.
There are a lot of factors that affect costs, and I plan to write in the future about some of them, including tips we’ve learned for saving money. To give you a sense of our travel style, we are not eating ramen noodles and staying in hostel dorms, but we watch our spending. Where you stay has the biggest effect on the budget. In general, when it comes to accommodations, we always have a private double; we try to avoid shared bathrooms, but will share if we’re feeling cheap; we try to find clean, simple budget accommodation, which means a variety of hostels, pensions, apartments, guesthouses, and B&Bs; and we will sometimes spend $10 or $20 more to get a private bathroom, free wifi, better location, or overall nicer place. When it comes to eating, we always eat 3 meals a day and usually dessert or snacks; we usually order a drink or two with dinner, and occasionally have a few drinks at other times; we stay at places with free breakfasts if it makes sense, but tend to self-cater breakfast otherwise; we tend to eat out almost every day for lunch and dinner, but sometimes self-cater if we have a kitchen; we usually spend our most money at dinner, as it is typically our nightly entertainment; and overall, we tend to eat what we want and not skimp on food.
Hope that helps to put the European portion of our trip in context. Europe is definitely not as cheap as developing countries, but as you can see, it does not need to be outrageous. If you have any questions about our European costs, leave a comment or send me an email.
Spending eight days in Prague meant that we had a fair amount of time to explore the city. As it was, there were still more we could have done. I never quite was able to talk Sean into going paddle boating in the river, for instance. The holy grail for any traveler is finding places where you are the only tourist in the room, without feeling like you are invading the local people’s secret place. Of course, being that you are a tourist yourself, you never can quite achieve this all of the time. Not that you necessarily would want to – there is a reason why there are hundreds of people walking across the Charles Bridge or touring Prague’s two castles. (Which, by the way, are more fortifications rather than castles. I have yet to fulfill seeing the Disney-like image of a castle I have in my head in real life). But sitting in a restaurant surrounded by people who are from anywhere but the present location, eating food that someone deemed tourists would like and pay money for, is typically not our cup of tea.
So to help us find interesting places outside our guidebook, we relied heavily upon the website Spotted by Locals. A friend of our friends in Paris told us about it while we were there, but Prague was the first time we checked it out in a more in depth fashion. The whole premise of the website is to spread the spotter’s love of their cities with visitors by sharing their favorite places. You can read the entries online for various cities across Europe, or download a city guide to use offline.
Some of the places are ones that we already knew about or would have found anyway, such as the walkway by the river with views of the Castle, or Lennon’s wall, but the suggestions often gave us a different perspective when visiting.
Many of them were things we may not have known about otherwise: the French patisserie St. Tropez, tucked away in a shopping complex; the intimate coffee shop Al Cafetero, where we had delicious small meals and coffee from a vacuum pot; or the little Italian cucina Osteria da Clara, where we had our anniversary dinner. (Incidentally, I am convinced that Italian is better the closer you get to Italy; must eat my way through Italy someday).
Of course, nothing beats wandering across a funky or cool place all on your own. Maybe it is something undiscovered by tourists, maybe it is something you just happened to miss when reading about the city. Either way, you never know what you might find: a chill neighborhood bar; a vineyard with surprisingly good wine and excellent views of the city; or a peaceful park with meandering peacocks.
The good part about Prague’s food is that it goes perfectly with beer. The bad thing is that it is notoriously short on veggies and very heavy. To my untrained stomach, it is similar to German food, but…different. There is always a ton of meat. It is best to stick with beef or pork. I ventured over to chicken for one meal, which was a mistake. I also accidentally ordered the largest piece of pork I’ve ever seen short of an entire pig at a pig roast. And apparently it was a pig’s knee. What can I say, I liked the sauce description. Turns out eating pig’s knee is common in the Czech Republic (and Germany for that matter) and it doesn’t taste half bad.
We like the goulashes a lot, and my favorite meal was beef in “candle sauce” (a creamy, lemony, cranberry type sauce).
I don’t mind the sauerkraut, which shocks me. Sean keeps trying to tell me that sauerkraut counts as a vegetable, but I don’t buy it. Maybe the red cabbage. There are always a lot of potatoes in some form. The kvednicky (dumplings) are delicious and soaks up all of the beers we drink.
For the last two months, we have been mostly in countries that feature wine as their specialty. I forgot how much I loved beer until we arrived in Prague. It had been a while since I had a good beer, one from the tap with a thick, foamy head on the top. That seems to be par for the course in Prague.
Beer is everywhere in Prague, and due to European’s apparent reluctance to drink water out of the tap, indeed sometimes cheaper than water. They even have beer vending machines.
Did you know that there is a beer in the Czech Republic that is called Budweiser (or Budvar in Czech) and it is much more delicious than Budweiser at home? I did not know this until we had some in Paris. They are two different companies. It is not fair that we get stuck with the crappy Budweiser. We have had some giant, foamy Budvars since our arrival.
Budvar’s biggest competitor in the Czech Republic is Pilsner Urquell, a beer Americans are more familiar with. The original Pilsner Urquell brewery is in Plzen, which is an hour and forty minutes from Prague by train. We ventured to the brewery, and saw the bottling process, tasted hops, malt and barley, saw the copper vats where the beer is brewed for 5 weeks, and tasted an unfiltered beer from their special cellar. We enjoy drinking cask beer at home, which is served at a higher temperature. Perhaps that is why we enjoyed the Czech beer, because it is served at a higher temperature than most Americans are used to. The best beers here have been the ones on draught served unfiltered and unpasteurized. Apparently they have more vitamin B that way, which is a bonus. I am probably lacking essential vitamins due to the lack of vegetables.
Here are our three favorite places we drank beer in Prague:
(1) Breaking my normal rule of no chains, we ate and drank one night at The Pub, which is a Czech chain with several locations in Prague and smaller cities. At the Pub, you can pour yourself an unfiltered Pilsner Urquell from the tap at your table. The computerized screen automatically displays how much beer you have poured, and also shows your tally on a large screen for the whole room to see. The screen displays the top ten tallys for the restaurant, as well as a separate top ten for all of the Pub’s locations. Our immediate thought was, [our friend] Stayduhar could totally crush this competition. As a table of two, we never made it to the top ten of all of the locations, but we are proud to say we stayed on the board for the Praha 1 location. Thank goodness for public transportation.
(2) On our way back to our hotel from metro after our visit to The Pub, we happened across a little bar up the street from our hotel. You want to go in? I said. Sure, Sean replied. What’s one more beer? It was immediately obvious this place did not get many tourists. Lit by candlelight, with David Bowie in the background, you could tell that this was the type of place people came to chill. And chill people did, including the people at the table behind us, who were passing a joint around their table. Spying the unfiltered beers on the menu, we gave more specificity than normal when we ordered, requesting two beers, large, unfiltered. Right, the bartender said. So you mean two beers. Regular beers. They were large, foamy, and delicious. Sean’s one turned into two. When we went to pay, we misheard the bartender and thought he said 180 Czech crowns, an amount which would have been around $8.50 for three half liter beers. No, said the bartender. I said 108. (Around $5 USD). 180? He laughed. That would be expensive. Right. Expensive.
(3) I would have to put the Pivovarsky Klub on the list for its awesome name, even if it didn’t turn out to be as cool as it was. A little off the normal tourist track in Karlin, it was visited by Anthony Bourdain in the Prague episode, and also mentioned on the blog SpottedbyLocals.
Somewhat inadvertently, we also ended up visiting its sister restaurant Pivovarsky Dum, which is a microbrewery.
The beer is great at both places, but we preferred the food at the Pivovarsky Klub. The Pivovarsky Klub has six beers on draught. At least one will be from its sister restaurant, and most of the others are a good sampling of other types of Czech beer besides Pilsner Urquell and Budvar. They also have tons of bottled beers from all over the world. (The American representatives, if you are curious, are Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada). This wide variety of beer might not be unusual in the United States, but in Europe, there is typically only have one or two choices on tap, making ordering beer as simple as saying, two beers, please.
Three random, unrelated thoughts about the Czech Republic: