With only a short time to go until IDUG arrives in Prague (for the third time) I've got the privilege of introducing you to Prague (or Praha as it is properly known in Czech), with a view to making your time attending the IDUG DB2 Technical Conference as fulfilling as possible. While your principal purpose for being in Prague is to take in the best of DB2 technical education and networking, there will also be opportunities to get out and experience a little of what this most wonderful of cities has to offer.
Prague is situated in Central Europe (never EASTERN Europe!!!). It is the capital of the Czech Republic, formed when the former Czechoslovakia separated into the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. It has been at the centre of Central European cultural and political life for over a thousand years (officially founded in 883 AD). Over the years it has been the seat of the Czech and Bohemian monarchy, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, a major city in the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire and occupied by the Germans and Russians.
What I'm proposing to do is to mix practical information you'll need for your visit with various other topics which I hope you'll find interesting.
The Czech Republic still uses its own currency, the koruna česká (Czech crown). Prices are normally written e.g. 500 Kč. At the time of writing 1 euro is worth approximately 27.5 Kč and 1 US dollar is worth approximately 21.4 Kč. Banknotes start at 100 Kč, with coins for smaller denominations. If you are going to use public transport you'll want to acquire some coins for the ticket machines unless you are going to buy a multiday pass.
ATM machines are widely available, including in the airport, are secure and offer instructions in multiple languages. It is best to use these to obtain cash rather than trying to exchange currency. As in most places, the exchange rates offered by bureaux in tourist areas are not good, so if you do need to change currency use a bank.
Credit cards are also widely accepted. VISA and MasterCard can be used just about everywhere and some places also accept American Express.
Transport To and In Prague
Most of you will arrive in Prague by air. The airport has recently been renamed Václav Havel Airport, in honour of the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia (and then first president of the Czech Republic) who died in 2011. Havel was a playwright, essayist and poet whose criticism of communism through his works frequently brought him into conflict with the state, including at least one four year prison term. His Civic Forum party played a major part in the 1989 “Velvet Revolution”, which brought to an end over 40 years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Havel is widely respected and it would be a brave person, particularly a foreign person, who criticized him.
The conference hotel, the Clarion Congress, is situated at the other side of the city from the airport. The easiest, but most expensive way, of getting there is by taxi. In the past there have been issues with taxis taking the “scenic route” for unsuspecting tourists, but this isn't as much of a problem anymore; however it always is a good tip to follow the route on Google Maps or similar to show you know where you are being taken.
If you want to use public transport (something I've always done) this is relatively simple. You need to take a bus from the airport to connect with the metro (the hotel is situated right on top of a metro station). Bus stops can be found outside both of the airport terminals. However before going to the bus stop, you should buy a ticket from the counters in either of the two arrival halls (after baggage claim) which are open from 7 am to 10 pm (outside these times you can buy a ticket from the bus driver or a machine at the bus stop but you will need cash). There are two choices of bus links to the metro -
- Bus 100 to Metro Line B at Zličín
- Bus 119 to Metro Line A at Dejvická
The hotel is on Line B and the bus journey time is shorter, so the first of these may look like the best option. However the metro journey time is much longer and the buses run much less frequently. So I'd recommend taking the second option. You will change from Metro Line A to Metro Line B (direction Černý Most) at Můstek, which is one of the main hub stations. The station for the hotel is Vysočanska : at the top of the escalators from the station take a left, enter the shopping centre and go up the escalators to reach the hotel lobby.
Going back to speak about Můstek. This is an extremely large metro station, virtually a small town underground. It sits at the foot of Václavské náměstí (English : Wenceslas Square, although it is actually more of a wide boulevard than a square). Two things are of interest here. Firstly this “Wenceslas” is the one from the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” and the patron saint of Bohemia (you'll find his statue near the top of the square). Secondly, this square was the centre of the protests which led to the Velvet Revolution. At the top of the square, next to an appropriately named Metro station (Museum) is the National Museum which is well worth a visit. This is a good place to start exploring the city.
One other tip about public transport. To avoid you always having to search for change for the ticket machines, and also to save you money, it is worth buying a multi journey pass. Unfortunately you can't (or at least couldn't the last time I was there) purchase these at the airport. At the airport you should buy a ticket valid for 90 minutes which will enable you to get to the hotel. After that you can buy 1 or 3 day passes at any metro station: these can be used on trams and buses as well as on the metro.
But if you are going to be there for more than 6 days and using public transport every day, which you will be if you plan to go anywhere outside the hotel, I've got a tip for you. A month pass, which you can get without a photo ID unlike many other places, will save you money and time. You just need to know where to go to get one (they aren't available everywhere). If you are following my advice about using bus 119 to Metro A, then get into the Metro but only go one stop to Hradčanská. Exit the metro there and go up to the upper level where there is a large ticket office. There you can purchase a “30 denní / měsíční” (30 day / monthly) pass for 670 Kč. When you leave you can even hand it in at the airport ticket office, or give it to some other traveller to use the remainder.
For those coming from less far away the main train station (Praha Hlavni Nadrazi) has a Metro station on Line C. To get to the hotel, take the metro (direction Letňany) one stop to Florenc and then take Line B (direction Černý Most). Florenc also is where the main bus station for long distance buses is situated.
Weather and Clothing
In November it can be very cold, potentially below freezing. You should therefore bring a good warm sweater, and a “real” coat, hat, scarf and gloves. In many ways the weather in Central Europe is very similar to that in Toronto, so the folks from the Toronto lab should feel right at home.
If you intend to go out and about you should bring good sturdy shoes or boots. Many of the streets in the old city have cobblestones rather than having tar or paving stones, and you will have very sore feet if you don't take this advice. And to see the city you really need to go on foot. For those who are interested, it has been proposed that a walking tour (with me as the tour guide) should be available for conference attendees following the close of the main conference on Thursday afternoon. If you would like to go on this tour please email me at email@example.com
Sightseeing and Culture
Prague is one the most beautiful cities in the world with its amazing architecture and historical buildings. Some of the highlights which you should not miss are:
- Old Town Square and particularly the Prague Astronomical Clock (Pražský orloj): the clock was installed in 1410, with some later additions, and is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world.
- Charles Bridge (Karlův most) is the most impressive of the many bridges across the Vltava, with its three guard towers and 30 statues. On the bridge itself you'll find a wide range of artists, musicians and other souvenirs sellers. It is one of the best places from which to photograph Prague Castle (see below).
- Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) : rising above the Vltava this palace and cathedral complex is absolutely breathtaking. Within it you'll find palaces (most of them now housing museums), St Vitus Cathedral and three other churches (my favourite being the Romanesque St.George's Basilica), the Golden Lane (Zlatá ulička : a street of tiny little houses originally occupied by goldsmiths) and the balcony from which Václav Havel addressed the crowds as the Velvet Revolution came to a successful conclusion (the rallying cry was „Havel na hrad“ : Havel to the Castle).
There are lots of other things to see but these are probably the main highlights.
Prague is also very much a city of music. Mozart famously visited here and his opera „Don Giovanni“ had it's premiere in Prague (you can still go to see the opera today in the same building where the premiere took place). The „local composers“, including Dvorak, Smetana and Janacek, are also still widely performed. I'd thoroughly recommend a visit to the Smetana Museum, not far from th Old Town end of Charles Bridge. And the Prague Opera is well worth a visit: in fact, on the Sunday evening before the IDUG conference offically starts there will be a performance of Verdi's „Nabucco“ which I'm planning to attend and would be happy to arrange a party. If anyone is interested please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to co-ordinate bookings.
I think that is enough information for a first blog. I think you can sense how excited I am about going back to Prague and I hope to see you there.