Sarah Jane Salway follows the trend and invades Prague.

Surrounded by Poland. Germany (both East and West). Hungary. Austria and the USSR. it is not surprising that Czechoslovakia has a history ofinvasion. Centuries of domination by successive foreign powers seem almost to have broken the spirit ofthe inhabitants ofa proud and heroic city. As a Czech friend commented. ‘We were liberated by the Russians in 1945 . . . and then again in 1968.‘

Now. with Russia as its principle trading partner. the main contact Czechoslovakia has with the West is through foreign tourists who have become the new aristocracy. Black market dealers in hard foreign currency now rule in Prague. Taxi drivers come top of the pile. but waiters. guides, in fact anyone who comes into contact with tourists. are scrambling up behind them. Take a walk round any tourist spot and you become used to a sinister whisper ‘Change money?‘ as boys who are on the prowl for German marks. dollars or sterling approach.

A very definite Sixties‘ feel pervades Prague. Denim-clad Bob Dylan lookalikes sit around drinking beer in the sunshine; flower children nurse their babies on benches in the parks; and there‘s no escaping the constant American and European music which is pumped into every restaurant. bar or public place. There is something rather bizarre about tucking into a typical Czech dish of pheasant and dumplings to the sound of ‘Je t‘aime‘ - but when

the beer is this good and this cheap. everything seems possible. Even without the beer. Prague

Useful Information Getting There

Return fares from Heathrow to Prague with Czechoslovakian Airlines or British Airways cost from £131 (inthe low season) for an Apex ticket. Three-night tours with Cedok, the official Czechoslovakian tourist agency, are from £179 (including half-board). Student flights (ex Gatwick) are available for £173 return. Contact student travel specialists Campus Travel at The Hub, Hillhead Street and 90 John Street, Glasgow (041 357 0608 and 041 552 2867) or Edinburgh Travel Centre at Bristo Square, Edinburgh (031 668 2162).

Return rail iares cost £187.50 (for under 26s) and £262.30 (torover 26s).

Where to Stay

Hotel Pariz, Praha1, U Obecniho domu, Tel. 6 72 51; Hotel Flora, Praha 3, Vinohradska 121, Tel. 27 42 41; Hotel Europa, Praha1, Vaclavske

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namesti 29, Tel. 26 39 05. Otherwise, private rooms can be arranged through eitherCedok in London (see below) or Pragotours, Praha 1, U Obecniho domu 2, Tel. 22 3411.

The minimum stay is three nights, ata cost of approximately £8 per person pernight in a double room.

What You Should lénow Before You 0

You'll need a visa to get in. Apply to the Czechoslovak Embassy, 28 Kensington Palace Gardens, London WB (01 727 3966) orto the Cedok office (see below). Eitherway, leave about one month forthe paperwork. Currency is in crowns (Kcs). Visitors get a standard tourist rate of approximately 15 kcs, with a 36% bonus given through Cedok. Black market deals were offering between 30—40ch to the pound.

Where To Eat

U Tri Pstrosti (Three Ostriches), Drazickeho

seems almost too beautiful. Three centuries of ‘iron glove‘ ruling by the Hapsburg Empire has left a legacy of

Namesti, Praha 1; Restaurace a Jidelny, Malostranske Namesti, Praha 1; Restaurant Loreta, Loretanske Namesti, Praha 1; Metro Cine, Narodni 25, Praha 1—a restaurant/jazz club; Viola, Narodni trida 7, Praha1- winebarwith poetry readings.

Useful Addresses

In London: Cedok, 17/18 Old Bond Street, London w1X 488 (01 629 6058). In Prague: Cedok, Na Prikope 18, Praha1

(22 42 51-59).

Prague Information Service (prazska inlormacni sluzba), Na Prikope 20, Praha1 (54 44 44).

Useful Pubncahons

Fodor's Guide to Eastern Europe (Hodder & Stoughton £12.50) and the Let's Go Budget Guide to Europe (Harrap Columbus £10.95) both have useful sections on Czechoslovakia and Prague.

swirling baroque squares. elegant palaces and terraced gardens. Although they are definitely pleasing to the eye. they are nonetheless uneasy for the spirit when you reflect upon the fact that one of the reasons they were built was to impress rebellious Czechs with the superiority oftheir oppressors.

For there‘s no escaping history in Prague. Every street scents to be part ofa national heritage trail. Plaques describing events are eye-catchineg displayed. often with Russian. German and English translations. After a day of sight-seeing. you are exhausted as you try to keep up with who was invading who. which way the balance of power went and who was in charge when.

But for every sore foot. confused story or annoyance. there is more than enough to make up for it. The tourist trail across the Charles Bridge leads to the imposing Hradcany Castle and St Vitus‘s Cathedral. From there. a minute‘s walk takes you into the coolness and quiet ofthe Lesser town where the llapsburg favourites built their palaces and where you can find one of the finest collections of Dutch paintings at the Sternberg Palace.

On the other side of the river. the old town is no less inspiring. There. on the hour. a crowd gathers to see the prophets emerge. as the all-singing. all-dancing clock swings into action. In contrast. the Jewish quarter. Josefov. is a sorrowful area where over 20.000 gravestones are crammed into an area so restricted that in some places there are up to nine levels of burial.

As you wander round Prague. it is easy to spot the different periods and the different influences. Fine medieval dwellings lurk under the baroque facades. next to original art deco or art nouveau buildings. Narrow lanes lead into impressive squares. and in the galleries. modern paintings jostle with religious icons for space.

Evening entertainment is as varied as your day‘s sight-seeing. Prague is full of sweaty beer parlours. or more upmarket wine-bars some of which have outside seating facilities. Restaurants are good and very reasonably priced. although you will have to make reservations for busy times (like Saturday nights) or at popular restaurants.

Czechoslovakia is cheap. But it's worth resisting those persuasive money-changing deals at the beginning ofyour holiday. as it can be difficult to spend even £ 100 on a ten-day visit. Although Prague is the Hong Kong of the Eastern Bloc countries. it doesn‘t have much to tempt the wallet ofthe Western tourist.

But when you can drink a large glass of beer for 30p. visit the ballet for 90p. take a tube ride for 5p and buy a bottle ofchampagne (admittedly Russian) for £3. who‘s complaining?

64 The List 24 February 9 March