Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 10.6 million
Currency: Czech koruna
Phrase to Know: Dobry den (hello/good day)
Fun Fact: The Czech people consume more beer per capita than anyone else in the world, beating out the Irish in second place.
We Recommend: Join the locals in foraging for wild mushrooms, a popular hobby during the summer and fall in the Czech Republic.
10 Best Czech Republic Experiences
Have you been to the Czech Republic? What was your favorite spot?
— written by Sarah Schlichter
Ever forgotten you were traveling with your mother and left her behind at the hotel after you checked out? How about your spouse? While you may have wanted to leave him or her behind, a poll by LastMinute.com of 500 hotels around the world found that these scenarios actually have happened.
In Prague a man left his wife behind – the hotel didn’t say if it was accidental or planned! And a hotel in Ireland reported a traveler forgot that his mother was with him and left without her.
Perhaps even odder are items left behind that someone probably shouldn’t have been traveling with in the first place. For instance, a man left behind snails in a Budapest hotel room. Maybe he was planning on asking the chef to cook him some escargot? Another guest, in a U.S. hotel, left behind $10,000 in cash.
Snails aren’t the only animal guests have left behind. A hotel in Washington discovered a customer had forgotten his snake, while a dog was left behind by its owner in a Milan hotel.
“You Want What?”: Bizarre Hotel Requests from Guests
Another big “oops”: a police officer forgot his gun and badge in Las Vegas. I guess what goes to Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Of course, more commonly left behind are cell phone, camera and laptop chargers. Passports are another oft-forgotten item.
Reading about what other people have forgotten in their hotel rooms got me to thinking, what kinds of stuff have I left behind?
I’ve been pretty lucky. The worst thing I’ve forgotten was a favorite pair of black evening pants (which I still miss very much, by the way). But I remember a time, back when I was a kid, when my family discovered on the drive home from New England that my sister had left behind her beloved stuffed duck, Engineer. I don’t know how far from the hotel we had gotten, but we turned right around to go back and get him.
Finding Hotel Rooms: No Vacancy? No Problem
Overall, the writers here at IndependentTraveler.com are pretty good about remembering to check their hotel rooms before leaving. But a few of us learned this the hard way.
Adam Coulter, the senior editor at the U.K. office of our sister site CruiseCritic.com, recently left behind his iPod speakers, an electric toothbrush charger, a hooded sweater, several T-shirts and his swimsuit at a hotel in New Jersey.
Another CruiseCritic.co.uk staffer, Jamey Bergman, and his wife left their laptop behind in a hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Luckily all turned out well as the hotel FedExed the computer to their final destination free of charge (though they still argue over whose fault it was).
What have you left behind in a hotel room?
— written by Dori Saltzman
I’m a teetotaler. My husband is a beer aficionado. This makes for some interesting travel planning. He’d be content to tour every brewery and stop in every pub. Me, not so much. But I love that he loves to experience different beers when traveling, so I try to find beer-related places we can both visit and enjoy wherever we can go.
The best beer experience we’ve had so far – and I’m pretty sure I speak for both of us on this one – was a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Ireland. Some of the highlights included the museum of Guinness advertisements throughout the years, and a learn-to-pour-the-perfect-pint instructional session.
I’ve recently been told that the brewery tour experiences at Heineken in Amsterdam and Sam Adams in Boston also are a lot of fun, so I’m putting them on our list of possible vacation destinations.
Here are three other beer experiences I’d be up for if ever the chance arises.
Apparently, the very same hops that are used for making beer also are good for one’s skin, at least according to some dozen spas in Germany and the Czech Republic that tout the rejuvenating and anti-toxin benefits of beer bathing. Since it takes very little arm-twisting to get me to a spa, I’m thinking an overnight visit to, say the Chodovar Brewery in the Czech Republic could be a great vacation stop for the both of us. There we could soak in a water and beer bath for two, and afterward he can have a drink while I get a massage.
How to Save Money on Food When You Travel
While neither my husband nor I are regular hikers, we both enjoy the occasional hike when traveling. I’d venture a guess that one of my husband’s favorite parts of the hike is the cold beer when it’s over, so being able to stop at different points along a hike to enjoy a frosty brew would probably be heaven for him. And I wouldn’t mind stopping every so often to relax and take in the scenery, especially if that scenery consists of castles. That’s why the 13-kilometer beer trail in Franconian Switzerland in Germany would be the ideal place for us. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this area, made up of the city triangle of Bamberg, Bayreuth and Nuremberg, has the highest density of small breweries in the world. Since the trail can stretched out over the course of a couple of days, we could easily – and happily – combine hikes with beer breaks and castle visits.
I’m not sure if I’d ever want to venture to Germany during Oktoberfest, but I certainly don’t mind giving smaller beer festivals a go. In fact, I enjoy choosing beers that have funny names or weird sounding ingredients and asking my husband to try them. We’ve been to a few local beer festivals as well as one in Brasov, Romania (where we used to live), so I’m definitely up for the idea of incorporating a beer festival into our travel plans. One that might be interesting to visit would be the San Diego International Beer Festival, which takes place at the end of June and claims to offer a greater variety of beer than any U.S. festival west of Denver. Another one I’d love to attend is the Nottingham Robin Hood Beer Festival in England held in mid-October.
– written by Dori Saltzman
Twenty-two years ago tomorrow, the first step was taken towards a united Germany (and an Iron Curtain-less Eastern Europe) when the two Germany’s signed a treaty to unite East and West. While the Iron Curtain didn’t actually come down that day, it certainly sustained a major chip.
Thinking back on it, I’m reminded of my own trip behind the Iron Curtain when I was 16 years old. I’m struck by how far away those countries seemed.
In some cases (like Berlin and Warsaw), the actual hours and minutes it takes to get there have shortened, as nonstop flights to these cities are now available from many U.S. cities. But in all cases, the feeling of distance traveled has shrunk significantly.
Nowadays, when you arrive at the airport in Budapest (or Warsaw or Prague), it doesn’t seem all that different from the airport you departed from. There are arrival, transfer and departure signs in the local language and English; plenty of people are smiling at you; and everyone is welcoming you to their country. Chances are you’ll whiz through security and immigration and be on your sightseeing way in no time.
Berlin Travel Guide
Head out onto the streets of Budapest and Warsaw, and you could be in any major European city. Even Prague, with its charming medieval architecture, is so overrun with expatriates from the U.S. and England that you never feel you’ve traveled too far from home.
But 22 years ago, it wasn’t like that at all. Back then those destinations were sooo far from home – not because of the physical distance but because of how far away from the familiar they were.
Until I went to Budapest at age 16 (back in 1986), I had never seen soldiers walking around with automatic weapons before. I’d seen it on the evening news, sure. But not in places that tourists go.
As a teenager I was used to going through an airport basically unremarked by security. But in Budapest my luggage was checked thoroughly. For what, I’m not sure. We were told ahead of time that blue jeans were a hot commodity in Eastern Europe, so maybe these guys (who were probably only a few years older than me) were hoping to score a pair of jeans or a Walkman!
Once in Budapest, the faraway-ness of it all intensified. There were soldiers everywhere. People walked quickly, with their heads down, and never smiled our way. But the most foreign (and scariest) moment of all occurred when a girl in my group accidentally took a photograph of a police car and two policemen while snapping a picture of an immense building. They immediately came towards us, demanded her camera and then exposed the film.
Culture Shock: Outside the Comfort Zone
Never before had any of us ever been subjected to anything like this. To say we were farther from home than just 10 hours or so would have been an understatement. Truly, we had traveled to another world.
Did you ever travel behind the Iron Curtain? How “far away” was it for you?
— written by Dori Saltzman
One of my favorite ways to see and learn about a new place is with local tour guides. Nobody knows a place like locals do. They know not only the beaten path (about which they can often reveal little-known facts), but also those gems I’d never find on my own. But most important for me, they offer cultural insights into a community that only someone who lives, sleeps and works there could possibly know.
Today, I stumbled upon a new twist on the local tour guiding concept – guided tours from the homeless. This adds an entirely new layer onto what visitors can learn about a place, its people and culture. And the best part is, not only do visitors gain a new perspective on life in the destination they’re visiting, but they’re also supporting people who need help.
My introduction to the concept came care of the Prague Daily Monitor, which reported on a tourism project that employs eight homeless people as tour guides. According to the article, the guides offer “the narration of less known stories and visits to special interesting places,” in both Prague’s center as well as on the outskirts of the city.
Prague Travel Guide
The guides use their “long-lasting experience with living in the street” to choose the places they want to share with visitors. One book-loving guide, for example, takes tourists to lesser-known bookshops where second-hand books are available.
Other guides take visitors to the places homeless people and squatters inhabit.
Prague is not the first city to offer such tours. A quick Google search turned up similar tours in London, San Francisco and Amsterdam.
Some, like the London tours, visit tourist favorites, where guides point out the usual as well as offer insights into what it’s like to be homeless there. Others, like the San Francisco tour, take visitors to the “invisible” spots like homeless shelters, soup kitchens and workplace training programs.
Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours
Would you take a tour led by a homeless person?
— written by Dori Saltzman