Although I arrived at İstanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) using a multi-vehicle route that took nearly two hours, I secured a shuttle to return from the historic European side to SAW for only €10. I had read about the terrible traffic on the Bosphorus Bridge that could stretch the ride to about two hours, but owing to the light tourist season and early morning hour, the drive took only an hour.
I took Pegasus Airlines for the second time from SAW to Václav Havel Airport Prague, which cost me $76. From there, I took an Airport Express bus that cost less than $3 to the center of the city. This airport transfer was the most uncomfortable of the ones I have taken. First, the bus departs every 30 minutes, but I must have just missed one because I waited the full half-hour in near freezing temperatures. Due to the lengthy wait, a crowd of all locals had built, which surprised me because I had experienced these shuttles being using primarily by tourists in other countries. This bus was crowded like a Bangladeshi ferry, and I was thankful that at least it was winter and not sweltering heat. A taxicab would have cost more than $25 so it was still worth the bus experience.
I stayed in Praha for three nights, covering two hotels. Both my hotels were only slightly out of the historic centre, also known as the district of Praha 1 (there are 22). Per usual, I extracted maximum value by paying only $73 total that were going for $262 over the three nights.
I had first heard about Praha from friends who partied there in their young 20s. I had heard it was cheap and fun. This is true, and it is also remarkably clean, modern, and cultural. The Czech Republic is synonymous with Bohemia. One government source cites a purchasing power parity (PPP) of €44,000 per capita, which seems in line with the first-world nature of the city. However, everything is so inexpensive that I am skeptical of this figure.
There were moments where I thought the price would be much higher, and it never was. I took a 23-minute Uber ride for $6.52. Any beer I ordered at a restaurant was $2. In fact, beer was often priced at parity with water. Sometimes, I just wanted water, but it felt silly to pay more for tap water than for a Pilsner Urquell, so I would opt for the beer. By the way, pilsner comes from the Czech Republic, being named after the town of Plzeň. I never made it to a brewery.
The weather was also much more temperate than I was prepared for, as it never got below freezing. It never snowed, rained, or got windy. I usually wore a scarf and gloves, but I notice none of the Praguers wore protection for their hands. I could easily spot tourists by their gloves. Apparently, 8 °C is downright balmy for a Prague December.
In Praha, I greatly appreciated almost all merchants’ willingness to accept credit cards, even for small charges. I hold a slight grudge against Italia for having the payment facilities of the Middle Ages. I had my best ever meal in Europe here at a restaurant called Pastař. It was borderline Michelin-quality, and I paid a total of $21 for two entrées (ravioli and veal) and a glass of red wine. I don’t know how the restaurant survives financially. It could easily charge double. I found the restaurant being rated #1 on TripAdvisor, and I felt guilty because I paid similar prices for far lesser food for the sake of variety.
Although I made the inclined walk to Praha’s castle district, Hradčany, I did not do an official tour. It would have taken at least a couple of hours and cost $15. The castle is the largest in the world. My time in Praha was limited, and hours could be spent just eating and drinking. The last night, I spent a couple of hours at AghaRTA jazz club to hear a quintet jazz fusion band. I had heard how good the jazz bars in Praha were. I paid a cover of $11 and listened to the band before wandering in the city center again. Like all the great European cities, Praha is well lit at night and enjoyably walkable. The cobblestone pavements are clean and more even than those found in other cities so walking for hours does not incur as much stress.