|by Barry Napier, February 2007
Prague is a favourite destination for UK short-break travellers. Hen and buck parties galore! It is also a romantic city, and full of surprises. I have never seen so many glorious architectural masterpieces in one place.
Most fine hotels are housed in beautiful baroque buildings once owned by very wealthy bankers and traders. It is obvious that Prague was once a very rich and influential city.
Across the river, directly opposite the Jewish Quarter, is the palace (or more correctly a collection of them) on top of the hill, with its very own huge cathedral in the courtyard, complete with gold windows. The palace building is exquisite to its smallest details, such as slight rounding at the top corners of every window. Below the palace are narrow medieval streets with mainly baroque buildings boasting high standard finery and decoration.
Lining these narrow streets, painted in lush pastel colours, are consulates
mingled with four and five star hotels. Every street has at least a few
hotels. One that I passed just had a delivery of lovely marble steps ready
for refurbishment. This, however, is not that unusual… the side-walks and
roads are all made of cobbles, some rectangular and others smaller and
square. And most of the cobbles are marble.
This is a city in a great state of repair. I watched as a man roamed up and down the street, carrying what looked like a long squared metal pipe with a sharpened end. Every so often he would stop and examine a cobble. If it looked wrong, or was wonky, he took it out using the metal pipe, levelled off the sand below, and banged the stone back in again, to make it level! And even the cobbles had a huge variety of patterns.
It is well worth going out at night in Prague, just to see the hotels and other marvellous buildings lit up. And the view from and near Charles Bridge (the oldest) is something else – lined with large statues, the most found on any bridge anywhere. In fact, it is said that Prague has the most statues of any city in Europe.
From Charles Bridge, across from the palace, you get to the ‘Old Town’, which is next to the Jewish Quarter, with its quaint streets, and very interesting shops, selling Czech crafted goods like crystal glass, garnet jewelry, and puppets. Musicians play in the streets. On one corner a very old saxophone player with top hat and tails, had young female tourists joyously dancing to his tunes!
Though very cold (early February) I had just missed the snow, which was still standing frozen on street corners like blackened mounds of ice-cream. In Prague you could recognise the locals – the women wore real fur coats! And the men, including the palace soldiers, wore those Russian-style furry hats.
There are countless old squares and narrow streets, and a vast number of magnificent tall buildings, giving Prague a sophisticated appearance. For me, it was one of the most interesting cities I have visited for a long time. Just watch out for the frequent trams on a mission and cars that whiz along at 70 miles an hour even in the middle of the city.
But, amongst all this, there is a bit of a problem… once known for its cheap accommodation, Prague hotels are now hiking up the prices, which is a great pity. The prices of accommodation contrast sharply with that of, say, food and other goods, proving that the prices are very artificial.
For example, whilst a four-star hotel room can cost a staggering $450 a night, the cost of buying a typical Czech meal is only about $8!! On the other hand, if you shop around, you can still get bargains, such as three star hotel rooms in a Centrum (city centre) narrow street for an amazing $90 for three nights, including breakfast! The accommodation is reasonable, clean and sound.
What I am saying is that, unfortunately, Prague has latched-on to the
soul-crushing side of capitalism. Its hoteliers know the city is now a
big draw for European visitors and have pushed up accommodation prices
to rake in the big bucks. The profit margins, however, are too high. And
if you visit from far away (there were plenty from the USA and Japan when
I was there) you may not be able to find the real bargains so easily, so
you pay the price.
I have no objection to hotels charging prices that are ‘X’ percent over break-even, but the price hikes I am talking about are, well, cynically exploiting those from richer countries. You might think this is okay, but not when a typical wage is far lower than can be found in the USA and UK, and running costs are also much lower.
The problem with this kind of arbitrary pricing (i.e. “Let’s charge the maximum we can get away with”) is that folks soon learn, and start to stay away. It is far better when hotels price reasonably, to get more visitors, than to charge highly and get fewer! Prague is vying with other European cities, so to start off with such greed will work against it in the future when word gets around. I have seen this happen around Europe, when tourists look for better deals in other countries.
I hope I will be proved wrong, because Prague is a stunning city. But I also hope to be pleasantly surprised when I next visit, by a lowering of hotel prices. I can usually find a bargain, so this problem does not worry me personally, but I fear that others are not so adept, and might miss out. How about a change of heart, Prague?
|Also See:||Rocco Forte Hotels Creating a 101 room Hotel at Prague's St Thomas Monastery, which Dates to the 1400s / November 2005|
|J&T Global Signs Starwood's Newly Acquired Brand Le Meridien to Manage Planned Hotel in Prague, Czech Republic / December 2005|
|Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group Will Manage a New Hotel Under Development in Prague, Czech Republic / December 2004|
|MaMaison Residences, a Subsidiary of Luxembourg-based Orco Property Group, Opens the Pachtuv Palace in Prague, Czech Republic / October 2004|