Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV): Part 2

Where does the Travel Channel take us? Rolf Potts embarks on a
one-week gonzo experiment to find out

JACKASS COMMENTATORS AND DUBIOUSLY RANKED DESTINATIONS
Day 2, Hour 17: 9:04 am.


The first Travel Channel show of the day has already begun by the time I wake up and turn on the TV. As the picture tube slowly comes into view I can hear some jackass droning on about the gentle wonder of interacting with elephants in Thailand. When the screen finally flickers on I realize that the droning jackass is me.

The show is 21 Mind-Blowing Escapes, which is the Travel Channel’s version of a VH1 clip-show where comedians poke fun at celebrities. Instead of comedians, this show features travel writers; the “celebrities” are places, and nobody makes fun of anything. In addition to Thailand, my commentary pops up in segments featuring Venice, Angkor Wat, the Grand Canyon, and the Greek island of Santorini.

The strange thing about this show is that when I initially did my talking-head interview it was entitled 25 Mind-Blowing Escapes — which means that at some point four destinations were scrapped. Instead of just lopping off the bottom four places, however, the show’s producers seem to have scratched out destinations at random. The country of Bhutan, for example, was originally hailed as the world’s fifth most mind-blowing escape; now, for reasons that aren’t explained, it’s not on the list at all. Hence the inherent arbitrariness of any TV show that ranks destinations like they were NCAA basketball teams. Somewhere in Bhutan, the tourism minister is probably hurling is clipboard against a locker room wall.
During a commercial break, I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth and notice that the
haggard, puffy-eyed face staring back from the mirror bears faint resemblance to the
chirpy, advice-spewing version of me that appeared on 21 Mind-Blowing Escapes. I’m
only beginning my second day of the experiment, but my TV marathon has already begun
to take a physical toll.


NOTES ON THE SEMIOTICS OF WATERPARKS

Day 2, Hour 18: 10:42 am. Desperate for variety, I’ve made my way down to the Plaza
Hotel gym, where I can watch the Travel Channel while I work the treadmill. The gym’s
aging TV screen is scorched with a faint grid of keno numbers, but for the most part
it suits my purposes. The only problem is that any time I start running faster than 20
minutes per mile I can’t hear anything but the sound of myself clomping along on the
treadmill.

This lends my TV viewing experience a curious new perspective. Right now I’m watching America’s Favorite Waterparks while running nine-minute miles. At the beginning of the hour, when I could hear the voiceover narration, this show struck me as a mildly informative little rundown of aquatic fun-parks in the United States. Without the sound, however, the show has become an incomprehensible video loop of teenagers racing down water-slides, young boys getting into splash-fights, and chubby families bobbing in wave pools. It’s hard to discern one water park from another. Amid the repetitive flood of images, I begin to notice a persistent visual pattern: Nary a minute passes without another shot of some massive aquatic gravity-tube ejaculating a swimmer through the air on a frothy gush of water.

Somehow I suspect a spunky 24-year-old northern California feminist is at this very
moment hashing out a PhD thesis entitled “Phallocentric Fun-Parks: A Lacanian
Symbology of Patriarchal Imagery and Recreational Male Privilege in American Hydro-
Amusement Communities.”

WHAT DO HOSTS DO WHEN THEY’RE NOT HOSTING?

Day 2, Hour 20: 12:55 pm. After nearly two hours of treadmill action I’m back up in my
hotel room, where I’m developing a crush on TV-host Samantha Brown. As I watch her
show, I’m thinking I’d like to marry her for the simple end of diversifying my bloodline
with perky, winsome offspring.

Today Samantha has been cavorting her way through Spain and Italy on a show called
Passport to Europe. At the moment she is learning how to flamenco dance. In previous
scenes she trained as a bullfighter, sampled horsemeat with Italian wine, reenacted a
scene from Romeo and Juliet, and guzzled beer in her hotel room. I like it that Brown is
always drinking on camera. I’m also charmed by her self-deprecating humor, and her raw
exuberance for most everything she encounters.

The weird thing about Samantha Brown, however, is that it’s hard to discern what she
does when she’s not gallivanting off on a weekend getaway to Valencia or Verona. Whereas personalities like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern work as chefs when they’re not on TV, Brown’s main line of work appears to be going on vacations for the Travel Channel. This makes it a tad confusing when she “escapes” to the Tuscan countryside or enthuses about “getting away from it all” at a spa in Baja. Just what is it that she’s getting away from? Isn’t that trip to the spa part of her job?

Hence, while it’s easy to imagine what Bourdain does in his spare time (eat, drink, bang
groupies), or what Zimmern does when he’s not filming Bizarre Foods (eat, sleep, look up adjectives to describe the taste of seared yak scrotum), I’m at a loss to envision what Samantha Brown does when she’s not pretending to go on holiday in front of a TV crew.

A part of me imagines her sitting on the floor of a trash-strewn Hell’s Kitchen apartment, snorting crystal meth and listening to Danzig records while she drills hollow-points into
ammunition for her .50-caliber Barrett M82 sniper rifle.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN DOES NOT SPEAK TRAVELESE

Day 2, Hour 21: 1:55 pm. I’ve noticed that there’s a sameness to the narrative language on all the Travel Channel shows. Since I began my TV marathon, both Andrew Zimmern and Samantha Brown have used the exact same phrases — “vacation paradise,” “land of contrasts,” “it doesn’t get any better than this” — to describe wildly different places and experiences. The words heaven,” “breathtaking,” “dreams,” “treasure,” and “unforgettable” are intoned like Travel Channel mantras, and just today I heard the phrases “hidden gem,” “secret gem,” and “unique gem” on three successive programs.

This type of language belongs to a distinctive media-dialect called “travelese,” a word journalist William Zinsser coined in his 1976 book On Writing Well. “Nowhere else in nonfiction do writers use such syrupy words and groaning platitudes,” Zinsser noted. “It is a style of soft words which under hard examination mean nothing.” At the time Zinsser was alluding to print-based travel journalism, and 35 years later the overwrought cadences of travelese continue to plague magazine, newspaper, and guidebook writing.

The thing is, for all the consumer travel articles sopping with words like “quaint” and “wondrous,” the print world offers plenty of verbally disciplined, literary-minded travel reportage by writers like Peter Hessler, Tim Cahill, Susan Orlean, Pico Iyer, Kira Salak, Gary Shteyngart, and Paul Theroux. Unfortunately, travel television does not appear to offer a comparable respite from its more mindless tropes: Almost without exception its program language is indecipherable from that of its commercials.

In saying this, I certainly don’t absolve myself from the equation. I’ve gone years without ever using the word “majestic” in a print story, but I used it twice in less than one minute of airtime on 21 Mind-Blowing Escapes. Beyond that, I described Venice as “romantic,” Angkor Wat as “magnificent,” and the sunset at Santorini as “magical.” Back when I was being interviewed for the show, I’d also pointed out logistical hassles and tourist hordes at all three places — but those simply aren’t the kinds of details that make it into TV clip- shows about travel destinations. Indeed, if the Travel Channel doesn’t seem to convey much critical or intellectual substance, it’s probably because television itself is a medium that doesn’t tolerate nuance and reflection.

The network’s sole exception to this phenomenon is Anthony Bourdain, whose No Reservations is at once counterintuitive, given to opinionated perspective, and self- aware of its limitations as a TV show. Yesterday Bourdain guided us off the sun- dappled tourist-trail to visit the eateries of “the three most fucked-up cities in America” — Baltimore, Detroit, and Buffalo. By the end of show he had done a fair amount of rust-belt dining, but he’d also given the audience subtle lessons in socio-economics, immigration history, and urban planning. In Buffalo, he refused to discuss hot-wings (“you can have Al fucking Roker describe them to you on some other show,” he said). Today’s Miami-based episode simultaneously skewers South Florida tourist clichés, documentary TV fakery, and the basic assumptions of every other food-travel show on television. A running joke of the episode is Bourdain’s stubborn avoidance of Miami’s most stereotypical cuisine-culture; he eventually relents during the final moments of the show. “I’ve finally done the Cuban thing,” he quips in the concluding scene, “satisfying my network masters’ request.”

YOUR MEDIA CRITICISM WILL DO YOU NO GOOD HERE

Day 2, Hour 31: 11:20 pm. I’m nearing the end of another full day of TV viewing. A show about amusement parks, Extreme Terror Rides: Death-Defying Drops, is flickering on my screen. According to my notebook, this is the eighth hour of programming today that has been dedicated to water parks or roller coasters.

Back when I was gearing up for this Travel Channel marathon, my primary guidebooks were media-studies classics like Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations, Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, and Todd Gitlin’s Watching Television. My hope was that these readings would help me understand the far-flung televisual landscape, lend my travel- TV analysis a postmodern flair, and make me sound smarter than I really am. Most of these writers argue that television is more about creating feelings and sensations than communicating information or conveying reality — and that has certainly been the case with what I’ve seen thus far.

The problem with my pre-trip media-theory research, however, is that I geared my expectations toward a cross-cultural mode of travel that doesn’t seem to exist on the Travel Channel. For example, I had hoped to harness the insights of science writer Bill McKibben, who pioneered the art of marathon-TV analysis in his 1992 book The Age of Missing Information (which contrasted a full day of multi-channel television programming with a full day spent in nature). When McKibben analyzed travel shows 20 years ago, he noted the irony in the fact that the Travel Channel aired a special on Nuremberg without highlighting the city’s notorious reputation for Nazi rallies in the 1930s. “Three things make Nuremberg famous,” the Travel Channel chirped on the day McKibben was watching, “its Christmas market, Nuremberg gingerbread, and the Nuremberg sausage.”

If the Travel Channel hasn’t glossed over many foreign destinations in the past two days, it’s because it hasn’t shown many foreign destinations. Of the 31 television-hours I’ve experienced so far, I’ve spent less than two hours outside of the United States. Thirteen hours of programming have been dedicated to American junk food, 11 hours to American amusement parks. If visual media provides us with a grammar of seeing the world, as critic Susan Sontag once suggested, the Travel Channel appears to be telling us that the world doesn’t stretch very far beyond the local fun-park or burger stand.

[Read more of Rolf Potts’ series Around the World in 80 Hours here]

Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV): Part 1

around the world in 80 hours

PRELUDE

Day 5, Hour 77: 9:53 pm.

Twenty-three hotel floors above the gritty neon splendor of downtown Las Vegas, I am nearing the end of a bewildering travel experiment: For the past five days, I have been watching the Travel Channel for the entirety of my waking hours, without ever changing the station or (save a few key occasions) leaving my hotel room.

My goal has been to create an intensive, vicarious televisual adventure — to glean five days’ worth of travel experiences from the glowing parameters of a single TV set and figure out what the Travel Channel might be saying about how one should see the world.

In the 77 hours since my experiment began, I have witnessed many wonders. I have, for example, seen three grown men shriek like schoolgirls while locked overnight inside a dubiously haunted English inn. I have learned that ants in the Ecuadorian Amazon taste like lemons, that Gulf Coast raccoons taste like turkey, and that Andean guinea pigs taste like roast pork shoulder. I have learned that nachos are not authentic Mexican food, and that the Japanese have invented a toilet that can both wash and blow-dry your ass. I have seen two separate shows that sing the praises of deep-fried Twinkies, and I’ve heard the phrase “like a party in your mouth” used to describe the culinary merits of three separate food products. I have seen a restaurant full of Americans cheer like hockey fans while watching two guys devour a 10-pound pizza in less than an hour.

I have also watched commercials — more than 2000 of them in the course of five days. According to the tally marks in my notebook, I have been invited to visit Jamaica 16 times, been warned 51 times that my existing health insurance might not be adequate for my retirement needs, and thrice been asked to ponder how Cheez-It is able to bake so much cheesy goodness into such small bites.

I have left my hotel three times in the past five days, and been nearly robbed once.

In exactly 7 minutes (once the guy who ate the 10-pound pizza finishes eating a 4.5-pound steak), my TV marathon will culminate with two back-to-back episodes of a show called America’s Worst Driver, which — like many shows on the Travel Channel — doesn’t appear to be about travel.

Brandishing my notebook, I stare at the screen with a fatigued sense of resolve and ponder the events that brought me to this moment.

I.

WHY I CAME TO VEGAS TO WATCH TV FOR A WEEK

Day 1, Hour 2: 10:37 am. I am currently watching a show called Food Fun Factories. Its tagline is “hit the road and put your taste buds to the test,” which (given the content of the show) seems to infer that you should plan your vacations around the manufacture of junk food. On the screen, a man dressed as a jellybean is hugging a small child at a Fairfield, California, candy factory.

Since I don’t own a TV, I am viewing the action on a 24-inch RCA that sits atop a cream-colored cabinet in Plaza Hotel suite 2333, Las Vegas, Nevada. At $22 a night, it was cheaper to fly to Vegas for the week than it was to rent a comparable hotel room 10 miles from my Midwestern home. My room smells faintly of cigarettes and features a king-sized bed, late-’80s-style muted beige neo-Greco décor, and a synthetic potted plant that probably gets taken outside and hosed down once a year. The casino auditorium downstairs advertises a nightly extravaganza called “The Rat Pack is Back.”

I’ve been intrigued with the Travel Channel ever since I started making my living as a travel writer twelve years ago. Sometimes I’ll catch snippets of its programs when I’m staying in American hotels, and in recent years I’ve occasionally appeared on the network as a talking-head commentator (primarily on a pair of countdown clip-shows about international destinations). These fleeting Travel Channel appearances haven’t done much to deepen my understanding of the network (they were filmed by an independent production company), but they have attracted more attention from long-lost friends and family members than all of my books and travel articles combined.

Indeed, the Travel Channel has built up a significant viewing audience since its inception in 1987, a truth borne out by its $975 million valuation when the Scripps media conglomerate bought a controlling stake in the network one year ago. Given this popularity, I’ve begun to wonder what kind of message the Travel Channel is sending.

Where do we go when we watch travel television? Who do we meet? What do we learn? Since the word television literally means “seeing far,” I’ve decided to tune in for five full days and check out the view.

For the sake of discipline and full immersion, I have resolved not to use my cell phone or the Internet during my experiment. A small plastic cooler holds enough food and drink to last me the week. The only information I’ll take in for the next 78 hours will come courtesy of the Travel Channel.

On the TV screen, the candy factory footage cuts away to a hearing-aid commercial hosted by the guy who played Bobby Ewing on Dallas.

NOTES FOR A TRAVEL CHANNEL DRINKING GAME

Day 1, Hour 6: 2:08 pm. By mid-afternoon the Travel Channel has shuttled me to Alaska, where Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern is dipping a chunk of bowhead whale-flesh into a jar of fermented blubber-oil.

I’m nearing the end of a midday stretch of programming that has featured three of the most popular personalities on the Travel Channel. Zimmern is a jovial, bald, pot-bellied cook from Minneapolis who travels around the world sampling dishes like boiled llama brains and fried deer genitals. Samantha Brown, who appeared at noon on Passport to Great Weekends, is an extroverted everywoman who takes brief, activity-filled trips to popular vacation destinations. Anthony Bourdain, whose show No Reservations aired an hour ago, is a grizzled, articulate, and coolly glamorous chef who travels the world using food as a window into culture.

I’ll talk more about each host’s respective show as the week progresses, but for now I think I’ve learned enough to create a drinking game that will ensure Travel Channel viewers get nice and buzzed by the end of a given episode. Assuming one has a bottle of whiskey on hand, it goes like this:

  • Bizarre Foods: Do a shot every time Andrew Zimmern nibbles on a morsel of, say, pickled gerbil rectum and stares off into the middle distance for a moment before comparing the taste to pork, beef, chicken or fish.
  • Passport to Great Weekends: Do a shot every time Samantha Brown emits a monosyllabic expression of enthusiasm, such as “Yay!” “Ooh!” “Aah!” “Wow!” or “Woo!”
  • No Reservations: Do a shot every time Anthony Bourdain does a shot.

On the TV, Zimmern noshes a bite of whale and compares it to his grandmother’s pot roast. I find myself wishing I’d brought booze with me.

NOTES FOR A TRAVEL CHANNEL DRINKING GAME, PART TWO

Day 1, Hour 13: 9:30 pm. Thirteen hours in, and I’ve just begun my fourth consecutive episode of a show called Man v. Food, which is hosted by Adam Richman, an affable and hyperactive bloke who seems to be channeling his TV persona through the hybrid aura of Jay Leno, late-period Elvis, and Cookie Monster.

The premise of Man v. Food is that Richman travels to a major American city and declares his intention to eat an insanely large food item — say, a 30-pound sloppy joe — in one sitting. For the next 20 or so minutes, Richman visits other popular eateries in his destination city, wolfing down meals in normal-sized portions while continually alluding to the gastronomical challenges presented by the 30-pound sloppy joe. At the end of the episode Richman strides into a restaurant, strips naked, rolls on a condom, and makes wild, passionate love to the 30-pound sloppy joe while a crowd of rowdy locals cheers him on.

Actually, I’m just joking. The host of Man v. Food never technically has sexual intercourse with the food. But if you were required to take a shot of whiskey every time Adam Richman bites into a hot-wing or a cheese-steak and rolls his eyes back with an orgasmic shudder, you would be hammered inside of a half-hour.

TELEVISION FATIGUE, DAY ONE

Day 1, Hour 16 (plus 2): 3:13 am. I wake up disoriented, the TV blaring some wee-hours infomercial about mortgage relief (the Travel Channel only broadcasts original content for 16 hours each day; the rest is given over to paid programming).

I grab my cell phone and squint at the time. Despite the fact that I spent most of the day sitting down, I nodded off from bone-deep exhaustion less than five minutes into the 11:00 pm rerun of Extreme Fast Food.

Watching a screen all day without having the option to change the channel has been an unexpectedly taxing endeavor: My limbs ache and my eyes burn as I get up to turn off the TV for the night. I have 64 waking hours left in my Travel Channel marathon.

[Stay tuned for the continuation of Rolf Potts’ series Around the World in 80 Hours tomorrow]

[flickr image via Erin Drewitz]

Travel to Sri Lanka grows, along with obstacles for tourism

Travel to Sri LankaSince the end of the Tamil Tiger confilct in May 2009, travel to Sri Lanka has been increasing, with the country celebrating their 600,000th foreign tourist last month. This year, 700,000 are expected with tourism growing to 2.5 million a year within 5 years, reports the BBC. “The nature has blessed us with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, exotic wildlife and historic places. We as a nation have a reputation for our hospitality,” says Basil Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka‘s Minister of Economic Development. While the increase in visitors is welcome, Sri Lanka is experiencing some growing pains and challenges as a tourist destination.

India and the United Kingdom are currently the largest sources of tourists, though now it is claimed that the Eastern European tourists who came during the confict are being ignored in favore of Western travelers. Russian-speaking tourists are being turned away in the tourist boom, hotel prices have soared, and Russian guides complain of lost income. A proposed change in the visa process could discourage more visitors, though the government claims the new system is designed to help travelers.The visa can currently be obtained for free on arrival for citizens of 78 countries including the United States. Similar to the Australia electronic visa, the new visa process would be done from your home country online. Approval would take 24-72 hours and “special facilities” would be provided on arrival for tourists with the online visa. An added fee could potentially dissuade visitors who could instead spend their vacation dollars at a free visa destination.

The government hopes to allow tourism to develop naturally without direct intervention, though some small businesses feel they are struggling while larger-scale projects are planned. In northwest Sri Lanka, an adventure tourism zone is being developed with whale watching, scuba daving, and an underwater vistor center. A similar Tourism Promotion Zone is in the works near the country’s international airport to capture a similar transit market as Dubai, and increasing Sri Lanka’s flights as a major Asian hub.

Have you been to Sri Lanka? Planning to travel there now that warnings have ceased? Leave us your experiences in the comments.

[Photo of Sri Lanka’s Pinewala Elephant Orphanage by Flickr user Adametrnal.]

Anthony Bourdain enjoys Sri Lankan street food in the below video.

Book review: A Moveable Feast

When did the words travel and food become one and the same? These days, food tourism has worked its way to the tip of every well-heeled traveler’s tongue, whether it’s a search for Hong Kong’s best wonton noodles on foodie-travel favorite website Chowhound or the neverending food voyeurism of Travel Channel favorites Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. It’s at exactly this zenith of food-focused travel that Lonely Planet has released A Moveable Feast, the latest entry in the guidebook publisher’s growing library of travel-focused literature.

A Moveable Feast, which came out this past October, represents a curated banquet of 38 “life-changing food adventures” from around the world. The anthology was curated by well-known Lonely Planet editor Don George (full disclosure: Don is Features Editor for Gadling) and includes an appetizer of food-related tales by well-known travel writers including Pico Iyer, Mark Kurlansky and (of course) Anthony Bourdain. There’s a little bit of everything featured in these 38 deliciously entertaining tales, from a love letter to French food by Andrew Zimmern to tales of eating dog in Korea by well-known travel scribe Simon Winchester. We even get a food story by Gadling’s own Sean McLachlan.

What’s the verdict on A Moveable Feast? It’s a fun, easily digestible collection of food-focused tales. Ultimately, reading A Moveable Feast is a lot like the typical Italian or French meal the book’s storytellers might reference: it aspires to be simply what it is. The ingredients will be of the utmost quality, and you will savor the details: the amusing anecdotes, the well-written prose and the vibrant descriptions. All in all, a collection of stories that is at once nourishing and entertaining – the perfect fuel for any food-loving traveler.

Weekending: Prague


While I’m living in Istanbul, I try to take advantage of all the amazing destinations a few hours’ flight away and travel there as often as possible. I like to focus on destinations that are harder to access from the US for just a few days (such as Turkey’s beach town Bodrum) and places best explored while I’m still relatively young and unencumbered (to wit: Beirut). Traveling as an expat takes on a different flavor as well, seeking culture and cuisine not found in my new city.

The place: Prague, Czech Republic

I really had no intention of going to Prague. Not that it doesn’t interest me, I’ve heard it is enchanting and a must-see city, but this particular weekend we were all set to go to Kosovo, one of the world’s youngest countries (by self-declared independence as well as population). A series of minor events caused us to miss our flight by minutes, but as we were already at the airport and ready to travel, we asked to be re-booked on the next international flight somewhere, which turned out to be Prague. We arrived in the Czech Republic with no reservations, research, or plans and through the magic of social media (and the Prague Airport’s free wifi), I was greatly assisted and reassured by the great advice and insight from travel writers and friends Evan Rail, Alexander Basek, and Gadling’s own David Farley. Turns out it’s not an overrated country and I can now say, “Oh, I’ve been to Prague.”

%Gallery-101304%Upgrades

  • Two words: pork and beer. Ask any meat-eating expat in a Muslim country what they miss most about home and they will invariably say pork. While it’s available in Turkey, it’s scarce and pricey. Alcohol is easier to come by, but anything imported will cost you and while Turkey’s national Efes satisfies, it tastes like watered down Bud Light after drinking Czech beer. Arriving in a city thronged with sausage carts and beer halls was like visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The beer isn’t just tasty and cheap, it’s available anywhere, pretty much anytime. For tips on the best pubs to drink at, trust anything by Evan Rail – Tony Bourdain did earlier this year. My last night in Prague was spent at the lovely Meduza Cafe, a near-perfect spot to have a coffee or glass of wine, write in your journal, and revel in Bohemia.
  • The city’s beauty is well-known, and one of the greatest pleasures is just strolling the streets and bridges and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s interesting to contrast the romantic castle and ornate Old Town Square architecture with some of the old Soviet buildings, like the modern art Veletzni Palace museum, and the wacky sculptures of David Cerny. Small but worthwhile attractions include the Museum of Communism (if only for the darkly funny posters such as “Like their sisters in the West, they would’ve burnt their bras – if there were any in the shops”) and the Museum of Decorative Arts, featuring a fascinating collection of costumes, design, and knick-knacks – as well as a great view of the always-crowded Jewish Cemetery from the bathrooms (a tip from Evan, thanks!).

Downgrades

  • Even after seeing Paris, London, and New York, Prague is the most touristed city I’ve been to yet. Long after being discovered as a “budget” European destination (it’s still cheap by Europe standards, but not quite the bargain it was in the ’90s), the streets are packed with package tourists from all over the world, backpackers, and worst of all – pub-crawling college students. True story: one night a shirtless American kid walked in a mini-market, talking on his cell phone about how drunk he was and how he tried to hook up with some other girls in his hostel. He hung up and told his friends he was talking to his MOM. By day in the areas around Old Town Square and Prague Castle, you’d be hard pressed to hear anyone speak Czech and it’s difficult to find a spot not mobbed with tourists, which all takes a bit away from the city’s authenticity.
  • Not quite a downgrade but perhaps due to the aforementioned tourists, service at restaurants can be brusque and some less scrupulous taxi drivers have been known to take passengers for a ride. If possible, let your hotel book taxis to ensure you get a fair price and find out what approximate prices are around town. Other than a few waiters having a bad day, I’d hardly condemn the Czech people as being anything other than friendly and helpful. The bigger deterrent is the disrespectful, entitled, and obnoxious tourists.

Getting there

Delta flies direct from New York to Prague Airport, and British and American Airlines fly via London Heathrow. Budget carriers bmiBaby, German Wings, easyJet, and WizzAir service Prague from Europe. It’s an easy and cheap bus and metro ride into the city center from the airport.

Make it a week

Prague is surrounded by beautiful countryside (remember the sunflower fields in Everything is Illuminated? Filmed outside Prague) and the city is well connected to towns and cities around the Czech Republic. Spend a few days in the capital and then get out and explore Bohemia.