Go Real Europe Blog

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  • Andrew Barton

    Warsaw added as another great Go Real Europe destination!

    8 / 2 / 2017

    Go Real Europe is proud to add the Polish capital of Warsaw to the growing list of city destinations that can be included in its exclusive, personalized travel itineraries. Now it is possible to get to know Poland even more intimately by arriving directly at Warsaw Chopin Airport from abroad or traveling there by train or private shuttle from Krakow, Prague or Berlin.

    Growing client demand triggered the development of Warsaw as Go Real Europe's ninth destination. Travelers will enjoy the choice of its best 3-star, 4-star, and 5-star hotels, and of course Go Real Europe's well-known descriptions, guidelines and directions for self-guided exploration. Visitors to the Go Real Europe website can now find itineraries including guided tours of the Royal Castle and Old Town, Jewish Warsaw, Post-War Reconstructed Warsaw and Chopin's Warsaw.

    Itineraries also provide suggestions for self-guided exploration in the most interesting parts of the city. Highlights include the exquisitely reconstructed cobble stoned alleyways of the Old and New  Towns; The palaces and churches lining the historic Royal Way; The love-it-or-hate-it Communist-era  Palace of Culture; The beauty and tranquility of Łazienki Park; The Jewish Heritage (Polin) and  Warsaw Rising Museums; The Wilanów Palace, known as the Polish Versailles; And the remnants of  the infamous Warsaw Ghetto.

    Check out our local expert advice for Warsaw before planning your own trip to Central Europe! 

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  • Samantha Barbagallo

    Hotel Rooms in North America vs Europe – What’s the difference?

    7 / 28 / 2017

    Traveling to Europe for the first time can be a major cultural shock. Aside from the differences in cuisine, architecture, climate, and language, you may be surprised to know that European hotel rooms differ greatly from the hotel rooms you may be accustomed to back home.

    To help ease your transition, we have put together a short and helpful guide to the major differences to expect in hotel rooms in Europe vs The United States. 

    Hotel Ratings

    European hotels have the same ratings as the USA (1-5 Stars) and as expected, the hotels get more expensive the higher the star rating. If you are on a budget, we suggest looking at 3-star hotels. They are generally of a good standard with the expected amenities included and if you travel with Go Real Europe, you can guarantee their location is in the center of the city.

    4 Stars are great for those who enjoy comfort and style, often offering high levels of service and many facilities similar to a 5-star hotel. If you are celebrating a special occasion or preferring to splash out, a 5-star hotel will guarantee the highest level of service, amenities and beautifully designed suites and rooms.

    * Unfortunately, Go Real Europe does not work with any grade below 3-stars.

    Room Size

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    Unlike large cities in North America, European cities are often very compact, with buildings dating back to hundreds of years. Therefore, the rooms are often smaller than what you would find back at home.

    We suggest you prepare for a little less space than what you are used to. While it isn’t the standard for all hotels, most of the old world charm hotels are in historical buildings which can sometimes mean smaller rooms. Of course, Go Real Europe are happy to accommodate travelers who simply want more space but bear in mind that more space can often mean a higher cost for a hotel.

    Bathrooms

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    Unless you have checked yourself into a hostel/dorm room, most European hotels of 3-star and above offer rooms with private bathrooms.

    Bath or Shower?

    The size of bathrooms can vary greatly and it is not standard to have both a shower and bath tub in every bathroom, therefore if you have a preference it is good to check at the time of booking. You may often find a shower over the bathtub in smaller hotels, while 5 stars will most likely have them separated.

    Towels

    Unless otherwise stated, most 3 star hotels and above provide towels. However, the major difference compared to the USA is the size of the towels. In Europe, hotel towels often are very small compared to the large sheet towels you find back at home. Therefore we suggest requesting additional towels if needed.

    An extra toilet?

    That strange flat looking toilet with a nozzle is called a bidet. Its purpose is not as a second toilet but as a “wash basin for your private parts”. Hotels would not appreciate it if it was used as a secondary toilet. We also don’t recommend on using it to do your laundry!

    Elevators

    You may be shocked to find out that not all European hotels have elevators, unlike North America. Again, many of the hotel buildings are very old and some city regulations do not allow for buildings to be modified to be able to add an elevator. So if an elevator is a critical requirement for you, be sure to check with your travel consultant whether a hotel has one before booking. Otherwise, use the opportunity to work off those extra calories from all the delicious foods you’ll be trying! And remember, if you need help with your luggage, reception staff can organize it to be brought to your room for you, just remember to tip the staff member as a small thank you!

    If the hotel does happen to have an elevator (most modern hotels do), you can expect small elevators with a capacity of 2 or 3 people. If you have tons of luggage, you may need to make multiple trips. You may also find that even in hotels with elevators, you may still be required to walk up a few steps at the entrance or another random point in the building. 

    Beds

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    A very common difference between European hotel rooms and American hotel rooms are the beds. It is very normal in Central European hotels to find two twin beds pushed together to form a larger double size bed. They can sometimes share a top sheet and blanket, while in other hotels you can find separate bedding and mattresses for each bed.

    If this arrangement is not appealing to you, make sure you confirm at the time of booking your preferred bed arrangements. 

    Electricity

    If you plan on bringing any electrical items with you, please remember the voltage in Europe is twice what it is in the USA. Check which voltages can be used with your items. If it can handle 230v, then all you will need is a plug adaptor. If not, you will need a special converter to use the item without destroying it. You can read more about plug adapters and converters on our packing tips here.

    Hair Dryers

    Most 3 star and above hotels have hair dryers in their hotel rooms. While some have them installed in the bathroom, others have the stored away in the wardrobe or bedside draw if you need them, so you do not have to bring your own. If you’re unsure if your hotel provides them, check before booking. 

    Kettles

    Almost all these days these rooms provide kettles or tea and coffee making facilities in your room. If not, you will often find free coffee or tea facilities in the breakfast room. In some hotels, you may even be lucky enough to find Nespresso Machines and free snacks! 

    If you have specific requests or accommodation needs, please let your travel consultant know in advance before they confirm your hotels. They are always happy to discuss options with you to try and make your stay as comfortable as possible. 

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  • Andrew Barton

    Top 5 Castles In Central Europe

    7 / 11 / 2017

    Europe has thousands of castles scattered across its countries. No matter what, a visit to one of these will make you feel as though you've just walked into a fairytale!

    Karlstejn Castle

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    With over 2,000 castles the Czech Republic has the highest castle density of any country in the world. The most outstanding example of them all is Karlstejn, located just a short distance from Prague. Initiated in 1348 by the Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV as an elaborate treasure box for the crown jewels, the castle was eventually finished in 1365 when the Chapel of the Holy Cross situated in the Great Tower was consecrated.

    The curious step-like battlements were put to effective use during a siege of the castle in 1422 as part of the Hussite wars when the frustrated attackers resorted to biological warfare by catapulting dead bodies and 2000 carriage-loads of dung over the walls and hence managing to spread infection among the defenders. The castle suffered from a particular strategic weakness, however, as no independent water source could be discovered within the grounds, despite the sinking of a 70m well. An underground channel was therefore excavated to bring in water from a nearby stream.

    An accompanying castle reservoir had to be manually refilled roughly twice a year by opening a floodgate. The existence of this underground channel was a state secret known only to the Emperor himself, and the castle keeper. The only other persons aware of its existence were the miners, who were allegedly massacred on their way home from the castle after its construction, leaving no survivors. The neo-Gothic look of the castle today is the result of a reconstruction carried out between 1887 and 1899.

    Křivoklát Castle

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    Křivoklát castle is to be found hidden within a thick forest near a bend in the Berounka River about an hour’s drive from Prague. The castle is not immediately apparent when arriving from the Czech capital because of the surrounding trees, but great views are afforded from a lookout a short walk through the forest.

    It started out as a hunting lodge and the first historical references to it come from the 12th century when the first fortication was built there. A large royal castle was then erected in the second half of the 13th century under the reign of Přemysl Otakar II and later rebuilt and expanded by Václav IV. It had to undergo reconstruction a number of times and served as a notorious prison for some years when its importance to the ruling elite became less pronounced. For English-speaking tourists, perhaps the best known connection to the castle is as the site of the incarceration of infamous alchemist and necromancer, Edward Kelly.

    The earless Kelly (having lost his aurical parts during a sword duel as a young man) incurred the wrath of Emperor Ruldolf II when he failed to follow up on his promise to the monarch to transform large quantities of base metals into gold, and it was partly for that reason that he was imprisoned at Křivoklát. He cripplied himself by breaking a leg during an escape attempt and eventually died after breaking his other leg during yet another abortive prison break from a second prison – Hněvín Castle in the modern-day city of Most in North-West Bohemia.

    Hohenwerfen Castle

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    Does this imposing castle seem slightly familiar to you? If it does, it’s because it‘s the background scene to the song ‘Do Re Mi’ in the Sound of Music, and as Schloss Adler where Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood ran amok in Where Eagles Dare. It was originally built between 1075 and 1078 during the Imperial Investiture Controversy (a church-state conflict in medieval Europe) and then gradually expanded over the centuries when served Salzburg's rulers as a military base as well as a residence and hunting retreat.

    Like Křivoklát it also became state prison for the incarceration (and sometime torture) of various aristocrats. Nowadays the bastion functions as an adventure castle for its visitors who flock to see its extensive weapons collection and falconry museum, as well as to avail themselves of the fortress tavern. 

    Duernstein Castle

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    If you know your history of British monarchs, then you’ll have an interest in seeing the ruins of Duernstein Castle in Austria’s Wachau Valley – perhaps best viewed from a cruise on the Danube River. The monarch in question is King Richard I (The Lionheart), who was incarcerated here on his way home from the Third Crusade in the Holy Land in 1192. Having spent three years fighting the Saracens in modern day Lebanon and Syria, Richard’s prickly personality had alienated most of his Crusader allies, so when he was forced to travel back to England overland after being shipwrecked on the north-eastern Italian coast he found himself having to journey through mostly hostile territory.

    He was eventully apprehended by Prince Leopold of Austria while holed up in a brothel on the outskirts of Vienna, although Leopold incurred the wrath of Pope Celestine III and was excommunicated for molesting a holy crusader. The Lionheart only got home after the apocryphal “king’s ransom” was paid for his release – something equivalent to about twice England’s GDP at the time. Although there’s not too much that remains of the castle today, a hike to the castle ramparts is rewarded with wonderful views of the Wachau Valley.

    Neuschwanstein Castle

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    Disney’s stylised castles have been so ingrained in the modern imagination that many visitors to Neuschwanstein will wonder whether this is where Snow White lived out her days after marrying her Prince Charming. It is indeed the ultimate “fairy tale” castle, having been built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria partly as an escape from the real world and his royal duties and partly as a “worthy temple” for his “divine friend”, the composer Richard Wagner.

    The primary reason behind the construction was Bavaria’s loss in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 which ultimately removed the king's right to dispose over his army in case of war. As a result, Ludwig II was effectively no longer a sovereign ruler and so in 1867 he began planning his own kingdom, in the form of castles and palaces, where he could be a real king. As a boy Ludwig had identified with the legend of the swan knight Lohengrin, to whom Richard Wagner dedicated a romantic opera in 1850, and this fed his romantic imagination as he grew older and looked for ways of creating an inner world that better aligned with his own fantastical perception of kingly dignity. This fed most clearly into his design for Neuschwanstein.

    Unfortunately for Ludwig, there was no aligning the worlds of imagination and finance, and from 1885 on foreign banks threatened foreclose on the huge loans they had made to him and seize his property. The king's refusal to react rationally led the government to declare him insane and depose him in 1886. Ludwig II was interned in Berg Palace where he died the next day in mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.

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  • Samantha Barbagallo

    Best time of the year to visit Central Europe

    7 / 1 / 2017

    Central Europe is a beautiful part of the world, and no matter what season you visit, we are confident you'll have a great time. There is no doubt, that with each season there are Pros and Cons. So if you're unsure of what season to plan your European adventure in, here is Go Real Europe's complete guide. 

    WINTER

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    Mid-November to Mid-December

    Weather Overview:

    Unless you are coming from a cold climate, this time period will probably feel more like winter than autumn to you. Snow is possible, and you will probably get some rain. If it is rainy, it can be quite unpleasant, but there is always a cozy cafe or pub nearby.

    Pros:

    • Christmas Markets! Most open somewhere between mid-November to early December
    • Crowds are light (except in and around the Christmas Markets)
    • The cities are festively decorated
    • Airfares are cheap, as are hotels (see exception below)
    • You'll really appreciate warming up in all the cozy cafes and restaurants, or sipping a hot cup of cider or sweet wine in the Christmas Markets

    Cons:

    • Bare trees, usually without snow
    • The weather is quite cold, and quite unpleasant if it rains heavily
    • The days are very short, getting dark before 5 PM
    • Cobblestones may already be icy, particularly in the evenings or mornings
    • Some hotels increase prices on the weekends due to Christmas Markets
    • Some attractions outside of the major cities are closed

    Late December to Early March

    Weather Overview:

    It’s cold. Expect snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, but also be prepared for the possibility of rain. Often it will be cloudy but you will probably get some sparkling clear days as well. Rain is more likely towards the end of February into March however sunny days become more frequent. 

    Pros:

    • Christmas Markets are usually open until Christmas or New Year's
    • Europe can be at its most beautiful when it's covered by a fresh coat of snow
    • It's one of the least crowded times of year (at least after New Year's)
    • Lines are short or non-existent (after New Year’s)
    • It's the most affordable time of year (again, after New Year's)
    • You'll really appreciate warming up in all the cozy cafes and restaurants 

    Cons:

    • It's cold!
    • You will sometimes be walking on icy cobblestones
    • The days are short
    • Some attractions, especially outside the major cities, close for the winter

    SPRING

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    Mid-March to Early May

    Weather Overview:

    The weather at this time of year is really luck of the draw. It can vary quite a bit. If you are really unlucky, you may even still get a bit of snow, but on the other hand, you might get pleasant weather in the 60s Fahrenheit (upper teens Celsius). You will probably get some rain, but you will likely get beautiful, sunny days as well. Towards the end of April and beginning of May the weather can be extremely pleasant. 

     Pros:

    • It starts to turn green (more so in Austria and Hungary than in the Czech Republic and Poland)
    • It's still not crowded, although crowds start to build in April/May
    • It is still very affordable
    • Days are getting longer

    Cons:

    • It can be cold and wet
    • Most of the spring greenery does not arrive until early or mid-April
    • Some lesser known attractions, especially outside the major cities, are closed or only have limited visiting times
    • Hotel prices usually jump higher in April 

    Mid May to Early June

    Weather Overview:

    Weather wise, this is one of the best times to travel. The weather is warmer, a fair bit of sunshine is likely, and the days are long. On the other hand, it does frequently rain.

    Pros:

    • The countryside is green and verdant and covered in flowers
    • The daylight lasts long into the evening (you'll have some daylight until nearly 10 PM)
    • The weather is usually warm and pleasant

    Cons: 

    • There are relatively frequent rain showers and thunderstorms
    • High season prices
    • Crowds are fairly heavy

    SUMMER

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    Mid-June to August

    Weather Overview:

    The weather is warm and often sunny. It's the true summer of Europe, and if you like swimming or sunbathing, this time of year will be your only chance. The countryside is green and beautiful, if not quite as colorful as it was in the late May and early June.

    Pros:

    • Beautiful green countryside and golden fields
    • Days are still long (daylight until 9 PM or 10 PM)
    • The weather is usually pleasant (in the 70's and low 80's Fahrenheit, 20's Celsius)
    • Hotel prices in some cities usually drop a bit in July and August (because business travel slows down so much)

    Cons:

    • It can sometimes get quite hot (in the 90's Fahrenheit, low 30's Celsius)
    • Airfares are high
    • Crowds are fairly heavy
    • Rain is still fairly common

    September

    Weather Overview:

    On average, this is central Europe's most pleasant month. Although sometimes summer drags into the first week of September, highs are typically in the 60's and 70's, the air is crisp, and there is a touch of color in the trees. Rain is also less frequent than in the summer.

    Pros:

    • The countryside is still green and beautiful
    • The weather is usually pleasant and rain less likely than usual
    • The sun usually shines and the air is perfectly crisp
    • Beer and wine festivals are frequent

    Cons:

    • It can still rain
    • Hotel prices jump up quite a bit
    • Crowds are still fairly heavy

    FALL

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    Early to Mid-October

    Weather Overview:

    The weather significantly cools in October, and the trees become colorful. If it's sunny (slightly better than a 50% chance on any given day) you should get delightful autumn weather, but if it’s rainy or cloudy, it can already be quite cool.

    Pros:

    • Fall colors
    • A good chance of getting nice weather
    • Crowds thin out considerably

    Cons:

    • If it rains or is cloudy the weather can already be unpleasant
    • Hotel prices are still high season prices

    Late October to Early November

    Weather Overview:

    Similarly to early October, it's really a question of whether it is cloudy and or rainy (your chances of sunny weather on any given day are still about 50%). On the other hand, the trees are at their most colorful at the end of October and are still colorful into the beginning of November.

    Pros:

    • The height of Fall colors
    • A decent chance of getting pleasant weather
    • Crowds are much lighter, especially in November
    • Hotel prices drop in November
    • Airfares usually drop

    Cons:

    • If it rains or is cloudy the weather can be wintry cold
    • Hotel prices are still usually high until the end of October
    • Some attractions outside of the major cities are closed
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  • Martin Wagner

    Best Brewery Pubs in Prague

    6 / 22 / 2017

    The Czech Republic's brewing pilsner style is imitated the world over, from Budweiser to Stella Artois, but imitators have failed to capture the true essence of this distinct brew. It can only truly be appreciated in the Czech Republic. When avid beer drinkers think of Czech beer, the first thing that comes to mind is the Pilsner Urquell lager and pilsner style.

    However, in the last few years, breweries have begun to branch out into other various styles. Breweries still continue to offer their typical Czech-style, light, half-dark, and dark lagers, but now you can choose from wheat beers, IPAs, and amber lagers. If you want to drink and enjoy a delicious beer in some of the oldest and most authentic pubs, you will find no better place than Prague. Here are some of the best breweries you can discover in Prague.

    U Medvidku

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    Possibly the oldest brewery in Prague, started in 1466. If has a great location in Old Town, and a restaurant with delicious Czech cuisine in the front, with an older section mainly for large groups and overflow located behind it. You can see the old gothic ceilings there with the original taps.

    Guests in the know will head to the brewery located in the back, behind the restaurant. Here they serve their beers which are brewed on location. They have two beers on tap year round, and a light and half dark, which tend to vary, but are always good. They also will have seasonal beers and of course X33 "The Strongest beer in the world." Always a good choice for a traditional Czech drinking experience. My personal favorite is the dark half "amber."

    U Tri Ruzi

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    A newer pub with a long history. A great choice for someone looking for a good variety of beer in old town, they usually have about half a dozen beers to choose from. One of the few places in Old Town where you can find a local IPA on tap.

    They have a larger seating area of three floors that overlooks the cobbled streets. They also have an excellent selection of Czech cuisine. The service here is also very good and friendlier than you'll find in most Czech pubs.

    Pivovar Hostivar

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    If you are feeling adventurous and would like to get away from the malls you should check out the brewery in Pivovar Hostivar in Prague 15. The beer here is varied and they always have a couple of stronger lagers on tap; they have 11, 12, 13, and 15 degree lagers and seasonal brews. It is more modern, but the good beer, great food, and garden make it worth the trip.

    U Fleku

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    Also one of the oldest breweries in Prague, over the past few years it has seen an upsurge in tourists however the quality of beer has been maintained. The brewery is on-site and you can often smell the wort boiling. The only beer they serve here is their dark lager, which does not disappoint. The traditional style of the pub is maintained by the accordion player and the traditional Czech style of serving, i.e., walking around with trays and setting down a beer whenever the waiter sees an empty glass. Also, this is a great place to enjoy a shot of the traditional Czech liquor, Becherovka or honey wine "mead."

    Klasterni Pivovar Strahov

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    Located behind the castle and possibly one of my favorite breweries in Prague. Always has a good selection of an IPA, light lager, half dark, dark, amber, and dark wheat beer on tap year round, with seasonal brews to boot, brewed under the name St. Norbert. Originally founded as a brewery in the 12th century, it went unused for almost a hundred years until it reopened in 2000. If you are looking for great beer in Prague, this is really a must!

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  • David Manley

    Packing Tips for Central Europe

    6 / 21 / 2017

    Packing for any vacation can be tiresome and stressful, especially if you’re planning on visiting multiple countries. Packing for the appropriate weather conditions (especially when they are so unpredictable) and not over packing so you don’t have to lug around a ton of luggage is the eternal traveller’s conundrum.

    But push those worries aside and don’t start packing your bags until you’ve read our ultimate packing guide for Central Europe!

    What to pack for every season

    RAIN GEAR

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    In the summer, late spring, or early fall, bring a high-quality rain jacket that can be packed into a small bag. Choose a real rain jacket over a poncho. In the winter, early spring, or late fall, just make sure whatever heavy jacket you bring is waterproof. Unless you are coming in January or February, chances are very good that you will encounter rain. If you are well prepared for rain it won't be a big deal - in fact you may actually welcome the rain as it empties the streets of tourists. And by the principles of Murphy's Law, investing in good rain gear is also the best way to ensure you have sunny weather the whole trip.

    UMBRELLA, SUNGLASSES, SUNSCREEN, AND HATS

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    Pack a small, collapsible umbrella that fit easily in a backpack. Hats should be comfortable and provide protection from the sun in the summer or warmth in the winter. Sunglasses are also a good idea.

    YOUR FAVORITE COLD MEDICINE AND HAND SANITIZER

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    You will encounter a lot of new viruses on your vacation as people from around the world also travel to these destinations. Finding a medicine that works well for you can be time-consuming and confusing in a foreign country. So pack whichever cold medicine is the most effective at relieving your symptoms and helping you rest in the evening. Having a small bottle of hand sanitizer is also a good way to avoid getting a cold in the first place. Hand sanitizer is commonly sold in Europe, so there is no need to bring more than a small bottle.

    BACKPACK

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    Bring either a large school backpack or a small camping backpack that isn't too large to be a flight carry-on. Make sure it is something you will feel comfortable wearing around town. A backpack will come in handy to carry your maps and itinerary, to put purchases in, to carry water and snacks, and to keep your rain gear and extra layers of clothing handy. Consider bringing a backpack for each person.

    GOOD WALKING SHOES

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    European cities are often covered in cobblestones and if you are traveling with a Go Real Europe itinerary, chances are you will do a fair amount of walking. Comfortable shoes are a must! Your shoes should also have good treads on them. If you are traveling from late November to mid-March, this is essential, as you may encounter icy streets and cobbles. The shoes also need to be warm for this time of year, or at the very least, should be big enough so that you can wear heavy socks.

    EASILY WASHED UNDERCLOTHES

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    Packing t-shirts, undershirts, underwear, and socks that are easily washable means you can cut down on the overall amount of clothes you bring. The layers you wear on top of these clothes stay clean (at least relatively), which allows you to bring only a few outfits. And since you can wash the underclothes, you don't need too many of them either. If you can find clothes with tags labeled "moisture wicking", they will dry more quickly. Keep in mind that in the summer, you should either plan to bring washable t-shirts that can be worn on their own, or very light undershirts which can be worn underneath light, breathable shirts.

    LAYERED CLOTHING

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    Pretty much any time of year you should be prepared for fairly dramatic shifts in temperature. The trick is to bring layered clothing. Lightweight sweaters and fleeces are a good idea the entire year, and jackets and sweaters are a good idea for October and April. A heavy winter coat, heavy sweater, and a couple pairs of warm socks (worn over your light socks) are usually needed from about mid-November to mid-March. The key is to pick out clothes that can easily be layered, so you can adjust to the changing temperature. Even in the summer months, you may sometimes end up wearing multiple layers.

    SLIM WALLET, MONEY CLIP, AND/OR MONEY BELT

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    Just like in other major cities, there is no shortage of pickpockets in central European cities. The key is to avoid the fat wallet hanging out of your back pocket, or keeping everything in a purse that can be easily snatched. We actually suggest a slim wallet or money clip containing only the essential cards and identification you will need while you are out and about. You can leave your passport and other items in the hotel safe, and you can use ATMs rather than carry large sums of cash. Try to condense your wallet to the point where it can be discreetly placed in a front pocket that you can keep a close eye on. Don't put it in your back pocket, backpack pocket, or purse if possible. Never, ever put your passport in your wallet. If you can do all this and you can stay aware of your surroundings, you should be okay.

    Again, we don’t suggest carrying large sums of cash, but if you do, a money belt is a good idea. Look for one that will be accessible and will fit with the clothing you will be wearing.

    If you are wearing just a t-shirt, some money belts stick out like a sore thumb, attracting the sort of attention you don't want. If you are staying in 3-star hotels, they often lack an in-room safe. If you don't feel comfortable leaving your passport in your room or at the front desk, this may be another reason to purchase a money belt.

    PHOTOCOPIES OF YOUR PASSPORT AND CREDIT CARDS

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    Make a photocopy of your passports, IDs, and credit cards so that if you do lose them you will be able to more easily deal with the situation. You should black out a few key details, such as the security codes of your credit cards, and rewrite them in a code that you won't forget. Otherwise, the theft of all your photocopied documents could be a perfect opportunity for identity theft and credit card fraud.

    PLUG ADAPTERS OR CONVERTERS

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    If you need to bring some sort of electronic device with you, check what voltage it is compatible with. The outlets in the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Germany, and Poland are 230 Voltage. If your device is compatible with the voltage, you will just need a plug adapter, which enables you to plug the device into the European outlet. If your device is not compatible with the voltage, you will need a converter, which is more expensive and bulkier than a plug adaptor. In the United States, Radio Shack is a good place to purchase plug adaptors and converters. For more information on the different types of plugs and their voltages. If your itinerary includes multiple countries, you may want to consider buying an all-in-one adaptor. For our destinations, you can use the "C" plug type adapter (here are the plug types in our featured destinations: Austria: C or F, Czech Republic: C or E, Hungary: C or F, Germany: C or F, Poland: C or E).

    What to pack for a concert

    For Men:

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    In the better concert halls slacks and a button up shirt are a bare minimum for men who don't want to look like inconsiderate tourists. If you wear a jacket you will fit in even better, and a tie is a nice touch but not necessary. If you don't want to wear a jacket a nice sweater may do. On the other hand, a tuxedo would be overkill.

    For Women: 

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    A cocktail dress that you would wear to a nice restaurant should be fine. A ballroom gown would be overkill. If you just plan to attend a concert aimed at a tourist audience, jeans and t-shirts will be fine, and dressing up will actually make you stand out rather than fit in.

    What to pack if you plan to participate in outdoor activities, swim, or visit the baths in Budapest

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    "RUGGED" CLOTHES

    If your itinerary includes hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, rafting or other outdoor activities, bring some clothes you won't mind getting sweaty, dirty, and/or wet. Tennis shoes or hiking shoes are also a good idea, particularly if you can wear these around town as well.

    SWIMSUIT AND FLIP FLOPS

    If your itinerary includes rafting, a visit to the baths in Budapest, or is in the summer months, you may want to consider swimsuits. Men can get away with a pair of shorts, but if you end up swimming in a man-made pool, this may be frowned upon. A lightweight and space saving option is to pack a speedo (plus you'll fit right in!). If that's too revealing for you, European stores also sell less revealing square leg speedos. If you plan to go to any swimming pools or baths (for instance in Budapest) flip-flops are a must!

    Should I pack lightly for my trip?

    Most travel experts advise that you pack lightly for your Europe trip. While this is largely true, it can be taken too far.

    It's true that you can buy a lot of what you need in Europe after arriving, especially things like toiletries. On the other hand, you won't always be near a major shopping center where you can buy a coat or rain gear, and if you are wet and cold by the time you find one you've probably ruined your day, and maybe given yourself a cold that ruins the rest of the trip. And while it's true that carrying a lot of luggage marks you as a tourist, so does spending your entire trip in a t-shirt. It's probably going to rain on your trip and the weather isn't going to be a consistent 72 degrees Fahrenheit, so you might as well come prepared.

    How many bags should I bring?

    If you are staying for only 4 or 5 days, then you are probably okay with just taking carry-ons. Otherwise we suggest one carry-on per person plus one manageable checked bag per couple. If your checked bag is too heavy to carry comfortably, try packing an extra backpack inside your checked bag. This way once you arrive you can take some of that weight out of the checked bag. You can even pre-pack the backpack within the checked bag.

    Try to combine the bags so you aren't wheeling two separate bags, or don't have two bags on your shoulders. For instance, an ideal combination for a hypothetical couple might be as follows:

    Husband: Pulls a wheeled suitcase that was checked in, and wears a backpack he carried on

    Wife: Pulls a small wheeled suitcase she carried on, and wears the extra backpack that was packed in the checked bag

    In any case, be sure to check the baggage rules for your airline, as they are constantly changing and you don't want any surprise fees upon arriving at the airport!

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  • Samantha Barbagallo

    Top Prague Cafes - 6 Of The Best Coffee Shops In Prague

    6 / 6 / 2016

    We dread the day when we turn back the clock, 
    and the sun retreats from winter's shock, 
    With darkened skies and a chill in the air,
    it can get uncomfortable to journey here and there.

    But do not fear there's no need to roam,
    you'll stay warm inside and make yourself at home.
    For Prague has so many cosy cafes,
    which wait for you with coffee lattes!

    Tuck into a pastry, cake or éclair,
    perfect for breakfast, lunch or a tea time affair. 
    So let us help you find the best,
    they'll treat you as an honoured guest.

    Grand Café Orient

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    The Grand Café Orient is the only café in the world built and designed in the unique cubist style. Located on the first floor of the famous House of the Black Madonna, it first opened in 1912 but closed 10 years later when cubism fell out of fashion. Since its reopening in 2005, it is a favourite with locals, serving very good coffee and well known for its excellent service. We love visiting for its fine detailing, from the brass chandeliers to the cubist style furniture. Its location off the Old Town Square also makes it a great place for lunch after spending the morning wandering around the Old Town and Jewish Quarter.

    Address: Ovocný trh 569/19, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město, Czech Republic
    Telephone Number: +420 224 224 240
    Website: http://www.grandcafeorient.cz/index.php?lang=en

    Choco Café

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    For those looking for a cosy café and a good dose of chocolate goodness, the Choco Café on Betlémské náměstí is a fantastic pit stop between visiting the Old Town Square and Charles Bridge. It’s slightly off the beaten path location (literally one street away from the busiest tourist street in Prague!) means it’s not jam packed full of tourists and its prices are reasonable. Plus it serves the BEST (and we don’t mean this lightly) Chocolate Cheesecake or Chocolate Cake in the whole of the city! Trust us, we’ve tried A LOT!

    Address: Betlémské náměstí 7, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město, Czech Republic
    Telephone Number: +420 222 222 519
    Website: http://www.choco-cafe.cz/

    Cafe Savoy

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    Located in the neighbourhood of Smichov, close to Mala Strana, Café Savoy is an elegant Parisian style café known for its beautiful interior, high ceilings and famous Savoy breakfasts. Although it is more on the pricey side, we highly recommend it for either breakfast or a lunch time treat and it is easily reachable by foot if you are visiting the nearby Petrin Hill or Kampa Park in Mala Strana. You can find Cafe Savoy on your map of Prague in the dark blue area (R5) Little Quarter

    Address: Vítězná 124/5, 150 00 Praha 5-Malá Strana, Czech Republic
    Telephone Number: +420 257 311 562
    Website: http://cafesavoy.ambi.cz/en/

    Styl & Interier Café

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    Skip Starbucks and check out this hidden gem, a quaint coffee house tucked at the back of passage close to Wencelas Square in the vibrant New Town district of Prague. Decorated to make you feel at home, this place is amazing in the spring and summer, offering a fabulous garden haven to chill out while the busy city life passes by just on the other side of the wall. If you visit in the winter, get ready for some delicious mulled wine and Christmas cookies. You can find Styl & Interier on your map of Prague in the light blue area (C4) New Town

    Address: Vodickova 708/35, Prague 110 00, Czech Republic
    Telephone Number: +420 222 543 128
    Website: http://www.stylainterier.cz/kavarna

    Café Imperial

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    Café Imperial is not a place we recommend to visit just for coffee. This grand café is an architectural gem that has been drawing in tourists and locals since 1914. Its luxurious art deco style, delicious coffee, breakfasts and cakes make this one of the best café experiences in the entire city and a real treat for anyone who visits. You can find Café Imperial on your map of Prague in the yellow area (R10,C5 Old Town)

    Address: Na Porici 15, Prague, Czech Republic
    Telephone Number: +420 246 011 440
    Website: http://www.cafeimperial.cz/

    Café Louvre

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    Dating back to 1902, Café Louvre is known as one of the elite cafes in Prague’s café culture. It is said that Franz Kafka used to visit the café frequently as well as Albert Einstein during his visits to the city in 1911-1912. Its features an attractive Parisian styled décor with high ceilings and large windows with a view out to the busy Narodni Street below. Visit for a traditional lunch of Svickova or Czech made goulash or perhaps sample one of their delicious homemade sweet treats. You’ll find Café Louvre on your map of Prague in the light blue area (R3/C2) New Town. 

    Address: Národní 22, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic
    Telephone Number: +420 224 930 949
    Website: http://www.cafelouvre.cz/en/

    Need anymore suggestions...we've got a whole list! Contact your travel consultant for suggestions or check out the downloadable city maps available in your dashboard for restaurant suggestions too! 

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  • David Manley

    Should I rent a car for my trip to Central Europe?

    6 / 5 / 2017

    Go Real Europe itineraries no longer include rental cars, as it became clear to us that in the large majority of cases, renting a car did not make sense. It also resulted in stressed-out clients, and was unnecessarily putting them in danger.

    We only suggest rental cars for those travelers planning to spend the majority of their time exploring the countryside. Even for these travelers, the hassle, cost, stress, and increased risk of a rental car may not be worth it, as a combination of trains, buses, and private excursions can be used instead. So we do not include rental cars in our clients’ itineraries in this case either.

    But for those travelers planning to spend a large part of their trip in the cities, a rental car is simply put, a very bad idea. Here are some reasons why renting a car does not make sense:

    1. Not a fit for Central European cities

    Central European cities are not car friendly. Large portions of the cities are inaccessible to cars. Those areas that are accessible to cars are often extremely difficult to drive in and are full of hazards like narrow lanes, pedestrians, and confusing medieval street patterns. Even locals avoid driving in these areas.

    If you take a car, you will first experience a difficult and stressful journey to your hotel. If you are lucky you will find a place to temporarily park nearby. Then you will drag your bags to the hotel, check in, and then proceed back to the car and take your car to a parking garage where you will squeeze into a surprisingly small parking space. You will then pay a large amount for your car to sit there while you explore the city on foot and public transportation. Then you will repeat the pattern for the next city.

    2. Increased cost

    The cost of the car rental is just the start. You will probably also pay for insurance, or if not, possible pay the deductible for a scrape or dent since you will be driving in unfamiliar areas. You must also pay for very expensive gasoline/petrol (over twice as expensive as in the United States for instance), highway tolls, and parking virtually everywhere you go. You can also end up paying hefty traffic tickets - for instance many travelers don’t realize that passing a vehicle on the right is considered a very serious traffic violation in Europe punishable by a stiff fine.

    Drop off fees are also extremely expensive, especially if you are picking up and dropping off in different countries. Another added expense is automatic transmission, which is considered a special feature in Europe. Depending on the rental car company, there are also restrictions and/or extra fees if you wish to rent a car in Germany or Austria and drive it into Poland, the Czech Republic, or Hungary. See the sample cost analysis below for more details.

    3. Increased stress and danger

    Driving in an unfamiliar area is stressful and potentially dangerous. Why add danger and stress to your trip? Travel should be a time to relax and recharge.

    You must accustom yourself to unfamiliar street patterns, driving habits, different signs, and for some clients, even driving on the other side of the road. It is especially difficult when driving into a new city for the first time, which is totally unlike the experience of driving into a North American city for the first time. A week before writing this, the author witnessed a tourist driver lost in Prague drive through a tram tunnel in the wrong direction and almost collide with a tram.

    Often times even highway driving can be extremely stressful. For instance, since European drivers do not pass on the right, they tailgate other drivers that are slowing them down. You may find yourself driving 100 MPH (160 km/hr) in the left lane, but be closely tailgated by someone who wants to drive 130 MPH. You will then face the choice of either speeding up yourself, letting him tailgate you at a very high speed, or pulling over to the right where a solid line of trucks is driving only 55 MPH.

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    Most important is safety. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of deaths of travelers abroad, at rates far, far greater than crime or terrorism. Driving is always a statistically dangerous activity in comparison to other forms of travel, but when you add in the unfamiliarity factor and the distractions of a foreign country, it is much more dangerous. For instance, what does this sign above mean? It is actually a life or death question. 

    4. Navigation issues

    If you rent a car, you will need to purchase local maps for your GPS. This will help, but you will still find many instances where the street patterns and intersections are so complex that you will find it difficult to follow the GPS directions. In the cities there are also places where you will lose reception due to the narrowness of the streets. It is inevitable that you will get turned around at many points, which can be a very frustrating and time consuming process, especially in the cities.

    Directional signage in Europe can also be quite different and hard to follow. For instance, which direction do you think Budapest is?

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    5. Lost time

    While you save time getting to and from train stations, you lose time picking up and dropping off the car and stopping for gas, highway stickers, and meals (there's no dining car in your rental car). Finding parking and epic traffic jams add to the toll of lost time. The highways in Europe are notorious for complete standstills that can last for hours. Germans for example do an excellent job of keeping their highways in tip-top condition, but they do this through frequent construction maintenance that results in traffic pile ups. There is also the time lost to wrong turns and getting lost (see above).

    6. Rental cars just aren’t necessary

    Central European cities are covered by efficient and reliable public transportation networks. It is easier, faster, and cheaper to get around the cities using public transportation, which is why the locals use them. If you travel with us, we’ll make it easy to use the public transport systems.

    The cities are also connected by rail and bus lines, meaning travel between the cities can be a relaxing opportunity to take in the sights rather than a stressful drive. There is also an excellent network of regional rail and bus lines, so you can easily take excursions into the countryside without a car.

    Sample Cost Analysis

    At the time this analysis was done, 1 EUR = 1.09 USD. Different situations will result in different cost estimates, so keep in mind that the cost could be more or less depending on your particular situation.

    Let’s say two people are traveling to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. They are choosing between taking the train, or picking up an automatic transmission, economy class rental car upon departing Prague and dropping it off upon arriving in Budapest. They will rent the car for four days.

    The cost of the rental car including insurance and drop off fee would be about $475 USD (source, kayak.com). The cost of transfer to the rental office would be about $15, and transfer from the rental office would be about $25 (since they must drop off in Budapest’s airport). Gasoline and highway stickers would add about an additional $90 (source viamichelin.com). 72 hours of parking in central Vienna would add an additional $60. They will also need a Europe map for their smart phone's gps, adding another approximately $70. So the total would be about $735. Remember this is an economy car, and we are also assuming that there are no parking or traffic violations, and no hidden fees from the rental car company. If there were more than two people traveling, a larger, more expensive car would be required after factoring in space needed for suitcases.

    They could try dropping off the car in Vienna, and getting a second rental car for the trip to Budapest, but now they have a second drop off fee and extra transfers, so they may actually spend more money, while adding extra work and stress. There are also usually fees and/or restrictions on taking an Austrian rental car into Hungary.

    On the other hand, they could purchase flexible 2nd class train tickets covering Prague to Vienna, and Vienna to Budapest, for about $220 USD. Adding in transfers to and from the stations, the total comes to about $300 USD. So in total, less than half the cost of renting a car, and with far less than half the stress.

    There are some cases, such as when you travel in a larger group, stay in one country, and pick up and drop off in the same city, that it may be a little bit cheaper to rent a car, but for all the reasons we’ve mentioned above, we still do not recommend it, unless you are doing a countryside-focused tour. And even in that case, it is a difficult call.

     

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  • Samantha Barbagallo

    The Strangest Sculptures - Works by David Cerny in Prague

    6 / 1 / 2016

    One thing not many people notice when visiting Prague is it's the mass array of weird and wonderful and sometimes controversial sculptures that have been placed object around this very compacted city.

    Most have been created by David Cerny, a Czech artist and sculptor, whose work has caused controversy and conversation since his notorious painting of a soviet tank (bright pink) back in 1991 to serve as a war memorial in central Prague.

    Since then he has continued to produce some of the most bizarre statues and sculptures, so we have compiled a sheet of some of his best work which you can find during your own explorations around Prague using the detailed directions in your itinerary when you travel with Go Real Europe!

    If you want, print out this blog post and tick off as you see them!

    Man Hanging Out

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    Found in the heart of Prague's Old Town, this rather peculiar sculpture is not an easy find. It depicts the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud hanging by a hand, pondering whether to hang on or let go. Tourists are disturbed by the sculpture, often mistaking it for a real person committing suicide. Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg which is now part of the Czech Republic. Even during the most prolific times of the his career, Freud suffered from a number of phobias including the fear of his own death.

    Giant Babies

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    During your explorations of the Little Quarter, take a stroll through Kampa Park and discover David Cerny's bronze babies that can be found guarding the entrance to the Museum Kampa. These strange larger than life sculptures have no faces and their fiberglass brother and sisters can be found scaling the Television Tower in the Žižkov Neighbourhood. 

    "Piss"

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    Yes you read it right, the next sculpture which can be found outside in the courtyard of the Franz Kafka Museum is one of David Cerny's most hilarious creations. It features two mechanical men taking a leak on a map of the Czech Republic. You even can text a personal message to the number on the exhibit and watch the men spell it out to you with their bronze penises. Definitely a must see sight!

    "Horse"

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    If you happen to be exploring the New Town area of ​​Prague, then we recommend taking a short detour from Wenceslas Square to find the upside down "Horse" sculpture in the arcade Lucerna on Vodickova street. It depicts King Wenceslas astride his upside down dead horse. It was crreated as a parody of the famous Wenceslas Monument which is located near the end of Wenceslas Square close to the Museum Metro Stop.

    "K on Sun"

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    David Cerny's recent piece has been installed just a few meters from the rear of the Quadrio shopping center in Nove Mesto (New Town). Weighing 45 tons, this bust of Franz Kafka is composed of 42 moving layers and sits at 11 meters tall. While its meaning is yet to be confirmed by David Cerny, many speculate that it represents Kafka's tortured personality and unrelenting self-doubt. 

    Here is Samantha our Marketing Guru out on her frequent explorations of Prague's Neighbourhoods next to David Cerny's Franz Kafka Bust ....

    Our Jewels of Cenral Europe trip includes a visit to Prague where you can discover all of David Cerny's weird and wonderful sculptures. Click the link to download your free sample itinerary for this trip! 

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  • David Manley

    Eating Out and Tipping in Central Europe

    5 / 31 / 2017

    Restaurants, bistros, food stands - there are many possibilities to eat out while travelling Central Europe.

    How much you will spend on meals during your trip depends mostly on your personal preferences. For instance, if you prefer gourmet fine dining, then you should expect to pay a fair amount for your meals, even in Prague, Budapest, and Krakow. On the other hand if you are willing to get off the beaten path and try some restaurants popular with the locals, than you can dine fairly affordably, even in German and Austrian cities.

    A good way to know whether a restaurant is expensive or not is to check the price of the beer. In Prague, if a large beer (1/2 liter, 10°) costs over 50 crowns, than it is getting into the expensive range. In Vienna or Salzburg, if the cost of a large beer is more than 4 Euros, than it is likely a pricey restaurant. In Budapest, if a beer is more than 700 HUF, than it is likely a pricey restaurant. It’s not a fool-proof method, but it’s a good start.

    You can also assume that meal prices will be about the same as in the U.S., Canada, or Australia in Germany and Austria, and about 20-40% less in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.

    If you want to budget, remember is to ask for the daily lunch menu on weekdays. The daily menus can be remarkably cheap as they are targeted towards workers on business lunches. For instance if you choose from the daily menu in Prague you can enjoy an excellent lunch with beer or wine for about $7-8 USD. Not all restaurants in the tourist center offer a daily menu. However, many still do, but only display it in the local language. Ask for it at a restaurant, they should be able to tell you.

    Another way you can save a tremendous amount of money is by taking advantage of the many street food options in the cities. For instance in Berlin you can pop into a kebab place and get a filling (and delicious) meal for under five Euros.

    If you want to do detailed budget planning, you can check out our restaurant recommendations on the Go Real Europe city maps. The city maps are accessible in your account after you pay your deposit. You can visit the websites of the restaurants that sound interesting to you, as they often have English-version menus online. This way you can work out a very accurate budget and estimate of your food costs.  

    Do not worry about tipping much. Some restaurants already include a tip in the price (it should be noted on the menu), and even if they don't, tipping is not as generous as it is in North America since waiters receive a regular salary. A tip of 10% is very generous regardless of whether or not the tip is included in the price. Most Europeans just round off the price of the meal when giving a tip. For instance, if a meal was 768 Czech crowns, they might just give the waiter 800 Czech crowns and let him keep the change. Others don’t tip at all.

    The transaction usually works like this:

    • You ask the waiter for the bill

    • The waiter brings you the bill, you look at the price of the meal, and then you tell the waiter how much you want to pay in total, including the tip

    • If you pay in cash the waiter returns your change at the table and keeps the difference between the meal cost and the total amount you stated

    • If you pay with a credit card the waiter usually brings the machine to the table and charges your card for the total including the tip

    If you prefer, you can also just leave the tip on the table.

    Bon appetit and bon voyage!

     

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  • Andrew Barton

    The Literature Lover’s Guide to Prague's Most Famous Writers

    4 / 28 / 2017

    Like capital cities everywhere, Bohemia’s main city has attracted its fair share of great artists, whether they’ve been born there or have been drawn to an environment with the infrastructure to support and nurture exceptional talent. Prague’s literary figures are famous not only to Czech readers, but also the wider world as a result of the constantly fluctuating political and social environment in which they found themselves over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries and which elicited work of global interest.

    Jaroslav Hašek

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    No-one visiting the Czech Republic could possibly miss the corpulent figure of Švejk (Schweik in German) attired in his Austro-Hungarian uniform and cap and invariably puffing jauntily on a German porcelain wine pipe. The Good Soldier Švejk is the masterpiece comic creation of Jaroslav Hašek, the Bohemian literary jester king, whose own life story sometimes mirrored the uproariously absurd events of his most famous character, at least until he drank and ate himself to an early death at the age of 39, leaving Švejk’s adventures unfinished.

    The story of the dim-witted but incurably jolly Švejk, whom Hašek used to illustrate the ludicrousness and futility of the First World War, famously opens with his arrest in the pub U Kalicha (The Chalice) after remarking on the flies defecating on a portrait of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. You can still enjoy a pint or six at U Kalicha at Na Bojišti 12 in Prague’s New Town, although Hašek himself haunted the pubs in the working class district of Žižkov where there’s an intriguing equine statue that’s half pub bar and half Hašek bust on Prokopovo náměstí (Prokop’s Square).

    Milan Kundera

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    The Unbearable Lightness of Being is surely among the best known Czech books of the last century, if not the best known thanks to the 1988 film version starring Daniel Day Lewis. Despite the book’s obvious primary location, its author, Milan Kundera, is a bit difficult to pigeonhole as a purely Czech writer or Prague literary figure these days since he’s been domiciled in France since emigrating from Czechoslovakia in 1975. He became a naturalised French citizen in 1981 and has published exclusively in the French language since 1995. He allegedly only ever travels back to the Czech Republic incognito.

    Kundera’s ambivalence toward his homeland is reciprocated by his former compatriots. His continued belief in the reformist potential of Czech communism even after the 1968 Soviet invasion, his literary sparring with Vaclav Havel, and unproved allegations that as a student he denounced a young Czech pilot to the communist authorities in 1950, have damaged his reputation in the Czech Republic. But Prague unequivocally is and will always remain a strong presence in his work. One example is Petřín Hill where you can retrace the dream sequences of Tereza from The Unbearable Lightness of Being where she imagines she will be executed, but only if she convinces the executioner that she seeks death of her own free will, believing that it is the will of her husband, Tomáš.

    Bohumil Hrabal

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    Considered one the most imaginative and satirical Czech writers of the 20th century on a par with Hašek and Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal is probably best known to English speakers as the author of Closely Watched Trains, whose celluloid version won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1968. Hrabal was adored by the Czech reading public for the characters he portrays in his books as “wise fools” - simpletons who occasionally and inadvertently express profound thoughts, but who are also given to coarse humour and a Švejkian determination to survive and enjoy life despite the slings and arrows fortune has thrown their way. Half of all his published work was turned into films which invariably attracted the cream of the Czech cinematic fraternity.

    Before turning to writing full-time Hrabal, worked as paper packer in the 1950s at a waste collection site at 79 Spálená St, not far from Narodní třida metro station; the plaque on the building facade says his time there served as inspiration for the novel Too Loud A Solitude. In his later years Hrabal could be found nursing a mug of beer at the pub U zlatého tygra (The Golden Tiger) at Husova 17 where Bill Clinton also once quaffed a beer with him and Vaclav Havel. There’s a 5.5m painting of Hrabal with his 16 cats and quotes from his most famous works on a bus station wall in the Prague quarter of Libeň where he resided for much of his adult life.

    Franz Kafka

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    Franz Kafka is Prague’s most famous literary figure, and any expatriate who’s resided long enough in the city will be able to relate from their own excruciating experience at various bureaucratic offices what some of the inspiration for Kafka’s stories might have been. Few other writers have created such an impression that their names have become adjectivised, i.e. ‘Kafkaesque’, meaning an event or activity of a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality.

    Kafka’s formative years were spent under the Austro-Hungarian Imperial regime which perfected the art of administrative and bureaucratic delay and obfuscation – something which one could be forgiven for believing still holds true in 21st century Bohemia. If you venture up to Prague Castle, it’s not too difficult even today to imagine the atmosphere in which K undergoes his trials and tribulations in The Castle. Kafka even lived for a time at House No.22 at Prague Castle’s Zlatá ulička (Golden Lane). There are numerous other Kafka-related sites in Prague, including the Kafka Museum at Cihelná 635/2b in the Little Quarter, the Franz Kafka Monument at the juncture of Vězeňská and Dušní Streets in the Old Town, and the 45-ton revolving head of Kafka created by the enfant terrible of the Czech art world, David Černy, at the Národní třida shopping centre.

    Karel Čapek

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    During the inter-war period Karel Čapek was undoubtedly Prague’s most famous literary figure. Best known to the English-speaking world for introducing the word ‘robot’ into the language from his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), he was at the global forefront in promoting discussion of the ethical aspects of industrial inventions and processes already anticipated in the first half of the 20th century, such as mass production, nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence. He was also partly responsible, along with Jaroslav Hašek, for sparking a revival in written Czech using the vernacular after centuries of domination by the German language.

    Given his interest in the ethical issues contained in his writing, it’s no wonder he was also a fierce and outspoken anti-Nazi (and anti-Communist). His patriotism, however, meant that he refused to go into exile despite the fact he was near the top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list. When the Nazis eventually occupied Bohemia, however, and the Gestapo came knocking on his door, they discovered that Čapek had died of pneumonia several months earlier. Nazi agents nevertheless arrested his equally famous brother, Josef – a painter, writer and poet – who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. The ‘dvujdům’ (dual house) the brothers shared still stands in Prague’s Vinohrady district at Bratří Čapků 28 & 30.

    Karel Hynek Macha

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    There’s a well-established tradition of the young romantic poet as celebrity, and a cult of personality in literary terms if that poet has died a particularly young death. The archetype is Lord Byron, but other states have also elevated similar poetic figures to the pantheon of national literary hero, from Scotland’s Rabbie Burns to Russia’s Alexander Pushkin to Poland’s Adam Mickiewicz. The Czech Republic’s candidate for tragi-romantic national poet is Karel Hynek Macha, who died of pneumonia at the tender age of 25 in 1836.

    His modern reputation is based upon the lyrical epic poem “Máj” (May), which is now regarded as a classic work of Czech Romanticism and one of the best Czech poems ever written, containing as it does many of the precursors of 20th-century literature: existentialism, alienation, isolation, surrealism, etc.

    Too young to be appreciated as one of Prague’s famous literary figures while alive, Macha was latterly “discovered” and promoted by other writers in the mid-19th century. Since then, generations of Czech school students have been brought up on Máj’s homage to the beauty of spring. As a result, it’s now a custom among young Czech lovers to place a flower or wreath at the base of the Macha statue on Petřín Hill on the first day of May.

    Standard travel guides and travel companies don’t normally offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in the literary cultures of Central European cities. If you want to discover or learn more about Prague’s famous literary figures then we at Go Real Europe will gladly create a customised itinerary that will help you explore the city’s literary traditions.

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  • David Manley

    The BEST thing to do on a sunny afternoon in Prague

    4 / 27 / 2017

    When the average traveler imagines Prague they tend to first think of its twisting medieval lanes and awe-inspiring historic architecture such as the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and the Old Town Hall. But for locals, the city’s best feature may actually be its abundant supply of parks and green spaces. We’ve picked out some of our favorite natural oases, in case you want to enjoy a sunny afternoon away from the crowds. Those traveling with children will especially enjoy the change of pace.

    Petřín Hill

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    Visitors to Prague cannot help but notice this hill looming above Prague’s Little Quarter, but its deep forests and steep slopes scare off many of the less intrepid travelers. In reality even the laziest of travelers can ascend the hill quite easily by way of its historic funicular and enjoy spectacular views of the city. The first stop of this cable railway drops you off on the side of the hill, where you can explore the many walking paths, stroll through cherry orchards, and pick a pear or apple off the tree. Afterwards you can recover at a cafe or restaurant overlooking the city. If you take the funicular all the way to the top of the hill, it is only a short walk through rose gardens to the Eifel Tower-like rozhledna, an observation tower that gives you 360° views of Prague and its surroundings. Kids will especially like this option, as they can also explore a more than century-old mirror labyrinth, take a break on a unique playground, and discover a hidden garden. Every visitor to Petřín Hill should also be sure to check out the medieval “Hunger Wall” which runs through the park.

    Letná Park

    View from Letna Beer Garden over Prague and the Vltava River.

    This park also overlooks the historic city, and at several points offers a unique vantage point that allows you to look down a succession of bridges crossing the Vltava River. The park is crisscrossed by tree-lined paths and filled with lawns and playgrounds popular with the local children. The park was also once the site of the world’s largest statue of Joseph Stalin, which dominated the city skyline. The statue was destroyed in 1962, leaving a massive empty pedestal standing high above the river. Today the pedestal is the site of only a small metronome and skateboarders and onlookers fill its wide-open space. The highlight of Letná Park for most however is not the empty plinth but the nearby beer garden. You can imbibe some of the Czech Republic’s legendary brew while enjoying the shade provided by chestnut trees, chatting up the locals, and taking in a perfect view of Old Town and New Town.

    Žluté lázně

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    Prague is located in the middle of Europe, but its land-locked geography does not stop the locals from enjoying a little beach-side fun. Along the banks of the Vltava River you will find Žluté lázně, a recreational area featuring a sandy beach, sunbathing lawns, a beer garden, playgrounds, cafés, paddle boats, volleyball courts, and much more. It attracts a mix of happy families, flirting singles, and topless sunbathing octogenarians.

    Vyšehrad

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    Prague Castle is not the city’s only fortress. Three kilometers to the south, on a steep rock above the opposite bank of the river, sits the thousand-year-old Vyšehrad fortress. Originally a medieval stone castle, it was transformed into a massive Baroque fortress by the Austrian Empire during the 17th century. Its huge brick ramparts were ideal for controlling the potentially rebellious city. Now, however, the ramparts are devoid of artillery and are instead filled by pedestrians on a stroll. The ramparts provide perfect vantage points for admiring Prague from a variety of angles. The large area within the fortress has been transformed into one of the city’s most popular parks, including an exceptional playground focused on the theme of Czech legends. There are also numerous historic attractions within the fortress worth checking out, such as the casemates beneath the fortress walls, the 11th century rotunda of St. Martin, and the beautiful church of Saints Peter and Paul (which, by the way, is the site of our marketing guru Samantha’s upcoming nuptials).

    Divoká Šárka (or Prokopské údolí)

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    Just an easy tram ride from the center of Prague you will find Divoká Šárka, a large natural preserve that will make you forget that you are anywhere near a major city. You will probably be surprised by just how beautiful the preserve is, as you hike through a narrow stream valley hemmed in by steep cliffs and thick forests, and look upwards at jagged rock formations rising to impressive heights. There’s more to do than hike though – you can also swim, cycle, or hang out in the beer garden of a cozy pub located deep in the forest. Also not far from the city center is another equally impressive and large natural area located in a scenic stream valley – Prokopské údolí. While Divoká Šárka is a bit more popular, that means that it also is more likely to be crowded. In Prokopské údolí you are more likely to a find a herd of sheep than a crowd of people.

    While these spots might not make it on to your typical tour itineraries, at Go Real Europe we believe part of an authentic travel experience is getting beyond the sights included in your standard travel itinerary. We hope that you’ll let us create a custom travel adventure for you, so you can experience a relaxing sunny afternoon in one of these beautiful locales, far from the maddening crowds.

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  • David Manley

    The Most Common Scams

    4 / 27 / 2017

    Although it is fairly rare, there are those who attempt to scam tourists, especially in Budapest. For instance, one variation which occurs on Vaci street in Budapest is for a couple of attractive girls to approach a male traveler or small group of male travelers asking for directions to a bar. Eventually they invite the travelers to visit the bar with them, which is actually just a front for the scam. When the bill arrives, the total is for hundreds of Euros and the travelers are not allowed to leave until the bill is paid. This trick is also sometimes played in Prague.

    Another Budapest scam is for a person claiming to be an undercover police officer to approach you, flash an ID, and ask to inspect your wallet for counterfeit money (you can guess what happens then). Another variation is for one scammer to approach you and ask for a light or strike up a conversation. Then his partner arrives pretending to be the undercover officer, and accuses you of conducting a drug deal or other criminal activity with the first individual. If a police officer without a uniform approaches you, do not hand over your wallet or purse for inspection, but instead ask to be taken to a police station first, or even to a nearby hotel lobby. This will quickly take care of the problem (unless you really are dealing in drugs or counterfeit money, in which case your situation could turn out to be considerably more complicated).

    Yet another scam is for someone to offer to change money with you on the street, often near an exchange office. We’ll keep this one simple; don’t change money on the streets, and if someone approaches you with an offer to do so, don’t even engage with him or her.

    For the most part though, just maintaining situational awareness and employing some common sense is enough to avoid problems such as the ones described above. For instance, ask yourself, “When have beautiful young girls ever needed to approach strangers on the street to find someone to have a drink with them?” Or “Would I be suspicious if a police officer tried this back home?”

    Be smart while travelling!

     

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  • David Manley

    Currencies and Money Exchange in Central Europe

    3 / 9 / 2017

    You might think that the Euro would be widely used in the whole Europe by now but the truth is that many countries have not switched to it yet. From all destinations we offer, you can pay with Euros while travelling Germany, and Austria or enjoying one of our excursions to Slovakia. Even though, the Euro is not officially used in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, you can still find shops, restaurants, and bars in the city centers of the capitals accepting this currency. More common way to enjoy travelling to the Czech Republic is to exchange your money to the Czech koruna/crown (CZK), in Poland switch to the zloty (PLN) and in Hungary to the forint (HUF).

    Or do not exchange anything at all.Airports and rail stations all have ATMs in their arrivals halls, so you can pick up cash as soon as you arrive. Some travelers though prefer to have the currency in their pockets prior to arrival, which can occasionally prove useful, for instance, in case they have a problem with their bank card. In that case we suggest arriving with 100 Euros, broken down into 20 Euro bills or smaller. You can also arrive with the other currencies you will need as well, but these currencies may be harder to change in your local bank. You can still usually use Euros outside the Euro currency zone, although you will get a very poor exchange rate and change returned in the local currency. You will get also get a poor exchange rate in your local bank, which is why we suggest only changing a little money before you arrive.

    Just make a mental note to visit the ATM at the airport or rail station upon arrival.

    Even with fees, ATMs are usually the cheapest option for getting cash. When you use an ATM, your bank should exchange the money at the interbank rate, which is much better than the rate you would have gotten exchanging the currency at home, ordering the currency from a currency exchange website, or exchanging cash at exchange booths. Most stores and restaurants also accept credit cards, and again the money is exchanged at the interbank rate.

    If you have multiple ATM cards, you should check to see which one has the smallest fees. Even if you just have one ATM card, check to see whether it is a percentage fee or a per transaction fee. This will help you determine how much to withdraw per ATM visit.

    Bank ATMs are usually very safe to use. However, there is a trick you should be aware of. Some ATMs, including those of big banks, use a very shady tactic to make some extra money from you. After you enter the amount of money you want to withdraw, using the local currency, a new message pops up that looks something like this:

    "Would you like to accept a guaranteed exchange rate of ###$ for ###€? If you do not accept this offer, we cannot held be responsible for the exchange rate you are given.”

    Or something else to that effect. Sometimes they instead just offer you the option to select the amount you want to withdraw in your home currency.

    In any case, do not accept. This is just a sneaky way for the banks to add a 2-3% commission onto your ATM transaction. If you simply enter the amount you want to withdraw in the local currency, the money will be exchanged at the interbank exchange rate, which is the best rate possible.

    All ATMs have English text and are everywhere. If you will decide to use them, do not forget to inform your bank that you will be using the card overseas. In some cases, your bank will block overseas transactions unless they have been informed before hand that you will be travelling.

    When taking money out of the ATM in the Czech Republic or Hungary, be sure to select an "Other Amount" rather than one of the standard amounts, which are multiples of a thousand Czech crowns or ten thousand Hungarian forints. By selecting "Other Amount" you can pick an amount which gives you some smaller bills. For instance, if you withdraw 1,800 crowns you can get one 1,000 crown note and four 200 crown notes. If you withdraw 2,000 crowns, you might get one 2,000 crown note only.

    There are also other options but… The only time we suggest currency exchange booths is when you are traveling from one foreign country to the next and have some unused currency from the last country remaining. Otherwise we suggest using ATMs instead.

    Although there are currency exchange booths located throughout the tourist areas, you will lose a lot of money on poor exchange rates if you use them as your primary method of exchange. Even if the exchange booth says they don't charge a fee or commission, the cost is still there, it's just hidden in a poor exchange rate.

    They also often advertise decent exchange rates on their doors, and hide the fact that the exchange rate is only valid for large transactions. Once you've handed them the cash and discovered the poor exchange rate, the only way you can get it back is by exchanging the money a second time!

     

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  • Eva Malá

    Can You Drink Tap Water in Europe?

    2 / 21 / 2017

    The tap water is very safe and quite drinkable in our travel areas. In fact, we have been told by clients that the tap water in Prague is some of the best tasting tap water they have ever drank.

    On the other hand, one of the most common causes of sickness while travelling is drinking contaminated water. It can cause diarrhoea, and in exceptional bad cases hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera. So it is important to know in which countries it is safe to drink tap water, and in which countries you are better off sticking with bottled water. 

    Enjoy as much tap water as you wish in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia. That means on any Go Real Europe tour.

    If you will have a longer layover anywhere further east, such as in Russia or the Ukraine, get yourself bottled water. It is never difficult to find a shop selling one. 

    And of course some people have sensitive stomachs, which can be upset by a simple change in their drinking water. In this case bottled water may be a good idea anywhere you travel, even if only for peace of mind. But if not, your wallet and the environment will thank you for choosing tap water.

    Cheers!

     

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  • David Manley

    Concerts, Operas, and Ballets Dress Codes in Europe

    1 / 16 / 2017

    A tuxedo or jeans? A ballroom gown or mini-skirt? Hard to decide, when you are abroad? Let us guide you through contemporary concerts, operas, and ballets fashion rules in Europe.

    First of all, it depends on the concert. Many concerts are intended for tourists, especially those where the tickets are sold on the street or via flyers left in hotel lobbies. Usually these concerts take place in a church, synagogue, or palace. In this case you can wear casual clothes; in fact you should not dress nicely unless you want people to assume you are one of the musicians.

    If the concert is at a major concert venue, and/or it is a performance by one of the major opera companies, orchestras or ballets, then more formal dress is suggested. For women a cocktail dress is appropriate, or at least a nice pair of slacks and a blouse. However, do NOT wear high-heels if you plan on walking to the concert hall, as you must walk on cobblestones. For men a jacket and tie is appropriate, or at least slacks, a button up shirt, and a jacket or nice sweater. Jeans, shorts, t-shirts, mini-skirts, etc. are definitely not appropriate, although unfortunately you will see some tourists wearing them. But you will also see that they get plenty of ugly looks from the locals.

    A ballroom gown or tuxedo, on the other hand, would be overkill. The exception to this is the Salzburg Music Festival, where many patrons do dress more elegantly. However it is not necessary – you will be fine following the guidelines noted above.

    Good luck with right fashion choices and see you in Europe!

     

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  • Andrew Barton

    Six Of The Best Classical Concert Halls In Central Europe

    12 / 30 / 2016

    Witness incredible acoustics and mind blowing architecture in some of Central Europe's most famous and best classical music concert halls, that draws in crowds from all over the world. 

    Munich

    The National Theatre on Max-Joseph-Platz is home to the classical royal flush of the Bavarian State Opera, the Bavarian State Orchestra and the Bavarian State Ballet. Construction was first ordered by the King of Bavaria and began in 1811 because the Cuvilliés Theatre in the adjacent Residence Palace was too small. It was designed with the 1782 Odéon in Paris as its template. Fires in 1817 and 1823 resulted in rebuilds, but it was during the reign of Ludwig II 1865-1886 that the theatre rose to particular prominence when the royal infatuation with Richard Wagner resulted in world premieres of four of the composer’s masterworks, including Tristan und Isolde. An Allied air raid in 1943 gutted the building, leading to another rebuild. The restored neo-classical design today houses the world’s third largest stage covering 2,500m2.

    Also of interest is the Gasteig cultural centre that acts as home to the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra – its first permanent venue since its original home, the Tonhalle, was completely destroyed in 1944. The centre was opened in 1985 and is built on the site of the former Bürgerbräukeller – the site of Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and the scene of Georg Elsner’s 1939 assassination attempt on Hitler. The Philharmonic Hall has an intimate atmosphere but is said to have poor acoustic qualities, although the Kleiner Konzertsaal is a good acoustic venue for chamber music.

    Berlin

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    The Berlin Philharmonic is considered to be among the very best in the world, if not the best, helped considerably by playing in what is certainly one of the best Central European classical concert halls built in the latter half of the 20th century. Herbert von Karajan ruled the Philharmonic with an iron fist from 1955 right up until shortly before his death in 1989 when its reputation was firmly cemented. With its outstanding acoustics the interior design has been frequently copied around the world. 

    The appearance of the building itself with its distinctive honey-coloured pitched rooves are the result of subordinating the exterior to the requirements of the interior. Opened in 1963, the design by architect Hans Scharoun, with its curved ceilings and rejection of rectangular organisation and symmetry, provided a new way forward for architectural acoustics: vineyard terracing. By dividing the audience into blocks, the separating walls can be used to redirect more sound to the audience from the sides. The result is almost unparalleled acoustics for a modern concert hall (though acoustics experts believe pre-20th century concert halls provide the best sound, including Berlin’s Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt, which opened in 1821).

    Vienna

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    The Austrian capital is arguably the most famous city for classical music on the planet, and with its Musikverein and State Opera House it’s with good reason. The home of the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra, the Musikverein, is undoubtedly among the best Central Europe classical concert halls and is said by world famous conductor Bruno Walter to be the finest concert hall in the world. "It has beauty and power. I had not realized that music could be that beautiful," he’s quoted as saying. The Musikverein opened in 1870 and is a shoebox hall with 1,744 seats. According to the author of Concert Halls and Opera Houses, Leo Beranek, "the superior acoustics of the hall are due to its rectangular shape, its relatively small size, its high ceiling with resulting long reverberation time, the irregular interior surfaces, and the plaster interior."

    The Viennese Philharmonic recruits its musicians from the Vienna State Opera, which in turn attracts the top talent from all around the globe. The Vienna State Opera House is located in the very centre of the state capital, having been completed in 1869 in the Neo-Renaissance style by the renowned Czech architect Josef Hlávka. Initially derided by the Viennese as the "the 'Königgrätz' of architecture" (following Austria’s military debacle at the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866), the locals became fond enough of it to ensure a modernised replica was completed in 1955 after the auditorium and stage and 150,000 costumes were immolated during a bombing raid in April 1945. Such is the fame of the Vienna Opera these days that it can sometimes be extraordinarily hard to get tickets. Even the cheap standing room tickets (€2 to 4) sold 80 minutes before each performance can go like hotcakes, especially to the legendary regular clientele, which is pitiless in showing its disapproval of a performance, but even louder in voicing its appreciation.

    Prague

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    The Czech capital has a number of famous concert halls commensurate with its status as an incubator of world renown musical talent such as Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček, among others. Foremost among the venues for opera is the National Theatre (which also houses ballet and drama ensembles). Although it was built in 1868 to 1881 primarily as an embodiment of the Czech nation during the height of the Czech revivalist movement rather than on the basis of modern acoustic and visual demands, its acoustics are superb. While sited on an unsurpassed location on the banks of the Vltava River in the centre of the city, the trapezium shape of the land parcel created a real headache for the building’s designers, resulting in fewer seats than originally planned. The grand opening was held in 1881 with the world premiere of Smetana's opera Libuše, but after only 11 performances the theatre was nearly completely destroyed in a fire. A new public collection was initiated which led to a swift reconstruction and re-opening in 1883.

    The home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rudulfinum, is found not too far away also on the banks for the Vltava River, but performances are mostly open to subscription holders only. More accessible to out-of-town classical music lovers are the concerts performed in Smetana Hall at lavishly decorated Art Nouveau masterpiece, the Municipal House. The 1200-seat Smetana Hall has brilliant acoustics and is again a product of the Czech national revival of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its interior design features sculptural allegories from Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances and Smetana’s My Country.

    Salzburg

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    Any mention of the town of Salzburg and music in the same breath will automatically trigger associations with the Hollywood blockbuster musical The Sound of Music. And one of the most famous scenes from that film is of the Trapp family singing at the Salzburg Festival in the arcaded Felsenreitschule immediately prior to their escape to a nearby cemetery crypt and finally over the Alps to safety. Built in 1693 by Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun with three tiers of 96 arcades hewn into the walls of a disused quarry so that people could watch equestrian displays and animal baiting events, the Felsenreitschule was first put to use a theatre venue for the Salzburg Festival in 1926. The first opera production took place in 1948 when Herbert von Karajan conducted Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

    The Felsenreitschule shares its foyer with what is known today as the House for Mozart, formerly the Kleines Festspielhaus (Small Festival Hall), which was the very first venue for Salzburg Festival performances in 1925. Neither the Felsenreitschule nor the Kleines Festspielhaus were suitable for the performance of Mozart’s stage works, so the Kleines Festspielhaus was heavily made over in 2003-2006 to produce excellent acoustics and the best possible sight lines from all seats. One of the reasons from the creation of the House for Mozart was the criticism made of the adjacent Grosses Festspielhaus (Large Festival Hall), created from the former archiepiscopal princely stables in 1956-1960, as it was too large to provide the required intimate setting for Mozart operas. Its stage, for example, is one of the widest in the world, at 100 metres (330 ft) and has an iron stage curtain that weighs 34 tonnes and in the middle is one metre thick, but otherwise it offers ideal acoustic conditions and sight-lines from its 2,179 seats. Guided tours of these three venues are available when performances are not scheduled.

    Budapest

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    Opera houses are often constructed not simply to showcase a nation’s or a city’s brightest singing talent, but also to demonstrate to the world that the said nation or city has achieved the pinnacle of culture, power and wealth. In this regard, the Budapest Opera House is ranked among the best Central European classical concert halls and one of the best in the world with an opulent interior decorated with paintings and sculptures created by the country’s most-acclaimed artists. Opened in 1884, it’s another Neo-Renaissance building, although its design is more horseshoe than shoebox. While acoustics are often a matter of personal preference, measurements performed in the 1970s by a group of international engineers ranked the Budapest Opera House third in Europe in terms of acoustics after La Scala in Milan and the Palais Garnier in Paris. Most of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra’s performances also take place at the Budapest Opera House. Public tours of the opera house are available in six different languages on a daily basis.

    Standard travel guides and travel companies don’t normally offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in the musical cultures of Central European cities. If you want to discover or learn more about the best Central European classical concert halls then we at Go Real Europe will gladly create a customised itinerary that will help you experience the region’s rich classical music offerings.

     

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  • Samantha Barbagallo

    Czech Christmas Traditions: Carp, Floating Walnuts and a Baby Jesus

    12 / 5 / 2016

    It’s Christmas! (Cue Slades, Merry Christmas Everybody!). It’s the season for gift giving, twinkling fairy lights, tons of chocolate, family time and recharging our batteries. Every country around the world celebrates this magical time with their own traditions and here in the Czech Republic, we have a few Christmas traditions of our own, including some rather weird ones!

    1. St Nicholas Day (Svaty Mikulas)

    Arrive in the Czech Republic around the 5th December and you’ll likely see images of not only St Nicholas (Santa Claus) but an Angel and a Devil accompany him. On the Eve of the 5th December, you may even spot St Nicholas, the angel and devil walking around local towns and even through the Old Town Square in Prague, asking children if they have been good all year and even to recite a song or poem. If they have been good, they will be given sweets and chocolate, but if they have been bad, the devil may give them a lump of coal.

    2. Christmas is celebrated on the 24th December

    Christmas Eve (December 24) is celebrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia as Štědrý den/Štedrý deň, which means "Generous Day". This is traditionally when the family comes together to eat their Christmas Dinner (more on that in a moment) and open their gifts. So don’t be surprised to find many shops and restaurants closed on the 24th December. 

    3. Carp for dinner anyone?

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    Unlike many countries where Turkey is the main dish for Christmas Dinner, in the Czech Republic, carp is served in the form of a soup and/or main dish. Carps are often purchased a week before Christmas from street vendors so you'll often spot large tanks on the streets of Prague full of Carp. They are bought and kept alive in the bath tub until they are ready for cooking on Christmas Eve. 

    4. Baby Jesus delivers presents?

    In the Czech Republic, Children believe Ježíšek 'Baby Jesus' brings presents (not Santa Claus) during the Christmas eve dinner and leaves them under the Christmas Tree. After dinner, children hear a bell ring that means that Ježíšek has been and left their presents. Baby Jesus certainly does not hail from the North Pole, but just like Santa, he receives wish-list letters in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

    5. Spot the Golden Pig…

    According to Czech tradition, on the day of the 24th December, Czechs are meant to abstain from eating meat and fast until the dinner in the evening. It is said that if you fast all day, you will see the “golden piglet” in the sky in the evening.

    6. Even numbers…

    At a Czech Christmas Dinner, the table should be set for an even number of people. An odd number brings bad luck or death. Therefore an extra plate is often used to even out the number of guests and in case an unexpected guest arrives for dinner.

    7. Floating Walnuts…

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    During the Christmas Eve dinner, Czechs make tiny boats from the shells of walnuts with a little candle inside. Each family member and guest places their shell on a bowl of water. If the shell makes it across the bowl without sinking, the owner of the shell boat will live a healthy life. If it sinks immediately it is a sign of death or bad luck. But if it touches another sailing shell, it is said you will find love and friendship in the coming year.

    8. Save a scale for good luck

    It is said that if you carry a scale from the Christmas Carp in your wallet all year you are ensured wealth and money will not run out.

    9. Attending Church…

    As one of the most atheistic countries in the world, it may shock people to know that Christmas Eve is the one time of the year when non-religious Czechs may visit church. Some families also sing Christmas Carols around the tree before dinner.

    10. Shoe throwing...

    Marriage is a big celebration in the Czech Republic and at Christmas time there are plenty of traditions to help young women determine whether they will marry in the next year. The strangest of which comes from the unmarried woman throwing a show over her shoulder towards the front door. If the shoe lands with the toe facing outwards, the girl will marry within a year. If the toe faces in towards the house, she will remain for one more year.

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  • Samantha Barbagallo

    Is Europe Safe For Travellers?

    4 / 6 / 2016

    Recent events raise the very valid question: Is it safe to travel to Europe? The short answer is yes.

    During the past year France and Belgium have fallen victim to tragic acts of terrorism that have generated a great deal of fear among potential travellers to Europe. Following last month’s attack in Brussels, the U.S State Department issued a European Travel Alert.

    While it is perfectly normal to have a heightened sense of caution, we forget that politicians and the media tend to blow the risk of terrorism way out of proportion. So before you decide to cancel any of your travel plans to Europe, here are a few things to consider:

    1. The State Department issued an Alert and not a Warning

    A travel alert is not a curfew and it does not advise you to stay at home. An alert is simply a notice of caution when traveling and it merely advises you to be vigilant. A Travel Alert is different than a Travel Warning, which advises you to reconsider traveling to the affected country. In other words, the State Department is not even advising travelers to avoid Europe. Part of the motivation for the alert is simple bureaucratic backside covering. In other words, they don’t want to be in the position of not having issued an alert if another attack occurs. 

    2. If you’re a savvy traveler, you already know to be vigilant

    If you’re an experienced traveler you will already know that when you travel to Europe, or to anywhere else for that matter, you should always be aware of your surroundings. Normally this means being aware of pickpockets, money scams and protests, but nowadays this includes possible acts of terrorism. Of course all of this is true if you are back home as well. 

    3. Statistically you are safer traveling in Europe than staying at home

    Statistically speaking, you are more likely to die on your home turf than abroad in a terrorist attack. Using numbers from the U.S State Department, the number of U.S citizens killed as a result of terrorism since 1995 was 3,503. Of these deaths, 3,158 occurred in the United States. Meanwhile, by way of comparison, during the same time period over 815,000 Americans died in auto accidents. The reality is that you should be more worried getting in your car to drive to the store than you should be about exploring Europe by train.

    4. There is almost always a travel alert in Europe, and probably where you live too

    You may not know it but there is almost always a travel alert in Europe. Large cities such as London and Paris are always on a constant level of alert for terrorist attacks; you just don’t know it because the media does not tell you. And this is true for American, Canadian, and Australian cities as well. For instance, as I write this Australia’s National Terrorism Threat Advisory System rating is “Probable”. And the current U.S. Department of Homeland Security advisory bulletin states that they are especially concerned that terrorists are targeting public events or places within the United States. 

    5. Don’t confuse the probability of a terrorist attack with the probability of becoming a victim

    Unfortunately and sadly, it is likely that at some point there will be another terrorist attack taking place in Europe, as well as in the United States, Canada, and Australia. But while the odds of another terrorist attack are high, the odds of you falling victim to a terrorist attack are 1 in 20 million (Washington Post). Does this mean that terrorism does not matter? Certainly not. But it does mean that you should let fear of terrorism control your life.

    6. Remember that most of the countries in Central Europe have never been affected by terrorist attacks

    Countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria have not seen acts of terrorism for over 20 years and apart from terrorism; they remain some of the safest countries in the world. You are far more likely to be murdered in the United States than in these countries. These countries also have lower murder rates than Australia and Canada by the way.

    If your fears are insurmountable and you still wish to cancel your trip to Europe this year then that is certainly your decision. Europe will still be waiting to welcome you if you change your mind. However we have had plenty of clients who decided to cancel their trips only to tell us later that they regretted the lost money, and more importantly, the lost opportunity to explore a new part of the world. And what made it especially frustrating was the realization that they allowed a hate-filled act of terrorism to prevent them from enriching their lives.

    “Travel is a huge unifier – perhaps a more vital force of peace than ever. If you hate terrorism, the most effective way to fight it is to travel a lot, learn about the world, come home and help our country fit better into this ever smaller planet” – Rick Steves

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  • Samantha Barbagallo

    Go Real Europe’s Top Destinations For Those Who Love Beer

    2 / 25 / 2016

    Central Europe is one of the best places in the world for beer lovers. Almost every country in Europe has its own style of beer, however, only a select few destinations have a long history of brewing beer. Go Real Europe have happily trapsed around Central Europe to find some of the best places to grab a pint (or litre) and enjoy the heavenly nectar that is beer!

    Prague

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    Czech’s love their beer or pivo as it is known locally. As the largest consumers of beer in the world (roughly 41 gallons per person per year) it is no surprise that this Bohemian capital sits as one of the top beer destinations in Europe. The city is home to the Staropramen Brewery located just a short walk from the historical centre of Mala Strana and a myriad of microbreweries for you to visit. You can also enjoy an evening beer tasting tour or visit one of its dozens of historical beer halls of beer bars, some with over 10 beers on tap! Average price for a beer is around 26 Czech Koruna (Roughly $1.25 or 76p).

    Plzen

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    As the birthplace of the pilsner beer, Plzen (or Pilsen) in the Czech Republic makes for the perfect day trip for those who love beer! A short one hour and half train ride from Prague will bring you to the heart of this small miniature city. Take a tour around Pilsner Brewery and explore its small historical centre. Average price for a beer is around 25 Czech Koruna (Roughly $1.20 or 72p).

    Munich

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    Beer has long resonated with the culinary and cultural heritage of Bavaria in Germany. It is estimated that more than 125 million gallons of beer are consumed per year in Munich alone. The city is home to the world famous Oktoberfest Beer Festival which attracts thousands of visitors every year. No visit to Munich is complete without a trip to the historical  and the world’s oldest brewery, the 11th Century Weihenstephan. Average price for a beer is around €1.50 (Roughly $1.65 or £1.20).

    Salzburg

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    Salzburg I hear you say? Not one of the first destinations that may spring to your mind when you think of beer, however Austria’s beer is growing in reputation. Most beers from Austria will come from small microbreweries however there are numerous places in Salzburg where you can taste local (and imported beer) in a historical setting. Our favourite is the Augustinian Beer Hall located at the foot of the Monchsberg Hill. Beer has been brewed and enjoyed here for centuries, drawn from traditional wooden barrels and served in large steins (stone jugs). Visit for an enjoyable evening, mixing with locals and tasting traditional Austrian cuisine. Average beer cost in the city €2 (roughly $2.20 or £1.60. Expect to pay around €4 for half a litre at the Augustinian Beer Hall).

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  • David Manley

    How INXS's Music Video Revealed Prague to the Western World

    2 / 24 / 2016

    When I moved to Germany in 1998, the mere mention of Prague still evoked a sense of the exotic. In some ways, it was still a part of the “wild, wild East”, and to visit was a little adventurous. So naturally, I traveled there within a month of arriving in Europe.

    In reality, by this time Prague was already well on its way to becoming one of Europe’s major tourist destinations. There was no shortage of hotels, tourist shops, and restaurants. There was admittedly a shortage of good restaurants (thankfully since remedied), but in reality, it was not as exotic or as adventurous as I had imagined. On the other hand, it was even more picturesque and fascinating than I had expected.

    But I can only imagine the allure of Prague when this INXS video appeared over a decade earlier in 1988. While it was technically possible to visit Prague, most Western viewers were almost completely unfamiliar with the city. With Prague as a backdrop, this simple music video proved more striking and memorable to many viewers than the slickly produced videos with which it vied for air-time. It must have been equal parts tantalizing and frustrating to think that this impossibly beautiful city lay hidden and undisturbed just on the other side of the Iron Curtain, only a little over an hour’s drive from the German border.

    And so when the Cold War ended only one year later the rush was on. In some ways, Prague had lain dormant for nearly half a century. A rush of tourist development and economic progress rapidly transformed the quiet streets of historic Prague into bustling centers of activity, and residents set about restoring the crumbling facades, decaying cafes, and dusty churches to their former glory. It was into this era of change and dislocation that the first Western tourists arrived in Prague. Since that time a huge amount has changed, mostly for better, but certainly not all for better.

    If you speak with those who first discovered Prague in the early 1990’s, such as our travel consultant Andrew, it was the best of all times to be in Prague. They admittedly have some good reasons to think so. In these early years, freedom had arrived and the police were no longer a sight to be feared. Yet at the same time, the Charles Bridge was not overflowing with crowds and vendors. A souvenir shop did not fill every other storefront on the Royal Route. Most of the people walking the streets of the city center where locals and Segway tours did not clear pedestrians off the sidewalks. These first visitors could still feel like they were discovering a hidden treasure rather than sharing a major tourist destination with the rest of humanity.

    Now though people from around the world flock to Prague and it is one of Europe’s most popular destinations. It is prosperous and at home in the center of Europe, with a multilingual population including many thousands of expats. And this is why we should be happy for the changes. Despite how nice it must have been for those early visitors, Prague is perhaps the most beautiful city in the world, and it is a good thing to share something so wonderful with the wider world. I think in most ways today’s visitors are actually the luckiest ones. The city is more scenic than ever, and it can be experienced while also enjoying all the comforts of a modern Western metropolis, such as excellent restaurants, fine hotels, and a modernized public transport system. And if visitors take the time to explore they can still escape the crowds and re-discover that authentic city of wonder revealed by this music video nearly 30 years ago. We hope you will also come visit our adopted home, so we can help you to see for yourself.

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  • David Manley

    A Guide To Public Transportation and Taxis in Europe

    1 / 2 / 2016

    Guide to Public Transport in Central Europe

    For many American’s, the thought of taking a trip to Europe and traveling around using public transport can seem very daunting. In a country where public transport is sparse and everyone travels by car, the idea of using buses, trams, subways, and trains in Europe seems too intimating, scary and confusing.

    Luckily, traveling around Europe using public transport couldn’t be easier. Europe benefits from an extensive transport network of trains and coaches connecting many of our destinations, with services generally being very efficient, safe and easy to use.

    If you travel with Go Real Europe, we will make it easy for you to use the public transportation systems in Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Krakow, Warsaw, Berlin, Munich, and Budapest to your maximum advantage as well as organizing your city to city transport.

    We’ll also provide you with detailed step-by-step itinerary directions that make traveling on public transportation simple and stress-free and even provide you with tickets. Travel with us, and you will feel like a local by the end of the trip!

    Use our useful guide below to answer some of the most common questions regarding Europe’s public transport.

    Is it safe to take taxis?

    Your taxi travel should be very limited due to the fact that we provide detailed directions for using public transportation when traveling long distances. You may, however, still encounter a few instances where you will take a taxi.

    In Austria or Germany, you should usually not worry about taking a licensed taxi. While certainly more expensive than walking or taking public transportation, you can feel relatively confident you will not get scammed by the driver.

    Unfortunately, this is not the case in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. While things are getting better, taxi drivers will still sometimes charge tourists two or three times the fair rate for the trip. They will also return incorrect change, and find other ways to take advantage of you. If you travel with us, the itinerary will include numbers to taxi companies you can trust. This way you can call for a taxi, speak with an English-speaking operator, and get an estimate of the total cost of the trip.

    Is UBER available in Europe?

    Yes, most of our destinations are already covered by UBER. Exceptions include Salzburg and Cesky Krumlov, as well as the future destinations of Nuremberg and Ljubljana. By the time you travel though, they may also cover these destinations as well.

    Should I purchase a Eurail pass?

    This is a common question we often get asked. The answer is, that rail passes such as Eurail were designed for travelers with a flexible itinerary. They allow travelers to hop on and off trains whenever you want and the opportunity to travel last minute without having to purchase expensive last minute fare tickets, thus the pass sometimes saves them quite a bit of money.

    For Go Real Europe travelers, it doesn’t make sense to purchase these rail passes. Since all of our holidays follow a fixed itinerary, we are able to purchase point-to-point transport tickets (that is tickets purchased separately to travel from city A to city B) and included them in the cost of your trip package. Since you have a fixed itinerary, we are able to purchase these tickets in advance, benefiting from early bird fares, saving you huge amounts of money against the rail pass.  

    In addition, since we take care of the purchase of these tickets, there is no need to stress or spend time searching for websites online to purchase them from.

    Isn’t it just easier to rent a car and drive?

    There is a common misconception that renting a car to travel from city to city in Europe is easier than traveling by public transport in Europe. In our experience, this is not always the case, and as such we strongly advise against renting a car when traveling from city to city and only recommend them to travelers who plan on spending the majority of their trip exploring the remote countryside.

    Since Europe has an extensive public transport network connecting many of its large and popular cities, there is really no need to hire a car.

    You can read our expert advice on renting a car in Europe here, which should answer many of the questions you may have on the topic.   

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  • David Manley

    Traveling With Kids

    1 / 1 / 2016

    Even though Mom and Dad may be dying for a visit to Europe, too many parents give up on the idea because they think their children won't be happy on the trip. Among other things, they worry that kids won't be interested in the history or the tours, and that they won't be impressed by the architecture and scenery. Forgotten in all this is the fact that there are over 100 million children in Europe, and parents there are just as interested in keeping their kids entertained as American, Canadian, and Australian parents.

    There are plenty of activities in Europe that kids will love, they just aren't included in the typical tour package or guide book. The trick to making kids happy in Europe is simple – create an itinerary filled with activities they are actually interested in.

    With Go Real Europe you can experience a kid-friendly trip to Europe that makes everyone happy. Let's look at the objections we started with and see whether they would apply to a Go Real Europe trip:

    Kids aren't interested in history: Your kids may not care who Lord Rozmberk was or why he was important. But they willprobably enjoy hiking on a winding forest path and climbing a rocky hill to reach the crumbling ruins of his Maidenstone Castle. There they could explore all they like without having to wait in a line or listen to a tour. They may enjoy the experience even more if they know the legend of the dwarf who hides in the castle ruins, guarding a lost treasure.

    Kids aren't impressed by old buildings and architecture: Your kids might not be too terribly interested in the palace of Austria's former imperial family, but they would be sure to enjoy discovering the labyrinth they built in the palace gardens. There they would be able to race each other to the elevated viewing platform in the center of the hedge maze, or they could try out the many games within the labyrinth, such as the bouncing boards, a giant kaleidoscope, and water toys. They might also be fascinated to see the living quarters of the glamorous and beautiful Princess Sophie, and to hear her fascinating life story – one part fairy tale, one part tragedy.

    Kids don't appreciate the scenery: Sure, few kids will enjoy the scenery if they are stuck on a bus tour for hours on end. But what if the sights are passing them by while they are paddling a raft beneath a castle, cycling alongside a lake, or riding a horse through the countryside? What if they are speeding down a hillside on a summer bobsled, or letting their feet dangle in the air as they ride a chairlift up to the top of a mountain?

    Kids get bored during tours: Normally your kids might not be interested in a quaint cobblestone lane or the medieval homes lining it, but what if they are with a guide who is vividly describing the ghosts lurking behind those windows and doors? What if they hear stories of lost love, wicked schoolmasters, and rebellious sons and daughters who met terrible fates? Connecting the history of the town to stories of ordinary people who experienced extraordinary things just may make all these old places come alive.

    How We Do It?

    When you book an itinerary with us, your family can experience all of these things and more, and at only a fraction of the price charged by the tour operators selling "Family Trips". Plus you won't be trapped in a large bus or boat tour, taking your orders from the tour leader. Mom and Dad are the bosses on this tour. We create a custom itinerary for you, including only those activities your family is most interested in doing. We also provide all the information and back up you need to make it stress free, including incredibly detailed travel directions.

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