Travel to Europe
May 10, 2004 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Traveling to Europe... Prague, Athens, and Crete.. [more inside]

This summer I will be going to the island of Crete (Greece) to visit a relative. I will be in Crete for about a month. This will be my first trip to Europe.

En route to Crete I will be going to Prague, Czech Republic and Athens.
I will only be in Prague for about two solid days and about the same for Athens. What are some must-sees in Prague and Athens and some inexpensive places to stay?

Also, has anyone been to Crete and know of any neat places to visit there?
posted by jstew to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
I've known a few people who've been to Prague.

One got pick-pocketed on this bus the first day they were there.

The other ended up in jail for almost a week because he didn't pay a bribe when he had the chance.

I'm sure it's a lovely place and you may not have any problems but... you know... watch yourself.

Also, check the Olympics are August 13-29. I would avoid Athens like the plague during this time.
posted by falconred at 10:11 PM on May 10, 2004

Response by poster: Luckily I will be out of Greece before the Olympics start. From most the books I’ve been reading about Europe, pick pocketing seems to be a big problem.

Never heard anything about bribing, but thanks for the warning.
posted by jstew at 10:28 PM on May 10, 2004

I spent about 10 months in Greece years ago. Love the place and the people.

If you have the option and the time, I'd highly recommend island-hopping through the Cyclades on your way from Athens to Crete. Much fun to be had, astonishingly beautiful places.

Athens itself I didn't care for too much, and I didn't get to Crete, so I can't offer much in the way of specifics there.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:46 PM on May 10, 2004

If you're in decent shape, don't miss out on hiking the gorge of Samaria on Crete.
posted by fuzz at 2:14 AM on May 11, 2004

I narrowly avoided a pickpocket team of two women in Prague. Other than that, its a beautiful city with a very fine old square.
posted by mmascolino at 8:33 AM on May 11, 2004

Best answer: Take your birthday suit, Crete is hotter than Hades in summer!

The northwest corner of Crete (Kissamos) was especially nice, as it is away from the throngs of tourists. Driving about Crete is quite nice.

The biggest attraction on Crete happens to be worth going, that's Knossis, the Minoan ruin.

I didn't get to the east end of the island, so can't vouch for anything there. This palm forest sounds like a nice place.

Whatever else you do, don't expect to find a hotel room last-minute anywhere along the north side heading west from Hiraklio (until you get past Khania). Beware of package-tourist places, they are there to over-charge people!

Worth catching the ferry up to Santorini (Thira), just to see the island. It is literally awesome. In general, the Cyclades are beautiful, but Santorini is unique.

Pickpockets: Only place I ever had that was in Madrid. Beware ANYTIME 1 or more guys suddenly crowd you, or someone drops something in front of you. They will also try to sneak into backpacks while you stand on a subway or bus.
posted by Goofyy at 8:43 AM on May 11, 2004

I was in Prague for about ten days about eight years ago and had no pickpocket troubles. I usually put my money at the bottom of my front pocket below a bunch of other crap so it tends to stay safe. Prague is a city that is easy to walk and take public transportation around, so if you plan a few things to see and then just meander from one to the other, you'll have a fine way to spend a few days. Go walk over the Charles Bridge, see the castle & the astronomical clock. I enjoyed this art gallery as well.
posted by jessamyn at 8:59 AM on May 11, 2004

Best answer: I lived in Prague for a while, and I have to say it's one of the safest cities I've been in. That said, when I was living there 10 years ago, there was a substantial romany community there, and a friend of mine very nearly broke a girls' arm when he caught her hand in his pocket while we were waiting for the tram. I always wore a money belt, and had no problems. When I was there in 2000, it seemed to me that the romany population was not as apparent. It could be that I'd just adapted and didn't notice them as much, but it could be that the almighty dollar was working it's magic, and the community had been "removed". I won't derail the thread for that discussion.

If you're going to be there for two solid days, even though it's a small city and very easy to get around in, you'll likely only get to do the tourist musts: the castle, Karlov Most (Charles Bridge), Vaclavske Namesti (Wenceslas' Square), Petrin Tower (something like a mini Eiffel Tower, which you can walk up for spectacular views of the city), the Jewish quarter and cemetary, and the clock tower.

You could possibly manage most of that in one day, depending on how you like to tour. For a bit of a different experience, you could try to take a look at some of the communist-era sites.

Outside of the main city area (10 min by tram) is a place called Zizkov, it's a mausoleum and has huge statues honoring communist ideals; one of a family, another of a factory worker. Also, the largest statue of a horse-rider in Europe. And wonderful views of the city from a different perspective.

I also remember that close to Zizkov there was a very good military museum that held many examples of Russian-made weapons, some dating back to around 1900. It also had examples of interrogation rooms. In fact, our docent was an older man who had been a guest of those interrogation rooms in the spring of '68, he gave a great first-hand account of what it was like to be there. Well, not "great", but you get the idea.

Nightlife: Just off the bridge on the city side of the river there were some nightclubs, they'd changed hands in between the times I was there, not sure what's currently there now, but right next to the river is a great place to dance the night away. I'm sure the latest guidebooks can give the current names and cover charges.

James Joyce pub is a favorite with travelers, not just Americans, we always met really great folks there and in a couple of cases did a bit of traveling with them as well. As they'd managed to stay open in the six years we were gone, I'd wager they're still there today.

A current guide book would be well worth the price, imo, but please feel free to email me for more specific details about anything.
posted by vignettist at 9:03 AM on May 11, 2004

There'a a bus trip to the top of the Samarian gorge, you hike downhill all the way through, end up at a lovely village and then take a boat back. We did it backwards and went to the village, whose name I forget, did a bit of hiking up into the gorge, and spent the night in the village. My now-ex woke me up in the middle of the night to see the stars, which were beautiful in the dark village. [sigh]

We really enjoyed Crete. It has its own culture, and it has the Minoan ruins at Knossos. You'll get a very different perspective on other Greek islands. We went to Santorini just to stay in the village of Oia, and have beautiful sunsets. We were not disappointed.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on May 11, 2004

If you are worried about pick pockets, a lot of travelers wear a small pocket-like bag around their neck and under their shirt to hold passports and money, and carry only a bit of cash in their pockets.

Cretans are great - try and find some of their traditional music played on lyra and laouto. Chania and the west of the island is good for music. I was unimpressed by Athens - Thessaloniki and the northern towns are far more fascinating. Greeks looking for that funky pre-EU balkanoid vibe (goat heads roasting on a spit, kokoretsi gut sausge, and other pleasures deemed unsanitaary by the EU) tend to take package trips to Istanbul.
posted by zaelic at 10:30 AM on May 11, 2004

There are lots of ways to remain safe from pickpockets. The thing that goes around your neck is pretty good. The one I have has two pieces, one goes in the front and one goes in the back. The one in front I put things that I am likely to need in the course of a day, the one in back things which I must carry but probably will not need. Extra cash, passport, credit card, plane tickets, etc.

I also have, and recommend, a money belt. The simplest kind is like a fanny pack, although you wear it in front and it's flat. It's large enough for a passport, cash, etc. I wore mine around my waist under my pants. I could pull it out fairly discreetly and easily but you'd have to fig into my pants to get it out.

Leave your wallet at home. Seriously. This is advice for pickpocketing, obviously. If someone actually assaults or threatens you that's a different matter. I've done a lot of travelling though and never had that happen, and only hear of it rarely.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2004

Heh, fig into my pants. I meant dig.

Oh, and I've been to Athens, a pretty nice place. Navigation is a pain, even taxi drivers stop and ask directions. My Athens taxi advive (and this goes for many huge cities) is when you flag a taxi down, they'll ask where you're going. Do NOT tell them exactly where. They will drive off because they will have no idea what the hell you're talking about if you say 123 fake street. Instead, say "Lykavitos" or "Acropolis" and then once you get in you can be more precise. It really helps if you have some idea how to get there.

And personally I think both of those places are good (Lykavitos and Acropolis). Beware of my spelling mistakes in those names. The big museum in Athens is good, they have an excellent egyptian section. What's the museum called again...National Archeological Museum? The park in front of the parliment building is nice to walk around in, a nice green spot in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Man, if you can, though, go to Delphi. It's a few hours from Athens but it's awesome. There are some nice side strips from there, like Monisteraki (a monastary sort of around Delphi).
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:42 AM on May 11, 2004

Christ, it appears I've more to say. Here's some pictures of mine from Greece: Greek Travel Photos

They can give you an idea of what athens and delphi look like.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:43 AM on May 11, 2004

Whoops, that didn't work, how about this
Greek Travel Photos
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:44 AM on May 11, 2004

Athens is about my least favorite part of Greece. BUT, that said, there's an awesome ruin (I think the 'Theatre of Dionysus' or something like this) that sits at the foot of the Parthenon's plateau that's well worth checking out; almost no tourists around when I stumbled on it. There's also a few square blocks of bookstores somewhere that's a great pleasure to get lost in.

A good day-trip out of Athens is the island Hydra, which is a beautiful place and has a good trail up the mountain which will give a good idea of what the Grecian backcountry is like. You can catch a round-trip boat to Hydra in the morning and then take the last one back at night...

Doesn't sound like you have time to visit Delphi, but if you find such time, go for it. The ruins there are amazing.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:18 PM on May 11, 2004

Best answer: I've only been a few places in Crete. Iraklion the biggest city there and is pretty uninteresting, but it does have Nikos Kazantzakis' tomb, which is very pleasant and peaceful, an archeological museum with lots of stuff from Knossos, and is close to Knossos (aka "Minoan Disneyland") itself. There's another Minoan ruin south of Iraklion that you can take a bus to—it's about an hour or two; I went because Knossos was closed when I tried to go there (strike). I was in Greece for a study-abroad program, and one of the professors claims that some of the best raki he's had was from one of the restaurants on the strip outside Knossos.

Chania is beautiful. There's a tiny little down in the part of Crete in the southeast that juts out into the Aegean that's very pleasant and has a great walk up to a mountain town, then down through a small gorge to an area with three beaches. I can't remember its name, though. You can get there by bus from Chania.

Zaelic: I was in Chania during Orthodox Easter, and people were roasting goats on spits all over the damn place. Restaurants and just ordinary groups of people. I'm pretty sure they were eating kokoretsi soup at midnight, too (I can't be certain because I couldn't get a table anywhere).

If by "cheap places to stay" you mean "hostels", ISTR there being one in Pangrati (in Athens), but this page has it being in Kolonaki with "Pangrati" in its name ... odd. Pangrati's a pretty good neighborhood. Anyway, while you're in Athens you should go to the Benaki museum.
posted by kenko at 3:26 PM on May 11, 2004

Best answer: I third the recommendation for Chania (which in classical times was Cydonia, which is where the word quince comes from); there's nothing much to see there but some old Venetian walls, but it's a wonderful place to put your feet up and enjoy life for a while, which can be incredibly necessary after a lot of sightseeing. I hear Rethimnon is nice in a similar way, but didn't get there. Iraklion is a boring city. A lot of people think Athens is too, and I can understand that, but for some perverse reason I like it. (If you have time, read The Flight of Ikaros by Kevin Andrews, one of the best books I've read about modern Greece.)

I spent two week-long vacations in Prague and was never the victim of pickpocketing or any other crime; take sensible precautions and you shouldn't have a problem. If you're a beer drinker, Prague is heaven; Staropramen is the local brew, but you can hardly go wrong. (Budvar, the original Budweiser, is excellent.) Just don't let yourself get talked into going to the damn U Kalicha with its busloads of Germans and tons of Schweik kitsch; it's a tourist trap pure and simple. Here's a nice article on the bar/pub scene. You won't have much time in the city, but do try to get to the Old Jewish Cemetery in the Old Town (and put a pebble on the grave of Rabbi Loew, legendary creator of the golem).
posted by languagehat at 6:03 PM on May 11, 2004

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