This page was revised in February 2014.
I’m often asked by fellow genealogists for tips for traveling to the Czech Republic. While I’m not a travel agent and certainly not an expert on the country, I will offer some advice based on my personal experience and reading.
Plan ahead for what you want to do/see. If you don’t know your ancestral house numbers, order research asap, requesting a completion date. Entry into locked churches, meeting with living relatives or town officials, archive research time – all has to be arranged ahead of time. Seek out contacts in the area/s you are going if you need assistance like in translating. Some Czechs speak German and some Russian (besides Czech). If you can too, you won’t need to go from English to Czech. Learn some Czech words and phrases, particularly menu terms and numbers, and please, thank you, excuse me, and where is the restroom. Most castles are closed (for tours) on Mondays. Practice some military time (2:00 p.m. is in Europe 1400, 6 p.m. = 1800, etc.). Europe is 6 hours ahead (later) than our Eastern Time Zone which you will want to keep in mind when you call home.
Check that your passport will be valid for 6 months after your return (required). Go to AAA and get an international drivers license if you will be driving in Cz. Rep. They are about $35 but makes handling an accident much easier. Check your credit card benefits for CDW (Collision Damage Waiver). If you have that and use that credit cd for the rental car, you can decline their insurance coverage which is expensive. Also check for rental car coverage on your car insurance which is for USA-only with some companies. If you don’t have both (CDW and foreign rental car cov’g), then buy the rental car company’s auto insurance. They drive like maniacs in Europe so plan to drive carefully and within the speed limit with your auto papers in the glove box. On an autobahn, stay out of the left lane unless passing and then watch your rear-view mirror for speeders behind you. Speaking of accidents, check the out-of-country coverage on your health insurance policy. Don’t even think about driving in Prague except from the airport to go elsewhere. At the airport, the rental car building’s exit will have you heading north. Ask your car co.’s clerk how to access the highway you want. When returning to the PRG airport, look for signs to “letiste” (airport).
It is not necessary to get Euros and Cz. Crowns (Korunas) before you go. The airlines will take American $ for your drinks on board, then in the lobby of the new Prague airport there are ATM machines which will dispense Euros or Korunas (you select) with your credit card or ATM card (you must know your PINs). Make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN. Foreign ATM fees are high so get large amounts each time you withdraw. There are pickpockets in the Prague airport and on the streets, requiring your common sense and caution like keeping your currency, credit cards and passport next to your body and never in back pockets. In 2011 Korunas (CZK) were still required in small towns. Czechs seem to be shunning the Euro but it is used in the cities. When leaving the country you can exchange your foreign currency back to American $ at kiosks in the airport. They’ll keep a fee so avoid having a lot to exchange. In May ’11, a Euro was worth abt. $1. 45, a koruna ca. 6 cents (100 CZK = $6). Exchange rates are at http://www.exchangerate.com/currency-converter A van ride from the airport to downtown Prague, if 600 Koruna = only about $36. The vans are honest, unlike some of the taxis in Prague (AAA Taxi is okay). Street car and subway tickets are sold at newspaper stands and grocery stores as well as at subway stations, one a few blocks from the Charles Bridge. Ask the desk clerk at your hotel. Hradcany Castle is too far to walk from “downtown” and the street car works well for that, although you can take the Metro (subway) up the hill. Walking down to the Mala Strana (west side of the river) from Hradcany is easy. Shops in some European countries will ask for your 4-digit “code” with your credit card which we don’t have. Simply explain that you are American and show your passport (which you carry on you every day).
Thanks to the internet it is easy to make reservations for planes, trains, autos, and hotels. Apply for (free) membership in the frequent flyer clubs of all the airlines that you might take to Europe. Even if you don’t plan to fly again, you can gift your miles to someone or a charity. Perhaps you have accumulated miles for your trip. Check for blackout dates and reserve your flights early. Czech Airlines has wonderful food and flies to/fro Prague. If you use Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. you will learn which airlines fly where you want to go. Most flights to Europe leave the U.S. in the late afternoon and arrive early the next day. Try to sleep on the plane, make the first day a light day, get plenty of fresh air and light, go to bed early, and you’ll be well-rested for the second day. Consider taking with you a couple of those little bottles of Energy Boost (caffeine) for the morning of arrival and abt. noon that day. The caffeine in 1 bottle = 2 cups of coffee but don’t over consume these as they make your heart beat faster. If you want to return from a different airport than you arrive in, ask about an “open jaw” reservation.
Czech train schedules are online. The main station in Prague is called Hlavni Nadrazi. There are 2 stations in Trebon. Travel second class because first class is not much better. In July and August the trains are crowded with locals. Everywhere is accessible by public transportation but be prepared to do a lot of walking. In chosing a rental car company, you might get a discount thru AAA for Hertz, you might get frequent flyer miles for some car companies. If you can’t drive a manual transmission, request an automatic and reserve early. Some of the newer cars can convert from manual to automatic and back. Ask your rental car company for the car’s manual in English. Driving in the Cz. Rep. is easy on well-maintained and mostly well-marked roads. Lock your parked car. Fuel is expensive (approx. $95 per fill-up in 2011) but with a car you can go anywhere you want, like remote villages. If you’re timid, a tour or hired driver is for you but make firm arrangements for your requested stops.
Hotels can be selected by the room rate (you get what you pay for) online if you want to reserve before you go. You can leave this to chance and will find rooms if there is not a huge event happening in the city. Pensions are an inexpensive type of accomodation. Some don’t include breakfast as most European hotels do, and some have “shared facilities” which is to walk down the hall for the bathrooms. Also specify 1st floor if there is no elevator and you don’t want stairsteps. Your friends might have suggestions as to hotels. I have a few for Litomysl, Trebon, Kutna Hora, Nove Hrady & Prague.
Prepare your genealogy to go. Take pedigree charts, photos, and whatever you need to talk to your living relatives or suspected relatives (sometimes connections are made during the meeting). If you have no Czech-speaking contact who will arrange a visit in your ancestral home, write a “dear occupant” letter, asking them to expect you on a certain day & time. They might work, so weekends and early evenings are more likely to get you in. Keep notes so that you will be where and when you said you’d be.
Pack light, like one bag with wheels and a carry-on. This worked well for me in 1997: 2 pair of black pants, 2 pair of black shoes (both good for walking), shirts and jackets to layer (depending on season), and a short black trench coat. Blue jeans are acceptable unless going to a concert/opera/nice restaurant. Take wrinkle-free clothes. Hotel laundry is expensive. Take soap to launder your undies in the sink, or pack old ones that you can throw away. Take a thin washcloth if you use them as they are not provided. Take your prescription medicine and some basics like aspirin, bandaids, diarrhea pills, laxatives, antacids, etc. If taking a camera, take extra batteries as they are expensive in Europe. Have an extra memory card for your digital camera if you think you might fill one. Consider setting your camera for Medium or Small pix as Large will fill your card faster. Place a copy of your passport and your credit card company’s customer service numbers in your luggage. Take your family/friends’ phone #s. Consider leaving your itinerary with someone, instructing them to hold bad news unless it would require your immediate return (you won’t want to know that your dog died). European electricity is 220 V at 50 cycles so you will fry your gadgets unless you take a plug adaptor and a converter (transformer). Check online for those, or buy hair dryer, etc. in Europe, or go a la natural but some will still need to plug in their cameras and smart phones for recharging. Check your charging adapter for “115-240V” — if there, you will have no problem in Europe. But you still need an adapter plug to plug into European outlets. They are approx. $20. Don’t buy the Chinese adapters — unreliable. Check with your phone service as to whether it will work in Europe. You might purchase a Go Phone in Europe. Learn the country codes of where you’ll want to call. From Europe to the USA, dial 00+1+area code and number.
Cedok is the Czech tourism firm that can assist you online and there. Maps are available on the internet. There is one of the Trebon area on this website in the Gallery page Trebon. TomTom is a good GPS system in Europe, according to a tourist who used it in ’11. Good to buffer it with a few maps. Alert your credit card/s and bank that you will be in Europe. Charging larger expenses to your card will result in a better exchange rate and will lower the amount of cash you need to carry. Best for most — use your debit card to get cash and your credit card/s to pay for big items. Take your bank’s URL if you think you’ll want to check your account online.
Souveniers you’ll want to consider: Bohemian crystal, fine glass, garnets, lace, wooden toys, craft items. Even if you’re 22, tour like it’s the last time you’ll be there. The Jewish cemeteries and synagogues tour in Prague is expensive but if you want to see it, see it. All food and drink is good in the Czech Republic. Czechs are warm and hospitable. If you buy expensive items, the VAT tax will be high. Ask for a VAT receipt and get a refund at the airport after you go through security, or have the shop ship it to your home.
Now for the Trebon area in South Bohemia. Trebon is approximately 3 hours from Prague by car. We have contacts there who speak English and can assist you. You need to pay people who take their time and drive their cars to help you. In Trebon, the old square is a must-see and includes an ATM in the Sporitelna bldg (also an ATM in Suchdol at the Information Office). The castle at the west end of the square has a good tour and houses the Trebon Archive. I recommend that you hire your archive research done as the records are in archaic Czech, Latin, and old German script, all in lousy handwriting. You might not even recognize your surname. If you must go, reserve the time a few months in advance. You can’t just walk in and be allowed to work. Hotel Bily Konicek on the square has a website. I was not completely satisfied there in ’05, but the food is good, the rates reasonable, and they have an elevator. On the east edge of town is the Petra Voka which also has a website. Their rates are a little higher than the Bily but is nicer and the restaurant opens early. The Voka had problems in 2011, so consider the nicer Hotel Zlata Hvezda on the old square (is online). They have 48 rooms and a restaurant. A double room in summer is $110-$150/night with taxes and breakfast, plus parking $7 or $8 per day. There are several penzions in Trebon, too, for lower lodging costs. One is Penzion Na Holickach 602 103 362 at the east end of Trebon near the Petra Voka. There is a public parking lot just outside the east gate of the old town square, an easy shot from the E49 and the Petra Voka. A pension at Majdalena south of Trebon is Penzion u Pilare. It looks good, has wifi, is near the Luznici River, and has an apartment with a kitchen. http://www.penzion-pilar.cz
South of Trebon are most of the villages where our Trebon Area Genealogists have ancestry. Hrdlorezy probably sent the most people to Oxford Jct. IA, just like Hattstedt in Schleswig-Holstein sent the most to Wyoming IA. The Rozmberk Society’s Peasant Museum in Kojakovice is a must-see. Contact the Rozmberk Soc’y from this website for a museum tour (leave a donation), other area assistance, and for archive research. Suchdol nad Luznici is a larger village. The cemetery is a few blocks east of the Catholic church on the east edge of town, near the railroad tracks. The inscriptions on the stones all face west so the afternoon is best. The Jilovice (sister city of Oxford Jct. IA) cemetery is in the country, east of town. Dvory nad Luznici’s cemetry is next to the Catholic church. Mladosovice’s is on the north edge of town. The villages that don’t have churches have chapels. To see the interiors of churches (usually locked), make arrangements or attend a Sunday morning service. You can stay for a few minutes, go to another church for a few minutes, etc. Service times are online.
Another origin of Iowans is Dzbanov, a few kilometers south of Vysoke Myto in n.e. Bohemia. I can give you contact info for Dzbanov. Residents attend church at Knirov to the n.w. and are buried in the cemetery at the church, St. Joseph’s Catholic. Be sure to see historic Vysoke Myto. There are accomodations there and at Litomysl to the east. The Dalibor Hotel (Litomysl) was reasonable, had great food, and is on the main road from the west. The castle tour in Litomysl is excellent and their very long town square is picturesque. Dzbanov welcomes your genealogy. Take a hard copy to their library in the Obecni Urad (town hall) on the main street through the village.
I have contacts in Pisek and in Vamberk, too, and can network you to contacts in some other towns.
Please send me suggestions and corrections so that I can revise this for best use. I will try to keep it current.
Judy Nelson, June 2013
***Barbora Mekotova of near Prague will assist tourists in planning and in touring in the Czech Republic. She even hosts people in her home, homie style with Czech movies and food, just 20 minutes from Stare Mesto (Old Town) or arrange other accomodations. She can pick you up from the airport, personalize her assistance to match your needs, and even do light research. She speaks Czech & English and loves to help American tourists. Pricing depends on what she does for you. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org