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No matter what your budget, you'll find candid reviews of the best hotels and restaurants--mainstream, gay-friendly, and all-out gay. Are you looking for a plush suite with silk-covered walls and baroque paintings at the H?tel Costes in Paris, a pleasant room with hand-hewn beams at the Hotel Bernardi-Semenzato in Venice, or an "atmospheric" room with bondage hooks and a galvanized steel cage at the Black Tulip in Amsterdam? Feeling hungry? You can choose from French haute cuisine, British pub fare, German comfort food, Spanish tapas, Greek specialties, and more.
Frommer's Gay & Lesbian Europe also offers the dish on queer sights (do you know where Oscar Wilde died and where he's buried, where there's a Homomonument, where there's a Gay Museum?) , neighborhoods, and beaches, plus all the top attractions. The guide also shows you where to shop for everything from antiques to clubwear to "toys" and sends you to the best venues for the performing arts. And, of course, it gives the lowdown on what to do after dark--bars and cafes, discos, saunas, and more.
If all that weren't enough, there are also fun little features like "A Queen's English" (on British gay slang), "The Queer Quiz" (on British gays), and "A Toast for the Boys" (on where to find "toast"--not what you think it is--on your way home from the clubs in Athens).
The Czech Republic
Coming Out of the Past
by Todd Savage
It has been more than 10 years since the collapse of Soviet communism, and nowhere was its disappearance swifter and more peaceful than in Czechoslovakia, which later split into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. When the Iron Curtain was pulled down, curiosity seekers flooded into Prague, thrilling at the wonders of this ancient city that was seemingly mothballed during half a century of totalitarian rule.
Hundreds of years of history are still on display, from fairy-tale castles dotting the Bohemian countryside to fanciful baroque buildings enlivening the most mundane streets—even the coarse communist-era manners of waiters haven't yet disappeared. Millions of tourists and tens of thousands of expats later, this country continues to fascinate as it evolves and fashions a new identity in the heart of an integrated Europe.
The memory of masses protesting in Wenceslas Square is still fresh, but the changes have been dramatic, especially in the pulsing capital. The din and dust of construction are constant elements of Prague life. Centuries-old buildings have been given bright coats of paint and carefully restored to their grandeur. (Tempting though it may be, avoid comparisons to Disneyland if you want to score points with the locals.) The Czech Republic is a country where legendary figures like Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, Franz Kafka, and adopted son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart still loom large and where locals and guidebooks wax pseudo-spiritual with talk of ghosts and magic—but hokey as it may sound, when you see the haunting silhouette of Prague Castle at dusk, it's easy to get swept away.
Homosexual relations have been legal here since 1961, but under communism they were officially ignored as perversion (or perhaps worse, as bourgeois indulgence) and served as a convenient threat for the secret police to use when investigating opponents. Many gays and especially lesbians were closeted and socially isolated. Several bars and a nascent gay-rights group operated prior to the Revolution, but with greater freedoms, gays have quickly taken bolder steps toward societal visibility and acceptance, pushing the Czech Republic to the fore of the former Warsaw Pact nations in advancing equal rights for queers.
Nevertheless, the lingering effects of 5 decades of communism seem to be still at work. As Heather Faulkner, a lesbian expat at the English-language Prague Post, observed, "It's kind of pre- and post-Stonewall at the same time." Many gay people have been slow to come out and are often guarded about the details of their private lives. Even the most committed young activists seem not to understand the Western impulse to draw attention to yourself; they seem to prefer to pursue their goals with quiet seriousness. Formed in 1991, Sdruzení Organizací Homosexuáních Obcanu (Gay Initiative) coordinates the efforts of nearly 2 dozen gay-rights groups organizing in just about every city. But after being forced to parade for years to celebrate the glories of the socialist cause, the Czechs are leery of demonstrations. This also has implications for the visitor in a cruisy mood: Try as you might, on the streets and subway you'll rarely catch another person's eye (okay, maybe I'm just justifying my rotten luck).
In 1990, the Czech parliament lowered the age of consent to 15 for same-sex couples, putting them on par with their straight counterparts. There's also no restriction on travel for tourists with HIV. In 1998, Gay Initiative pushed for a bill in the legislature that would have created a domestic partnership registration. While the measure was defeated by a few votes, the publicity surrounding it got Czechs talking it even showed up as the theme of a billboard campaign for a soft drink (depicting two sweet-faced guys exchanging wedding rings). Activists pledge to keep trying.
You'd expect any country with an artist as its leader to be pretty cool with homos. President Václav Havel (who leaves office in 2001) comes by his compassion honestly—a favorite uncle, Milo Havel, who left much of his estate to his nephew, was gay. He may have bequeathed some of his aesthetics as well: On taking office, Presi-dent Havel ordered smart new uniforms for the guards at Prague Castle. And it doesn't hurt that the country gave us one of the world's most famous lesbians, tennis legend Martina Navrátilová, who was born in a small town outside Prague and defected in 1975 at age 18.
Gay bashings aren't unknown, but there hasn't been a single galvanizing incident to activate gays. The country's first gay-and-lesbian event was held in May 1998 in the Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary. During a weekend-long festival cosponsored by the town and drawing mild curiosity from Czechs in Prague, about 150 supporters held a series of discussions and workshops, highlighted by a tentative yet proud march in the center of town. Later that week, a group of smiling Czechs appeared on the cover of the Prague Post, with one of the supporters waving a pride flag overhead,
There's much to explore in the Czech Republic, but I devote most of my coverage to Prague, the capital and one of the oldest and most important centers of history and culture in Europe. Yet every visitor will want to venture outside the city for a day trip or an overnight, so I've included sections on Karltejn Castle, the ancient town of Ceský Krumlov, and the spa town of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), Though Praguers can be fairly cosmopolitan in their attitudes, outside the city you may encounter less enlightened views, just as you might in many small towns in the United States.
The Czech Crown
The Czech currency is the crown or koruna (plural, kuruny), abbreviate Kc. Each Crown is divided into 100 haléru (hellers), but chances are you won't encounter Many of them. Crown bank notes come in denominations of 20Kc, 50Kc, 100Kc, 500Kc, 1,000Kc 2,000Kc, and 5,000Kc. There are also 1Kc, 2Kc, 5Kc, 10Kc, and 50Kc coins.
At this writing, the U.S. dollar was equivalent to 38.16Kc, and this was the exchange rate I used throughout. Prices over U.S. $5 have been rounded to the nearest dollar.
Note: Though 12 European Union countries will be fully adopting the new euro ([European Dollar]) in mid-2002, the Czech Republic is not yet among them. Consequently, you'll be using crowns for a while to come.
Prague: The Art of Eastern European Seduction
How else can I put it? Prague has sex appeal. Just the name—Praha in Czech has a certain exotic allure. Over the half century it was closed to all but communism, this great city of domes and spires (it's known as the City of a Thousand Spires) built up an air of mystery ... like a tall, dark, handsome stranger. In the post-revolutionary era, Prague immediately set to work seducing the curious visitors who made their way to the city. Today you may feel a wistful "wish I'd seen it then," but the city's essential character still has the power to romance.
Turn-ons include the Czech language with its lusty Slovak edge; the wonderful shadows and light playing off the beauty of centuries-old baroque, Gothic, and art-nouveau buildings and churches; and, atop buildings and framing doorways, the statuary posed in heroic fashion, clothed and often not, staring out with haunting eyes. And who can miss the flesh-and-blood humans: super-fem women who are the envy of every dyke and drag queen on the block and aloof, brooding guys who look like they threw on whatever clothes were lying on the floor when they awoke after an active night. Amazing cheekbones all around. You can understand immediately what brought the Bel Ami producers to Prague (come on, tell me you've never heard of Lukas, Dano, or Johan). In fact, Prague guys are used to foreigners arriving looking for their Bel Ami fantasy come true. Says one young gay activist, "Sometimes they know Milan Kundera, but they always know Bel Ami."
A sense of openness about sex, drugs, and alcohol is giving Prague a reputation as a kind of Eastern Bloc Amsterdam. Being added to Prague's storied past is a new chapter marked by a free-wheeling spirit. It's like a frontier town where everybody is out to make his or her mark. Prepare for Prague to put the moves on you.
1 Prague Essentials
ARRIVING & DEPARTING
BY PLANE About 19km (12 miles) from the center of Prague, Ruzyne Airport ([telephone] 02/36 77 60) is small and simple, but with most of the conveniences you'd expect. Free luggage carts are available at the entrance to the baggage claim area. You can stow your luggage for 30Kc (less than $1) per bag per day. The main terminal has a Czech Airlines (CSA) tourism office with airport shuttle bus tickets and a hotel booking service, a branch of Cedok (the Czech travel agency) with its own hotel booking service, a hotel call-board with more than 50 options (and where you may be approached with offers for private housing), ATMs, a newspaper stand, and several restaurants. All the major car-rental agencies are represented here.
At the stand outside the terminal, the going rate for taxis is about 600Kc ($16). Most Praguers warn visitors away from the sharky cab drivers at the airport. If you don't want to take a chance, you can catch one of the Czech airlines buses for 90Kc ($2.35). Operating every half hour, the bus drops you off next to the Renaissance Prague Hotel, near the center of Prague and the Námestí Republiky Metro station. You can arrange shuttles (360Kc/$9) to other locations for one to four people with the Cedaz van service ([telephone] 02/2011 4286). Stretch your crowns even further (12Kc/32¢) by taking city bus no. 119 to the Metro's A (or green) line at the Dejvická station, putting you only three stops from Staromestské námestí (Old Town Square).
Buy bus tickets in the airport at the newspaper stand near the restaurant area. While you're there, pick up a copy of the English-language Prague Post for a preview of what's happening in the coming week.
BY TRAIN International visitors arrive at the Hlavní Nádrazí (Main Station), Wilsonova 80, Praha 2 ([telephone] 02/2422 3887 or 02/2422 4200 for rail schedules), one of Europe's least lovely train stations. The exterior is rendered in grand art-nouveau style, but inside it's a dim multilevel maze of ticket counters and food vendors. There's also a tourist information counter, luggage storage, and showers. The station is a 10-minute walk from Václavské námestí (Wenceslas Square) and adjacent to the Hlavní Nádrazí Metro station on the C line. I know you won't be interested, but at night the station becomes a pickup spot for male prostitutes. A second major station is Nádrazí Holeovice (Holeovice Station), Partyzanska at Vrbenského, Praha 7 ([telephone] 02/ 2422 4200), also on the C line.
BY CAR If you're motoring into Prague, it's a good idea to leave your car at the rental agency. Parking is tough, and the narrow, twisting roads are a challenge too. If you plan to do some exploring outside of Prague, a car is a smart way to go; it will often get you there faster and more directly than a train or bus.
TOURIST OFFICES The city operates four Prague Tourist Information Centers, where you can load up on brochures, maps, and schedules of tours and cultural attractions. The main phone number is [telephone] 02/54 44 44 (Mon-Fri 8am-7pm). Tourist offices can assist with booking hotel rooms and sell tickets to concerts, theater, and other events. You can also check out its Web site at www.pis.cz.
Offices are located in the Staré Mesto (Old Town) Town Hall, Staromestské nam. 1, Praha 1 (Metro: Staromestská; open Apr-Oct Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat-Sun to 6pm, and Nov-Mar Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat-Sun to 5pm); at Na Príkope 20, Praha 1 (Metro: Mustek; open Apr-Oct Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat-Sun to 5pm, and Nov-Mar Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat-Sun to 3pm); Hlavní Nadrazí (Main Rail Station), Wilsonova 80, Praha 2 (Metro: Hlavní Nadrazí; open Apr-Oct Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat-Sun to 4pm, and Nov-Mar Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat-Sun to 3pm); and in the Malá Strana Bridge Tower, on the other side of Charles Bridge (Metro: Malostranská; open summer daily 10am-6pm).
The Cultural and Information Center on the ground floor of the remodeled Municipal House (Obecní dum), náimestí Republiky 5, Praha 1 ([telephone] 02/2200 2100; fax 02/2200 2636; open daily 10am-6pm), offers tickets, gifts, refreshments, and rest rooms.
The Prague Card
A Prague Card allows 3 days of free unlimited travel on city transport, as well as admission to 40 museums, galleries, and other places of interest. It's sold at the American Express Travel Office on Wenceslas Square; the Cedok travel office at Na Prikope 18, Praha 1 ([telephone] 02/2419 7111); the Czech Airlines (CSA) office at the airport; and several Metro and train stations. The cost is 560Kc ($15).
WEB SITES Before hitting the cobblestone streets, you may want to investigate a few Web sites for the latest on the ever-changing gay scene in Prague, as well as general information on the Czech Republic. Start with www.gay.cz (click on "Turistické info"), with gay information in Czech and English and links to other queer Czech organizations and services. The Czech gay mag Amigo (www.amigo.cz) operates an online version, and the English-language Prague Post (www.praguepost.cz) has a helpful site with the latest articles, plus a special visitors guide.
You also may want to visit these general sites: Prague Information Service (www.pis.cz), Czech Tourist Authority (www.czechcenter.com), Czech Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.czech.cz), Czech Tourism Pages (www. czech-tourism.com), CzechSite (www.czechsite.com), and Hotels Czech (www. HotelsCzech.com).
Prague's 1.2 million residents inhabit an area spread over 480 sq. km (300 sq. miles). The city is divided into 10 postal districts, from Praha 1 (Prague 1) to Praha 10 (Prague 10). You'll often hear locals use these numerical designations to describe the location of a particular place, so I've included them with all addresses in this chapter.
Most of your travels will keep you well within the boundaries of Praha 1, which embraces the ancient parts of the city on both sides of the river Vltava (the neighborhoods of Staré Mesto and Malá Strana), and Praha 2, a relatively newer, more commercial area south and east of Old Town. You can easily cover all this ground on foot; if you're staying in the center of Prague, you'll find it wiser to reach some of the gay bars, concentrated in Praha 2 and Praha 3, by taking public transport or a cab.
Dating from the early 13th century, Staré Mesto (Old Town) is the historic heart of Prague, with Staromestská námestí (Old Town Square) its busy pulse point of activity. Even a map doesn't seem to help people navigate the twisting, turning cobblestone paths of Old Town, with its many delightful shops and restaurants and intimate squares and churches. It's often best to go with your gut and follow a road that looks interesting. This area is served by the Staromestská and Mustek Metro stops.
As it name suggests, Nove Mesto (New Town) was developed later, but much of the 14th-century buildings were destroyed and replaced in the 19th century. The area is now a busy construction site, with new hotels and other office complexes going up. The area is known for Václavské námestí(Wenceslas Square), not a square at all but a wide avenue with some of the city's grand 19th-century architecture and the oft-photographed statue of King Wenceslas on horseback; it now serves as a backdrop for early-21st-century capitalism with Times Square-style neon and good old-fashioned seediness. You can reach this area via the Námestí Republiky, Mustek, or Muzeum Metro stop. Another major institution here is the National Theater (Národní divaldo). In recent years, the neighborhood south of the theater has been hyped as "hot" (with the name "SoNa," as in south of Národní, becoming populated with the kind of restaurants and clubs that make appealing profiles in glossy travel and fashion magazines.
By far the city's most charming area is Malá Strana (Lesser Town), the hilly region across Charles Bridge, spilling down from Prague Castle. Here you'll find winding streets, hidden gardens, and the beautifully weathered red-tiled buildings painted in earthy golds, greens, and browns that'll no doubt send you rushing home with ideas for color washes for your walls. Leading up to the castle, the steep main road, Nerudova, is lined with touristy shops, but you can easily spend a day wandering the side streets among the interesting shops or spend the night hopping among the hip bars and restaurants. The neighborhood, home to many of the country's foreign embassies, rises up to Hradcany, the area immediately surrounding the castle.
Other neighborhoods worth noting are Vinohrady, a 19th-century area of stately apartment buildings up the hill from the National Museum; its name comes from the days when it was home to the king's vineyards. This part of Prague is increasingly becoming a fashionable area to live, with several gay bars and cafes. Farther east is the working-class area of Zizkov, a kind of East Village of Prague, with edgy rock clubs and a few gay and lesbian nightspots. While Prague has no concentrated gay ghetto, many gay bars and clubs are scattered throughout these neighborhoods.
Of course, walking is the best way to see Prague, so make sure you pack comfortable shoes—however, be aware that you'll get a major workout negotiating the hills, steep staircases, and uneven cobblestone streets. When you want to speed things along or reach outlying parts of town, Prague's public transit system is efficient and easy to use, if you don't mind getting shoved out of the way by grannies rushing to board.
Prague Public Transit (www.dp-praha.cz) operates the subway, tram, and bus system, and has information centers where you can pick up brochures and maps in five subway stations: Muzeum, Mustek, Nádrazí/Holesovice, and Karlovo námestí. Buy subway tickets from the yellow wall-mounted machines near the entrance of most Metro stations, as well as at tobacco shops, newsstands, and other shops. If you're lucky, transit agents in the Metro stations may help you with the ticket machine or even sell tickets directly if you have trouble.
Before you buy a ticket, think through your itinerary. Tickets are valid for varying lengths of time and must be stamped in a validation machine as you board the train, tram, or bus. Nontransfer tickets (8Kc/20¢) are valid for 15 minutes after marking on trams and buses (no transfers or rides on night trams or buses) and good for half an hour on the Metro and up to four stations (excluding the station of origin). From the time transfers (12K6/32¢) are stamped, they can be used on the Metro, trams, and buses for 1 hour during the work day and for up to 90 minutes in the evening (8pm-5am) and on weekends and holidays. There are additional charges for large pieces of luggage.
A 24-hour pass is 70Kc ($2.90), a 3-day pass 200Kc ($5), a 7-day pass 250Kc ($7), and a 15-day pass 280Kc ($7.50). In addition, there's the Prague Card allowing 3 days of free unlimited travel on city transport and much more (see above).
Follow the Signs
Getting around Prague takes some astute navigation. City officials have eased things somewhat with new brown directional signs on major tourist avenues; the pictograms of various attractions are helpful, since the text is written only in Czech. A good map will be your friend too: The Kartografie Praha (129Kc/$3.40) provides detailed neighborhood maps and a street index.
A Tip on Czech Terms
You should know that mesto means "town," ulice (abbreviated ul.) "street," trída "avenue," námetí (abbreviated nám.) "square" or "plaza," most "bridge," and nábrezí "quay." In Czech, none of these is capitalized. In addresses street numbers follow the street name (for instance, Václavské nám. 25).
Public transit in Prague operates on the honor system, so skip onto a train or tram without a ticket at your own risk. Plainclothes inspectors regularly stop riders and ask to see their tickets (they'll identify themselves with a small yellow-and-red badge). If you can't produce the goods, be prepared to pay a fine of up to 800Kc ($21).
BY METRO The Soviet-built subway is sleek and cool, its futuristic stations appointed with aluminum walls in red, gold, blue, or silver. Seductive prerecorded voices call out the stops (conjuring up some beauty breathlessly purring "Nam-essssstee Meeee-rooo"). Women who love women have an extra thrill in store riding the trains: Czech women with legs that go on for days are setting records for the shortest skirts on the planet; this becomes quite obvious when one of them floats down toward you as you're ascending one of the subways long tunnel escalators.
The Metro runs along three lines with transfer stations connecting them: A (green), B (yellow), and C (red). Trains run roughly every 2 minutes during weekday rush hours and 4 to 10 minutes during off-peak times. The subway operates daily 5am to midnight. If you're out late and see people dashing through the stations, you'd best chase after them; they know by their watches that the night's last train is about to leave. To keep yourself walking or running in the right direction, remember that vystup means "exit" and prestup is a connection (to another line).
Excerpted from Frommer's Gay & Lesbian Europe by David Andrusia, Haas Mroue, Donald Olson & Todd Savage. Copyright © 2001 by Hungry Minds, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Part 1: The Czech Republic: Coming Out of the Past (Todd Savage).
1. Prague: The Art of Eastern European Seduction.
Part 2: England: Cool Britannia (Donald Olson).
2. London: The Queen's at Home.
3. Brighton: Poofter's Paradise by the Sea.
Part 3: France: Oooh La La! (Haas Mroue).
4. Paris: They Don't Call It Gay Paree for Nothing.
5. Nice & the Cote d'Azur.
Part 4: Germany: Berlin Stories (Donald Olson).
6. Berlin: Come to the Cabaret.
Part 5: Greece: Where It All Began (Haas Mroue).
7. Athens: Your First Taste of Greek.
8. Side Trips from Athens: Delphi & the Peloponnese.
Part 6: Italy: In the Gay Footsteps of Michelangelo & Leonardo (Donald Olson).
9. Rome: Where La Dolce Vita Began.
10. Florence: Renaissance Homo Hangout.
11 .Venice: La Serenissima.
Part 7: The Netherlands: Tulips & Tolerance (Todd Savage).
12. Amsterdam: Letting It All Hang Out.
Part 8: Spain: Ole Espana! (David Andrusia).
13. Madrid: Let's Party, Muchacho!
14. Barcelona: Gaudi Reigns, But the Boys Rule.
15. Sitges: A Eurobeach for Euroboys & You.
16. Ibiza: Madness, Money & Music.