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The summer is around the corner, and if you plan on travelling around in the Czech Republic or  elsewhere in Europe by train, it may be a good idea to sign up for the In-Karta with Ceske Drahy.   Because I recently moved to Vienna, I have signed up for an IN25 card (with Rail Plus), which gives me a 25% discount on all of my regular tickets and returns.  All I have to do is show my card when I purchase my ticket and again when the conductor checks for tickets on the train.  I paid a total of 990 Kc, for a three year card.

There are different types of programs you can sign up for: N25, IN 50, IN 100, IN senior, IN junior or IN business application has been recorded where you can purchase discounted reservations for SC Pendolino trains.  The cool thing about an InKarta is also, that it allows you to use it as an electronic wallet and charge it up with money, and then purchase your tickets around the Czech Republic at the vending machines or the ticket office – and you get a bonus for utilizing this function.  If you are living in the Czech Republic, you also have many other discounts available to you on public transport and event cultural events.

Overview of In-karta card discounts

IN 25 (Cost depends on your age and how many years you want to purchase it for, check here, you will pay 150Kc for a year if you are 15-26 yrs old) is intended for all passengers, including children, students who take the train regularly to school or work. It is also worthwhile for frequent travel. With an In-karta IN 25, passengers receive a 25% discount on one-way, return and commuter tickets (in weekly, monthly and quarterly variants), and a discount on SporoTiket Česko and ČD Promo tickets, and discount on reservations for SC trains as well.

IN 50 (Cost depends on your age and how many years you want to purchase it for, check here – you will pay 1,300 Kc for a year if you are 15-26 yrs old) is suitable mainly for regular trips by youth from 15 to 26 years of age and adults, with a special price for pensioners. With an In-karta IN 50, passengers receive a 50% discount on one-way and return tickets, a 25% discount on commuter tickets, and a discount on SporoTiket Česko and ČD Promo tickets, and discount on reservations for SC trains as well.

IN 100 (Cost is 22K per yr, 45K for 2 yrs, 67K for 3 yrs, more here)
is intended for regular travel with a higher level of comfort. Without having to purchase additional travel documents, passengers are entitled to unlimited travel on ČD trains in 1st or 2nd class, a discount on reservations and tickets to destinations abroad (with the RailPlus discount), discount on reservations for SC trains, the option to transport one piece of oversized luggage free of charge, free travel on Airport Express connections, and free use of the ČD cableway at Ještěd.

IN business
is a version of the IN 100 discount (without RailPlus) suitable for corporate clients. The card is issued to the company (not to an individual), is transferable and helps resolve issues surrounding business trips.

IN senior
is intended for passengers over 70 years of age. With the IN senior discount, passengers need not purchase any additional travel documents for travel on local (Os) and limited-stop (Sp) trains. For journeys on fast (R) trains and higher-category trains, passengers can take advantage of a 50% discount off the regular fare or the return fare, 25% discount off the commuter tickets and a discount on SporoTiket Česko and ČD Promo tickets, and discount on reservations for SC trains as well.

If you plan on travelling abroad the Czech Republic and you apply for the In Karta, you must be sure to let them know at the ticket office, as you can only get discounts on international travel with the Rail Plus option.  It just means you need to purchase your discount for a longer period of time, rather than just a 3 months period for example.  So for the IN25 discount that I got, I had to sign up for 3 years, which totaled at 990 KC, still very much worth it.

More details about the In Karta can be found here.  Whether you decide to purchase the discounts or not, be safe and bon voyage – or shall I say šťastnou cestu!

Now that the temperatures have climbed back up and it is bearable to be outside once more, what better way to get the blood flowing than to go cross country skiing.  Cross country skiing is a very popular winter activity in the Czech Republic with infinite trails around the country.  It would be impossible to list all the trails so I will just highlight the popular regions to get you started.

Krkonoše

Krkonoše Mountains
Located at the Czech-Polish border near Germany (about 1-2 hours north of Prague) and ideal for all winter sports.  Here you can pick a trail of any distance, ranging from  beginner to advanced.  If you are up for the challenge, and don’t mind the hills, Krkonoše is known for these type of trails.

Need a rest from all the hard work?  Wellness centers can be found all around these mountains.  For example, Hotel Aqua Park in Špindlerův Mlýn has great facilities including a pool, sauna, and water slides.  Another good center is Komplex Loko in Trutnov.

We can’t forget fun for the kids.  There are many great sledding slopes and even a small skiing slope with a lift.  SKI PEC is ideal for the whole family.

Jizerské Hory

Jizerské Hory
Located 60km west of Krkonoše and an hour north of Prague (by Liberec). Very ideal for cross country skiing with many great and maintained trails.  Want hills? No problem.  Want long, straight trails?  Check.  Want both?  Done.

Another great feature of these mountains is that you can even cross country ski at night. In Jablonec nad Nisou you can find a cross country arena Břízky where you can do a few laps.

You shouldn’t miss the stone observation tower Štepánka on top of the hill called Hvězda, in my favorite village of Příchovice.  Breathtaking views await you there.  If you want to check out what the current conditions are in Jizerské Hory before heading out there, you can do so online.  Most cameras can be found here.

Šumava

Mountains of Šumava
Another superb place for cross country skiing.  It is located further southwest, by the German-Austrian border.  The mountains here have a lower elevation but resorts are cheaper and less crowded.  You can even find moderate hills but nothing too extreme.

For inspiration, visit the cottage of Kateřina Neumannová, a retired, cross country skiing Olympian, where she showcases her gold medals.  You can even rent a room and stay a little longer.

If you are a complete newbie to cross country skiing and want to learn the right technique, which looks effortless on television, contact the experienced trainers at the Nordic Academy.

If cross country skiing is not your thing and downhill skiing is more your passion, no worries, many places around as well.  I have been neglecting skiing for the past few years so I am not an expert on the best places but this interactive map shows all the slopes in the Czech Republic as well as neighboring countries.

Also, here is another link that lists specific cross country trails around the country.  If and when Prague gets snow, you can find many people getting their cross country skis out and turning the many local parks to trails.  Sometimes you can go straight from your front door :)

Few cross country skiing etiquette tips:
1. Always let faster skiers pass.
2. Most trails are two-way, stay on the right.  Same as while driving.
3. Always say ‘thank you’ when someone lets you pass.
4. If you are passing, announce whether it is on the right or left.
5. If you have to stop, move to the side, off the trail.

We still have plenty of winter left, so get on those trails and slopes before it’s too late!

Introducing a fairly new website - Hello Czech Republic - launched by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here you can get information on living in or visiting the Czech Republic straight from the source.   The website is available in 6 different languages and provides you with accurate and up to date information on a number of different topics.

A crowd of people are chanting slogans as the police look sheepishly on, standing behind the crowd control barriers. People are jostled and things quickly turn nasty. A young protestor spits at a policeman, and is the dragged to the ground and handcuffed by other cops, while the cop who was spat on gets in a few blows with his truncheon. Then, all hell breaks loose, enraged by the treatment of their comrade the crowd of young people surge through the crowd barriers, and in the melee a young woman is shoved to the ground.
Through a megaphone, a voice shouts “Cut!”. The cops and rioters break apart and everyone walks off chattering in high spirits to get hot chocolate. Welcome to the movie business.
My fifteen minutes came about after responding to a posting for extras on an expats website. Coming from the perspective of a TEFL teacher and proofreader, read the day job, it seemed like a real hoot. And I wasn’t disappointed. The initial brief was that we were creating an ‘Occupy Prague’ scene, which was the key scene of a short film being made by a student of the Prague Film School.
I naively turned up on time. Having been privy to the back-lots of Barrandov Studios, I was initially a little disappointed to see that the entire cast consisted of two guys and some chaps dressed in police uniforms which looked pretty authentic. They were definitely convincing enough to keep the burghers of Prague off the car par k where we were shooting, though. Maybe it was the nasty looking night sticks hanging from their belts. Much like a first day at kindergarten my anxiety about the lack of people to ‘Occupy Prague’ was diverted by an invitation to do something creative with pens and paints. Namely, to make a protest placard. And sure enough by the time I’d knocked up my ‘Eat the Rich’ placard, things had started warming up. Credit where credit’s due, Zach the Director and his willing helpers seemed to have summoned up a decent amount of people through sheer willpower and determination. We now had cops and we had protestors. We even had a cameraman. I spent the next couple of hours screaming myself hoarse with a whole series of slogans. The repertoire included ‘People not Profit’ , ‘Shame on You’ and ‘The whole world is watching’ – It’s kind of fun and also quite disconcerting the way in which you get drawn into the scene and the enthusiasm you raise for something that’s not actually real. But for those few minutes while the cameras are running, even a normally placid person like me got fully into the vibe of the scene. Finally after four or five takes and a pause to let a bemused young mother and her baby through the chaotic scene, it was mission accomplished. I went home full of pizza, hoarse of voice, but happy and can’t wait for another chance to be an ‘extra’.

Gavrilo Prinzip's cell


Sometimes much like if you want to get to know a person better, then you have to get to know the less salubrious side of them too. The same goes for countries too. If you’re an expat then sometimes it’s good to take a look at the darker sides of the country you’re making your home. If you’re living in the Czech Republic I would recommend a trip to Terezen (Theresienstadt) .
For the uninitiated Terezen is a fortress city which was used as a transit camp for Jews, from Czechoslovakia to the death camps like Auschwitz. As well as Jews, hundreds of Czech patriots who had resisted the Nazi occupation, Gypsies, homosexuals and many other people who were considered ‘undesirable’ to the racial purity of the Nazis vision for a new Europe.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it’s understandable if you wouldn’t be interested, but I would ask you to consider at least look it up on the web and then consider your decision.
Terezen located to the North West of Prague, was originally built in 1780 by Joseph 11 as a fortress to protect Prague. It was never tested as a fortress but was used as a prison by the Austro-Hungarian authorities. One of the most famous prisoners held there was no other than Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian in Sarajevo in 1914, an event which triggered the First World War (1914-18). He was held there for several years before dying of tuberculosis.
While Terezen was not a death camp like Auschwitz Birkeanau, thousands died of disease and malnutrition. The fortress’ most infamous episode relates to a visit made to the camp by the International Red Cross to check on reports of the maltreatment of Jews by the Nazis.
Notified of the visit in advance the camp authorities set up a huge false front and spruced up the camp to make it look as if all was normal. The levels to which they went to cover up the truth can be seen at the Lesser Fortress where there is a whole brand new shower and bathroom block which was shown to the Red Cross authorities, despite the sinks and showers never being plumbed in. Likewise the inmates were never allowed to use the facilities.
A propaganda film was also made to show how happy the inhabitants were. This can be seen during a tour of the Lesser Fortress. The Red Cross were taken in by these ruses and reported that conditions were ‘acceptable’.
Despite this occurring over seventy years ago there is a startling lesson for us all to remember not just to believe everything we see at first hand.

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