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The Perfect Night Out in Prague & Budapest

Budapest at night.
Budapest at night. Photo © Botond Horváth/123rf.

While there is certainly no shortage of things to do at night in either capital, it is this same dizzying array of choices that can leave some travelers overwhelmed. But fear not: Below you’ll find the perfect recipe for a successful night on the town that kicks off with a proper traditional meal before moving on to cocktails, live music, clubbing, and a nightcap or two as the sun begins to rise. Follow one or all these suggestions and prepare yourself for an evening to remember.

Best Traditional Food in Prague & Budapest

  • U Pinkasů (Prague): Time-honored Czech restaurant serves up delicious traditional fare and a rare unpasteurized version of Pilsner Urquell—the country’s finest brew.
  • Zeller Bistro (Budapest): Pleasant and affordable restaurant offers mouth-watering Hungarian dishes prepared with ingredients grown on the owners’ farm.

Best Cocktails in Prague & Budapest

  • Blue Light (Prague): Bustling bar with a hip, cozy vibe serves some of the finest cocktails in Malá Strana.
  • 400 (Budapest): Lively bar in the Jewish Quarter features local DJs and a large outdoor terrace packed with late-night revelers.

Best Live Music in Prague & Budapest

  • Jazz Dock (Prague): Warm and friendly jazz club offers an excellent range of live acts jamming till the wee hours along Prague’s famed riverbank.
  • A38 (Budapest): Unique concert hall located in the bowels of a former Ukrainian stone-carrier ship comes complete with restaurant and thumping outdoor terrace.

Best Club in Prague & Budapest

  • Roxy (Prague): Popular with locals and tourists alike, Prague’s most famous club continues to attract world-class bands and DJs on a weekly basis.
  • Instant (Budapest): This high-energy club with a house-party feel is filled to capacity on any given night with youngsters looking to groove the night away.

Best After-Hours Bar in Prague & Budapest

  • Le Clan (Prague): Laid-back after-hours club attracts partiers of all stripes looking to stave off their inevitable comedown.
  • Corvintető (Budapest): Old-school after-hours club throws legendary parties and offers gorgeous panoramic views of Budapest from its enormous rooftop patio.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Prague & Budapest.

Conquering the Andes Mountains in Colombia

View of mountain range in Colombia
Photo © Andrew Dier.

Colombia is a great place to conquer the longest continental mountain range in the world, the famed Andes Mountains. Extending from Chile and Argentina northward to Colombia and Venezuela, the Andes split into three chains at the Colombia-Ecuador border.

The highest mountains in Colombia are within about 40 kilometers of the palm-lined beaches of the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. This is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain chain independent of the Andes, which comprises the world’s highest coastal mountains.

  • Ciudad Perdida: Take the famed multiday jungle hike to archeological site Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), high in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
  • Sierra Nevada del Cocuy: Dramatic snowcapped mountains, valleys filled with armies of frailejón plants, and crystalline mountain lakes await at the stunning Sierra Nevada del Cocuy. You can spend two or three days day-hiking through the Parque Nacional Natural Cocuy, or the more adventurous can organize a six-day tour.
  • Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados: Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, in the Cordillera Central, offers hikers of all abilities the opportunity to explore misty cloud forests and get glimpses of snow-covered volcanoes. Take a day tour to the park from Manizales, a one- or three-day trek toward Laguna del Otún from Pereira, or a challenging multi-day trek from Salento to the Nevado del Tolima. Keep your eyes peeled for the iconic Andean condor.
  • Parque Nacional Natural Puracé: In Parque Nacional Natural Puracé, ambitious hikers can get up at dawn, hike through the tropical forest to the top of Volcán del Puracé, and be back in Popayán for dinner.
  • Parque Municipal Natural Planes de San Rafael and Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá: In the Cordillera Occidental, check out the lesser-visited Parque Municipal Natural Planes de San Rafael, a former cattle ranch that has been converted into a nature reserve. Beyond that, there’s Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá, where you can see the Pacific Ocean beyond the carpet of green of the Chocó rainforest.
  • Parque Natural Chicaque and Parque Nacional Natural Chingaza: Within minutes of busy Bogotá are various mountain adventures fit for day trips. Parque Natural Chicaque is a private park south of the city. Start your hike in the cold cloud forest, and within minutes the climate and natural surroundings have morphed into tropical hot country. PNN Chingaza is a serene national park of páramos and mountain lakes, and is the source of water for eight million thirsty Bogotanos.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.

Staroměstské náměstí: Prague’s Old Town Square

Old Town architecture in Prague.
Old Town architecture in Prague. Photo © scanrail/123rf.
Travel map of Staroměstské Náměstí (Old Town Square) Prague
Staroměstské Náměstí (Old Town Square)

For most people, entering Old Town Square for the first time is like walking onto a movie set in the 18th century, when colorful facades and architectural styles ranging from Gothic to baroque were par for the course. Not only is it the country’s most beautiful square, it is undoubtedly one of the entire continent’s as well. It has operated as Prague’s economic and political center since the 10th century, acting as marketplace, execution site, and location of nation-changing announcements—including the beginning of the Communist takeover. While its first houses date as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries, the square remains home to some of the city’s most spectacular buildings, including Old Town Hall with its famous Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church, and the Church of Our Lady Before Týn.

The ever-growing number of visitors who flock to the city has changed the face of the square, fueling an overt commercialism that includes a line of stalls on the west side selling kitsch to the swarms of tour groups that descend on the square daily. Despite the crowds, it is still one of the most wondrous places in town—a space often filled with smiling faces, people posing for photographs, swing jazz bands, and lovers enjoying the romance in the air, which is as old as it is intoxicating. Cafés, bars, and restaurants have got in on the act, too, setting out tables and chairs that offer the finest views available. Throughout the summer, the square is often the site of world-music concerts, art exhibits, and a wide variety of traditional cultural events. In the winter, it is the setting of Prague’s biggest Christmas market, a jolly outdoor affair augmented by a gigantic brilliantly lit tree.

The center of the square is characterized by the Jan Hus monument, dedicated to the Protestant reformer who was labeled a heretic and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. It was designed by Ladislav Šaloun and presented to the public in 1915 on the 500th anniversary of Hus’s death. The base of its steps used to be a popular meeting point as well as a perfect place for locals and visitors alike to take a breather and drink in the square’s charm. Unfortunately, countless overzealous (and drunken) tourists repeatedly tried climbing the monument, prompting authorities to install a ring of flowerbeds and benches around it.

Near the monument lies a brass strip in the ground known as the Prague Meridian, which marks the site of the former Marian Column of 1650. When the column’s shadow fell on the meridian at noon, a senior timekeeper in the observation tower of the Klementinum would wave a flag, prompting all of Prague’s timekeepers to synchronize their clocks.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Prague & Budapest.

Explore the Amazon: Visit the Ticuna Settlement of San Martín

Giant lillies float on the surface of the Amazon river in Colombia.
Giant lillies in the stretch of the Amazon river that divides Peru and Colombia. Photo © Sophie Traen/123rf.

Travel map of The Amazon and Los Llanos, Colombia
The Amazon and Los Llanos
The prime, unspoiled plot of land known as Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu covers some 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres). It has its southern border on the banks of the Amazon between the Río Amacayacu (“River of Hammocks”) and the Río Matamata and extends northward to the Río Cotuhe. It was declared a national park in 1975. The park is characterized by undulating hills, swamps, and an intricate network of streams. The highest point in the park reaches 200 meters (650 feet) above sea level. It is estimated that in the park there are more than 5,000 plant species, 150 mammal species (including pink dolphins, tapirs, jaguars, manatees, nutrias, and numerous primates), 500 species of birds, about 100 species of fish, and the list goes on. Resident animals such as squirrel monkeys, sloths, wild boars, and jaguars are hard to spot in the park, and in the jungle in general.

[pullquote]The park has been closed to tourism since 2012, although the Ticuna settlement of San Martín can be visited.[/pullquote]Each year much of the park is flooded during the rainy months of April and May. In 2012 it was a particularly wet wet season, resulting in extensive damage to park structures. The park has since been closed to tourism, although the Ticuna settlement of San Martín can be visited.

If you are traveling by boat up the spectacular and serpentine Amacayacu (this can apply to any jungle cruise you take in the region), insist that the captain completely cut the engine at least once or twice during the journey, so that you can enjoy the incredible sounds of the jungle. When you float along in silence, hearing nothing but the calls of distant monkeys, shrieks of birds, or the constant hum of legions of frogs and insects, it is a magical experience. It makes you think, that, despite the tsunami of evidence to the contrary, just maybe we can, for the first time in the history of humanity, turn things around and save this remarkable ecosystem. Boat drivers are usually in a hurry, so you’ll have to ask them something like: “Podemos parar aquí sin motor un minutico por favor?” (“Would it be possible to stop here without the motor for a moment, please?”).

Deep within the Parque Amacayacu, a dedicated team of animal lovers is rehabilitating monkeys that have been rescued from poor conditions in captivity. Fundación Maikuchiga (Leoncio Sánchez, cell tel. 313/397-1981) is a group that rescues and cares for dozens of primates, like woolly monkeys, red howlers, and brown capuchins, who have been injured, orphaned, or rescued from poor conditions in captivity in the Colombian Amazon. Dr. Sara Bennett is the “mother of the monkeys” and runs the show here. She has been in Colombia for many years, originally arriving to conduct research on Amazonian trees. One of her greatest accomplishments has been in convincing local tribes to no longer hunt woolly monkeys, in order to protect their survival. Her aim is to promote the protection and awareness of these species, and generally to promote conservation efforts. You can visit the foundation to get to know their work, and they are always in need of financial support. Maikuchiga can be reached on foot from San Martín during dry months.

San Martín de Amacayacu

An old wooden boat pulled up in the grass in San Martin village.
An old boat in the Ticuna settlement of San Martin. Photo © Dave Lonsdale, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Up the Río Amacayacu, within the PNN Amacayacu, is the Ticuna community of San Martín. The community has organized itself to receive tourists and offers walks, canoe rides, and other activities. Friendly and knowledgeable community elder Victor Ángel Pereira (cell tel. 310/769-7305) will receive you and get you organized. Entrance to the community costs COP$5,000, and this is an interesting day-trip excursion from either Leticia or Puerto Nariño. There is a handicrafts store where local girls sell beautiful handwoven mochilas (handbags), bark scrolls from the yanchama tree on which scenes of jungle animals are painted using all natural dyes, and jewelry. You can also do a homestay with a local family for only about COP$10,000 per night in a hammock.

The Casa de Gregorio (cell tel. 310/279-8147, heike_van_gils@hotmail.com) is a lodge run by a Ticuna-Dutch couple, Heike and José Gregorio. She arrived in San Martín as a doctoral student in agriculture sciences at the Universidad Nacional in 2004, and he is a Ticuna community leader. Through their Small World Foundation, they work to improve the lives of the residents of this indigenous community, by installing toilets, starting a kindergarten, and purchasing rainwater tanks.

A stay at the Casa de Gregorio provides visitors with a unique opportunity to discover the jungle and get to know Ticuna culture. A new, deluxe cabin was finished in 2013, and that costs COP$120,000 for a double in a luxurious king bed. There are two other simple double rooms and a small cabin, with a total capacity of 10. Lodging for two costs COP$80,000, and there are additional costs for meals, the community entry fee of COP$5,000, and for guides. Although it is possible to come for a day trip, this is not a recommended option. To get a taste of village life, it’s best to not rush things and stay at least three or four days. To get there, you can take a boat for about 1.5 hours from Leticia for COP$24,000. These depart at 8am, 10am, and 2pm. Ask to be dropped off at Bocana Amacayacu (not the Parque Amacayacu). The return trip costs COP$29,000. You will need to arrange with Casa de Gregorio transportation from Bocana Amacayacu to San Martín. That costs COP$30,000. You can also take a pequepeque canoe from Puerto Nariño or walk from there to San Martín. You can also walk from Puerto Nariño in tours organized by various hotels and agencies there. That expedition (you’ll need a guide; ask Heike) takes three hours.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.

Biking in Bogotá: The Ciclovía, Rentals, and More

A wide city street being enjoyed by families and cyclists in Bogotá.
The Ciclovía opens up miles of Bogotá’s streets to joggers and cyclists. Photo © Saúl Ortega, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike.

Travel map of Bogotá, Colombia.
Bogotá
The Ciclovía is one of the best things about Bogotá. No wonder it has been copied in cities around the world—from all across Colombia to New York to Brussels. Every Sunday and on holidays (two times at night, even) about 121 kilometers of Bogotá streets are closed to vehicular traffic so that cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, skaters, and people-watchers can claim the streets. The Ciclovía started small in the 1970s as a neighborhood initiative. Today it is an institution, and really one of the few spaces in which people of all classes in Bogotá mix. On particularly sunny days, over two million people have been estimated to have participated in the Ciclovía. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of Houston, Texas, out on a bike! Always be prepared for sun, cold, and rain.

While popular with joggers and others, it may be more enjoyable on a bike, especially because you can cover a lot more of the city pedaling rather than walking. The Ciclovía on the Avenida Séptima and on the Carrera 15 are two of the most popular routes, but those are just a fraction of the possibilities. You can go for miles and miles. In fact, this may be a chance to explore parts of the city that you would have never considered before.

There is no need to take a guided group tour, as the Ciclovía is easy to figure out. If you ever get lost, you can always ask the helpful Ciclovía staff, patrolling the routes. Or just ask one of the hundreds of thousands of others out for some fresh air which way to go. Bring money with you so you can grab a freshly squeezed orange juice along the way. Bike repair stations are located on all routes. Keep an eye on the time, as you don’t want to be far from your hotel when the cars come roaring back at the strike of 2pm.

Ciclopaseo de los Miércoles

Fast becoming an in-the-know institution is this group of over a hundred cyclists of all ages and abilities that gets together every other Wednesday night for a nighttime ride along the ciclorutas (bike paths) and streets of Bogotá. The Ciclopaseo de los Miércoles has been going strong for about seven years. The group meets at bike shop Welcome (Cl. 96 No. 10-57, tel. 1/256-0915) at 7pm. Find out about the next ride on Twitter (@elciclopaseo) or on Facebook. There is no charge.

Bike Rentals

Many bike shops have begun to rent bikes specifically for the Ciclovía. Try Pure Bike Shop (Cra. 13 No. 78-47, tel. 1/476-5058, daily rental COP$45,000), Eco Byke (cell tel. 311/519-2332), or Bogotá Bike Tours (Cra. 3 No. 12-72, tel. 1/281-9924). Many shops offer group bike tours.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.

Birds of the Hawaiian Islands

Deep in the forests you can sometimes see elusive birds like the fiery red ‘i‘iwi.
Deep in the forests you can sometimes see elusive birds like the fiery red ‘i‘iwi. Photo © Norman Kaleomokuokanalu Chock, licensed Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike.

Due to the lack of native mammals and reptiles in pre-contact Hawaii, native birds flourished, becoming widespread and highly specialized. Not to mention, they were able to feast on over 10,000 species of native insects. However, one of the great tragedies of natural history is the continuing demise of Hawaiian birdlife. Perhaps only 15 original species of birds remain of the more than 70 native families that thrived before the coming of humans.

[pullquote align=”right”]Hawaii’s endangered birds account for 40 percent of the birds officially listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[/pullquote]Since the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, 23 species have become extinct, with 31 more in danger. And what’s not known is how many species were wiped out before white explorers arrived. Experts believe that the Hawaiians annihilated about 40 species, including seven species of geese, a rare long-legged owl, ibis, lovebirds, sea eagles, and honeycreepers—all gone before Captain Cook showed up. Hawaii’s endangered birds account for 40 percent of the birds officially listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of the remaining indigenous Hawaiian birds can be found on any island below the 3,000-foot level.

Hawaii shoreline cliffs, dunes and islets are home to thriving colonies of marine birds. Look for several birds from the tern family, including the white, gray, and sooty tern. Along with the terns are shearwaters and the enormous Laysan albatross, with its seven-foot wingspan. Tropicbirds, with their lovely streamer-like tails, are often seen along the windward coasts.

If you’re lucky, you can also catch a glimpse of the pueo (Hawaiian owl) in mountainous areas. Deep in the forests you can sometimes see elusive birds like the ‘elepaio, ‘amakihi, and the fiery red ‘i‘iwi. The ‘amakihi and ‘i‘iwi are endemic birds not endangered at the moment. The ‘amakihi is one of the most common native birds; yellowish-green, it frequents the high branches of the ‘ohi‘a, koa, and sandalwood trees looking for insects, nectar, or fruit. It is less specialized than most other Hawaiian birds, the main reason for its continued existence. The ‘i‘iwi, a bright red bird with a salmon-colored, hooked bill, is found in the forests above 2,000 feet. The most common native bird, the ‘apapane is abundant and easiest to see. It’s a chubby, red-bodied bird about five inches long with a black bill, legs, wingtips, and tail feathers.

Exotic, introduced birds are the most common in the beach parks and in urban areas. Black myna birds with their sassy yellow eyes are common mimics around town. Sparrows, introduced to Hawaii through O‘ahu in the 1870s, are everywhere. Munia, first introduced as caged birds from Southeast Asia, have escaped and can be found almost anywhere around the island of O‘ahu.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Lake Balaton Getaway: A One Week Travel Itinerary

A pale peach sunset sky fades into the surface of the calm water at Hungary's Lake Balaton.
Sunset at beautiful Lake Balaton, Hungary. Photo © Fesus Robert/123rf.

Whether you like to party till you drop, appreciate nature, or crave cultured evenings sipping the region’s finest wines, you will find that Hungary’s Lake Balaton has something for everyone.

Day 1: Budapest to Siófok

Get in the car or jump on one of the trains regularly leaving Budapest’s Keleti and Déli train stations and prepare yourself for Siófok—Lake Balaton’s Dionysian capital. Upon arrival, find the hostel, guesthouse, or wellness center you’ve secured a room at, then waste no time heading for Siófok Beach. Work on that tan or stay in shape by joining a game of beach volleyball. When hunger strikes, grab a snack at any of the many kiosks or dive into a tasty traditional dish at the excellent Csárdás Restaurant. Spend some time walking down the treelined promenades, and if you’re looking for a different place to take an afternoon dip, check out either the Aranypart (Gold Coast) or Ezüstpart (Silver Coast). Freshen up and grab some dinner before beginning what is sure to be a long night. Head back to Siófok Beach for nonstop fun at the Coke Club or hit the Palace Dance Club or Bacardi Music Café for dancing till dawn.

Day 2: Siófok

Travel map of Siófok, Hungary
Siófok
Sleep in, shake off that hangover, and head back to whatever beach you fancy for more fun in the sun. Add some culture to your visit by checking out peaceful and romantic Millennium Park—the perfect antidote to the frenzy of activity that surrounds the rest of town. Head for the railroad and have an unbelievable lunch at Hintaló Vendéglő, known to satisfy even the most finicky of diners. Drop by the unique Evangelical Lutheran Church, designed by Ybl Prize-winning architect Imre Makovecz, then make your way through the shops and stalls of Kálmán Promenade and pick up a souvenir or two. After dinner, take a nice long walk, enjoy the sunset, and figure out whether you really want to knock off early in a town that was born ready to party.

Day 3: Balatonfüred

Head north to pretty Balatonfüred, where the old world meets the new. Check into your hotel, then make your way to the center of town, where you’ll find Lajos Kossuth Spring. Drink deeply from its curative springs and feel the debauchery of Siófok pleasantly fade away. Have lunch at the outdoor Cimbora Grill Garden and gorge on the wide array of grilled meat dishes as well as the generous salad bar on offer. Walk around town admiring the tasteful villas and charming residential districts, stopping for a cup of coffee or souvenir shopping along the way. Enjoy a fantastic meal on Stefánia Vitorlás Restaurant’s sunny terrace and make sure to save some room for one of the over 40 desserts available. If you feel rested enough and could do with another party, check out Café La Luna or Waikiki Cocktail Bar for tasty cocktails and remarkable views of the lake.

Day 4: Tihany

Travel map of Tihany, Hungary
Tihany
Take the boat over to Tihany and settle into a nice hotel or inn along the bay. Give yourself a couple of hours to explore the peninsula’s pretty interior, which includes the Inner Lake and Outer Lake, accessible via a trail from Tihany village. Once you’ve built up an appetite, head for Fogas Csárda, Tihany’s oldest traditional restaurant and a hit with both visitors and locals. Stroll along the cobblestone streets of charming Tihany village and have a look at all the handicrafts, wine, and embroidery for sale before moving on to impressive Tihany Benedictine Abbey. When you’re done admiring the wood carvings and baroque pulpit inside, take the path to the left of the church leading up to Echo Hill. Enjoy gorgeous views of the lake and shout a few words when you get to the top to find out how the hill got its name. Unwind with dinner at the superb Ferenc Cellar Tavern and finish the evening with a glass of wine or a pleasant walk.

Day 5: Badacsony

Take the train west to beautiful Badacsony and find yourself a nice hotel along the shore or guesthouse in the center of town. Take one of the many walking trails leading to the legendary Basalt Hills and lose yourself among the geological gems. For lunch, try the excellent pike perch at the Szent Orban Wine-House and Restaurant and drink in the wonderful panoramic view from its summer terrace. Spend the rest of the day wine tasting, moving from wine cellar to wine cellar and enjoying the beautiful vistas along the way. If visiting during the end of July, make sure to stick around for at least one day and night of the Badacsony Wine Festival.

Day 6: Keszthely

Travel map of Keszthely, Hungary
Keszthely
Get up at a decent hour and head to Keszthely, located at the far western tip of the lake. Check into a pension along the shore or in the center of town and waste no time getting to Festetics Palace, Hungary’s fourth-largest palace. Enjoy a tasty lunch at Jóbarát Vendéglő, then spend a couple of hours at the highly informative Balaton Museum or enjoy an afternoon of walking around town checking out the shops and Keszthely’s open-air market. This is your last night at Lake Balaton, so spoil yourself with a wonderful dinner and then cap off the night with drinks at John’s Pub or the more alternative 512 Club.

Day 7: Back to Budapest

After finishing breakfast, jump in the car or on the train and make your way back to the capital.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Prague & Budapest.

The Best Scenic Drives in New Mexico

An idyllic two-lane road in New Mexico crossing the Johnson Mesa.
Looking east on Highway 72 on the bucolic Johnson Mesa. Photo © Phillip Stewart, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

There’s hardly a bad stretch of road in the state of New Mexico, but these recommended scenic drives through the Land of Enchantment are outstanding.

Turquoise Trail: (55 miles, 1.5 hours) From Albuquerque to Santa Fe, Highway 14 offers great vistas around every curve and ghost towns to break up the drive.

Highway 4: (32 miles, 1 hour) The road through Jemez Springs to Valles Caldera is especially good in fall, with yellow aspens highlighted against red rock.

U.S. 84: (93 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes) North of Santa Fe, ascend through the red rocks of Abiquiu (page 111), then past the Brazos Cliffs near Tierra Amarilla.

La Frontera del Llano Scenic Byway: (26 miles, 30 minutes) Highway 39 zigzags across the northeastern plains, from Roy to Abbott, with pronghorns and ruined homesteads along the way.

Highway 72: (37 miles, 1 hour) This tiny road between Raton and Folsom soars over bucolic Johnson Mesa.

U.S. 180: (98 miles, 2 hours) From Silver City to Reserve, this highway passes largely through national forest.

Sunspot Highway: (17 miles, 30 minutes) Highway 6563 winds south from Cloudcroft to Sunspot National Solar Observatory, with White Sands visible below.

Travel map of New Mexico
New Mexico

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon New Mexico.

Enjoying Spectator Sports Events in Prague

View of Prague's O2 Arena exterior at night.
The O2 Arena in Prague. Photo © rebius/123rf.

If you ask a Czech what the national sport is, odds are they’ll shrug their shoulders and tell you it’s a toss-up between ice hockey and soccer. When it comes to the former, the Czech Republic has plenty to boast about. Not only have they consistently placed near the top of every important international tournament, including winning the gold medal at the 1998 winter Olympics, they also have a remarkable number of superstars dominating North America’s National Hockey League. And while their soccer team isn’t quite as impressive, world-famous players like Pavel Nedvěd have kept World Cup hopes alive and fans riveted to their TV sets.

Most players who demonstrate excellence in either sport tend to head for larger markets and bigger paychecks, but that doesn’t stop Czechs from following both sports religiously, filling up hockey rinks and soccer stadiums every time play-off season arrives. Tickets are very affordable, and the possibility of seeing tomorrow’s stars play their hearts out today adds an element of excitement to the games that is often lacking in more established leagues.

Ice Hockey

Having settled in nicely at O2 Arena, HC Slavia Praha (O2 Arena, Ocelářská St. 2, Českomoravská) finally won its first championship in 2003. The team’s die-hard fans make going to any game a unique experience, but if you really want to see them go rabid with emotion, make sure to get a ticket when they play longtime rivals HC Sparta Praha.

HC Sparta Praha (Tipsport Arena, Za Elektrárnou 419, Holešovice, tel. 266 727 454) is Prague’s most popular hockey team. Well financed and well managed, they dominate during the regular season and are consistently a force to be reckoned with during the play-offs. Tickets are always available for home games, though you might want to think about reserving in advance when it comes to postseason play.

Soccer

AC Sparta Praha (Toyota Arena, Milady Horákové 98, Holešovice, tel. 296 111 400) is without a doubt the most successful soccer team in the country and well-known for its rowdy and faithful followers. They won their 35th Czech championship in 2010 and continue to be a thorn in the side of larger, better-known teams during international tournaments. A trip to one of their matches will prove a memorable experience for even less serious fans of the game.

Playing in a modest stadium to fans who for the most part look like they cashed their pension checks on the way to the game, FK Viktoria Žižkov (Stadion FK Viktoria Žižkov, Seifertova třída, Žižkov, tel. 221 423 427) is the city’s underdog, to say the least. Nobody expects much from this team, especially since they were relegated in 2003 and nailed for match-fixing in 2004. Back in the first division, nobody considers them to be a challenge for the league title, but that doesn’t stop their loyal fans from coming out and enjoying the day.

Despite its devoted fans and ability to occasionally overcome unbeatable odds, SK Slavia Praha (Eden Arena, Vladivostocká 2, Vršovice, tel. 233 081 751) continues to place second in the division standings behind cross-town rivals Sparta Praha. They are certainly worth a shot should you happen to find yourself in tourist-free Prague 10.

Horse Racing

Running April-October, Chuchle (Radotinská 69, Radotin) offers flat racing every Sunday starting at 2pm. The Czech Derby is held here in June, giving fans one last opportunity to enjoy a day at the track before shutting down till the end of August. Those interested in betting on the ponies should take note that bookmakers are not allowed at the track. Rather, a tote betting system is in place that pools all bets and shares the total among the winning tickets. There is also a very unpopular 5 percent betting tax added to all bets.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Prague & Budapest.

Exploring the Spirit of Route 66 in New Mexico

The neon lit front of the retro Blue Swallow Motel along Route 66.
Tuck yourself into 1939 at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, NM. Photo © Michael Zanussi, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

“Get your kicks,” advises Nat King Cole’s classic anthem of the Mother Road. Though officially decommissioned, Route 66 (now traced by I-40) is still alive in New Mexico in the form of neon signs and cruising culture. And even off that iconic highway, many parts of the state foster nostalgia for the mid-20th century.

[pullquote align=”right”]Capture the real spirit of a road trip by heading out U.S. 60 to remote Pie Town, so named because it served intrepid motorists sweets in the 1930s.[/pullquote]Hit the road, preferably in a convertible, to enjoy good old-fashioned fun like drive-in movie theaters in Las Vegas (summers only) and Carlsbad. The car is still king in Clovis, where you’ll find original drive-ins, such as Foxy, complete with carhops—this is the way burgers and fries were meant to be eaten.

Clovis is also where 1950s crooner Buddy Holly recorded his early hits—check out the Norman & Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum, or plan a trip for the September Clovis Music Festival. Hotrod fans can see one of Elvis’s Caddies at B-Square Ranch in Farmington (the taxidermy museum here also seems like a relic of another age). And capture the real spirit of a road trip by heading out U.S. 60 to remote Pie Town, so named because it served intrepid motorists sweets in the 1930s. Two cafés keep this slice (pun intended) of Americana alive with mixed berry, chocolate cream, and more at the ready. For more sweets, head to Carrizozo, where Roy’s mixes up chocolate ice cream sodas at an old fountain. Don’t miss the very groovy early-1960s signage on the short main street.

The best legacy of the Route 66 era is the motels. Tuck yourself into 1939 at the Blue Swallow Motel or the slightly newer Motel Safari in Tucumcari, or at El Rancho Hotel & Motel in Gallup, which hosted Ronald Reagan and other Western movie stars. Farther afield, in Raton, the Maverick Motel is meticulously preserved, and the Budget Host Melody Lane Motel has vintage saunas in the rooms. In Truth or Consequences (a town named for a 1950s radio show), the owners of Blackstone Hotsprings have decorated rooms as homages to The Twilight Zone and Lucille Ball. Sleep tight, and dream of the charm of yesteryear.

Travel map showing Driving Distances in New Mexico
Driving Distances in New Mexico

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon New Mexico.

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