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Prague Problems

December 13, 1998

My wife and I have just returned from a two-week trip to Europe. I feel it my civic duty to warn your readers of the deplorable state of affairs in Prague, once the most beautiful city in Central Europe, but now a city that is dirty, ugly, expensive and dangerous.

I had thought, innocently, that over the last eight years or so the Czechs had managed to pave over their Communist past and usher in a new, enlightened era. I was naive. The buildings are still neglected, and a number are on the fringe of dilapidation.

From the minute we arrived in Prague, the fleecing started: the $10 fare for a short ride down the platform at the railroad station to the taxi from a baggage porter, and the $20 fare for the five-minute taxi ride from the train station to the hotel.

The "deluxe" room we booked at the Palace Praha Hotel cost us 500 deutsche marks (about $321) a night. It was an ordinary room with a cheerless view of sooty rooftops. We had originally planned to spend five days in Prague, but aborted our trip after only 36 hours. The day after we arrived, I had my Sony video camera and Nikon snapshot camera stolen right out from under my nose at a restaurant. This loss amounted to almost $2,000.

A friend of a colleague of mine had his wristwatch literally slashed from his arm by hoodlums in Prague.

JOHN SMILGIN, Tokyo

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