The quick and easy visa process, part two – the appointment.

Getting there:

At midnight on Monday the 6th of April I caught the Student Agency bus from Florenc.  Transit time to Vienna should have been 4.5 hours, but the first bus had issues and we had to return to Prague and switch to another bus.  My visa appointment was at 9:30 and I had considered taking the 3:30 am bus but, after my bus broke down, I was happy I had taken the midnight bus.  The bus drops you at Stadion bus station on the U2 Bahn line in Vienna.  My intention was to walk around all morning (I’ve been to Vienna twice and don’t have any need to see much more) but it was so cold that instead I went to Westbahnhof and hung out eating fresh bread, drinking tea and using the free wifi.  Cost:  Student Agency bus (return) 976kc plus two Bahn tickets at €2.20 each.

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From Westbahnhof it is a pleasant 25 minute walk along Mariahilfer Strasse to the Embassy. There are also trams that will take you most of the way there.  There are many nice shops and cafes on the way and you will also pass the Technical Museum.  The entrance to the visa section is down the left side of the building.

The Appointment:

I arrived a few moments early for my appointment and was greeted by the friendly staff who took all of my documents and my €91 (in cash, exact change required).  Moments later I was invited into the office where I was asked a series of questions:

  • what do I intend to do in the Czech Republic?
  • how long do I intend to stay?
  • how much money do I plan to earn every month?
  • where do I live in Prague?
  • how much is my rent?
  • how many people do I share a flat with?
  • do I have a Czech bank account?
  • when did I first visit the Czech Republic?
  • when did I arrive in the Czech Republic this time?
  • when did I previously live in the Czech Republic?

At this point I also supplied copies of my previous visa and residence card.  I brought up the fact that I am studying Czech and used a few well rehearsed phrases to emphasize this.  Interestingly I was NOT asked what I would do if my visa was not ready by the time my 90 day Schengen limit expires on May 19th.  The staff translated my statement into Czech, read it all back to me in English and then had me sign the application document.  I received a stamp in my passport to show I had applied for a visa and a receipt with a reference number.  The staff informed me that the process can take up to three months, but that I would likely hear from someone sooner by email.  They were friendly, polite, helpful and even thanked me for being so well organized. The entire visit lasted about one hour.

Getting back:

When I originally booked my ticket I chose the 15:40 return bus that would get me to Prague around 20:00.  Out on the street at 10:30 in the morning I was at a loss as to what to do, so I returned to Westbahnhof and used the free internet to look for an earlier bus.  Student Agency allows free changes up to one hour before departure so I was able to switch to a 12:40 bus that would get my home by 17:00.  This left time for a stroll, lunch at the Stadion shopping centre and then onto the bus with time to spare.

Of course there was construction on the way home and we had to take a rural detour….

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…but it was a good trip and I was happy to be back home and into my bed.  10.5 hours bus travel time for a one hour meeting! And now I wait, patiently, for the email to tell me my visa is ready to be picked up.  Watch for the final installment sometime soon!

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Crunching the numbers.

Very recently I was discussing Prague and teaching and immigration with someone who is moving here, and the question of costs came up.  How much are things?  What does it cost to live here in Prague?

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There are many good resources on the internet including the Expats cost of living report.  I won’t be converting all these numbers to Canadian or American dollars or even Euros because, as I’ve mentioned before, you’ll be heartbroken if you keep thinking in anything other than Czech Crowns (Koruna, or Kč).  As of this writing it was about 19.5Kc to a Canadian dollar, 25Kc to a US dollar and 27Kc to a Euro.

Anything I put here is based on my personal, real life experience here in Prague – your results may vary.  So, what are some numbers to consider?

A home

During my time in Prague I have lived in two places.  The first, a tiny little studio in Holešovice, with easy access to metros and trams:

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This was a partly furnished suite and with all utilities came to about 9,400Kc per month.  My internet was included in this and was about 400Kc per month.  My very simple furnishings, some new and some used from a local Nabytek, cost about 6,000Kc.  As I rented direct from the owner there was no reality fee, just one months security deposit.  If using an agent expect to pay the equivalent of one month rent as a fee.

On returning to Prague I decided to try shared accommodation.  This time around  I have a fantastic view and am a two minute walk from Vyšehrad.

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The downside is I share a flat with four other people.  And I have a tiny, tiny room.

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On the other hand it is only 7,500Kc per month, minimal deposit, no long term lease and no furniture to buy.  There are definitely cheaper rooms to be had – check out the flatshare in Prague page on Facebook – but this is a two level suite with huge kitchen and 3.5 bathrooms between us.  A good compromise.

For housing ideas check out Home Sweet Home, Bezreality or Sreality.  If you will be teaching like I do, I’d recommend making sure you have good transit connections.

Health insurance

There is a lot of information available on this topic.  Be sure to get a plan that covers the visa requirements, most companies offer one tailor made for this.  The first go around I used Slavia and was satisfied (although I only ever needed it once) but this time I tried Uniqa though an English speaking broker – Czech Insure.  Good news, Slavia was nearly 10,000Kc for one year before, my new policy is only 7,500.  That is only 625Kc per month – 1/2 what I paid in Canada.

Transit

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Prague has a fantastic and very economical transit system.  You can find all the fees on the DPP website, but a monthly pass on an open card (transit pass with your photo on it) is only 550Kc (less if you buy more than one month at a time) while a transferable pass can had for 670Kc per month.

Social service tax

If you are self employed on a zivnostenky list (trade license) you will be paying your social service tax monthly – be prepared to part with 1943Kc per month no matter if you work or not.  My understanding is that if you work for a company and also have a zivnostensky list you will be able to reduce this by half, but I have never done it.

Other things?

My experience has been that many things like clothing and food are cheaper here, particularly if they aren’t imported, but since you make less on average it isn’t really any different.

A nice masala tea at a tea room?  80Kc

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Dinner out for two at a nice restaurant?  Maybe a movie after?  Budget 1,000kc if you intend to have drinks and dessert….

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How does it all add up?

If you are working full time as a teacher you will survive quite comfortably on what you make, not luxuriously, but well enough.  Booking 20-25 classes per week and allowing for early cancellations I am usually in the 22,000-30,000Kc per month range. If you intend to travel, especially to Euro based countries, things will get a little tight quite quickly.  Go east, or south into the Balkans and you can still have great trips.

Angloville, a volunteer experience…

At some point I stumbled upon the Angloville website and liked the idea of a week in the country with a group of native English volunteers and Polish participants.  After contacting them I signed up for a session in Zabuze, east of Warsaw, from April 1st to the 6th.  It was a really great experience!

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You don’t:

  • need to be a teacher.
  • need experience.
  • need a lot of money.
  • need to worry too much!

But you do:

  • need to be a native English speaker.
  • need to be interested in other people.
  • need some patience.
  • want to share your life very closely for an entire week.

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Think of Angloville as a mini-immersion process – they create an English environment within the host country.  During the week we spend all day, every day, speaking English both in the sessions and during meals or social time.  The participants pay for the event and as a result are quite motivated.  Participants were professionals from a variety of fields, all of them with interesting backgrounds and stories.  The English speaking volunteers were also amazing, all of us from different countries and different backgrounds.

Days consisted of many one to one or two to two sessions…..

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…as well as many group activities, games and socializing.

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There were two organizers with us, so all the logistics were looked after.  Just show up at the meeting point and go from there. The venue was amazing: beautiful countryside, nice rooms and meeting spaces, and good food three times per day (even for a vegetarian like me).

For an interesting, fun, challenging and economical experience, I highly recommend Angloville for your next trip to Poland! I’ll be heading to Wroclaw in May for another great week!

The quick and easy visa process, part one.

If you have been following me, you know I already had a visa and residence permit once and am back to do it all again.  If you are new here and stumbled upon my blog while looking for Živnostenský list or Czech immigration information, I recommend you start at the beginning. Even though I had a visa before, because I let my residence permit expire I need to start from scratch.

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This post will cover from the start of the process to waiting for the visa appointment and I will post more once things move ahead.  This process is for someone here on a trade license (Živnostenský list).  I’ve included actual dates so you can see the real timeline here in 2015.  If things have changed from 2013 I will make an effort to update the original postings to reflect this.  As I arrived in the Schengen Zone on February 19th, I am on a bit of a timeline to pull this off by May 20th.

Useful information:  The Ministry of the Interior website.

Documents needed:

Canadian criminal record check:  I applied at the Embassy in Prague on March 9th, it was ready for pickup on March 10th.  You can get this in Canada before you come, but it is no faster, no cheaper and won’t be in Czech so you will need to pay to get it translated.  Note that they are only open from 9:00 until 12:00 but you can make an appointment for afternoon if necessary.  Cost: 1,000kc.

The criminal record check needs to be super-notarized by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minsterstvo zahranicnich veci) located at #5 Toskansky Palac, very close to the castle.  It is often busy and I arrived at 13:00 to be the first in line when they opened at 13:30 – I was in and out in five minutes.  Cost:  600kc (note, you will need to pay this by “kolek” which are financial payment stamps available at the post office – they won’t accept cash).

We aren’t done!  Take your super-notarized Canadian criminal record check to a notary (there are Czech Points all over Prague) and have an official notarized copy made – you will need this copy for your Živnostenský list.  Cost:  60kc.

Czech criminal record check: Because I lived here for two years, I needed to get a Czech criminal record check (rejstřík trestů) as well.  There is a good explanation of this process on Prague.tv.  The article says the wait will be long but I was in and out in five minutes and was able to pay the fee in cash, they didn’t need koleks.  Cost:  100kc (not the 50kc stated in the article).

Housing document:  You will need some proof of housing, a lease or doklad ubytovani.  This document must be signed by the registered owners of the flat and notarized – they will check it to make sure they are the registered owners.  It must be good for at least the duration of your visa plus the waiting period, so try to get one that is either open ended or at least good for one year. Cost:  60kc?  Or zero if your landlord is nice like mine is.

Proof of funds:  You need a document to prove you have at least 110,000kc available to you.  I had my Canadian bank provide this proof of funds before I left Canada but note it can’t be more than three months old.  You will need a card that can access this account.  You will also need a certified translation, I had mine done at Grabmuller, if took three days. Cost: $20 (from my bank in Canada) plus 400kc for the translation.

Passport photos:  Available at most photo shops or even photo booths in the metro.  Cost:  100kc

Živnostenský approval letter:  I won’t go into detail on this, please look at my previous postings for the how and why of the trade licence.  Or, stop by the office in Prague 7, room 203, and get details about what you will need.  They do speak English and are vey helpful.  Cost:  1,000kc.


The initial visa appointment:  Now, before, during or after this you will need to have made an appointment at a Czech Embassy somewhere.  From Prague the most common are:

Berlin.  I emailed them on March 16th, they replied to my email but asked me to call the embassy, and they could have fit me in as early as March 25th.

Bratislava. When I managed to get through to someone on March 17th they were booking appointments for the middle of June!

Vienna.  This is where I have my appointment, I finally managed to contact them by phone on March 17th and was able to get an appointment for Aril 7th.  This is the same embassy I used last time.  Note:  they wanted me to email them all of my documents including my zivnostensky list BEFORE they would give my an appointment, but I managed to convince them to make the appointment and then scanned and emailed things as I got them.

This is the end of part one, watch for an update after my visa appointment on April 7th.

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Lather, rinse, repeat.

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Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Solstice too.  Veselé Vánoce a šťastný Nový rok.

If you’ve been following, I’m sorry it’s been so quiet here!  Traffic statistics show that people are still coming by and I hope the information has been valuable.  Watch this space as the information will all get updated, verified and put to the test very soon – I’m going to do it all again!

This has been an interesting three months back in Canada.  I’ve learned that I have changed, perhaps more than I thought I had.  My friends advice about visiting before moving back would have been good to follow I guess but now I can move on with more clarity and certainty.

Although my Plan has not yet come together, I think it will all come together and I can leave North America behind with a clear conscience.

See you soon in Prague, and if anyone who is following is now in Prague I would love to meet up to compare notes and see how life is treating you.  I would also love to know of any opportunities people know of in Prague or elsewhere – I’m game to try just about anything.

See you around!

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Time to wrap things up!

If you read my previous post you might remember that I was debating if I should stay or go.  It was very hard to finally decide, but the combination of looking for new or better contracts, a better offer elsewhere and my impending residence permit renewal resulted in a decision.

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So, if you are in the same position I am, there are a couple of things you need to do before you go.

Cancel or suspend your živnostenský list:

To do this will require a visit to the same office you got the zivno from in the first place.  You can actually suspend it, but only up to the expiry date, so this is not very helpful for us North Americans unless you are just leaving for the summer and want to avoid social service tax.  In my case cancellation was the only option.

Do this before month end so you can avoid paying extra social service tax.   Good news!  There is no charge!  Finally, something for free!  My office in Prague 7 took one week to complete it.  It does require two visits as you have to apply to cancel it and then go back to sign off on it and they will give you a document proving you cancelled it.  Save this document.

The zivno office will also notify social service tax you are leaving, but they recommend you visit them to make sure the assessment is stopped.

Cancel your social service tax:

Again you want to do this before month end so you aren’t assessed for the following month, 1894Kc is still 1894Kc!  With my zivno cancellation letter in hand I dropped by my social service tax office.  They will have you fill out a form to cancel your business activities and stop the tax.  While my zivno office speaks a little English, here I took along a letter to help me communicate what I wanted to do.  A Czech speaking friend might be helpful.  **Remember that they amount you pay each month is for the previous month, so even if you cancel this month you still need to pay once more**.

And that is about it!  For now.  Make sure you keep records of all these things as you will need them next year for, you guessed it, TAXES!

 

 

 

Should I stay or should I go?

If you’ve been teaching in Prague for any length of time you have seen the revolving door that is ESL.  People come, people go.  Very quickly.  Some of us plan it this way, ESL is a means to an end and a way to spend some time in Europe.  Others, like me, didn’t really come into this with an end plan or an exit strategy.

Just recently I terminated my contracts at both my schools which leaves me with only my private students as of September 1.  So now the big decisions come:  stay (and get my shit together to work for companies directly or fill my private student schedule) or pack it in and return to British Columbia (and familiar territory as well as a challenging but well paid career in the automotive industry).

Prague is a spectacular city, it really is.  High praise from me as I am not at all a city person.

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Teaching can be a rewarding  job.  I meet lots of interesting people, I have control over my schedule and am not sitting in an office or, god forbid, a cubicle.  On the other hand there are some challenges:  the compensation is quite poor, schedules can be erratic and you don’t have the benefit of co-workers to interact with.

The compensation is a particular sticking point.  If I was choosing between an entry level job in Canada or teaching here it would be a reasonable comparison, but I am not.  Compared to other teachers I know I am in a slightly different dilemma as back in Canada I am a professional while here I am “just another” ESL teacher.  A good teacher, but still easily replaced.

Other considerations?  It does get tiring always being a foreigner, always struggling at least a bit with the language and the culture. Immigration is an ongoing challenge as well as it needs to be renewed every two years at the most.   The appeal of something familiar, comfortable and easy is hard to ignore.

Oh, and a car!  Gosh I miss owning a car and a motorcycle.  (for those from North America that are new here, your license is not transferable.  You need to go back to driving school before you can ever consider a car here, and then consider the cost and fuel at $2 a litre).

But British Columbia, Squamish in particular but Vancouver as well, are hard to beat for beauty and nature.

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Most of the people I have met in Europe that learn I am a) Canadian b) from British Columbia and c) from outside Vancouver have one simple question:  Why?  What are you doing here?

Sometimes I can’t answer them in a way that satisfies either them or me.  Squamish is a recreation  capitol, full of places to hike, mountain bike and climb.  Although it is certainly more expensive than Prague, the earning potential is so much more that it makes the math look ridiculous.

Work is a definite consideration.  Teaching ESL has a plateau, you will never move past a certain level and would need to work very hard indeed to make a salary that will cover more than expenses.  This is particularly true of you want to travel outside of the Czech Republic as the crown does not go far at all in euro countries.  Working in automotive has it’s own challenges but the pay scale is exponentially better than teaching.

And of course my family and friends are back in Canada.

 

Watch this space.  Decisions will come, and I’ll document the process either way.  You can expect to either see “how to exit teaching” or ” how to grown your teaching career”.

 

 

 

The trials and joys of teaching over the summer months…

Ah, summer in Prague!  Beer gardens, walks in the park, long warm days.  You’ll wish you had more time to be outside instead of teaching.  Fortunately you most likely will.  This applies to teachers like me who work for schools or private students and teach either in companies or privately, if you teach children in a school setting you were already expecting to have free time over the summer.

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When you take TEFL training, and even when you accept a contract with a school, nobody mentions that your summers will be quieter than you expected.  This is my second summer in Prague and now I know what to expect, but the first summer was a little stressful.  If you are new to the ESL world be aware:

Students take vacation.  This is normal and expected of course, but it leaves you with holes in your schedule and since they are all early cancellations this also means holes in your income.

Classes get cancelled for the summer.  You would think this isn’t a surprise to the schools but somehow it seems to be.  I thought maybe it was just my school but a random survey of other teachers confirms this.  Three of my 90 minute classes took the summer off and I wasn’t informed until the day of my final class with them.  Not a nice surprise!  The loss of 1350 per week is noticeable.

Classes end.  This happens at other times of the year as well, but expect it in June as it is the end of the semester.  Some classes run on terms and, again, your school might not warn you in advance.

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What to do to cope with this problem?

Save.  Those busy winter and spring months are the time to put something away for now.

Ask your students.  In the late spring I have a lesson I do that is all about travel and vacations and I have adapted it to work in most of my classes.  This is a perfect time to simply ask “Hey, what vacation plans do you have?  What happens to your ESL classes over the summer?”.  Don’t expect your school to communicate this to you.  Avoid surprises.  Alternatively, ask your school – they will certainly be asking you about your summer plans so it is a perfect time to have this conversation.

Take your own vacation.  If you are planning to take a break, this is a good time to do it with a minimum loss of income.

Take on substitutions.  The one upside here is that summer is also when other teachers will leave – either for the summer or for good.  If you are staying and can be flexible you can take on extra classes. I’ve worked hard to be on good terms with the person in my school who handles substitutions.

Try intensive courses.  If your school offers intensive English programs you might be able to get involved.  These will be high intensity, up to eight hours a day of teaching for anywhere from one day to a week.  The benefits are a good experience and a great way to top up your earnings while not really needing to cancel many of your normal classes.

Not to worry, come September things will pick up again and you’ll look back on these quite summer months fondly.

Enjoy the summer!

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Minimalism….

(Disclaimer:  this post doesn’t cover anything about Teaching, Canada, Immigration or Prague – there might even be some philosophy in it)

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Anyone who knows me would agree I am not a person who identifies with groups.  I don’t join teams, listen to only one kind of music, wear a certain type of clothing, collect anything at all, follow any religion or have particularly strong political opinions.

Not so long ago I stumbled upon  The Minimalists, a blog about minimalism and it just clicked with me.

What is a minimalist?  Dictionary.com defines it this way:

noun:

1. a person who favors a moderate approach to the achievement of a set of goals or who holds minimal expectations for the success of a program.

2. a practitioner of minimalism in music or art.

adjective:

3. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of minimalism.

4. being or offering no more than what is required or essential

Number four resonates with me:  being no more than what is required or essential.  Once I identified that I am a minimalist and there are others like me I felt a little better about myself, I’m not completely strange after all.  When I tell people I know that I realized I am a minimalist the response has been pretty much universal:  “Well, duh! This isn’t news”.

Not wanting to accumulate a bunch of stuff puts me outside societal norms, especially in North America.  If you don’t want things there must be something wrong with you or you are denying yourself somehow.  I am also an atheist and draw a strong analogy between these situations.  Atheism is often described as “not believing in anything” when in fact I believe in something quite strongly, just not that a deity or omnipotent being created us.  Minimalism is not simply “not wanting stuff”, it is more about wanting the things that you can have by not having stuff or by making sure the stuff you do have adds value.

What are these things?

Freedom:

Freedom comes in two flavors – financial and physical.  As a result of not having a lot of things I now have more money available for other things such as travel.  Further, I am not tied to a job I don’t like in order to support these purchases.  The physical freedom comes from not needing to care for, insure, clean or store things.  I feel so much lighter without things to anchor me down.

Appreciation for what you have:

My possessions are very specific. If I don’t get some value from them I won’t get them or won’t keep them.  Most of the things I do have are things I like and use regularly.  Every purchase goes through two questions: Will this add value to my life?  Is it worth the time I need to spend to earn the money to pay for it?  If the answer is no, I don’t make the purchase.  Does this mean I have nothing?  No, of course not.  My flat has everything I need to live comfortably, and things such as  a nice computer and high-end mountain bike because they are things I enjoy having.


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Minimalism, or whatever you want to call it, looks different for different people.  For some it might be about stripping down to the absolute bare essentials such as getting down to only 50 possessions.   Others have families and homes and obviously more things are required, Leo Babauta has a fantastic blog about minimalism as a whole.  It is all about personal choice.

I’m not trying to convert people.  I’m simply suggesting that giving some thought before purchasing another new thing might add some value:  do you need it?  will it add value to your life?

Get out of town!

Prague is a seriously beautiful city.  And this is coming from a non-city person.

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But if you are going to live here it is worth spending some time out of the city.  Here are some places I can recommend from personal experience:

Karlštejn Castle

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Just a short 40 minute train ride southwest from Prague will bring you to this lovely village and castle.  The train ride itself is worth it as it runs along the Berounka river and through other small villages.  You can catch the train either from Prague Main Station (Hlavni Nadrazi) or from Smichovske Nadrazi in Prague 5.  The train runs about every 30 minutes but check schedules on Jizdnirady.cz.

Český ráj  (Bohemian Paradise)

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Another lovely area not far from Prague is Český ráj.  Easily reached in a couple of hours by train, start your hike in Malá Skála where you can also find some nice cafes and restaurants.  The hike through the cliffs, rocks and forests is lovely and you can happily spend the day there.

Průhonice

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Even closer to Prague, mere minutes from Opatov metro station, you will find the village of Průhonice and Průhonice Park.  If you are looking for a quick escape from the city this area will satisfy you.  The park is very green and has a diverse collection of flowers.  There is a very modest entry fee of 50Kc.

Getting out…..

If you aren’t sure where to go or how to get there, consider joining a group.  Meetup.com has many groups including Foreigners in Prague United who organize hiking trips in various beautiful places.  The group sizes are manageable and you will get to meet people from all over the world as well as some locals.

Have fun out there!