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Walking around Prague, you could be in any American city going by what the folks look like. There are a few exceptions: More Czechs have that Central European Slavic look, but by no means all. There are almost no minorities of color. There is a lot less obesity and a lot more smoking.

Speaking of bad habits, I was surprised that our server refused to bring me a vodka and tonic at a Czech restaurant one night, even though it was on the menu. We noticed the hard-liquor sections of menus at other restaurants had been covered up. And stores had empty shelves next to the wine and beer. Nobody I asked spoke good enough English to explain the situation, but I discovered this after we got home:

The Czech government has imposed an immediate ban on all exports of hard liquor following the deaths of 23 people from methyl alcohol poisoning.

Czech Republic visitors warned over local liquor

The Czech Republic banned all hard liquor sales in shops and pubs last Friday after the poisonings, believed to be caused by bootleg alcohol. It plans to gradually reopen the domestic market from the middle of next week, using new tax stamps and certifications of origin of drinks.

Wow. But there was wine and beer aplenty. I don't drink the latter due to the high carb content but I did have some hits off DW's many Pilsner Urquels right from the tap and it was awfully damn good.

Europeans have the annoying habit of often not letting you go inside historic buildings unless you take a tour (museums excepted). That means waiting around for a tour to start and likely waiting even longer for an English-language tour. And even longer in the off-season when there are fewer tours and maybe none in English, leaving you to follow a guide speaking some other language with an English translation of some of it in your hand (which may cost extra and which you don't get to keep). We were able to enter all the scenic outdoor parts of the various castles and chateaux we visited -- the courtyards and battlements and cloisters -- for free, but chose not to enter the buildings with all the historical stuff inside. It wasn't a question of not wanting to pay for tours -- those costs are of no concern. But we've done plenty of that on previous trips and what we find is that the tours, besides being crowded, provide a level of detail that is so overwhelming that your eyes glaze over after a couple of minutes and you don't remember 95% of it anyway. And it's more fun to be outside. And unless you have a very specific interest in something, one painting of a 19th century duke looks pretty much like every other one. Ditto mounted deer heads and suits of armor.

The cost of the trip on the ground (excluding flying-related expenses) was $3865 for 15 nights, including the car rental. It worked out to $129 per person per day for everything including mostly suite- and apartment-level accommodations. That compares very favorably to any of Viking's September European river cruises that go for $300 to $360 per person per day for the teeniest staterooms and zero flexibility of itinerary. Since we love getting out off the beaten track and staying in small towns, I can't imagine ever doing a cruise or even a group tour while we're still young enough to drive and haul our bags up to a third-floor room. Except for special circumstances where coastal scenery is the main draw (Alaska, Norway fjords, etc.) or where land travel might present too many hassles (parts of Russia, perhaps).

This was my first time to this part of the world and I'm very glad we went. And now I'm done with it, as is DW. Given a less than infinite number of trips left in our future, we have no desire to visit other parts of Central/Eastern Europe and would much prefer to go back to Spain or southwest France (Dordogne, Languedoc areas). That region -- the Iberian peninsula up through the bottom third of France -- speaks to us in ways I can't articulate, in addition to the looks of the towns, the superb food and my ability to communicate in Spanish most of the time (in Spain, that is).

One exception: Our next trip may well be to Iceland and Norway next September. That's high on DW's list and sounds pretty good to me. At least it would be very different from any place we've visited so far.

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