Today's topics include: Czech travel agencies. Foreign tourists visiting the Czech Republic. Prague traffic jams. Education. Listeners mentioned: Joan Murphy, Erik Thomasson, John Topmore.
Thank you very much for all the Get Well Soon Wishes for Olga from listeners who hope to hear her on the air again soon. We've passed them all on to Olga, who asked us to thank you and to tell you she does hope to be on the air again soon.
With the tourist season just about starting, a number of letters deal with Czechs' plans for the Summer and visiting conditions for foreigners in this country. For example Joan Murphy asks
"With the current security hazards in so many parts of the world, do Czechs plan to spend their Summer holidays abroad, or do more of them intend to stay at home?"
It is a fact that more Czechs than in previous years, are planning to stay at home, or in Slovakia, which most of us don't really see as going abroad. The countryside in both countries is really beautiful, with mountains, deep woods, lakes that are perfect for swimming, and of course lots of historic sites.
But there is one great risk - the weather. You can get a cold spell or rain and there goes your holiday. That's why we tend to go down South, where it's nice and warm.
Well, some people plan to do that this year, too - they are booking for Croatia, Italy and such places. In fact the interest is such that more and more Czech travel agencies are being founded, the average is some 100 agencies a year and so far it seems that this trend is continuing this year.
Now, for some of you, one hundred new agencies, may sound like an enormous number for a country with just over 10 million inhabitants. But most of them are really small, just tour operators. And some agencies have closed down over the years - about 13 percent of them since the year 2000. But still, there are 1166 Czech travel agencies and last year they took 1.2 million Czechs abroad for their holidays. What that number will be this year is too early to guess.
That's Czechs travelling abroad. Out of the foreign tourists visiting this country, only some 800 of them use the services of Czech agents. They usually come with agencies from their countries, or, more and more often, on their own.
Which partially answers a question from Erik Thomasson from Stockholm, Sweden:
"Is it alright if I come to the Czech Republic on my own, not through an agency and will I find accommodation without booking in advance?"
Well, that, of course, depends on when you plan to visit and where you intend to stay. It's hard to find a place to stay in the most popular tourist centers at the peak of the season.
Which is still true, even with the number of foreigners coming to the Czech Republic decreasing, as it is all over the world right now.
So, Erik, I'd book in advance, if I were you.
And if you're planning to drive here, I suggest you leave your car in a guarded parking lot outside the bigger cities you visit. I say guarded, because car thefts are on the increase.
And driving in the bigger cities, and especially in Prague, is a nightmare. The old, narrow streets just cannot cope with the situation.
There were 429 000 cars registered in the Czech capital in 1990, now that number is more than 761 000. And practically that same number, 700 000 drivers drive their cars through the center of Prague daily.
Which is the main reason why the air people breathe in Prague is just about the most polluted in the whole country.
One of the problems is that the circular road which will, one day, keep the transit traffic from passing through the town, is taking years and years to be completed.
But people who have businesses, or live in the city, drive even when they actually wouldn't have to. The local public transport system is really excellent, and that goes especially for the Metro. First of all, it's cheep. The tickets don't bring in even a quarter of the actual cost of running the Metro. The rest is subsidized, at a much higher level, than in other European countries. The EU recommends 35 per cent participation by the public, that's ten per cent higher than in Prague.
And the Prague Metro is more efficient than in most countries. During rush hours you have to wait only 2 minutes between trains, in other places it's around 4 minutes.
And still, many people prefer to be stuck in their cars in the daily traffic jams. Although, that's not only a Czech problem. In London they partially helped the situation by introducing a special fee for cars entering the center of town, and the Prague local authority is seriously considering doing the same. They're hoping to collect some 400 million crowns a year that way, which will be used mainly for further expansion of the public transport network. It will also be a great help in the expansion of the Metro.
Which is going on in spite of last year's floods, after which the whole system had to be repaired.
According to plans that still have to be approved, the toll will be introduced in 2007, or 2008 at the latest.
John Topmore of Sydney, Australia asks:
"What is the level of education in the Czech Republic? Do people tend to study, or do they look for jobs to earn money as soon as possible?"
That's hard to answer on a general level, especially since a higher education does not necessarily mean you'll make more money. If you have a job in a private enterprise, it does work that way, but people in state run research, university lecturers - anybody employed in a state run institution, has real problems making both ends meet, regardless of his talent, or rate of education. A university lecturer takes home ten thousand crowns a month, which is way under the average salary in the country.
And so, to answer John's question, school attendance is, of course, compulsory, has been for many years and so only one fifth of one percent of Czechs do not have any schooling - mostly for health reasons. 13.5 percent have a basic education, which means 5 years of elementary school. Nearly that same number, just under 12 percent have gone to college or university. The rest have either full secondary school education, i.e. grammar school, or some other form of secondary school sometimes including a finished apprenticeship. Apprentice schools do include general subjects, like Czech, mathematics, etc.