Prague’s top five dangers

SelfieDangerGirl1

You’re thinking pickpockets, right? Or some shyster who rips off unsuspecting tourists with garnets that are just glass?

Nope, pickpockets are nothing.

Sure, like walking around in any large city, a woman would be wise to use a cross-body bag with a zipper and a flap, carried in front with one hand on it. A man, of course, should put wallets and other valuables some place other than his back pocket.

The U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) reports in Prague the most common are “crimes of opportunity.” OSAC warns about the woods (dubbed by some as “Sherwood”) north of the main train station and Wenceslas Square. There and in other crowds, members of a team work to distract a tourist while others snatch valuables.

A colleague I taught with in Prague in 1998 had that happen after leaving the American Express office, and I had two men try to corner me on a tram that same year. But I stood on the top step, facing an exit door, my camera bag-purse clutched in front of me, and I saw one eventually shrug at the other and move further up the car.

But this year in Prague, I have found five new dangers in the city:

5. The Umbrella Lady* tour groups.

DSC_8105As their intrepid leader marches forward around the castle, across Charles Bridge, through Old Town, a gaggle of tourists follow her, blocking entrances to the W.C., cutting off doorways and street crossings and just generally creating problems while some group members stand in one spot with dazed expressions.

4. Spiral stairs.

SpiralStairsStairs should be predictable, each the same height, each the same width and level. That’s not the case in many old Czech buildings. Place an unsuspecting food on the skinnier, inside of the stair, and you might be in for a surprise, especially on stairs like these in an old palace. They look lovely, but they are worn in the middle and uneven on the treads.

3. Pedestrian crossings.

WhiteLinesThis seems like a safety mechanism. Prague cars really do stop for pedestrians in the white-lined crosswalks. Push your stroller out there even — and people do. But not everyone driving there is from the city. If the driver’s from Slovakia or even from Brno, you might not get the courtesy. And then there are the trams. They stop for no one, their steel hurtling along so fast they probably couldn’t stop if they wanted to. So keep watching.

2. Sidewalks.

Sidewalk2I’ll admit I thought long and hard about how to illustrate the sidewalk danger, and this is one of Jeff Bowen’s contributions as he tried to help. The stones are uneven and irregular, and one wrong foot placement in a sidewalk dip, and you’ve hyper-extended your knee. The number of ACL injuries in Old Town must be impressive.

And the top danger in Prague in Fall 2015…

1. Selfie sticks.

SelfieDangerGirl

As she slowly turned around to capture a panorama on her iPhone, this tourist wiped out six other sightseers with the end of her selfie stick. (this and the top photo by Jeff Bowen)

When I was last here two years ago, these weren’t an issue, but especially on the tight quarters of Charles Bridge, now their presence has an impact. Swing that handle around with reckless abandon and others nearby get poked in the eye.

Selfie sticks also look like they might be putting their users in danger when they try something like this couple did on a Prague Castle wall.

Please concentrate when you use your selfie stick in this way. (photo by Jeff Bowen)

Please concentrate when you use your selfie stick in this way. (photo by Jeff Bowen)

* True, they don’t all have umbrellas, but they hold something aloft and expect their group to follow along.

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