Monday, December 26, 2011

a low point

Am sitting in bed, staring down the clock which is very rapidly ticking away the hours until I need to be up and at work, with a glass of cab sauv in my hand. Must try to make a point of not drinking alone in bed often.

Whatever. It's still Christmas. That's my excuse. And on Christmas, anything goes.

Annnnd the rest...

The rest of Mom's visit was spent hiking around Vysehrad, meandering through Mala Strana, buying out most of Robertson's (nomnomnom) and her stocking up on presents for everyone back home. Her trip was much too short, but I think she had a great time (I did!) and that next time she brings everyone else with her (though I'm afraid if that happens, you're all being sent to a hotel).

Had those of us expats still left in town over on Christmas Eve for appetizers, desserts, and entirely too much wine - wonderful time. Hope everyone else enjoyed too! Christmas was very very quiet, with just us roommates watching movies and picking away at whatever food was left over from the day before (which reminds me, eat salad this week). Was very strange being away from home for Christmas, not cooking, not squished around the couch, not getting 39420389 mass texts from everyone. Have to admit, not a fan.

Though now that Christmas is over, it's time to look ahead to January and a brand spankin' new year. 2011 was a bit of a crazy year, and I expect nothing less from 2012. :o)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Welcome to Wien

Have been very lazy this past week and utterly unmotivated to blog. Or do much of anything actually. Am in complete holiday mode, but unfortunately have no actual holiday so it's not working out so well. :)

Wanted to fill you in on the rest of Mom's visit. We took the train from Prague to Vienna, tho any hopes of getting an eyeful of Czech countryside were dashed by the early departure time. For some reason, had it in my head that Vienna was not so big, similar in size to Prague. Was horribly mistaken, and the fact that we did almost no research before going became very evident as we wandered the streets, map and phrase book in hand, before giving up, getting in a taxi and going straight to the hotel. We were not off to a wonderful start, and for a while, it seemed like us and Vienna were not going to get along. We got tickets for a hop on, hop off bus tour, and jumped on the first one that came along... which then sat in traffic for 55 minutes, and did a 5 minute drive by of the summer palace. Errrr...

However, things significantly improved later that night. We got tickets to a performance of classical music, ballet, and the Viennese waltz. The musicians and dancers were fantastic, and it was a really nice night out. We couldn't take pictures during the performance, but I did snap some of the building.



As always, terribly unimpressive photography. Perhaps my new year's resolution will be take better pictures.

From there, we went to the Christmas markets and drank some hot wine and had a delicious (Italian...) dinner, before going home and taking advantage of the fabulous hotel room at Le Meridien.




I now MUST have a pink clawfoot tub, though I'm confused about why there's what appears to be a stripper pole in the bathroom (two, actually. There was another in the shower...). Anyway, very very nice hotel. Had to take advantage as will probably be the nicest place I stay for a long, long time. Le sigh.

The next day we did the different routes of the bus tours and got a very nice look at Vienna. It's massive, the buildings are massive, the prices are massive, and it was all very, very nice. I think that the middle of December is not the ideal time to see a lot of European cities, as things look very grey and bleak, but you can still imagine how gorgeous Vienna must be on a beautiful spring day when the sun's out, the skies are blue, and there are leaves on the trees lining the Ringstrasse.


We also did a tour of the Opera House. Our guide was fantastic - made it very interesting. The place is stunning, though it had to be redone after WWII when American bombers mistook it for a train station and fired on it, destroying a large chunk of it.


Ran into one of Peej's relatives while we were there, wink wink:


Then back to the Christmas markets for more hot wine and apple punch and bratwurst and other yummy yummy treats. Love the Viennese Christmas markets - absolutely gorgeous and so fun to hang around in.


I wish NYC had things like this at the holidays, because they're fabulous. Hot alcohol and sausages?? 
Yes, please!

A weekend is much too short to fully explore Vienna, so hopefully I will get the chance to go back and check things out. When I have more time. And more money. Definitely more money. 

Sadly, am still not motivated to write too much today, so am off to eat Christmas cookies and watch National Lampoon for the second time in 24 hours and maybe take a little nap and hopefully get in touch with everyone at home. 

Merry Christmas everyone! Miss those of you at home so so so so so much!
Vesele Vanoce!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gone but not forgotten

Yesterday was a sad day for the Czech Republic, as the world learned of the passing of Vaclav Havel. Havel was a dissident playwright/poet/essayist who became president of Czechoslovakia after Communism was given the boot via the Velvet Revolution, and oversaw the transition of the country into it's current form as the Czech Republic (also peacefully).

For Americans, it's hard to imagine the outpouring of grief that a nation has for a politician, largely because it seems so long since we've had someone deserving. Thousands flooded into Wenceslas Square to pay their respects to the man who helped to lead the nation into what it is today.


Curiously, this week is proving to be quite a shake up to the world scene, as Kim Jong Il has also passed away this morning.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Playing Host

Mom arrived last Tuesday & we've been quite busy checking out the tourist spots in Prague and Vienna. Am afraid that if I don't structure this post, it will end up being a jumble of random thoughts that don't follow any particular train, so will just go day by day. Here goes...

Tuesday:
Out to the airport to pick up Mom. Had lovely old man sitting next to me on the bus who kept pointing things out that he thought I might be interested in (in a smattering of various languages, just to cover all his bases), so kept hearing things like "Holiday Inn", "Strom", "das auto". Highly informative. Once Mom got settled, we headed out to Old Town for an easy afternoon of strolling around, poking in and out of souvenir shops, and checking out the Christmas Market. Had some hot wine and about 329409 pounds of Prague Ham and watched the astronomical clock go off. Worked off the ham by hiking up all of the steps in the tower in the Church of our Lady before Tyn to check out the view...


*Disclaimer - I played around with the contrast. Prague in the middle of December is not so fantastically colorful - it's mostly grey. 
Sorry to kill the dream.

Wednesday:
Happy Birthday to me. Woke up feeling old, and yet incredibly immature for my age. Remember being little and thinking you'd have it totally together by this time? Hell, I'd settle for slightly together. :) We spent the day roaming around New Town. Had lunch at Song Lam, which has delicious Pho and little eggrolly type things and is the perfect food for rainy, cold days. Had dinner at Apetit @ Lucerna Palace so that Mom could try out some Czech food (and Czech beer, of course):


Mom had the Svíčková, a personal fave. Nom nom. Spent the night planning our weekend trip to Vienna. 

Thursday:
I finnnnnnally got to check out the Jewish Quarter, Josefov. In the process of getting there, we found a couple little shops that we had to peek into. The first was Apropos, which is full of gorgeous fabulous sparkly things that I must own all of. You can see their website here: Apropos. Want it all. Then found another little shop that sold Reisenthel bags. Got one that is the perfect size for weekends away - like for Vienna! Yay! I never can say no to cute luggage. 

We got tickets to the Jewish Museum, which actually consists of a number of different synagogues and the old Jewish Cemetery. Each tells the story of Prague Jews throughout history - daily life, religious ceremonies, and of course, the Holocaust. Pinkas Synagogue's walls are covered with the names of the 80,000 Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust and is a completely overwhelming thing to see. The Pinkas Synagogue also has a display of art created by children being held in the Terezin concentration camp/ghetto before deportation to other camps. It's absolutely heartbreaking. 

Terezin was used by Nazis as propaganda, aimed at showing the world that they created model detainment camps full of happy, healthy inhabitants, with orchestras, art, theater, and education. The International Red Cross was invited in to see for themselves the situation that existed there, though only after a number of inhabitants had been shipped out to Auschwitz. There were approximately 15,000 children sent to the children's dorms at Terezin - only 93 survived. 

The Spanish Synagogue also has a number of interesting documents and photos from Terezin. If you can peel your eyes away from devouring the stunning Moorish designs throughout the massive synagogue, you'll learn quite a bit. 

No tour of Josefov is complete without a trip to the cemetery. Because this was the only place that Jews were allowed to be buried, bodies had to be stacked, and now the cemetery is approximately 12 layers deep and absolutely crammed full of tombstones.


Had worked up quite an appetite by this point, and were rather chilly, so went in search of a cup of tea and something to nibble on. Ended up in Bakeshop, home to the most scrumptious (& expensive) bites from heaven. Had mushroom quiche that was absolutely divine, and bought an apricot almondy thing that was almost like shortbread and so.effing.good. Bakeshop shall be evil to both my wallet & my waist. 
Went to one of my favorite places anywhere later on... IKEA. Everyone knows my dream job would be IKEA furniture putter-togetherer. Given that it's so huge here, maybe there's a market for that after all :) Got a desk, which will totally transform my life. No more lesson planning on my bed and falling asleep using text books for pillows with a notebook poking me in the back. Ahhhh!

Friday:
It was time to check out Prague Castle. Apparently, we were not the only ones with this on the agenda, as lines were milllllles long, despite the rain. Decided to poke around Hradcany instead and let the crowds clear, so we went down the castle stops and in and out of some little galleries and shops. Found a little shop that sold adorable deco-y hats, and got a very sassy chapeau. 

Came back to the castle just in time for a whirlwind tour of the important bits. Mom is definitely a fan of Golden Lane, though who isn't? It's so freakin' cute, looks like Disney made it.


Then it was an early night so prepare for a super early train to Vienna, which I will tell you all about... tomorrow. It's time for me to get some sleep. Dobrou noc & dobře spát!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Legend of Laura

I think all people love things with their names on it. Anytime I see stationary with "Laura" across the top, I have to have it, though I can't remember the last time I've actually used stationary for the purposes of writing a nice letter or something. I get pissed when I see bookmarks or magnets or environmentally friendly shopping bags that skip from Lana to Lauren. I still have my name necklace, though unfortunately it's more JLo (the P Diddy years) than Carrie Bradshaw. I get excited when compilation CDs have Laura (by Scissor Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, Girls, Flogging Molly) on them. If it can be monogrammed, I must have it. Even better if it's by Laura Ashley. I don't think I'm alone in this.

Which is why I got really excited when, while flipping through a Prague Ghosts & Legends book in the castle gift shop, I found the tale of Laura, the Headless Lady. Laura's haunting grounds are the area around the former convent of St. Mary Magdalene. She was once a beautiful actress who performed at the Nostic Theater (now the Estates Theater), and had won the heart of a wealthy count, despite being married to a horrible and jealous husband. Said count offered to whisk her away and marry her, and eventually Laura succumbed. However, hubby was on to her and questioned her about her whereabouts when she came home, and decided her answers weren't quite up to snuff, so he chopped off her head. And if that wasn't bad enough, he then sent poor Laura's head to the count, who buried it in fear. So now Laura roams the convent, searching for her missing bits. Which I think is quite fitting, as I tell my students constantly that I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached.

Not quite monogrammed pink and green plaid stationary, but exciting nonetheless!

And Here On Your Left...

The fabulous thing about Prague is that when people come to visit, it's so easy to impress them. You don't have to tramp off somewhere far away or queue up for any famous monuments - all you need to do is tell them to look up. Boom. Done. Impressed. Well, for the most part. The first leg of the trip from the airport to our apartment in Holesovice is not terrifically inspiring until you start getting closer to Hradcany and St. Vitus starts poking its spires above the buildings, but anything that looks boring you can just say "Ohhhhh, must have been a Communist building" and it automatically becomes more interesting. Believe I would have had an excellent career as a tour guide. Perhaps if this whole teaching things falls through, you'll be able to find me sitting outside the Astronomical Clock waving a red umbrella in the air and trying to corral a pack of German tourists. ("Und hier sehen sie...")

So let me apologize in advance for the unfortunate pictures that are coming your way, but I hope you enjoy the tour! Shall be posting quite a bit in the next few days, so I'm sorry if I overload your inboxes or take over your twitter feeds. :)

Baking in Prague - a devilish game of hide & seek

As you can tell by the sticker posted on the right, I took part in the #fbcookieswap, albeit a slightly revamped version. As Prague is roughly the size of a postage stamp (and getting said postage stamp from the terribly frightening Česká pošta sends most expats into a state of panic), those of us participating decided it would be much easier, and much more enjoyable, to meet up in person and swap cookies face to face.


I love to cook and bake. Absolutely love it. However, cooking for others scares the crap out of me, despite approximately a billion girls night dinners and thanksgivings and holiday bakings and whatnot. I start to get incredibly paranoid, thinking to myself "What if I accidentally make people ill?" or "What if my palate is completely off and what I think tastes amazing actually tastes like dirt?" Weeks of preparation commences (though nothing quite like the Thanksgiving of '08, in which I was glued to FoodNetwork for a month in advance, scribbling down notes on the best way to brine a bird, and weighing the pros and cons of to stuff or not to stuff. Exhausting.), but nothing can really prepare you for baking in Prague.


There are two major setbacks when attempting a culinary masterpiece here. The first is that it is nearly impossible to find all of the ingredients listed in your US/UK recipe. Vanilla extract took weeks of hunting around, only to find it (insanely overpriced) in Marks and Spencers. Baking soda and baking power took hours of staring at the baking section shelf at Billa, Google translated list in hand, wondering if it was just close enough to be okay. Molasses is only available at the health food stores. Forget shortening altogether. Thus, one must go through about 10 different recipes before finding one where all of the ingredients can be sourced. And by all here, I really mean most of them. Get at close as possible. The second setback is that while your recipe is written in cups and teaspoons and whatnot, all of your measuring cups are in metric. As is the temperature on your oven. Thus, any cooking turns into a fun little math problem, and results in me guestimating how much butter 128g is out of a hunk of butter that weights in at 250g. 


Recipes in hand and having sourced (most) of the ingredients, I set out to bake up a storm. Christmas music on, hot chocolate nearby, and go. I had it in my mind that I was going to make my great-grandmother's molasses cookies, though no one could find a copy to send me so I went to the internet and tried to find one as close as possible. This is what I came up with - Molasses Cookies (allllmost like Grandma Tyler's):



Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup margarine, melted - have a feeling this is why they are so flat
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves - couldn't find these, so left 'em out (didn't seem to make too much of a difference)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup white sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted margarine, 1 cup sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger; blend into the molasses mixture. Cover, and chill dough for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Roll dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining white sugar. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until tops are cracked. Cool on wire racks.



Safe to say that my fears of things tasting delicious to me but disgusting to others was offput by the fact that we managed to eat all five dozen cookies that I made in about four days. I also made Paula Deen's Gooey Chocolate Cookies as a back up plan (figured one I would probably mess up, but two recipes means my odds are slightly better).

I set off to the gorgeous apartment of Sarah Lambersky to swap cookies with the other Prague Bloggers taking part. It was an absolutely lovely afternoon - it was great to meet new people and get their take on what it's like being an expat here - all of them have great advice on what to do and where to go, and were all terribly nice. Had a fantastic time. Be sure to czech out their blogs, as they are all great resources about living in Prague: Out of the EventCzeching In and Petsky in Praha. And luckily for everyone involved, Sarah is a much better photographer than I am, and took some nice shots of the goodies:



Happy Holidays!
Paula Deen's Gooey Chocolate Cookies

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do They Know It's Christmas Timeeeee

It seems like Thanksgiving is not only the Christmas kickoff in the States, but also in Prague (where there isn't even a Thanksgiving, so very impressive!). If you can't get in the Christmas spirit here, then I'm not sure what's wrong with you - perhaps it's that your head wasn't screwed on quite right, or it could be, perhaps, that your shoes were too tight, but I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that your heart was two sizes too small. (Anyone?? Thank you, Dr. Seuss)

Prague is missing all of the political correctness that the US and UK have created by turning Christmas into Winterval (or Luminos, if you are the city of Luton or a big Harry Potter nerd), lighting holiday bushes, and hastily covering up your "Merry Christmas!" cries with "Happy Holidays!" In a city that is notoriously atheist, no one seems bothered by the abundance of Christmas trees, Christmas markets, Christmas treats, Christmas presents, etc. Christmas music is pumped out of every speaker in the city (though possibly the loudest in our kitchen), and you just can't help feeling pretty freakin' jolly.

There is a video kicking around that has been all over ever expat I know's Twitter and Facebook, and for good reason - it's beautiful. Czech it out:


Night in Prague from Metron on Vimeo.

Am very excited for Mom to get here tomorrow so we can go exploring, drinking hot wine and doing all types of fabulous Christmas-y things.

Have been getting myself in the spirit by baking up a storm, blasting Xmas music, and watching Love Actually (swoon). Had some free time last week due to a cancelled class, so did a bit of strolling around and finally got a chance to check out the Almost Velvet Revolutions display at Namesti Republicky (just as well, because I almost missed it!). This outdoor photo display was put together by Insaan, the Czech-Arab Centre for Cultural Dialogue, and compares the 1989 Velvet Revolution (see: HeRe) to the Arab revolutions and protests of the past year.


Was very interesting, and incredibly moving. Hard to believe that these events are so recent. You can see a peek of one of the Christmas markets behind it, but as I'm sure you've already realized by now, I am an absolute crap photographer, so you're much better off just googling the things I tell you about!

Had a little birthday celebration at the apartment, which was fabulous - there are such great people here, and I'm a lucky, lucky lady to have such wonderful friends all over the place. Paid for this celebration on Saturday (sadly, one does not bounce back from turning 27 quite like turning 21. Dammit.), then spent Sunday baking up a storm for the #fbcookieswap, which you will read alllllll about when I turn in my obligatory blog post about it on Monday. Rather than navigate the terrifying post office (I can barely send a letter, I'm hardly about to walk in there and attempt to ship a dozen cookies), we got together and swapped in person, and it was an absolutely lovely afternoon. I got to meet some fantastic women and develop diabetes in the meantime. (It's the holidays... New Year's Resolutions were designed specifically for these types of things) 

Tomorrow (well, today now technically) is the feast of St. Mikuláš, which just may be my favorite Czech holiday I think. St. Mikuláš is similar to St. Nicholas. On December 5th, St. Mikuláš roams the streets of Prague, with an angel and devil in tow, to check up on children and see how they've behaved this year. If they've been good, they receive a small treat from the angel. If not, they get coal (or curiously, a potato?) from the devil. When I asked one student about the potato, he said he's not sure why this is but thinks it's probably because potatoes are useless and dirty... Fair enough. Children may also leave their windows open and put their shoes on the sill to get presents from Mikuláš. So on December 5th, you are bound to see tons of Mikuláš, angels and devils walking around entertaining the kids (and me, quite frankly). 

Please note - I find this picture terrifying. 
Which I suppose is somewhat the point for the devils.

It is reeeeeally time that I got to bed, so I can trek to the airport tomorrow to pick up Mom. Am very excited! But also, since everyone seems to be on a big Prague video kick, I thought I'd add another one, which I love, largely because I can pinpoint all the different locations and squeel things like "Ohhhhh, I know where that is!" and "Ohhhh, that's the little old lady outside the post office!" and it makes me feel a bit like "Ha! I live here! I know things! This is my home!" Which is pretty freakin' cool. Enjoy!



Prague. from Marco Santi on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Today I was informed of the following...

  • Thanksgiving is a magical holiday that celebrates the miracle of turkeys cascading from the heavens.
  • The Czech Republic does not sell sage - fresh or dried.
  • Nor does it sell molasses. 
  • Half and Half Bakery on Wenceslas Square makes a mean chocolate mousse cake. 
  • There's nothing like a little expat love on Thanksgiving. New friends, possibly the best turkey ever (nicely done, Jack!) and lots of vino make it easier to forget that yer not with family && bffs && Tuckey-poo. Love and miss everyone at home tons and tons and tons. 
Today, I'm thankful for new friends, old friends, best friends and family. I am one lucky girl to have such amazing people around the globe. Now, the sooner you realize that you should all pack up and move to Europe to join me, the better. :) 

::Gobble Gobble::

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Computer Illiterate

Who out there knows how to tell who is subscribed to my feed and is anyone actually getting email notifications? Wahhhhh

Monday, November 21, 2011

OCD

Had a lovely weekend - scrumptious dinner at a friend's new flat, lonnnnnnnnnng walk in Stromovka so I no longer feel like a lazy bum (this is the start of my verrrrry slow lead in to C25K, though need real sneakers and a playlist first), delicious gyros and created fabulous culinary creation:


Unfortunately, do not have a nice SLR camera or whatever they're called, nor do I have any idea how to take very nice pictures. But you get the idea. Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast cake, made with kefir instead of buttermilk (bc Billa ran out of milk... which happens way more than should at a grocery store, milk is somewhat of a staple in my mind, and this is what we got by mistake... it smells awful and we had to do something with it, so voila). Baking in the Czech Republic was definitely an experience. Armed with a translated shopping list, I headed up to Billa and proceeded to spend about half an hour staring at the shelf willing baking soda to magically appear (it finally did. jedi mind tricks). So it's entirely possible that what ended up in the cake is not what was meant to, and converting everything to measurements meant I needed to guestimate a bit, but all's well that ends well. And it ended well. I shall have another piece in a minute.

However, all this relaxation has meant that OCD has totally kicked in, and armed with Pinterest, this is is a dangerous combination. Went to bed with grand schemes of being hyper organized with all my little charts and checklists, which are up on my Pinterest account should you care to view. Though so far so good, as have already worked out, vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, and blogged this. Kickin' ass & taking names today. :)

And if you're not on Pinterest, you totally should be. Have made lots of yummy things from there already and have a billion and one ideas on stuff to do. Huge time waster, but time's never wasted if you're having fun, right??

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy Den Boje Za Svobodu a Demokracii

Take that, Hallmark.

History lesson, coming atcha:
November 17th is Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day here in the Czech Republic - a day to commemorate the start of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. On this day, 22 years ago, police busted up a peaceful student protest in Prague, who were honoring the International Students Day, the 50th anniversary of the death of Jan Opletal, a student killed by Nazi occupiers in WWII. This kicked off the start of over a month of non-violent protests, with demonstrators reaching over half a million people within three days and flooding into Wenceslas Square. The final result was the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia, so boo-yah.

Aside from saying nashledanou / до свидания (go on, guess what that says) to the Communists, the Velvet Revolution is symbolized by the jingling of keys. This has 2 meanings - 1) the opening of doors, and 2) Commies, it's time for you to go home.


Lots and lots of people in Wenceslas Square today, but nothing compared to this:



Don't know why I'm teaching English when clearly was meant to be a history teacher.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This One's for You, Steph

Trekked out to the nature for class today, only to be stood up by my student. Wouldn't care, but took me an hour and a half to get out there, so I'm a little bitter. Also, became a human icicle. Not a fan. But as I was on the bus, I happened to notice a blinding what flash out of the corner of my eye. Peeled my vision up from my Kindle and saw what I thought was snow. Then realized that the likelihood of it snowing in a quarter mile radius only was pretty small. It was frost. The thickest, densest frost I have ever seen. It look like all that Prague Fog that we've had the last few days (see below)...


... just crystallized. But only out in the nature. Not here in the city proper. Must remember to bring my camera next time (story of my life). 

Thawed out and caffeinated myself and had my last lesson of the day, during which my student told me that she loves to work out, and then drink lots of wine. I got really excited, because as we all know, I love loathe working out and drinking wine. She proceeded to tell me she got totally tipsy, and I thought to myself, "I also get totally tipsy!" and then she said "... off loads of wine. Like 2 glasses." 

...flashbacks of SYTYCD imitations and Bollywood Booty. 


I worry...


Jenna Hutch
9:33pm

do they celebrate thanksgiving there? lol
Laura Hutcheon
what do u think lol
Jenna Hutch
i dunno lol
i guess so
Laura Hutcheon
jenna. the holiday is about pilgrims and indians. coming together to give thanks. in like massachusetts.
there were no czech people involved

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

If Only It Was That Easy, Dears

Teaching my students modal verbs today (definition: type of auxiliary verb that indicates modality... does that clear things up for you? No? Thought not. Type of verb that indicates likelihood, permission, obligation, etc. Ex: should, might, ought to, have to, must, etc.) with regards to giving advice. We are playing a board game where you spin, land on a square with a problem listed on it, and ask your classmate for advice. Since there are only two of them, I'm playing as well. For every single problem I landed on, their advice was "You should get a boyfriend." Need money? Get a boyfriend. Parents telling you to move in with your aunt? Get a boyfriend. Lose your wallet at the supermarket? Get a boyfriend. Late to work? Get a boyfriend (who is also your boss, so he won't care). Next week's lesson shall be on the independent woman. And perhaps a discussion on where all these rich, generous, apartment-having, hiring Czech potential boyfriends can be found.

Monday, November 7, 2011

dva měsíce

Another month has rolled by in the fabulous city of Prague, making it a whopping two, count 'em, dva months that I have been here (again - that's it?! weird.). So I thought it might be time for a little czech in...

  • My Czech is still atrocious. And not for nothing everyone, but giggling every time I attempt something in Czech is really not helping. At least I am trying. Most days. Provided I've gotten enough sleep. Have every intention of getting a language swap buddy and taking classes as soon as school gives me a free one. Though do get mistaken for a Czech quite often on the street - I'm taking that as a sign that I've adapted to the local fashion quite well (read: black. leather. fierce boots.)
  • Goodness gracious, was I ever mistaken when I thought TEFL was brutal. Psht, piece of cake. My entire life is now lesson planning, which my roommates (who somehow, miraculously, seem to do none) think is hysterrrrrical. The fact that they don't seem to is the (verrrrry tiny) light at the end of the tunnel. It's exhausting, really. 
  • My students are awesome! I think I lucked out and managed to get the greatest group of people ever - they are all fun and energetic and pretend to be interested despite both of us knowing that those lessons are not that interesting. Hang in there, I will get better - promise!
  • A (rather substantial) part of me feels a bit like a fraud when I teach. Why are you trusting me to teach  you English?!?! I say crap like "That's bananas." and "OMG". I literally say "Ohemgee". I know fuck all about grammar (wtf is a modal verb? and why does it matter???) so we're on a pretty even playing field there. In fact, no. My Czech students DEFINITELY know more grammar than I do. It's embarrassing. Really, NJ education system. Good job.
  • Now that I am no longer surrounded by other newbie expats all the time, I am dying to meet new people. Any suggestions, anyone? 
  • I have a deep and lasting love affair with the following: Milka choco-grain cookies, Poma cheese, the Bata on Wenceslas Square (alas, my bank account means this can only be unrequited love), Gambrinus, Google Translate, those (very rare) days when the sun peeks out over the spires, BBUK (#teamalex), the gorgeous man who gets onto the metro the same time I get off every day, the receptionist at KB who speaks no English but is still the most helpful little woman in the world, every ESL website ever made, and just getting lost in this amazing place.
  • The appliances are still in cahoots against me. But that is all about to change because...
  • I have decided to face my fears. Well, fear of the appliances. Birds and skiing are still out of the question. I may not be able to tackle the Czech language, but I can sure as hell buy a cookbook and try to tackle the Czech cuisine (or Czech kitchen, if you are my students). Obviously, said cookbook will be in English - let's not push it. But really, how hard can it be to make knedlíky (dumplings). Famous last words? Errrr...
  • Where can I buy a hot water bottle? Don't you dare tell me Tesco. 
There is definitely soooooooooo much more, but I am mentally drained (from learning about modal verbs!) and need to get to bed so I can wake up and do it all over again. 

Dobrou noc, mé lásky!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Light Up the Neighborhood

Czechs have a fairly tolerant stance on drugs, especially compared to what many here seem to consider draconian US laws regarding them (ExPats has a summary here: Czech Drug laws). A walk down nearly any city street with a pub on it (which, let's face it, is nearly all of them) on a weekend night will easily show you that as people light up freely and openly. And while I still dodge the dealers hanging around Wenceslas Square in the early hours, it doesn't surprise me anymore. Though, this, I admit, did: Cannafest is coming to an expo center near me this month. So, should I care to learn how to grow, fertilize, make textiles, mix cosmetics or even just smoke cannabis, I have a wealth of resources at my disposal, right down the street.

Have a sneaky suspicion this is not the type of cultural experience my parents were hoping I would have over here. ;)




On a completely unrelated note, wtf is my Pinterest invite?!??!





Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Just realized I inadvertently made ghoulash for dinner. hehehehehehe

Nom Nom Noms

Very excited to get in on the action in the Food Bloggers Cookie Swap! Very fun concept - just like a regular cookie swap, but with bloggers from all over the world (couple of us here in the ole CR). Now, which type of cookies to bake??? Only have a few weeks to figure it out and get practicing since we all now my track record with the appliances and we do not one of the following to happen...
a) burn down lovely apartment. though might be good opportunity to meet some lovely czech firemen. hmmm...
b) poison all these nice bloggers (bc without them, how will I ever know what to go check out?!?)
c) months of frustration leads to an oven missing a front window. because it's been kicked in. hope you like glass shards with your sprinkles :)

Though, as I am repeatedly reminded on a daily basis here, anything's possible!

Before anyone gets too excited, please note:
This image is in no way indicative of my culinary capabilities.
Though Steph already knows exactly which cookies I'll be making!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

je to pět hodin někde

After going utterly stir crazy after one day of hibernation, I'd had enough and decided it was time to get into the Halloween spirit and do some touristy things. So I grabbed Tristan and we headed out (finally, nice weather!) to the Museum of Torture.

Its a good thing that we decided to have lunch after the museum, because it's every bit as stomach turning as you'd expect (though very clear that the people at Madame Tussaud's have not made their way here yet and haven't bought it out). After learning all about thumb screws and the rack and a whole slew of other gruesome punishments, we checked out the wax museum (250 Kc for both - not bad!). It's unfortunate that I did not know who the majority of the people in there were - my knowledge of Czech historical luminaries is pretty tiny - but was fun nonetheless. Especially when you got to the top floor and there is a seemingly random assortment of people just thrown in there - Bill Clinton, Ivana Trump (No Donald?), some hockey players, Elvis. Not sure what was happening there.

Thankfully it was time to eat so we grabbed pizzas and decided what to do next. We decided on U Fleku, a Czech pub from 1499. Definitely a tourist trap, but completely worth it. It was absolutely packed, but we managed to find two empty seats, sat down, ordered a pivo and downed some Becherovka (I swear, I immediately felt better - maybe there is some truth to the claims!). I was very skeptical about this beer - it was incredibly dark and looked more like cola, but you don't get a choice in the matter so I gave it a shot. And it was delicious! Bottoms up!


Then we just sat back and enjoyed. Well, I did. Tristan jabbered away in German to the people we were sitting with, while I nodded along and laughed when I thought it was appropriate (though they probably thought I was a total nutter), while the accordian player played classic Czech tunes like Home on the Range and When the Saints Go Marching In.


After that, it was back to our trusty Globe for some Gambrinus and a couple games of Heizel (?) and to wait until it was an appropriate time to get to Nebe for some dancing. Had a fabulous time playing Tristan's wingwoman and drinking mojitoes from a Russian hockey team, but am paying for it this morning...errrr... afternoon. 

Now that I have sufficiently procrastinated, it's really time for me to get out of bed and get to work so I can get things done for this week's lessons. Blah. Ciao!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Independent Czechoslovak State Day

Yes, there is a national holiday for a nation which no longer exists (though Slovaks do not celebrate this). October 28th marks the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, and while the country is no longer united, the date is still celebrated as a sign of democracy (until those pesky communists came along). Regardless, a day off work for all of us, which would be fabulous if I wasn't staying in bed battling a horrific cold (made better by yesterday's shopping trip to raid the lékárna of every cold remedy available, and a trip to the grocery store for basic supplies, like Walker's Shortbread Cookies and Lentilky, the Czech version of Smarties/M&Ms. Also, orange juice. For the vitamins.). 

This week I had my first classes. Was incredibly nervous because now not only are these people looking at me expecting me to teach them something (psssht), but they are also expecting me to be able to find these locations, which is asking quite a bit given my abilities regarding directions. Luckily, only had three groups this week - one with 2 people, and 2 one-on-ones. All of my students so far are really great - one of them even worked as an au pair in Summit, NJ (small world!), and another one owns a tiger. Yes, a tiger. As in a giant, incredibly heavy, potentially ferocious wild cat of the jungle (though I was sad to learn that Nina the tiger does not live in Prague, making my chances of getting to meet her much smaller... this does answer my first question however, of where does one keep a tiger in Prague and do you take it for walks?). Everyone has been very nice and things have gone very well, but my schedule picks up a lot more next week (as in quadruples basically), so I have a lot of lesson planning to do this weekend. Lesson planning is incredibly difficult due to the fact that I'm still not very clear on what I'm doing, so it looks like the first few months are going to be a bit rocky! But as long as my students continue to be as fun as they've been this week, I think it should go really well. (Fingers crossed!)

Must stop procrastinating and get down to actually doing some of this lesson planning. Once I make a cup of tea and dig out the Walkers...

Happy Czechoslovakia Day everyone!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Berlin or Bust

It's 4:30am and I am standing in the freezing cold, waiting for the last night tram to shlep me out to Andel for today's trip to Berlin to apply for our visas. It thankfully is only a few minutes late, and I hop on and attempt to not look any of the other crazies riding along with me in the eye. And then it happens...

A few stops in I am joined by a walking gin bottle. Said gin bottle proceeds to sit directly behind me and tap me on the shoulder to ask for a cigarette. When I tell him I don't have any, he says okay. Two minutes later, he taps again. 

"How much vooood it cost me to change my situation viz you?"

"Pardon?"

"I know my Eeenglish is not so good, but how much voooood it cost for me to change my situation viz you?"

At this point, I am simultaneously horrified while wondering whether I have a very Hollywood-ized mental picture of what a hooker looks like and whether ladies of the night normally wear outfits made to do battle with yetties. 

"Vere is you from?"

"New Jersey."

"Oh, ze place viz ze alligators."

"Umm, no. No alligators. Perhaps you have the wrong word?"

"No, alligators. Like little crocodiles."

"Oh. Still, no."

"Vood you like to see me spin at ze club? I vill give you my facebook information." (Freakin' deejays. Really.)

"No, thanks, I'm alright." 

Thankfully, by this point we are pulling into Andel and he did not get off and follow me. #Winning. Get to school and we pile into a van with a chauffer who clearly missed a calling as a stock car driver and is trying to squeeze it in anyway and set off for Germany. It's absolutely frigid (perhaps our driver was too flushed with excitement to turn the heat on?) and I spend about 45 minutes contemplating how annoyed my fellow TEFLers would be if I grabbed them and forced them to cuddle for the next four hours before nodding off. 

Berlin was very nondescript (our visit, not the actual city). We drove past the remaining piece of the Berlin wall on the way to the consulate, but sadly, that's the extent of our siteseeing. Oh well, next time. 

At least got to see some of what the Czechs like to call "the nature" (aka, the countryside) and it's beautiful. Definitely need to get a weekend away where we go to the nature. Pick mushrooms or something. Fabulous. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Winning

I know it's been fairly quiet on my end, but with the end of TEFL training last week, I was swamped with lesson planning and final projects and job interviews and all of that stuff that I had been convinced I was done with when I graduated MSU. And by Friday, after some very half-assed lessons from our trainers and getting to watch one trainer choke out a fellow student, we were free. After deciding that 9:45am was not an acceptable time to go to the pub and that we needed to find something a little bit more productive, we settled on lattes and strolling through Wenceslas Square and into Old Town. Meandered around a little market full of souvenirs and terrifying witch marionettes that cackle as you pass.


Terrifying. From there, we walked into Old Town, where we passed the Sex Machines Museum. Obviously, had to peek in.


Told me I was frozen. Obviously broken. However, I think a peek is all I will be doing there - anything more is bound to prove horrific. All manner of scary machines and get-ups that are sure to leave mental scars if I actually learn about them. No, thank you.

As one of my fellow TEFLers has somehow managed to live in Prague for a full month and still not have gone to Old Town Square, we headed there and camped out to watch the astronomical clock go off. And since I finally had my camera on me this time, I got to take a picture of that modern art installation I was talking about before. Readddddy for it?




Please let me know if you get it. ;)

Then it was on to lunch, then drinks, then lots and lots of wandering around trying to find the Caledonian Party before finally getting home and snuggling in now that our nice weather is gone. Saturday was spend lounging around watching tv, then going out bowling and to the Big Lebowski for a friend's bday. Sunday was a Burger King breakfast day, followed by more lounging, then football at the Globe (please keep in mind that games start at 10pm due to the time difference)... very late night.

Today I found out I was one of the top TEFLers of the training, so I graduated and got a full-time job offer (wahhhoooooo - in the words of Melissa Gorga, praise Jesus.), made a fabulous dinner for all the roomies (shepherds pie), and am about to settle in for some Big Brother. Have a 5am curtain call on the other side of town to trek to Berlin for visas tomorrow, so I'm off. Ciao for now.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

I've survived my first month in the city - hurrrrrah! It feels like I have been here for much, much longer (though not in a bad way!) and I am loving my new hometown. Mostly...

Loves...

  • It's stunningly gorgeous. Instead of staring at the barriers of 287 each day as I commute, I get to stare at the Vltava and Prague Castle. Can't really beat that.
  • No driving! 
  • I really do like Czech food. Sausages are quite possibly my favorite food of all time. And cheese. Remind me of this when I need a triple bypass in 20 years. 
  • Pivo! Especially at fabulous outside cafes on the river or cozy pubs. Makes it taste much better. 
  • It's cheap! Compared to what I'm used to back at home, it's insaaaaanely cheap.
  • It's very walkable. Everything that looks like you're about to spend hours trekking to really takes 5 minutes, so you can run all over this city in no time flat. Which I do often, largely because I'm lost.
  • There's always something to do. Granted, I have not taken as much advantage of this as I want to, but am about to have a lot more time on my hands, so will start checking things off the list.
  • Mostly everyone has been absolutely lovely as I butcher their language and commit atrocious faux pas and fall in their cobblestones. Tons of interesting people doing interesting things. Huge student population, which is really making me want to go back to school. Probably why I walked away from the expats convention with 9,384,029 flyers about grad school. Question is - for what? Am open to suggestions!
Mehhhhh...
  • The electronic devices in this country drive me bananas. Primarily the washing machine and the vacuum. But the dishwasher comes in at a close third, and then its my cell phone. Agh.
  • No one stop shopping. I miss being able to go to A&P and get my food and shampoo and batteries and screws and make up and everything else. Here I'm running to the grocery store, the DM, the pharmacy, and then usually Tescos because I can't find what I need anywhere else. 
  • Not a lot of places take credit cards and everyone always gives major attitude when I give them a bill higher than 500. If no one will take it, why won't the ATM give smaller bills?!
  • Sneaky waiters who add extra stuff to your bill. It's in the guide books for a reason. Gotcha, jerk. I may not speak Czech but I can still add. 
  • It's reeeeeeeeeally frustrating seeing words that you think you should be able to understand because it's all the same letters, but you have no idea what these words mean or what this giant jumble of consonants even sounds like, let alone what it stands for. It's like your eyes get a massage when you find something written in English in the store. Thank you Neutrogena moisturizer. Thank you.


Had a great weekend of running around Prague. Spent Friday having lunch, hitting the pub and then bowling all over town. Saturday we checked out the ExPat convention where we aimed to get as much free stuff as possible (I got a rubber ducky, a pen, some wine and a day at the gym...), then book shopping, lunch and tea (and beer, naturally) at the good ole Globe (which has quickly become our almost daily hotspot), and then finally a movie at the TEFL house. It's at this point where things start going downhill...

Because the TEFL house is out in the boonies of Prague and public transportation is somewhat limited late at night, I ran to catch one of the last buses out of there around 1am. Get back to Andel, head to the tram stop and only have to wait a few minutes until the trusty #14 comes. Amaaaazing! Hop on, grab a seat, and stop paying attention. At some point about six stops later I realize, "Hey - there's a gas station. A gas station. Holy no. There are no gas stations. Oh. My. God. Where am I?!" Get off in the middle of no where and wait for the next tram, regardless of where it's going as long as it's heading back into town. Get on and ride it back. By now it's after 2. And I need to pee. And it's freezing. This is not going well. In my rush to get home, I think to myself, "Aha! I'll get off at Wenceslas Square and take the metro home." So down the stairs I go until I realize that it's night, the Metro is closed, and I am now dead center of a homeless convention in front of a man with his jeans around his ankles and his boxers around his knees who was thankfully too deep into his inspection of *shudder* to notice me. Power walked like I've never power walked before and ran to the next stop to wait for what I hope is the final leg of my trek home. I finally get in and am able to thaw out a little after 3am - over two hours after I started this expedition. You know - there is something to be said for cabs.

Woke up and spent approximately twenty minutes looking at my TEFL book before I felt it was an acceptable time to have a break. Peej and I set off in search of lunch and Tesco. Had an absolutely delicious lunch of Vietnamese spring rolls and pho ga and then shopped til our arms dropped off at Tesco. I am sorry to say that the most exciting purchase since I have arrived here as been the vacuum that I bought today. I have given up all hope of deciphering how to use the one we have or how to find a bag to go in it. Ohhh, it's a glamorous life I lead. ;0)

Final week of TEFL kicks off tomorrow full of projects and job interviews and morrrrrrre teaching practice and papers and all types of horrible stuff, but then it's freeeeeeeedom! Well, freedom until I find out if I got a job and then spend all my time planning real lessons, but yaaaaaaaaaay! Cannot wait.

Peej has whipped up meatloaf and mashed potatoes for family dinner tonight so I'm off to stuff my face. Ciao!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mythbusters

There is a rumor going around that Czech beer is so pure, it does not cause hangovers. Let it be known, this is certainly not the case. Unfortunately.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Noc v opeře

Wednesday was St. Wenceslas Day - aka Statehood Day - aka a national holiday in which everyone has off from work, except sad little TEFL trainees. Wahhh. I did, however, manage to squeeze in a bit of culture. Quite a lot of culture, actually - a trip to the opera at Národní divadlo, the national theater (forgot my camera, of course, as I do for all important, documentable things) to see The Bartered Bride (Prodaná Nevěsta). 






I was a bit apprehensive, because, to be completely honest, I thought it might be kind of... boring. It's opera. In Czech. Two things I know relatively nothing about. Still, I figured if I didn't go then, I probably never would so I handed over my 110ck (bargain!) and set off. Pre-show glass of wine with my fellow NJ TEFL-er & her roommate, and then we classed it up. 


The National Theater is huge and opulent and stunning and everything that a theater is supposed to be, but rarely actually is. People were dressed up and sipping champagne and it was exactly how you think it should be. I got snapped at by a Czech man for shuffling through the row the wrong way (must face each other - oops. Lesson learned.), but that was just a minor snafu. 


They have subtitles in English and German so you can follow along, though it's fairly easy to grasp anyway (and I have a feeling that much of the story gets lost in translation). The Bartered Bride is by Bedřich Smetana, and was one of the first Czech operas to gain international success (though it took a while). It's a romantic comedy about Mařenka and Jeník, two crazy kids in love, despite Marenka not knowing much about Janik's past (he left home to escape his father and his evil stepmother). Mařenka's father has agreed to have her marry Vašek Mícha else in order to pay off his debts. The marriage broker working the deal tries to pay of Janik, who eventually agrees on the condition that Marenka can only marry the son of Tobiáš Mícha. Eventually everyone finds this out and is shocked and appalled that Jenik would give her up so easily. There's a circus, some drunkenness, and the big scene at the end... I won't give away the story, but you can figure it out for yourself. :)


A few etiquette notes - in addition to very strict rules (unbeknownst to me) about which way to face when trying to hobble down your theater row without stepping on toes or elbowing people or accidentally flinging your bag over the balcony (as said row is approx 5 inches wide), remember to face towards the people who have so graciously gotten up into that awkward half stand, half stoop maneuver to let you pass. Apparently, older Czech gentlemen prefer your face to be in their chest rather than your rear, well... And clapping. Get ready for some clapping. As in clap until your hands are raw, your wrists are sprained, and you think you can't clap anymore. Then clap for ten minutes more. That should just about cover it. And dress up. It's the opera, for Christ's sake. This is no place for jeans. 


I really did love it, and will hopefully get to go again (camera in tow). Feel good about doing something cultural other than sample the local beer, so bonus points for me. Now, what to do this weekend... [Update: Apetit Magazine (someone really needs to explain this to someone) Piknik: www.apetitonline.cz/piknik. Yum!]