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...

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.

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. 

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!

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):


  • 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


  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.