Czech Out My New Blog

20 Oct

After I finished my year in Karlovy Vary, I spent the summer in the States–teaching ESL at Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire for six weeks then spent time visiting with friends and family.

At the end of September I left again (tear) and came back to Spain, where I’ll be teaching this year in a small town in Castilla-La Mancha called Villarrobledo. You can follow this year’s exploits at Hablog Dos: Return to Spain.

Thanks for reading here, czech y’all later!

A Czech Birthday Party/Wedding!

27 Aug

This one goes back to April… hey, better late than never! Also, it’s an awesome story about Czech culture and something I’m sure I will never experience again.

Julie and I in Pilzen at the Pilsner Urquell factory

My friend Julie (we met in Spain when I first moved in Sept 2009, I had just visited her in February) was visiting the Czech Republic for her spring break. Like most places I’m used to, Spain’s spring break is around Easter and NOT in the middle of February like Czech so she was visiting in the middle of April. By that point Jess and I had become good friends with Roman (featured in this post). We had met his parents when they invited us over to their house for a dinner of rabbit and stuffing!

In April we were invited to Roman’s dad’s birthday party, it happened to be during the same weekend that Julie was visiting so we brought her along. Everything started off nicely, there was a birthday toast to start the party. And so we drank some champagne. Then we ate–DELICIOUS goulash, cheese, melon and prosciutto, bread, veggies, I could go on… And we kept drinking: champagne and Pilsner Urquell, of course! Then something curious happened…

Julie,me, Lada (Roman's dad and the birthday boy) and Jess

In the Czech Republic there is a tradition that when a couple gets married, after the wedding and during the reception some people “kidnap” the bride and take her to a bar. These people (usually friends of the bride or at least people who know her somewhat) drink with her at the bar until the groom finds them and “rescues” her by paying the bar tab.

So during the birthday party Roman and his cousin went to “kidnap” the bride from a wedding that the cousin had just been at earlier that day. It turned out the bride was Australian and was marrying a guy from Karlovy Vary. Since she was Australian she obviously spoke English and so did a bunch of her friends. So that made the party a lot more interesting for us (don’t get me wrong, Roman’s family is very nice, but there’s only so much conversation you can have with people when you don’t speak each other’s languages). And because she was being “kidnapped” we had to drink with her at the bar. The bride was insistent that she drink only the good, clear liquor so we took a lot of shots of Becherovka and Slivovice (plum brandy stuff) with her.

wedding shots! courtesy of the groom!

The groom had to call one of the bride’s friends and ask for directions to where she was because we were out a hotel/restaurant that was in the middle of nowhere (only like 20 minutes from the city but it seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere). He arrived to pay the tab and rescue her and, of course, because Karlovy Vary is a “sleeping village” the groom had at one time dated the bartender at the restaurant!

We finished off the evening by eating more food (beef tartar has never tasted so delicious to me and probably never will again) and pints of Pilsner Urquell (no more Becherovka for me, thank you very much). The party wrapped up around 10:30/11, but considering that we started eating and drinking at 4pm that wasn’t a bad showing.

the Americans with the Australian bride!

Overall, it was one of the coolest experiences I had all year and something I will remember forever.

Also, I learned there was some truth in the bride’s declaration that the clear, strong liquor was the best to drink: I woke up the next morning just a little tired but not hung over, Julie and I even made a day trip to Pilzen. Hezky!

Brat and Buda

25 Aug

In April around Easter, during what is Semana Santa in Spain, two of my friends Suzanne and Julie were visiting. I had a rare long weekend off and was determined to make the most of it. So we took off for a day in Prague, a day in Bratislava, Slovakia, and  two days in Budapest, Hungary. It was awesome! One of the more interesting trips I’ve taken and very chill (somehow it was relaxing even though we were moving around every day or so). I won’t write too much, mostly just share some pics. I will say though that Bratislava really impressed me. I didn’t have many expectations for the small city, especially compared to Budapest, which I had heard several good things about. But when we arrived we found a very charming city with an enchanting old town area and a lively and classy new area along the Danube. I wish we had had more time there, but I’m glad I at least got to see it.

me and Julie on the Charles Bridge

Suz and I while walking up to the Prague Castle

in front of the Bratislava Opera House

DELICIOUS Slovakian dumplings (similar to perogis)

old and new bridges over the Danube in Bratislava

fancy cocktails along the Danube at an outdoor cafe

Budapest, parliament building behind us

in front of the Budapest Opera House

Like I said above, it was an awesome trip. We saw some cool new places, lounged in the famous baths in Budapest, and sampled some tasty, tasty Slovakian and Hungarian food. And most importantly I had the chance to make new memories with old friends.

la la

Catching Up!

23 Aug

So I’ve been home from the Czech Republic for 2 months, but haven’t had time (or energy) to wrap up the blog. There were still a bunch of stories I wanted to share, so I’m gonna do my best to get them out this week, and even though they’re not timely hopefully they’re still interesting!

CR vs Spain: Booze

23 Aug

Editorial note: this post was started at the end of May, just never finished it. So here you go…
This category is too hard to make a blanket judgement so it’s gotta be broken down into subcategories.

Let’s start with BEER

VERSUS

In Spain it’s rare to find a place that serves a beer larger than 0.2 liters. In Czech Republic it’s rare to find a place that serves beer smaller than 0.5 liters. The Czechs drink more beer on average (per person) than any other country in the world. You know what? I’m actually going to stop typing. You can watch the video below, believe me when I say Spain couldn’t/wouldn’t make the same claims, and understand why Czech Republic gets the point for this category.

I should also mention that beer is mega-cheap here. You can get half a liter of draft Pilsner Urquell for the equivalent of less than $2.00!! And that’s with a weak exchange rate. I will throw in an extra point for affordability. So CR gets 2 points out of this category.

Next subcategory: WINE

Although you just watched a video about the Czech Republic titled “Beer Nation,” the country does tout a large wine region in Moravia, in the south of the country. In May Jess and I went with our friends Renata and Vitek to a wine tasting weekend in Boretice, a small, small, small village in Moravia.

vineyards in Boretice

Part of our weekend included a wine festival in Cejkovice, a larger town well known for its wineries, where we sampled some delicious pinot grigios, chardonnays, blends, and regional varieties.

I would say the whites we sampled were on par with the whites from the Condado de Huelva, the wine-producing region in Huelva, Spain. But Czech definitely produces more white varieties (and therefore more tasty whites) than does Huelva (or probably Spain in general) so they get a point there. Bringing the booze total to 3:0.

But having said that, Spain dominates in the red category. Even Czech people will say that the whites are good but the reds are just so-so. I didn’t even drink a lot of red wine while in Spain, but the riojas and tempranillas I have had are fuller than the Czech reds I tried… giving Spain one point and bringing the total to 3:1.

Next subcategory: LIQUOR

VERSUS

This category is hard since I didn’t drink a lot of liquor in either place. So I will admit this point is based solely on my limited experience with the various liquors in each place and may not be a comprehensive rating. The Czechs are really into herbal and fruit brandies (see here and here for two of the most popular alcohols in CR). And on top of the general Czech penchant for herbal liquors, Becherovka, the national herbal liquor, is made in KV, so we were in the mecca of it, so to speak. As far as liquors go, it’s okay, kinda spicy and reminds me of goldschlagger. But it’s definitely, definitely not as tasty as caramel vodka, which was the drink of choice in Spain. Caramel vodka is good on its own, but double delicious when mixed with coke (or triply delicious when mixed with coke AND vanilla ice cream – mmmm). So, yes, the point in the liquor category goes to Spain.

Booze total: CR 3, Spain 2

Grand total: Spain 7, CR 5

The Final Countdown

30 May

Yes, just like that Europe song (see below). Which is coincidental because I’m counting down until I leave Europe.

So yes, I am in the homestretch of my year here in Karlovy Vary. Only three weeks left of teaching then I hop on a plane June 21 to head back to the US.

This morning on my third-to-last Monday Kids Club ever (in case you missed it, read about the terrors here, here, and here) I had a very very very pleasant surprise of only having five kids in class. (Normally there are 12.) It was amazing! Nevermind that half of the kids who were absent have tonsillitis (in my defense I always tell them to take the toys out of their mouths so it’s not my fault the germs have spread). Anyways, it was a very pleasant start to the week and I can only hope the next few days are as nice.

And to answer the question about what happens after June 21…

Basically 48 hours after I land at Dulles I’ll be taking a flight to Boston because I’ll be teaching at Cardigan Mountain School’s summer session again this year. That will wrap up in the beginning of August and after spending a month and a half hanging out in VA I’ll heading back to Spain!!!!!!!!!! I’ll be doing the same program I did last year in Huelva, except in a different school in Villarrobledo, a small town in the Castilla-La Mancha region of the country. It will be a totally different experience since I’ll be in a town of 25,000 people and not on the coast, but they are in an area of wine and Manchego cheese production so that’s a nice plus!

And, in a shocking move for myself (or at least for myself of the last two years) I even have a plan for the year after! Earlier this spring I was accepted to graduate school at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I had already received a placement for Spain so I asked for and was granted a deferral for one year. So in September 2012 I’ll be enrolling in the graduate program of applied linguistics at the Univ. of Edinburgh. Right now I’m sure you’re asking yourself “what the czech does applied linguistics even mean?” In a nutshell it’s the study of language and its functions and usage in everyday life. That includes things like studying how people acquire a second language so that you can be a better language teacher. For a clearer and probably more accurate description, see the program’s website. So what started as an experimental year in a high school in Spain is leading toward a career in the language field; it could be in research or continuing to teach English at various levels including university, I haven’t nailed down which direction I’ll head yet (I already have a plan for the next two years so I can’t get too ahead of myself haha). Either way it’s exciting and I’m looking forward to going back to school.

The main takeaway of this post for you is that now you have another opportunity to visit me in Spain (I’ll be only two hours from Madrid on the train) and then the next year in Edinburgh. Start planning now, visitors always welcomed 🙂

CR vs Spain: Music

27 May

This category is so uneven I’m tempted to spot Czech Republic five points before I begin. They would still end up being crushed…

You may recall in January I touched upon the inequality in fashion between Spain and the Czech Republic. The same can be said about the music. My friend Julie, whom I know from teaching in Spain last year, came to visit earlier this spring. Her take on the situation here in the Czech Republic seemed to sum it all up: “It feels like they are 10 years behind in music and 15 years behind in fashion.” Music from the 90s is super popular here (for example, I’ve heard The Offspring on the radio numerous times). Music from the 70s and 80s is also popular, as in you hear it when you go out to bars popular.

At the two main going out bars (they’re not exactly “discos”/clubs) you will occasionally hear new music like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Black-Eyed Peas, etc. But as soon as they get going and attract a crowd on the dance floor they immediately put on a random Czech song or “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. I think a monkey pushing random buttons on a computer would be a better DJ than the ones they have in KV. Here are some examples of the unawesomeness of every Friday and Saturday night in KV…

Literally every single time we have been out in KV we have heard the Grease megamix. I love Grease as much as anyone, but really every night?!?!?

 

ABBA is also still hugely popular here. This one in particular we hear all the time:

 

Like I said they do sometimes play recent music. One of the more popular new songs from the fall was “Barbara Streisand.” Yes, those are the only two words in the song.

I won’t waste time elaborating on the music scene in Spain. All you have to know is that I never once heard Grease or ABBA out at the bars. Case closed. Spain 1, Czech Rep 0.
Total score: Spain 5, Czech Republic 2.