Archive | October, 2010

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

nerd alert!

It turns out they do celebrate Halloween in the Czech Republic. Kind of. The kids don’t dress up or go trick-or-treating, but a few bars in town had Halloween parties. And today in the grocery store we saw some teenagers dressed up. So it seems to be a holiday celebrated by those in between the ages of 15 and 30.

As of Friday evening my roommate Jessica and I had no big plans for the weekend. On our way home from a 17km hike (will post about that separately another time) we passed by a bar/cafe that we’ve been to a few times to use internet, the FooPa Music Cafe. They had a sign out front that said “Halloween Party 10.30”.

On Saturday we went for a walk around town and stopped by the cafe to ask about the party. The cafe was actually closed because they were decorating and getting the bar ready. One of the bartenders was near the door when we walked in and he told us they were closed until nighttime (he speaks English). Then we asked about the party and if people dressed in costumes and he told us they do. Sweet! Halloween plans were now taken care of.


with the jack-o-lantern at the Halloween party

So the next task was to whip up some last-minute costumes. What to wear? Where to find it? A random little Chino shop (as they were called in Spain) provided all the answers. Picture a small, cramped dollar store with totally random stuff that looks like it’s been sitting on the shelf for 5 years. They even had a small Halloween section with a selection of wigs, hats, wings, and random costumes.

First we picked some pink and purple wings to be fairies (or dead fairies if we could find fake blood, which we couldn’t). But then we saw some awesome ties, suspenders, and fake glasses so we decided to change directions and be nerds.

Turns out dead fairies would have fit in better. Some people at the party were dressed up, maybe 30% to 40%, but almost all of them were something scary or bloody. It seems the essence of Halloween has migrated to Europe, but it hasn’t gotten to the point where people dress in funny and light-hearted costumes, only dead and scary.

There were a few Beetlejuices, bloody nurses, murder victims, and one awesome Freddy Krugger bartender.

I think most people didn’t understand our costumes because they weren’t bloody or scary. The party itself was okay, the music started out good then went downhill quickly when they started playing bad 80s and 90s music (I say that as an 80s music fan). At one point they definitely played New Kids on the Block’s “Step by Step.” The only people we talked to were a few Germans who were just in town for the weekend (we’re still working on making some English-speaking friends, there’s no English-speaking expat community here in KV, only Russians). But overall it was a fun night and I’m glad we were able to celebrate Halloween in some fashion.

CR vs Spain: Elevators

30 Oct

Last year in Huelva I had what I thought was a small elevator in our apartment building. It could fit three people comfortably, and maybe four if you didn’t mind being really close to one another. Here is the only photographic evidence I could find of that elevator (don’t mind my tongue):

me, Mike, and Kyle in the elevator after a late night at Moulin Rouge bar in Huelva

I know the photo is a little weird because of the reflection. So what you’re actually seeing is Kyle taking a self photo but in the mirror you can see me and Mike. But at least this elevator had a mirror so it seemed a larger than it was. It was also helpful for last-minute hair adjustments as I was on my way out to work every morning.

The interior of the elevator was fairly standard: wood-paneled walls and silver interior doors that slid open when you reach your destination floor. These things would seem to be typical of any elevator… except for the one in my apartment building in KV.

When you open the door to the elevator in our building you are greeted with carpeting. On all walls–and the ceiling!! There is carpeting everywhere, except for the floor. It’s teeny tiny, you have to squish to fit three people in it. And there’s no mirror.But the absolute weirdest part about it is that there is no interior door. Nothing silver that slides shut once you’re inside and have pushed your button. No creepy gate that you pull closed so you have some barrier to keep you in. Nothing. So while you’re riding up (or down) you can literally see and touch the door to every floor and the walls between each floor (which are disgustingly dirty, by the way). So it’s kinda like riding in a glass elevator except not as big, cool, clean, or intentional.

the view going up from inside the elevator

So the clear winner in this match up is Spain, which brings the overall tally to Spain 2, CR 0.

Spoiler alert: CR will be drawing the competition closer in some future categories.

A Proper Trip to Prague

18 Oct

I had been in the Czech Republic for almost a month without seeing Prague, even though I’m living only a 2-hour bus ride away. I had flown into Prague airport, but then went directly to my boss’ house, and then at the end of my first week of classes I went to the city for a one-day training course. But I spent the day in our Wattsenglish headquarters and didn’t see much of the city other than the bus station and the street where the office is. I didn’t see the castle or the Charles Bridge so I still didn’t know what people were talking about when they said how pretty Prague is. Literally every person that I’ve talked to who has been to Prague has said that they loved it. But I still hadn’t seen why…

Finally last week I had the opportunity to go to Prague and actually see it. And now I understand.

One of the other teachers, Jackie, who I went with to Cesky Kromlov two weeks earlier, had a birthday in early October so we went to Prague to celebrate. It ended up being four of us: me, my roommate Jessica, Jackie, and another teacher from Canada, Lisa.

We got in early Saturday and met up at the clock tower (Jackie and Lisa live in towns on the other side of Prague from KV). After we found the hostel (and experienced none of the problems we had at the hostel we’d booked in Cesky Krumlov, thankfully) we left for a nice afternoon of walking around and enjoying the sunny weather.

We decided to walk up this hill on the opposite side of the river from the city center. There is a funicular (little tram thingy) that goes up the hill, which we were thinking about taking, but the line was incredibly long so we opted for some free exercise.

Along the way we saw the Prague Hunger Wall and wandered into a small, secret garden that reminded me of something from Alice in Wonderland. That image was only reinforced by some people who were smoking pot under the branches of a willow tree.

The hike was really enjoyable, we had some nice views of the city and the castle. From there we wandered back down into town and got some lunch. At that point we had noticed quite a few guys walking around wearing kilts. It was too many for it to be just a coincidence, and then I remembered that Brett, my Scottish contact, had told me a few weeks earlier that Scotland was going to be playing CR in soccer soon. Lucky us, we were in Prague on that weekend.

After lunch we walked across the Charles Bridge and into the Old Town. Our plan had been to get a pint of beer then head back to the hostel and eat some snacks and drink some wine before going out on the town.

That plan went to hell about 5 minutes after we walked into The Dubliner, an Irish pub in the center of Old Town. The place was packed with Scottish guys, many in kilts. We were maybe the second group of females in the entire place so it was no challenge to attract attention from drunk men in skirts. Needless to say, we had more than one pint at The Dubliner and never made it back to the hostel to regroup before going out on the town. We hopped around to a few different bars, making new Scottish friends at every turn, and eventually closed out the night with some cheeseburgers and french fries from a stand in Wenceslas Square.

Sunday morning was a bit rough, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been more grateful for American chains that have migrated abroad. No, not Starbucks or McDonald’s. But TGI Fridays. Yes, there is a TGI Fridays in Prague. Two, actually. I thought it was funny when I saw it on Saturday, but when the girls suggested going there for breakfast/lunch on Sunday morning I was 110% for it.

Jessica and I took the bus home in the afternoon and then, pathetically, actually this is almost too pathetic to write … we stopped at the McDonald’s next to our flat. So not only did I eat greasy TGI Fridays in the morning, I capped the day off with some McNuggets and a hot fudge sundae. This was entirely reminiscent of that day last year in Huelva when Alicia and I went to Burger King in our sweatpants. You can take the girl out of America…

Winter’s on Its Way, Pt 2

17 Oct

I feel like in my previous post I neglected to mention that the impending cold weather has also meant a beautiful autumn.

Last year I totally missed out on fall, save for two weekends I was in France/Germany/Italy, since it doesn’t exist in southern Spain. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the fact that I was still going to the beach at the end of October, but it was strange to miss the changing colors, cool weather, and smokey scents of the season.

I’m definitely getting my fill of fall in KV this year. The city is surrounded by hills of orange, yellow, and red leaves. The town I teach in on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Ostrov, is also in a little valley and it’s full of gorgeous colors.

Today my roommate Jessica and I went on a hike/run on some of the hiking paths in the hills around KV. There are tons of paths through the forest leading every which way so we wandered around exploring new territory. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Luckily I had brought my camera so I got a few good pictures (like the one at the top, I’ll add them all to the photo page) but I was trying not to stop too much since we were trying to get a workout in.

The only way fall could get better here was if they had pumpkin beer. They do beer really well, but the microbrew niche is only starting to take hold. Last weekend in Prague we tried a few different Czech beers (meaning not Pilsner, Budvar, or Staropramen) at a beer shop, all of which were tasty, but none were pumpkin flavored.

So although I was a bit dramatic about the incoming cold weather in my last post (I spent last year in southern Spain, can you blame me?) I am enjoying the fall season. Although there is a chance of snow for this Thursday and Friday. Not kidding! (Click on the link if you don’t believe me.)

Winter’s on Its Way

14 Oct

Before I begin the actual post, I want to celebrate the fact that we have internet in the apartment now! For me that means no more lugging the comp to the office everyday and feverishly loading TV shows online during the day so I have something to watch when I’m at home at night. For you that (hopefully) means more posts!

But I digress, on to the topic at hand… One of my predictions about the Czech Republic in my very first post was that “it’s going to be very cold.” Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! The past two mornings it’s been below freezing when I left the house.  To be more dramatic, it’s been -4 degrees Celsius. On Tuesday morning I had to scrape frost off the windshield before driving the car. And that was only the 12th of October!!! I can’t even imagine what January and February will be like.

My first indication that the cold weather was coming was last week when McDonald’s took down their outdoor patio. I thought it was a little premature because the weather on Friday and all weekend was nice — very sunny (for the first time in two weeks) and mild.

 

floral calendar - now packed up for winter

 

My second indication was the cool floral calendar that I walk past on the way to work was dismantled — all the flowers pulled out and only an ugly pile of dirt remaining. I was disappointed, I was already looking forward to taking pictures of certain dates (for people’s birthdays or holidays, to mark the start or end of a month). Looks like I’ll have to erect my own floral calendar if I want those pictures.

I now know that these actions were normal preparations. They knew the cold was coming, it was just a matter of time before the grass and flowers started gathering frost at night. It just worries me that this happened the first part of October.

Yesterday I went for a run at 9:30am, the temperature was still at freezing. Bad decision. I don’t remember the last time I ran in weather that cold. Maybe not ever. The only nice part was when I stopped next to the Tepla river (the warm water river that runs through KV) because one part of it was steaming. I was able to inhale some warm air and it soothed my throat for a few minutes. Otherwise I was miserable.

So it appears that trying to work out in this weather will be a far cry from last year, when there were some 60-degree days in January when I ran in a T-shirt… something tells me that won’t be happening here. Guess that means I need to go find a gym… and/or heavy duty cold-weather gear… and/or workout DVDs and a yoga mat… and/or just hibernate until Spring.

Debunking the Great PB Myth

13 Oct

There seems to be this notion that once you leave the United States you can no longer find peanut butter. Allegedly it doesn’t exist outside American borders. They said it to me last year in Spain, “oh I’ll bet you’ll miss peanut butter” and again this year, “we have a lot of food you’re used to at the supermarket, except maybe peanut butter. Americans love peanut butter.” And even other Americans I know that live abroad talk about it like it’s Moby Dick, the white whale of foods that just can’t be found.

I’m here today to disprove this myth.

I am not arguing that other countries love peanut butter, they don’t. Most foreign people I’ve talked with about the subject (just so we’re clear I mean like 10-15 people, from Spain, France, the UK, and the Czech Republic… my international network is not that big) think it’s a strange substance and don’t understand how Americans can love it. Last year I even made one of my students a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he gagged after the first few bites (for drama’s sake, I’m sure). He ate some more of it then said “it’s gross, I don’t understand why you love it.”

But despite their feelings toward it, peanut butter is available in Europe. I found Skippy in the Albert supermarket down the street from me in Karlovy Vary. Skippy!! Skippy peanut butter!! You can’t get more genuine than that. And in Spain they even make their own brand of peanut butter called Captain Mani. I used to buy it at the Carrefour in Huelva. And it was good peanut butter. I feel qualified to make this judgment because during my senior year of high school I brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch literally every day. I’m not exaggerating. Ask my mom and dad.

Are there supermarkets in Europe that don’t carry peanut butter? Yes, undoubtedly. Do a lot of Europeans embrace peanut butter the way Americans do? No, probably not. But my point is, if I can find Skippy here in small city Czech Republic and they make an entire brand of peanut butter in Spain it can’t really be that hard to find outside the US…

Cesky Krumlov: Rain and Road Trip

3 Oct

view along the river in Cesky Krumlov

At the end of my first week of work I went to Prague for a one-day training session (because I had missed the training since I got the job so last minute). By that time I had already taught four days of classes, but it was helpful anyways to review some of the highlights of the method we’re supposed to be using and to get some new ideas. It was only me and one other teacher, a girl from Australia, but it was nice to meet some more Wattsenglish people seeing as up to that point I knew exactly two teachers (my coworkers in Karlovy Vary). It also turns out that one of the girls who was helping with the training (she taught in Prague last year and is teaching there again this year) went to Mary Washington. She is actually a few years younger than me but we had fun talking about campus and Fredericksburg (ahh memorieeeesss).

Anyways, that Friday night I stayed in Prague because my roommate Jessica, some of her friends she met at training, and I made plans to go to Cesky Krumlov, a small town in the south of the country. In order to get to Cesky Krumlov (or to most places in the country) from Karlovy Vary you have to go through Prague. So it didn’t make sense for me to go back home to KV for one night and turn around and come back to Prague. Initially we were going to take the bus or train to Cesky Krumlov, but many of the buses were sold out and the timetables weren’t working out in our favor. I could easily get a ride from Prague because Jackie and Lisa, the two girls who were going with us, were getting a ride with Jackie’s coordinator and they were stopping in Prague to pick someone up from the train station. As you might recall, I mentioned in an earlier post that we have a company car in KV that we use to get to classes during the week. Jessica asked my boss if we were allowed to take the company car for personal use, and much to our surprise we are allowed to “rent” the company car and pay for the mileage. So Jessica and her friend John (who was still visiting from England) “rented” the company car and drove down to Cesky Krumlov and met us there on Saturday.

the girls in the rain: Jessica, me, Jackie and Lisa

When Jackie, Lisa, and I arrived in Cesky Krumlov the first order of business was food. We found a nice Italian restaurant and had some delicious pastas and yummy desserts (they know how to do strudels here in CR). Then we had to get a map and find our hostel, which we did with few problems.

The problems arose only when we found the hostel. The hostel was a bit run down and the woman spoke almost no English. Which might have been okay, except they didn’t have our reservation. So it was impossible to explain that two more of our friends were coming and they had the booking with them. She kept asking for the booking, and we kept trying to explain that our friends were coming with the paper. At one point she literally tossed a Czech/English dictionary at us so we could look up what we wanted to say. That got us nowhere. Finally she called someone who spoke English and had access to their reservation system and put them on the phone with us. They said there was no reservation for 5 people under our name. We might have still stayed there if the woman had offered us a room, but instead in a few English words she told us to go back to the city center and find the tourist information office.

We went to the tourist office (twice actually) and stopped at a bunch of hostels and pensions asking if they had room for 5 people. A few places had room for 4, but not 5. Well worst case, we joked, someone could sleep in the car (either the smallest person, because the car is tiny, or the most drunk person at the end of the night because they wouldn’t notice the difference until they woke up). We continued to schlep around town with our bags, thankfully it’s a small town. I had my large backpack with me and my computer in it so my shoulders were starting to lose it after the first hour. I was also wearing new flats that were not built for walking around for hours on end and were starting to give my pinky toes blisters (I suppose that is my own fault not breaking them in first). But eventually we found a pension that had a room that was normally for 4, but they would put an extra bed in there for a small fee. It ended up being a very cute pension and our booking included breakfast – score!

finally we found a place to stay...

The proprietor of the pension was this cute old Czech man who talked to us for about 5 minutes in German until he realized we were staring at him with blank faces. “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” he asked. We laughed, “ummm no. English?”  He didn’t know much English, but made so much more of an effort than the woman at the first hostel to communicate with us. He used a lot of gestures and hand motions to show what he was talking about and we pretty much figured it out.

We were really lucky in that the weekend we chose to come to Cesky Krumlov there was a St. Wenceslas festival taking place. In the main square there was stage for traditional Czech dance and music performances. People were walking around in all sorts of costumes (presumably for their dance troops).

band playing on the stage at the Wenceslas festival

There were also a ton of food and craft tents. I got a delicious block of cheese that was similar to parmesean and a tasty, tasty potato pancake. We also sampled some hot wine and bercak, this carbonated sweet wine that I’m pretty sure is made in people’s bathtubs. I’m led to believe this because it is sold in unlabeled 2 liter bottles and on the way home we passed a few random bercak stands on the side of the road. There would literally be a person chilling under a little tent with a sign advertising their bercak. So from what I understand it’s not something you buy at stores, but only from people who make it at home.

Saturday evening, after walking around the festival in the square we had pizza and some shots of Becherovka, the herbal liquor that is actually made in Karlovy Vary.  We went to a few more bars but we were all pretty tired by around 11:30pm so we called it a night.

the tower of the castle

Sunday morning we got up, had breakfast then went to see the castle, the main attraction in Cesky Krumlov. The weather was still crummy, not as rainy as Saturday but still very overcast. But despite the weather, the views from the castle tower were gorgeous! We also walked around the castle gardens, which again were beautiful. Please check out the link on my Photos page for more photos from the castle and gardens. Cesky Krumlov is truly a beautiful place, and I can only imagine how much prettier it would be in nice weather.

In the afternoon Jessica, John, and I hopped in our little red Hyundai and drove back to KV. I drove (since Jess had driven there on Saturday) and it was actually a very pleasant ride. Some very nice scenery and a little detour through Pilsen made for a nice first Czech road trip. Luckily the rain held off as well so it was nice driving weather (if cloudy).