Archive | January, 2011

Big Ballers

26 Jan

Last Friday Jess and I had the very special experience of attending a ball at the Grandhotel Pupp, the KV hotel made famous in “Casino Royale” with Daniel Craig and “Last Holiday” with Queen Latifah.

Every high school has what could be translated as a graduation ball for their graduating seniors. It’s similar to a prom, except that parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone who attended the school can go as well. Our friend Renata is a German teacher at a high school in Ostrov, a small town close to KV, so she invited us to attend the ball with her and Vitek.

The Grandhotel Pupp is in downtown KV, but more in the touristy section, about a 20 minute walk from our apartment. We planned to meet Renata and Vitek there since we could just walk. But it didn’t seem like a good idea to walk 20 minutes on snow-covered cobblestone … so we took a page from the working woman’s playbook and put on our running shoes to walk over 🙂

When we arrived at the ball a drum group was performing on the dance floor. They were followed a dance troop of teenagers in some (what I assumed was) traditional dress.

me, Jess, Renata and Vitek

After that they had a ceremony portion where each student was called up on the stage and given a sash. I’m going to be honest and say I zoned out during this 45 minutes because I didn’t know any of the students nor understood any of the words being said on the stage. And by “zoned out” what I actually mean is “drank wine.”

Once that portion of the night was over the party got started. There were two lives bands that played. One played more formal dancing music, like this:

And the other band, much to my delight, played a lot of English pop music like Abba (lots of them, they LOVE Abba in the Czech Republic), “Celebration,” “Billy Jean,” and other classic gems like “Ghostbusters!” – please see video below if you don’t believe me. Also, please don’t mind my “singing along” to the song, what can I say? I owned that cassette tape as a kid. Or maybe I owned the record, I can’t quite remember…

At midnight some of the students performed a “midnight surprise,” basically some gag skits/dances. They were really funny, one involved a bunch of boys in full nun habits mocking “Sister Act” and then stripping down to boxers and shorts by the end of the dance. I do have a video of that, but Vitek told me “it must not cross the Czech border.” I’m assuming that means even virtually haha.

The night was a blast, and we felt so fancy being at a ball in the Granhotel Pupp, never mind that we were two random Americans at a high school prom. We ended the night in the Becher’s Bar portion of the hotel, and luckily got a ride home from our friends so we didn’t have to trek back in our heels or running shoes 🙂

CR vs Spain: Shopping!!

19 Jan

Based on the fashion you see people wear on the street everyday, it would seem that Spain is a clear winner in this category. People in Spain were always dressed nicely all the time, and if you read my blog last year you may recall I learned the hard way (i.e., garnered a LOT of stares) that it’s not acceptable to wear sweats or gym clothes in the street. It also seemed like people in Huelva were shopping all the time; you would see people walking around downtown everyday with bags from Zara, Mango, Blanco, Stradivarius, Bershka, Marypaz, Corte Ingles… and here in KV, not so much. We don’t have nearly a sliver of the amount of affordable, cute clothing stores here as they do in Huelva. And the most conspicuous bags you see in the street are tourists stocking up on oplatky, the yummy spa wafers and token KV souvenirs.

Most of the stores in downtown KV are boutique shops geared toward 50-year-old Russian women.  They are expensive and sell either a lot of fur or a lot of jewelry. And even the non-hideous stores are expensive. There is an H&M, but it’s in a mall about 2km from downtown and it requires taking a bus (or a long walk). (This is probably a good thing since it means I spend almost no money on shopping.)

So in terms of options and affordability Spain gets 1 point.

BUT, and, like Sir Mix-a-Lot, this is a big but, stores are open here all day AND on Sunday! If I want to go shopping between 2 and 5pm on a weekday, I can. No siesta hours!! And if I want to get groceries on Sunday, I can get them. I’ve almost forgotten how inconvenient it could be to try and shop in Spain.

So for having normal (for me) operating hours, Czech Republic gets 1 point. Leaving the shopping category in a 1-1 draw, and bringing the grand total to Spain 3, Czech Republic 2.

Czech Christmas Concerts

15 Jan

me, Jess, and Jarka at the concert at the KV theater

The week before going home for Christmas I had the opportunity to attend two Christmas concerts in Karlovy Vary. The first one was at the Karlovy Vary theater, a really beautiful old building in downtown. Our colleague Jarka (pronounced Yar-ka) has a daughter who attends a school for the performing arts. Her daughter is in the primary part of the school and the secondary part put on the Christmas show at the theater.

The concert started with a small jazz band with one singer playing some well-known Christmas carols (White Christmas sang in English, for example). After their first set they brought out a huge band (some of the teachers performed with them) and played a lot of traditional Czech carols. The music was really enjoyable, I was quite impressed with their performance, and it was nice to attend a show at the theater. Here are a few shots of the theater:

At the end of the week Jess and I went to another concert with our friends Renata and Vitek. We became friends with them because their two (really cute) kids attend our Wattsenglish classes. Renata is also in ridiculously good shape so we’ve started running with her. One Saturday morning back in November she took us on a run that was literally uphill for the first 40 minutes. I have never been so convinced that I was going to go into cardiac arrest and have my lungs explode at the same time as I was on that run… But I digress. Renata and Vitek are really nice and fun people and they invited us to go see a local bluegrass/folk band play a show at a small theater in KV. They have been friends with the guys in the band for a long time.

It turned out that the lead singer’s son is in one of Jess’ kindergarten classes so he talked to us before the show. Oh, also I should mention there was free hot wine at the concert! mmmm Anyways, the dad/singer was really nice and told us he hoped we would enjoy the show. Then during the show he dedicated a song to us, apparently in Czech he said something like “my son’s American teachers are here, we’re glad they could join us,” and then in English he said “thank you for coming, this one is for you” and they played John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” It was awesome!

Most of the songs they played were recognizable to us, some were sang in English (like “Rocky Mount Tennessee”) but others were American/English songs that they sang in Czech (like “California Dreaming” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” which I have a video of below). It was definitely an enjoyable night, and Jess and I found ourselves feeling very “Czech” for being at the concert with local people. Very Czech, minus the whole speaking their language thing, that is. Without further ado, here is the band performing a Czech version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Dresden Christmas Markets

12 Jan

Yes, I realize it’s January, past the Christmas season, but I never had a chance to blog about Dresden before I went home for Christmas. And all that talk about maybe doing some writing when I was home for the holidays was a joke, because as it turns out when you are home visiting from a foreign country for less than two weeks you don’t have time to see all your family, friends, your newborn niece, apply to graduate schools AND write blog entries. Who knew?

The first weekend in December Wattsenglish organized a trip to Dresden to visit one of Germany’s oldest and most famous Christmas markets. I use the term “organized” loosely because we ended up having to arrange our own accommodations and transportation, and due to train delays because of snow in the morning Jess and I missed the designated meet-up time on Saturday afternoon. So we saw all of one of our colleagues during the weekend, but that’s alright because we know it’s about quality, not quantity 😉

Similarly to how last year everyone in Sevilla told me about the beaches in Huelva, everyone in the Czech Republic told me about the hot wine (gluhwein) at the Christmas markets. They were not lying nor exaggerating. The hot wine is a staple of the Christmas markets. Or, perhaps, I should say it is the staple of the Christmas markets. You had to put down a 2 euro deposit for a mug, and only a few certain places had gluhwein to go, mostly it was served in a ceramic mug specific to the market (Dreseden had  several areas of markets, that were each technically their own market). We saw no less than 15 different flavors throughout the day. We tried maybe 5 or 6 different ones between the two of us; my favorite flavor by far was the apple gluhwein. Imagine hot apple juice with some cinnamon and spices added in, mmmmmmmmm.

In addition to being very tasty, the hot wine served the dual purpose of keeping you warm–both internally and externally. As long as it was still hot, that is. I am not exaggerating when I say I have never been in weather so cold my entire life. Last year when I traveled in Scotland and England for Christmas and New Years we had some freezing temperatures but I don’t think it was as cold as Dresden. There was one point in the afternoon (it was only 4:30, just getting dark) where I was near tears because my frozen hands hurt so bad and I thought they were going to be damaged by frostbite.

So basically that meant you had to drink the hot wine fast and often. You can imagine where that got us by the end of our 6th hour at the markets… actually maybe you can’t. We ended up inside a hot wine market stall after making friends with the vendors. And I may or may not have not been surprised when I woke up on Sunday morning to see all of the ornament purchases I made Saturday night…

So yes, in addition to glorious hot wine, the markets were full of neat Christmas ornaments and decorations. There was also tons of delicious food: sausages, bratwursts, cheeses, roasted almonds, sweet breads… All in all I had an awesome time experiencing a German Christmas market (despite the cold). To attempt to capture the atmosphere I took a video on Sunday morning. Enjoy!