Archive | March, 2011

Sun and Jazz on a Tuesday

29 Mar

Today might have been the best day I’ve had in the Czech Republic. My morning of six kindergarten classes was good, I’d even say it was above average. The last class of the day was especially cute and my boss was there video taping it (to show the parents what they’re learning/that they do learn something) and they did SO well! I was so proud of them!

In the afternoon the sun came out and 55 degrees has never felt so warm! Our back balcony gets direct sunlight in the afternoon so I took a chair outside and sat in a tank-top to catch some rays… and I got burnt!! (This may say more about the sad pale state of my skin than the strength of the sunshine today.) It definitely felt much warmer than 55 in the sun, and our outdoor thermometer that is on the back balcony was reading 32 degrees Celsius, which may be an exaggeration because that is equal to almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit!! (It didn’t feel that warm to me, more like 70s.) In any case, I’m on my way from emerging from the palest phase of my life. (No exaggeration in that sentence.)

After sitting outside reading for almost two hours Jess and I went on our last training run for the Prague half marathon that is on Saturday. Let’s just say our training during the winter was inconsistent due to colds, flus, and sub-zero temps… so Saturday should be interesting. But anyways today was the first time I could wear cropped pants and a short-sleeved T-shirt to run! Yippeeeee!!

And if that day wasn’t good enough, it ended with a jazz concert in Ostrov, a small town outside of KV that I teach in on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Melanie Scholtz, a jazz singer from South Africa, performed with one of her guitarists and two Czech musicians. One of the Czech guys (who played the upright bass) invited her to come perform in the Czech Republic so he played with her, along with a Czech drummer. I really enjoyed the concert, I liked the twist she put on some classic jazz tunes and that she played some South African music during the show. It is rare that I get invited to do anything during the week so I was grateful for the invitation and it was the perfect cap for a very satisfying Tuesday.

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Deer Meat and Rabbit and Swamp Soup – Oh My!

28 Mar

Now a note on some recent culinary experiences.

traditional Czech sandwiches

A little over a week ago Jess and I went to our friend Renata’s birthday party. It was a nice gathering at their house with tons and tons and tons of food. Growing up in an Italian family I am accustomed to parties with a plethora of food and this Czech party rivaled the best of them. There were small open-faced sandwiches topped with potato salad, ham, salami, and hard-boiled eggs; delicious salad; stromboli-like rolls with cheese and ham; potato pancakes; and the highlight–deer goulash! It was outstanding. All the food was homemade by Renata and her mom. Unfortunately neither Jess nor I brought a camera so I have no pictures to accompany this, but you can trust me when I say it was a tasty, tasty spread… (Editorial note 3/29: I realized today that I do have a picture of tradition Czech sandwiches so I added it, but these are not the sandwiches specifically from Renata’s party.)

Yesterday we (when I say “we” it is implied that it means Jess and me, because she’s pretty much my only friend and we pretty much do everything together) went to dinner with our friend Roman to his parents’ house. We just met Roman in the last few weeks when he heard Jess and our colleague speaking English at a little lunch place one day and we’ve hung out with him a few times since then. His parents live in a small village about 20 minutes outside of KV and they graciously extended an invitation for a meal of traditional Czech food. Roman’s grandma prepared rabbit with stuffing and apple strudel for dessert. The rabbit was from a neighbor who raises rabbits (for eating, not like for pets or racing or whatever else people might use rabbits for). Other than the few stray (rabbit) hairs, the meat was good! Not as juicy as chicken, but it had some good texture and taste. The stuffing was amazing–it had a nice crisp on the outside and walnuts provided a nice crunch on the inside. Roman’s parents spoke only a little English, but they were so friendly and cool we had a good time, and of course it helped that Roman has lived in Canada and Ireland so he is a perfect translator.

The last mini-chapter of this note is about my own cooking, which, if we’re being honest, is not on the same level as deer goulash or rabbit. This winter Jess and I have made a lot of soup. A lot. Usually it’s of the “semi-homemade” variety in which we buy a soup mix pack then add our own veggies and stuff to it. The soup pictured here I made a few weeks ago and we dubbed it “swamp soup.” It contains an entire package of frozen spinach because as you might recall we only have a mini fridge that has only a mini freezer compartment that doesn’t actually keep anything frozen. And our outdoor freezer (the snow-covered balcony off the kitchen) has disappeared now that spring is here so when we buy anything frozen we have to eat/use it all right away. Which led to me using the entire package of spinach and creating an almost intimidatingly green concoction… but with beans, carrot, corn, and little pasta shells thrown in it was actually pretty tasty and something I’ll keep in the repertoire for next winter. Though I can say pretty confidently I am happy to be soupless until then…

Spring Break in Spain, Part 4 – Sevilla

26 Mar

Sol, por fin! / Sun, finally!

The last chapter of my trip included an “ex pat Jersey girls” reunion in Sevilla with my cousin Ally, her best friend Amy, and myself. All three of us were born in Jersey (but unlike them I was raised more in Virginia) and now live in Europe: Ally in Zurich, Amy in London, and me here in Czechland. In the beginning of February we were all desperate for sun so we wanted to meet up somewhere warm(er than where we live). Luckily, I had already had a lot sun all through the week in Spain, but none was quite as glorious as the sun that weekend in Sevilla.

We all convened Thursday night in Sevilla and wound our way through the narrow streets of Barrio Santa Cruz where we were staying for the weekend. I was so so so happy to be back in Sevilla, it brought back a lot of memories from last year. Not only did I stay there for the first two weeks I was in Spain, but I also spent time with all of my visitors from last year (Mike and Kyle, Brett, Katie and Chris, and Amanda) so being there with Ally and Amy brought back some good memories.

Friday morning we hit the cathedral first thing and I climbed the giralda (belltower) for the fifth time in my life. The view never ceases to amaze. After the cathedral we walked around the city, stopping at 100 Montaditos, my favorite mini-sandwiches shop, to pick up lunch (that we ate outside in the sunshine on the steps of the cathedral while drinking Cruzcampo beer… basically, it was perfection). From there we met up with one of my friends from last year, Seth, who came back for a second year and was lucky enough to get assigned to Andalucia again. It was so great to see him and catch up, we had had some fun times together last year during orientation in Sevilla and another weekend when we met up in Granada.

The afternoon was spent drinking tinto de verano (red wine mixed with Fanta limon) on a bar next to the Guadalquivir river soaking up the rays. After a short siesta we went for a tapas dinner at one of my favorite places in Sevilla, then it was on to La Carboneria for a flamenco show and the deadly “Agua de Sevilla.” We made friends with some members of the Dutch national rowing team, which brings my encounters with national rowing teams in Spain count to two. We actually saw them the next day rowing on the river, which is impressive considering they were still partying hard when we left them at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Saturday we did a little shopping, had a delicious lunch again outside in the sun, then spent the afternoon soaking up the rays and napping in the newly renovated Plaza de Espana. All last year when I lived in Spain the Plaza de Espana was under construction so it was really nice to enjoy it in its finished (and lovely!) state.

The remainder of the day was a pleasant blur of drinks next to the river, siestaing, and eating more delicious tapas. Unfortunately for me this was the end of my Spanish tour. I had to be up early early Sunday morning to catch a flight to Paris, where I waited six hours then connected to my flight back to Prague. The trip left me feeling grateful not only for great friends and travel companions I saw on this trip, but also for my amazing experience in Spain last year. Spain will always hold a special place in my heart and I was glad to experience a little of it again, if only for nine days. Something tells me I’ll be back though…

St. Patrick’s Day in Czechland

20 Mar

OK so maybe it wasn’t a typical St. Paddy’s Day celebration for me–no green beer, no green bagels, no excessive amounts of green beads, no nasty corned beef and cabbage (sorry, Dad, but it is nasty) … BUT Friday morning in Kids Club we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and it included spray painting kids’ hair green, painting their nails green, drawing shamrocks on their faces and stomachs, eating lots of sour apple gummy candies, and trashing the classroom like a leprechaun did it… all in all, it was a really fun day!

me painting Ondra's nails green

"can I have a shamrock on my tummy, please?"

 

"green spaghetti" boogers

Klarka

crazy Ondra

Adam the leprechaun

Ondra again, really looking like a leprechaun

class pic

Spring Break in Spain, Part 3 – Huelva

9 Mar

For the third leg of my trip I returned to Huelva, where I lived for nine months last year. It was strange, but also really really great, to be back there.

I arrived in Sevilla Tuesday night and took the familiar walk through the city to the bus station and then the familiar one-hour bus ride to Huelva. My roommate from last year, Maria, greeted me at the bus station in Huelva. It was amazing to see her again. She is probably one of the warmest and most open people I have met in my life, and I was so incredibly lucky to randomly find her as my roommate last year.

That night Maria and just hung out at her flat (my bus didn’t get in to Huelva until 10:30) catching up on everything. Surprisingly my Spanish wasn’t so bad! (Although I had already been in Spain for four days I had been speaking still mostly English mixed with some Spanish, it was like a warm-up to being back to speaking all Spanish.) And in typical Maria fashion, she whipped up a great snack from the food in her fridge. God, I miss her cooking!

Maria in front of Huelva's new statue of Columbus

On Wednesday morning I visited Alto Conquero, the high school that I worked at last year. The first thing that struck me was how much my students had grown in eight months since I had last seen them. Some of my little ninos from last year (which don’t seem so little anymore now that I teach three-year-olds) had shot up as much as six or eight inches. They were so cute and little at the end of last year, and now they were already small adults, incredible!

All of the teachers I worked with last year are still teaching at Alto Conquero this year and I had a great time visiting with them. I also got to talk with a few of my private lesson students from last year (including one of my favs, Alvaro, who told me that if I came back next year he wants me to be his tutor again) and it was so so nice to catch up with them. And their English was really good, for which I gave myself a little pat on the back 🙂

After another tasty lunch at Maria’s (mmmm, lentils) we went shopping. I had already written earlier last year how Czech stores pale in comparison to Spanish stores so I was incredibly thankful to have an afternoon of shopping in Huelva. And to top it off, some of the stores were still have their post-New Years “rebajas” sales. I got a super cute dress from Zara for 12 euros (which I am already planning to wear, quite appropriately, to a wedding this summer of one of my American friends from Huelva, Katelyn). The only unfortunate part of my shopping experience is that I won’t be able to wear most of the clothes for probably another two months in the Czech Republic.

having a cervecita with Marcos

From shopping we went for a beer with Maria’s friend Marcos, whom I also had the pleasure of getting to know last year. Then we retreated to Maria’s flat where she cooked another amazing meal and some more friends came over. Some of my favorite memories from last year involved sitting around Maria’s big dining room table sharing food and wine and conversation so I was really glad to be enjoying another one of those nights.

It was only natural that later that night we went out to the Red Lion, my old haunt from last year. It was a Wednesday night so it was nothing crazy like when we used to go to Red Lion on a Friday or Saturday night and stay until 4am when we we go downstairs to Bagoa, the club below, until 6 or 7am.

Maria and I outside Red Lion

Thursday was another beautiful, sunny day. I’m pretty sure I won’t be in weather as warm and sunny again until May, sigh … but I digress. On Thursday afternoon Maria, Marcos, and I went for lunch in Punta Umbria, the beach town (where Maria is from) 15 minutes from Huelva. There is a culinary school in Punta Umbria where they serve lunch once a week to a small number of people. For 12 euros (apparently the magic number of the week) we got three small starters, a main course, a dessert, coffee, and a drink.

The food was AMAZING. But instead of describing the dishes in detail I’ll just include pics of them all:

artichoke with gambas topped with parmesean

morcillo (blood sausage stuffed with rice) lollipops served in a pumpkin puree

lentil salad and game hen

chicken with pecans (I think?)

and a brownie for dessert!

We had a great afternoon enjoying the wonderful food. And afterward we sat outside on a patio drinking coffee in the sunshine. A perfect day…

Like I mentioned in the beginning it was a little strange to be back in Huelva. Mostly it was strange because the people I associate most with the town (my American friends from last year: Brittany, Ashley, Katelyn, Amanda, and Alicia) weren’t there. It felt weird to be shopping in Blanco, Stradivarius, and Zara, eating montaditos, and drinking at the Red Lion without them. Luckily for me I have some other good friends who still live there that I could visit, and of course I have tons of great memories and photos from last year when I want to relive my time in Huelva with my “tias.”

I left Huelva late on Thursday night to go to Sevilla where I met up with my cousin Ally and her (and now my) long-time friend Amy for a weekend of more delicious food and glorious sunshine.