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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!

Whips and Witches

1 May

Two popular Czech traditions took place in the past week and we were lucky enough to experience them both.

The first was on Easter. Here in the Czech Republic Easter is celebrated on Easter Monday, not on Sunday in like the US. The holiday is not religious here by any means, it’s more about spring time and painting eggs than anything else. See this article for further explanation.

On Easter Monday the boys go out in the morning (sometimes as early as 7 or 8am) equipped with a stick woven from willow branches. They visit the homes of their girl classmates and friends and sing a little Easter rhyme. They then hit the girls on the legs or butt with their Easter stick. In return, the girls give them a painted egg, or if they’re older (in high school) a shot of alcohol. This goes on until noon when the boys go back home drunk and/or with their loot of eggs.

We spent the bulk of Easter Monday on a bus coming home from Budapest, didn’t get in to KV until 8:30, and missed the morning hoorah of the Easter whipping tradition. But our friend Roman didn’t want us to miss it entirely, so he came over the flat after we got home with two Easter sticks that he had made for us. This is what happened:

The next Czech tradition happened yesterday on April 30, the day of Burning Witches. Czech people get together and make a bonfire and burn an effigy of a witch to symbolize winter going away. (I’m not entirely sure how the witches are related to winter, but that’s the tradition.) We went to a party at Renata and Vitek’s house that was actually a water mill party where a ton of their friends come over and bring  a water wheel/mill that the kids made (with their parents’ help). They put all the water mills in the creek and see how they work, etc. That was unrelated to the burning witches, this year it just happened to be held on the same day. In evening time they started the bonfire and then threw the witch in to be burned:

Can’t say I’ve ever celebrated either of these things before or that I ever will again in the future so I’m glad to have experienced them this year. And glad to have Czech nice friends who helped us experience them.

What the Czech???

27 Apr

Where have I been?

I am writing to you from the top of my washing machine. That is not a metaphor. I am literally sitting on top of the washing machine as it goes through the spin cycle because it is so loud it’s unbearable. No exaggeration. It actually angers me when it starts shaking loudly. So yeah, our washing machine, much like our refrigerator, is a piece of crap. For more information on the inferiority of European appliances I direct you to this wonderful article from Slate.

But back to the task at hand: Apologies for my absence in the last month or so. It’s been a busy month here in KV with visitors, spring activities, and head colds, all of which have drained me of the time and energy that normally go to the blog (ha). There are so many random (and not-so-random) little nuggets I want to blog about, and hopefully I will in the next few days as I get my act together.

So as a treat to you, dear readers, for sticking with me through this drought I leave this amazing music video from a Czech band, Nightwork. I should note they are contemporary; this is not from the 1980s. I actually dig this song, makes me feel happy and Czech when I hear it. Also, they are singing about track suits.

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.

Skiing — with an Internal Sweater

2 Feb

On Sunday I went skiing for the first time in 15 years. At least it was cross-country skiing, which, while taxing in its own way, requires much less technique than downhill skiing.

We went to Bozi Dar, a ski town about 30 minutes from KV. It was a gorgeous, sunny, cold cold cold day. I had sunglasses to fend off the sun and our friend Vitek had the solution for the cold: a bottle of Tulamore Dew whiskey! They call it the “internal sweater.” We drank a few swigs in the parking lot before we got going, then had a few more every time we stopped for a rest (which was quite a few times because we had some little kids with us).

We skied into Germany, which sounds more impressive than it is considering Bozi Dar is basically on the Czech-German border. We stopped at a restaurant in Germany to have lunch and I added another layer to my internal sweater with a big, German wheat beer.

From the restaurant we only had a little ways to go to get back to Bozi Dar. Unfortunately for me, most of it was downhill. Me attempting to ski down a hill in long cross-country skis was a joke. I fell down no less than 6 times, and ended up “walking” down the soft snow on the side of the trail in my skis. I arrived at the parking lot a solid 15 minutes after everyone else (including the small kids) but at least all my limbs were intact!

The rest of the day I spent nursing my sore body and my “internal sweater” hangover.

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 🙂

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.”