CR vs Spain: Holidays

10 May

Speaking of Easter and Burning Witches in the Czech Republic, May 1 was also just a holiday: Labor Day (this is celebrated in many countries around the world). But you wouldn’t know it because since it fell on a Sunday no one gets a day off. May 8 was also a holiday, celebrating the liberation of the country by the USSR in 1945. This holiday also fell on a Sunday this year, so again no weekdays were given off to recognize the day. This is typical in the Czech Republic. And when a holiday falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, you get only that one day off, no days before or after to make a long weekend.

This is precisely the opposite of how holidays are recognized in Spain. If the holiday falls on the weekend, you are given off either Friday or Monday. And if the holiday falls on Wednesday, you typically have off Monday and Tuesday as well. They call this a “puente,” which means “bridge”. Looking back at my calendar from last year I had no fewer than five puentes throughout the school year. Here in Czech Republic I’ve had two. (In both places I had the almost the same amount of time off around Christmas, except I got a few more days off in January in Spain, and one week of Spring break.)

You could make the argument that Spain is too excessive in its puentes, that occasionally having just one day off in the middle of the week wouldn’t be so bad. But given the choice of living in a country that is liberal with holidays versus a country that is stingy with them, I definitely would chose the former. It gives people more things to look forward to. Students are a little less crazy and in general people are happier (though I suspect that has a lot to do with other factors, not just holidays, though I don’t think more holidays could hurt).

Spain is also awesome because they still recognize tons of Catholic holidays even though the number of practicing Catholics in the country has declined in the days since Franco’s reign ended. Under Communism in the Czech Republic religion was suppressed so much so that now there are really no religious holidays that are celebrated. As I mentioned in my post about Easter, it is not a religious holiday here. It’s only about spring and painting eggs and boys hitting girls with their sticks. Which again is the polar opposite of Spain, who dedicates an entire week to remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Religious beliefs aside, Spain is the clear winner in the holiday category, and I look forward to spending another year there next year (more on that later!). This brings the grand total of CR 2, Spain 4.

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.

Road Trip, Destination: Munich

29 Apr

I’m playing catch-up here so this one goes back to the beginning of March…

At the end of February my old Wobblers FC (coed soccer team I played on in Arlington) teammates, Cheryl and Pete, told me they were thinking about coming over to Europe for a long weekend and wanted to know if I could meet up with them somewhere. (Cheryl works for United Airlines so the idea of a long weekend isn’t so crazy for them when they can fly first class basically for free.) Next thing I knew they had booked a flight to Munich for the first weekend in March. So Jess, our friend Lisa, and I took the company car on a little road trip on the autobahn…

It was smooth sailing on the way there, we made it to the hostel in just about four hours. And that was even after driving around in the city for about 20 minutes until we found the streets we needed. We met up with Cheryl and Pete at a beer hall in the city center and enjoyed some steins of beer with them before turning in for the night.

Cheryl and Pete at Hofbrhaus

Saturday was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed walking around the city in some sunshine. Randomly the weekend before we had met a girl, Tanja, from Munich who was visiting KV with her mom. She was super friendly and offered to meet up with us and show us around the city. We enjoyed some huge pretzels and liters of beer at the famous Hofbrhaus and later enjoyed some more brews at a beer garden in the huge English Park.

Saturday night we all went for dinner at a pub for some burgers (a nice treat and change of pace for us, probably pretty boring for Pete and Cheryl who live in Chicago now). We stayed out for some drinks, and Jess and I ended up staying out really late (let’s just say the sun was rising when we were getting home), which ended up being a terrible idea because we had to drive home on Sunday. We took turns driving so one could sleep while the other drove, and somehow we missed the highway we needed and ended up driving an hour out of the way. But we arrived back in KV after only five hours on the road and the tiny Hyundai survived its trip on the autobahn.

Below are a few more pics from the weekend…

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.

Prague Half Marathon

11 Apr

downing some energy jelly beans before the race

Takeaways from my first European half marathon:

1. The course was awesome, very nice sights and totally flat.

2. A flat course is really enjoyable when you trained on a lot of hills.

3. A flat course would have been that much more enjoyable had any of my runs been more than 9 miles.

4. This race definitely had a “European smell.” Never smelt so much B.O. during a race, not pleasant.

5. Only in Czech Republic would you train in freezing (and on a few rare days sub-freezing) temperatures only to have sunny 70-degree weather on race day. It was nice to get some sun, but I was dying of thirst before the third and final water station and when I got there they had run out of water…

6. And only in Czech Republic would they serve tea at the water station (in addition to water and sports drink, thankfully there was still sports drink at the third water stop so I didn’t have to drink tea).

7. Apparently I should walk around in the streets of Prague sweaty and in workout clothes more often. I got hit on in the street after the race more than I’ve ever gotten hit on in street clothes. Granted they were all creepy dudes (one of which greeted me with “Ahoj, baby” –which is pronounced “ahoy” and means “hey” in Czech…) gross…

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.

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…