Showing posts from August, 2010

Ten great things about Prague!

It's easy to compare a new place to your previous home and make some pretty harsh comments. I rememeber a teacher at the school where I used to work; she had just moved to Jacksonville from another town in Florida. For a while, she began every sentence with "In East Hills..." (East Hills was her old school). The following comment was usually critical of the new school by noting how much better something was done at the old school. So... in an effort to avoid that pitfall, I present ten things that are better in Prague. This list is completely subjective! 1. The people are very thorough. They take pride in whatever they do, from the smallest task to the most complex. They are craftspeople of the highest order. 2. The city is well-supervised. There are pairs of policemen on foot or in marked cars everywhere you go. The street-cleaning trucks come through every few days, and the people who empty the various trash bins on the street do so carefully and quietly. 3. People are not…

Prague dentistry: excellent!

Thank you, Prague, for your wonderful dental facilities, which I've already used! I have some long-standing teeth issues--all my old fillings are falling out, the teeth are cracking, etc. I had an infection last fall in Lake Mary but got rid of it, I thought, with antibiotics. I wanted to wait till I got to PRG to go to the dentist, partly because I had no dental insurance in the US, but mostly because Jarda has been telling me for years that he gets superior dental work, much cheaper, in Prague (so-called "medical tourism" except that we live here).

Two days ago, the infected tooth cracked in half, so today I went to the Stomatological Clinic of Charles University. This is the place where the President has his teeth cared for. Our friend Jirina, who works there,  set up an appointment with her colleague, a dentist with an Armenian last name. He was the best dentist I've ever been to. After a quick x-ray (done in about a minute, on a computer--no huge lead apron and …


The Czechs have a few "obsessions" that are noticeable to newcomers like me. One is cleanliness. Here are examples: when you enter someone's home, you take off your shoes right away. There's a sort of reception  area with chairs, a shoe rack and disposable slippers for guests to put on.
The toilet is often in a little room by itself, and it's spotlessly clean. What's more, there will be a window usually cracked open a bit, even in winter, and one or two room fresheners/toilet bowl hanging thingies that smell like flowers.
On the street, there are recycling rubbish bins on every other corner, divided into paper, plastic, bottles and cardboard. People use these in addition to the trash bins provided by apartment houses. I've lived in several American cities, and I've never seen such attention to garbage disposal. There's a company called KomWag that sends around trucks and workers all the time, emptying trash bins and cleaning litter off the street.…

Terrible accident not so terrible!

I made a little joke--there was no tram accident. The building just looks like it's falling over. They call it the "dancing building" (Tančící dům"). It was built by Canadian architect Frank Gehry, (he of the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao), together with Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić.

Tram hits building!

I saw this terrible accident in downtown Prage the other day. A tram hit a building and it collapsed.

Shopping, Part II

I eventually made it to Albert's. I wanted to buy as little as possible, so I didn't have to carry it all home, so I looked for two kinds of items: a bigger selection of things (cheese, yogurt, etc.) than we have in the Vietnamese potraviny at the end of our street and things we can' get at the potraviny (general food store), zeleniny and ovoce (vegetables and fruit) store, the cukrarna (bakery with breads and sweet cakes), pekarna (bakery with breads), health food store, dog food store and so on near our flat.

So here's what I bought: dog biscuits (Klaus turned up his nose), bio Gouda cheese (organic Dutch cheese), a whole-wheat roll, some mysterious crackers (all cracker-type things are called BeBe, so I guess they're for kids). Adults seem to eat dry crispbread, if they don't eat one of the many varieties of delicious fresh-baked bread available everywhere. I could have chosen from a huge yogurt/cheese/butter/creamy spread collection; wines from all over Eur…

Shopping, Part I

Today I decided to go grocery shopping. There are three Albert stores nearby (two within walking distance). I went to the Albert on Vinohradska. We are trying to buy a lamp, at a reasonable price, so I went into a kitchenware store I passed on the way on the off chance they might have a task lamp or something we could use.

There are three mature salesladies in the store, talking to each other. They completely ignore me (this is common here). So I look around. I see no lamps except some gaudy ones in the window. To be polite, and to let them know that I'm not a shoplifter (it's quite possible that 1, 2 or even 3 of them were security guards), I asked if they had lamps. I said "lampy" which is Czech for lamp. The woman I spoke to said something in rapid Czech and walked with me toward the lamps in the window, which may have been merely decorative and not for sale. She then stopped and stared at me. Then she said "nerozumím" (I don't understand) and just k…

Monday morning

this says it all.

Chiquita bananas

I went to the Vietnamese potraviny to get some lunch fixings. There I bought 5 perfect bananas. When I got them home, I saw that they were the exact same bananas I'd get in FL: Chiquita. that a bad thing? (multinationals, exploitation of the poor, non-local foods) or a good thing (I can get a decent banana in PRG)? I've never been able to be an ideologue because I always see at least two sides to every issue. Even a banana is a lesson in the awful choices involved in practicing one's morals and ethics.

Or, as Freud said, maybe sometimes a banana is just a banana.

I love people who quietly do their job

Yesterday I went downtown. I shopped for yarn and books, my two favorite things. This involved walking around the commercial parts of PRG to find what I wanted. Then I went to Starometske namesti, the Old Town Square, for nostalgia's sake. I love this city because it's not a museum--people live and work right in the middle of buildings and sqaures from the 14th century. While I was in Starometske namesti, I saw a man emptying the garbage, so that the tourists from Italy, Germany, UK, and so on would be able to enjoy their experience in a clean city. Here he is:


Czech TV ads are so cute. They warn you that they're coming: "reklama alert!" it says before the ad. The Czech love to use puppets, marionettes and all manner of dolls, rubber people (like Gumbies), claymation and so forth in their ads--this is the home of the Golem!

Body language

Psychologists tell us that 90% of communication is with the body; only 10% is actual speech (words). I am trying to adjust to the body language here so that I don't stick out like a sore thumb. So now when I walk in public, I modestly cast my eyes downward, keep my dog close to me on his leash and pretty much "mind my own business." I used to say hello and smile, even though I knew it was not the norm here, just to show that I could act differently. Now I'd rather first learn how to be part of the bigger culture, then break the rules. This reminds me of teaching the rules of writing (grammar, sentence and paragraph organization, diction, audience, POV, etc): first you learn the rules, then you can break them as you form your own style.

A big day!

Yesterday I scouted out a nearby store to buy a printer. I found one on Belehradska. The owner was a nice Czech who spoke decent English and answered my questions in a straightforward way. He owns the store.

 I like to buy from small business owners instead of huge companies, and here the price differential is not so great as in the US. The man has an HP ink jet printer/copier/scanner that we intend to buy today. We'll also buy a webcam and flash drive, as I seem to have not brought one from the US.


Today is explored the neighborhood in the other direction--toward the Vltava River. On Belgicka ulice (Belgian Street), I found the Bio-zahrada (, a fascinating store/cafe with natural foods for sale, as well as fair-trade coffees and tea in a little cafe. In the back is a small garden (zahrada) where you can sit and sip your coffee/tea, hence the name. I bought some fresh whole-grain bread and little cakes (kolacki) made by Country Life, an organic restaurant/bakery run by 7th Day Adventists, who are very health-conscious people. Yummy baked goods with lots of fiber and little sugar!

Hail, lightning, thunder and rain

After our dinner party we were enjoying the cool evening breeze. It started to rain, but gently, so we left the windows as usual, open about 3". Then the rain picked up, so we cracked the windows almost shut. Then we heard a strong barrage of rattles and thumps on the window glass-- large hailstones. We closed the windows but could still hear the storm unleashing its power. In the courtyard behind us, which is enclosed on all sides, the hailstones hit the pavements and echoed--it sounded like artillery. It was altogether an impressive storm, out of an innocent clear blue sky.

Our first dinner party

We had guests for dinner last night! It was a wonderful time of good food and fun. The guests were Jarda's cousins, Renata and Nad'a. Jarda was the chef and I was the dog walker (in the red taska). We made many good jokes and had fun being with each other.

Did you notice? We turned the gender roles upside-down. I should cook and be the hostess. But my cooking skills are minimal and my Czech hostess skills are based on what I observed my mother-in-law doing. I missed several important cues about who eats first, in what order, who does the toast, etc. I was hampered just a bit by my inability to speak Czech!!!! Hahaha!!! I am an illiterate child here. I must get a grip and take some Czech lessons.

One thing at a time

Americans are famous for multi-tasking. While text-messaging, they can drink a cup of cappuccino, check their email on their netbook, glance at a newspaper and talk to the person next to them.

Prague is different. We found this out the first week we lived in our flat in Vinohrady.

In a fit of efficiency and effectiveness, I started a load of laundry in our gorgeous huge Whirlpool washer. I was on top of the world—instead of the standard Czech tiny combination washer/dryer which seems like a paradox to me (it gets things wet, then dry!), I have a normal large washer and separate dryer. So I can do two things at once—wash, then dry that load and start another wash load.

Wrong! About ten minutes into the dual loads, everything stopped. No lights, no response to any buttons on the washer or dryer. The light still worked in the “laundry room” (a closet), so I deduced that either a fuse blew or a breaker switched off.

A call to our landlord confirmed the breaker theory. He came to our flat…

The bank and T-Mobile

Today, we went to our bank, Ceska Sporitelna, to open an account for me, so I'd have ready access to cash. This turned out to be easy--I can be added to my husband's checking account and get a debit card very cheaply. But we couldn't do it today, because I don't have an obcanka (identity/work card) yet and didn't bring my passport. Then to T-Mobile. There everything was fine. We bought two new Nokia phones and signed up for a very reasonable monthly plan. All they wanted was cash for the phones, which we had. So the assistant called the activation center to register our new accounts, but there was a temporary problem and she couldn't complete the transaction. She took the news so calmly that I didn't know anything was wrong. This probably happens to her routinely. So what I'm learning is what Jarda's been telling me for years: what may seem like a simple task may take days, while what seems nearly impossible may be easy to do. Allow extra time for e…

Tram 22

we live by the glorious tram 22, which winds through all the most interesting and historic parts of Prague. It is literally 300 steps from our flat to the tram stop. So yesterday, as a reward to myself for cleaning the flat (laundry--another trip here!--organizing the drawers, washing the dishes with no dishwasher, etc.) I took tram 22 to Tesco, a Walmart-style British store on Narodni Trida, to buy lamps and bathroom shelves. So as the tram leaves Karlovo namesti, it turns left, not right. Turns out the tram tracks are torn up on Narodni Trida and side streets. I finally got to Tesco, and found the escalator was not working. Now, I could have taken the elevator or just walked up the escalator steps like everybody else, but something inside me said, "that's enough." so instead I wandered around the end of Vaclavske namesti and shoe-shopped. Shoes are either cheap plastic (like Payless, usually in Vietnamese-owned tiny stores) or outlandishly expensive and rather ugly. no…

Shopping in Vinohrady

Potravinies? Check. Coffee shops? Check. Drugstores (not to be confused with pharmacies)? Check/ Bakeries? Check. Little stores that sell tram tickets and magazines? Check. Stores that sell lamps? No check.

The woman in the nabytek (furniture) store on the corner said she has no lamps, though we could see two. They were purely decorative. She told us we'll need to go to IKEA or a similar store in the far, far suburbs--a taxi ride if you, like us, have no car.

Do I sound like I'm whining? Yes, I am. Don't people in Vinohrady need lamps? Did their ancestors buy them centuries ago, and they never need new ones? I guess we'll go to IKEA. I love IKEA, but it's so seriously huge that it's a time-consuming experience. I'm seeing that everything in Prague is time consuming.

Klaus gets a bed

Since we got to Prague, Klaus has been sleeping in the crate he traveled in from Florida on the airplane. Every night he roams the apartment, moaning and whining, looking for his "real" bed. He eventually sleeps in the crate, but I imagine it holds some rather unpleasant memories, as he spent 17 hours in it when he flew. So today we got him a new bed, a snazzy "orthopedic firm" dog bed that cost a pretty penny. We put it down for him, covered with a new yellow-and-red KODAK towel that we got somewhere. I hope he sleeps in it tonight!

A Czech funeral: my husband's counsin died last week

Just as we were leaving for Prague last week, we got a phone call from my husband Jarda's brother that their cousin Karel had died. Karel had been in the hospital for several weeks, and Jarda was planning to visit him when we got here. This loss has been a hard one for Jarda, as he has very few remaining close relatives on his father's side. Karel was like an uncle to Jarda, as he was older. We went to the funeral today and I was very impressed with the simplicity of the service. The Czechs usually cremate their dead, and the funeral is held in a crematorium rather than in a church (at least the funerals I know about). There was a very brief message of respect for Karel and for us, the attendees at the funeral. Then beautiful classical music played--"Ma vlast" (my country) by Bedrich Smetana. The movement from Ma vlast made me cry. I only met Karel once, but my husband really cared for him, and is sad that he has died.

Vineyards around the corner

We live in Vinohrady--"the King's vineyards." Just around the corner from us is Grebovka, a stately villa complete with vineyards on the sunny south-facing hill. There's a restaurant there (in Prague, there's always a restaurant nearby) that we're going to visit for lunch!

Public vs private

In the Czech Republic, people are inward when outside. They are demure, prim, and proper, looking down and talking very quietly. The whole atmosphere is low-key and understated.
In private, though, people are boisterous, jolly and very kind. Once you are invited into someone's home, you are, right away, a friend. Hospitality is a key part of Czech culture. You offer guests some refreshment and conversation--maybe bring out pictures and mementoes. There are no holds barred in the talk--money, sex, politics, religion (all topics not considered appropriate for social small talk in the USA) are immediately explored.
You could say that Czechs don't do small talk. It's either courteous, minimalist talk, full of "prosim" (please) and "dejuki Vam" (thank you very much) in public, or full-on intimacy as among old friends in private.
I like this approach! I was never very good at small talk.

Sunny, sunny Prague

Klaus and I just took our Sunday morning stroll in the neighborhood. The sun is shining from skies washed a clean blue by yesterday's rains. We met a little poodle and a big brown boxer. We saw a red squirrel--not the American gray squirrel. He was red and fuzzy. Fun! The sound that I most associate with Prague is the sound of hammering. 20 years after the reinstitution of capitalism here, the beautiful old apartment houses that were so sadly neglected under 40 years of communism are still being reconstructed. I'll take some picture today and post them here.

Getting used to my new home

We chose this apartment for several reasons, but the main one is that it feels CZECH to me. I don't want to live like an expat who's longing for home; I want to be as Czech as a girl from KY can be. Today our very nice landlord, Mr. Kratochvil, came over to help us with the washing machine, and then Jarda asked him if he wanted tea. He said no, but sat down and began talking with Jarda. After about 5 minutes I realized that NO meant YES, so I made them some tea. They were very appreciative and drank it up. Then they had a good old conversation about the Czech Army and various other common experiences. I was imitating my mother-in-law (sadly, now dead), and it seemed to be the right thing to do!

More rain

Here in Central Europe it's raining. In Poland they had floods, in Russia, as well. In Prague we just have some nice gentle rain, so we're spending the evening at home, watching a Mel Gibson movie (Braveheart) dubbed in Czech. They make movies in Prague at Barrandov Studios, and also dub everything into Czech. PS the website is in Czech, but if you click on the Union Jack flag, you'll get it in English.

Dog carrier=success!

We have an elderly dachshund, Klaus, who had back surgery 9 years ago. Steps are a real challenge for him, but we have steps in our apartment house. What to do? We bought him a special "taska" or purse. I guessed at the size, and didn't really know if he'd get into it and let us carry him up and down. So tonight was the "maiden voyage" in his new taska, and he did great! He let us put him in and out with no resistance. He liked it! (btw, ours is red, not gold)

Rainy morning

Ah, the gentle rain of on-tropical climes! In Florida it's either raining (with dramatic sheets of rain, thunder, lightning--the kind of rain that brings traffic to a halt) or sunny. Period. But this morning in Prague we have a gentle, persistent rain--the kind of rain that soothes my mind. People here carry big umbrellas and wear rain gear (in Florida they just stand and wait for the rain to stop, or get soaked to the skin). Everywhere is the sound of construction, reconstuction and repair. Prague is still rejuvenating its buildings after the 40 years of neglect under communism.Even though its been 20 years since the communists left Hradcany, the rebuilding continues in the steady, competent way of the Czechs. (photo above of reconstruction courtesy Daniela Paulova)

in Prague

After an epic journey on Lufthansa yesterday (Orlando-Frankfurt-Praha), I am now in our flat in Prague. Well. I am spent physically and emotionally, but glad to be here. It's hard to leave somewhere that you've been happy (Lake Mary), even if you know you'll be happy in the new place.
So, today I went shopping. I felt clumsy until the second store, where I seemed to get my Czech groove back (such as it is). I feel like a 3-year-old when I shop, with my sophisticated Czech vocabulary: dobry den (good day, the common greeting), prosim (please), pardon, na schledanou (goodbye)--if I'm feeling bold, I'll say "na schhe" (bye!). I know some nouns--but--Czech nouns have 6 cases (like English pronouns). So the endings change depending on if you're using the subjective, the objective, etc. Just like saying "Him is here" would be pretty lame in English for a grown person, saying "na Praha" is a boo-boo. The Czechs will understand you as they…