Showing posts from September, 2010

German tourists

Here are a couple of German tourist groups. You can tell they're German because the tour guides, who carry umbrellas like medieval flags to be seen by the group, were speaking German.

so many churches, so little time

I saw this church today, tucked onto a side street in the Old Town. It's completely surrounded by buildings, streets and cars, so you can't get much idea what it looks like. Parts of it appear to be Romanesque, which means it's very old. I don't even know the name--there are so many more famous churches that beauties like this get overlooked.

National Art Galleries

Prague has five national art galleries (museums), spread all over town in architecturally and historically significant buildings.
The top photo is of a national gallery in the Old Town Square, at the medieval House of the Stone Bell. Below it is a gallery in Holesovice, at a former trade show venue. I especially want to tour this one, as it contains  modern art.

Flower boxes

Prague dwellers love flowers and flower boxes.  Here are two nice boxes, one with fruits and vegetables and the other with bread.

Man showing respect for Orloj

Orloj is the astronomical clock in Old Town Square. It's from the 14th century and is a "must-see" for tourists, as it puts on a good show every hour. This man was kneeling in front of Orloj. I think he was being respectful. Everyone around him was respecting his space, as it's usually very crowded there.

ou-la-la: French cuture in Prague

La Provence is a French restaurant, in business for many years (one of the first foreign restaurants after the1989 political change). It's not cheap, but it has tons of atmosphere. Capitalizing on the French theme, the Chapeau Rouge is right next door. And I passed these three French tourists in the Old Town Square, just sitting and watching the world go by.

Walk in stare mesto on a gray day

I went to Palladium Mall to make a fair, organized search through the stores to see if there are any stores that carry things I like or can use. I must conclude that I don't think I'll ever buy anything at that mall. The clothes really are just the same from store to store, ad not very interesting at that. I was literally chased by two sales people with kiosks selling nail products and Vodaphone cell phone service. In both cases I had to say, "Please leave me alone. I am not interested" as they ran after me, jabbering at me about their products.

So, to soothe my jangled nerves, I took a long walk in the Old Town. Here's a nice marionette shop in namesti Ungelt.

Montessori at Expo Expat

My new school in the International Montessori School of Prague--I will be subbing there! I'm so excited to be part of such a great school.  Here's Joanna and Jana at their booth. They were very popular!

Expats Expo

This was a trip. The Expo featured businesses in booths, like a trade fair, that cater to expats. The colleges and schools were out in full force! Then there was a food court with not one Czech food choice--only sushi, Mexican and Indian, plus bagels. If I wanted those foods, why would I come to Prague? I did manage to get myself a Pilsner Urquel. For kids, the Expo offered a bounce castle, balloon animals and all sorts of playground stuff. The Czech crafts consisted of a wonderful jewelry maker and a textile printer. The rest of the "crafts" were just your regular stuff, with overpriced American-style cupcakes.

Being an expat

When I moved to Prague in August, the primary thought in my head was that I would not be an expat--that is, a person who holds himself apart from the culture he lives in while clinging to his "real" culture. After all, my husband was born in Prague; I've made long visits here on business for 20 years; I've interviewed Czech executives for our executive education programs, met with Czech government officials, belonged to an elite business club (now defunct), toured factories, attended trade shows, traveled all over northern and western Bohemia, as well as Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Switzerland. I am not one of these homesick types that always say, "it's better where I'm from."


Since we've been here, we've made new Czech friends and renewed many friendships (Jirina, Bozena, Vilda, Denisa). We have great times with our relatives (Kaja, his girlfriend Jana, Tomas, Nad'a, Renata, Sylvie, Zdenek). But the people who've helped me the…
My handsome hubby in Zizkov. He's at the Jan Zizka statue and memorial (now a new Prague museum) on top of Vitkov Hill, enjoying the sun and the company of our friend Kamil, who took the photo. Isn't this a lovely day?

Hostivar--the end of the line for tram 22

We recently rode our beloved tram 22 to the end of the line in Hostivar. As the photo indicates, it's not exactly a glorious setting. In fact, it looked pretty grim. When you get into some of the older neighborhoods out of the city center in Prague, it's like any other big city, with defunct industrial sites, forlorn empty train tracks, gritty pedestrian underpasses that look pretty scary, and all the rest. I know that if we'd taken a bus from this station, we'd have gone to one of the largest parks in Prague, complete with a lake for swimming, fishing, canoeing and paddle-boating. But it was getting dark, so we just got back on tram 22 and went home.

Two fashion photos

Here's a photo of a model from Prague fashion week. You can see women dressed like this on any street--there's a type of Czech woman who is tall, slim, regal in her bearing and trimly tailored.

This jeans store shows the (fairly limited) range of colors seen on Prague streets. Dark blue and black, with some brown thrown in just to be festive.

Note: I am trying to find a photo of typical street fashion and having no luck, so I'll take some photos soon.

More Prague fashion notes

 Today I saw a woman here in Vinohrady, maybe 30 years old, dressed like a perfect American "church lady." She had on sensible black pumps with a 1/4" heel, skin-toned panty hose, a dress made of white synthetic material covered with large black polka-dots and a coat that was neither a jacket nor a full-length coat, but somewhere in between.
She was Czech--I heard her speak--so I am wondering where she found those clothes, let alone why she chose them. It was like seeing a Moon Pie in the corner Vietnamese potraviny--out of context. Maybe she saw it on TV? Among the people in their dark jeans, dark jackets and running shoes she stood out like a rare bird.

Dogs: to leash or not to leash?

Dogs here are, technically, supposed to be on a leash except in designated dog parks that have a sign to that effect. However, as my friend Joanna said, "Czechs love dogs more than they love kids," so generally dogs are not leashed.

The dogs that are leashed are either disobedient or untrustworthy. Puppies that are being trained, recalcitrant  dogs and biters are on leashes--all other dogs are free. The dogs are trained since birth to pay attention to their owners, and a common sight is a dog walking purposefully down the sidewalk, all alone, then stopping on the street corner to let his master catch up. These dogs don't run into traffic or chase other dogs--they are as mannerly and considerate as seeing-eye dogs in the US.

So if you see a dog on a leash (like our dog Klaus), you can't help but make a judgment that the dog is antisocial or (like Klaus) suicidally stubborn, the kind of dog that runs into the street to chase another dog. He's simply not socialized…

Everyday fashion on the streets of Prague

I've been sorting out who wears what in Prague. The photo above is NOT what I see! This is about as common here as "Indians" in full headdress on the streets of Boston.
What I do see is what I call "Central European standard citywear." That is to say, it's dark, close-fitting and inconspicuous. Jeans are the default pants here--black or dark blue, striated (not acid-washed), not loose or floppy (like in Florida), not falling down around the butt (again, like in Florida). Jackets are dark, not puffy or fluffy, but practical and neat. I haven't seen many hats so far--it's only September. I may have to start a hat fashion. Whe I wear a hat, people notice me--sometimes in a mocking way, as is so very Czech, but sometimes in a friendly, "aw..that's cute" way.
Teenage girls have their own fashion: bright yellow or purple tights, knee-length wool skirts, MaryJane shoes, little woolen jackets, scarves that match the tights. Reminds me of the …

We found a church that seems to be a match for us

This morning we went to Strasnice (in Praha 10, about 20 minutes from our flat) to a Methodist church, part of an American Methodist overseas mission established after WWI in Czechoslovakia. This nice little building was built in 1926, during the First Republic, the years of Czech prosperity between the two World Wars. There were about 40 people at church, with a good number of kids. The service began with singing: an unamplified guitar and two human voices, singing the kind of simple songs we remember from the 70's Charismatic movement.

The entire service was in Czech, but it was easy to follow. The pastor was very young, and engaged the congregation. He used a whiteboard and markers to illustrate his Czech sermon, so I could follow some of it.

Afterwards people were welcoming. We met several Czechs who spoke English and had been in the US (the mission connection), plus a lady from Switzerland who spoke very good English. The pastor is a student who'll be in a sort of inter…

My second Czech lesson

Everyone is not curt or rude here--it's just an attitude that seems to infect bureaucrats and shop assistants. For example, I love my Czech teacher. She is a gentle, sweet young woman named Denisa. She is married and has two boys, ages 8 and 4. I love her patience and her quick ear. Tonight we learned to conjugate "byt" (to be).

ja jsemty jsion, ona, to je

"Ja jsem Americanka a jsem spisovatelka."

The other students in my class are from Argentina, France, Ireland, Australia, and Latvia. We have fun together. Denisa gives us funny dialogues (tonight James Bond made a pass at Margaret Thatcher, who he thought was his new secretary). We got to put things on the board. I felt like a 9th-grader.

Curtness sliding into rudeness

I am still pondering the attitude we encountered from a very young woman at the Foreign Police yesterday. She was curt--that is, her tone was snappy, she didn't smile (but then, Czechs rarely smile in public), and she didn't offer any information unless we essentially dragged it out of her. I don't think she said to herself, "I feel like being rude today." I don't think she thought she was rude at all. She probably would say she was being brisk and efficient.

I am encountering this brusque, non-nonsense attitude everywhere I go in public. At the Foreign Police it's somewhat understandable that the employees are trained to be fast and to get people through as quickly as possible. It's a bureaucracy.

What I don't understand is how a store can allow employees to have such an attitude. I went shopping at the Flora mall yesterday after the Foreign Police. Now maybe my attitude was defensive--I am willing to admit that possibility--but even so, I was app…

At the foreign police by taxi to Chodov

So we had to decide--take a taxi to Chodov, or just go home and forget about it. I can stay here legally with the visa I have (90 days) till November 1, so what's the rush? We knew, however, that the process might take longer than anticipated (haha)! We called a taxi and went straight to Chodov. This is a suburb of Praha, technically in the city but so far out that we got there by 4-lane limited access, which basically means you're out of Praha. I kept thinking, "Why did they put an agency that's crucial for all foreigners to visit way out of town?" You would either need a car or take public transit, which would mean the Metro, then a bus to Jizni Mesto (the infamous city of infinite panalaky--communist-era highrise apartments) and on to Chodov. Many foreigners in Praha are refugees or people of modest means who don't have a car (or, like us, people who choose not to have a car) and therefore either spend half the day getting to Chodov and back, or take a tax…

At the foreign police: Part II

After our first failed attempt at visiting the Foreign Police to get my needed long-term residency permit, we returned. As you may recall, the first time we went, the office was closed. We foudn the hours posted by the closed door, and saw that they close at noon on Tuesdays and it was 12:10. We returned yesterday (Monday) and they were open. Score!

We took a number to wait. After about fifteen minutes, our number was called. We went to the desk and the lady asked us a few questions. She then informed us we were at the wrong Foreign Police office, and the one we should be at was in Chodov, Praha 4, about 45 minutes away.

Well. We were told to go to this office (in Praha 3, Zizkov) by the lady who worked at the City Hall in Praha  2, where we live. She told my husband eactly where to go. He knew that office, as he'd already been there several times, so there was no doubt in our minds that we were in the right office in Praha 3.

I'm forgetting my English

I've been speaking English all my life. I'm a published author, a journalist and an English teacher/instructional specialist. I know English.
But I am forgetting it. Jarda and I speak English at home, but we stick to certain topics--business, politics, old jokes, religion and our daily lives. Yesterday I went to my knitting group, where English is the common language. I was chatting with the hostess, who's from Virginia, and found that I have embarrassingly huge blanks in my brain concerning the vocabulary for cooking, child raising and doing craftwork. I simply can't remember those words, as I don't use them every day anymore.
When I'm dropping off to sleep at night, Czech words and phrases run through my mind. It's the same half-awake half-hearted struggle to focus that you sometimes get when you've driven all day and find yourself trying to drive as you fall asleep--you still see the road ahead of you. My brain is trying to make sense of the Czech I …

Everything works--just, part III

This principle also applies to keys. Your keys will open the doors (outer and inner) to your flat, but only if you use them exactly correctly. Every key and every lock has its own idiosyncracies. This applies to brand-new locks and keys, as well as to old locks and keys. To unlock, you have to get the key into the lock just right, then turn in the correct direction for the correct number of times. This is tricky, as the person who locked the door before you may have not turned his key at all, may have turned it once or may have turned it twice. You have to reverse his movements precisely, or the lock will not open.

Then there's the key to the inner courtyard, where the garbage cans are kept. This courtyard is always tidy, because no one can get in without a key. But that lock is usually only turned once, so if you turn twice, you have to turn in the opposite direction, feeling like a very stupid person indeed. You know that everyone in the building can hear you turning the lock a…

Everything works--just, part II

This rule also applies in the bank and the post office. When you enter, you are confronted with a machine where you get a number. There are many complicated possibilites listed on the machine, to route you correctly. So at the bank, you can choose to go to the cash window, make a deposit on one type of account, make a deposit on another type of account, etc.--or choose "other business." The numbers are in groups of hundreds, so 31, say, is for the cash window, but 670 is for the other business.
There are large lighted screens hanging in several places that let you know what numbers are being seen. When your number appears, you go to the correspnding window number, which won't be in any order you can anticipate. The result is that there are no queues (lines) and everyone is kept alert. You can't break into line and the people working at the windows must be able to deal with a large number of tasks.

Everything works--just

I am starting to see how Czech society operates. In the USA, the assumption is that things work they way they should, with quite a bit of freeplay. So you should, for example, renew your driver's license on time, but if you don't, it's okay. You probably won't be penalized or made to start all over again.
In the CR it's different. Everything is precise. If you start a process, you have to follow each step exactly or you can't go forward. You can't skip steps. If by mistake you're allowed to skip a step, the next person will catch it and make you go back and do it right.
This is a significant difference. The Americans have a saying: "good enough for government work." In other words, if what you do brings about an acceptable result, then you're okay.
Here it's not like that at all. You have to everything correctly.If you do exactly what you should, you'll get the right result, but it's not possible to get to the right result wit…

Tram 22

We live near several trams, but Tram 22 is THE BEST! A ride downtown on Tram 22 takes you down the grand Narodni Trida, past the glorious National Theater, over the Legions Bridge to Mala Strana, past the elegant Cafe Savoy. Then the tram turns right and threads its way through the narrow, twisting streets of Mala Strana. It goes through Malostranske nam. then (most excitingly) goes within inches of the huge Church of St. Thomas. You literally are staring directly at the wall of the ancient church for about 200 yards. Then the tram goes through another square where the metro stops, and begins to climb. The street makes a hairpin turn up the steep hill that Hradcany crowns. The tram shares the street with cars, buses and motorcycles, so it's fun to watch how everyone manages to avoid a wreck. The tram crests the hill and stops at Letohrady (summer palace), then Hradcanska (the real castle). The next stop is Strahov Monastery, with a magnificent view of all Prague. You can walk to P…

Burning Korans or yourself?

The story in the news about the Gainesville loony who wants to burn Korans on 9/11 (as a sign, he says, of showing that he's not afraid of Muslim extremists) is quite different from the stories of self-immolation (burning) that are well-known here in Prague.

The best-known was Jan Palach. "According to Jaroslava Moserov√°, a burns specialist who was the first to provide care to Palach at the Charles University Faculty Hospital, Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the 1968 Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the "demoralization" of Czechoslovakian citizens caused by the occupation. Moserova said, 'It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those pe…

Morning with tea and cakes

The Czechs know how to eat. They especially excel at bakery goods. You can go with the highly artificial Viennese-style pastries (not my style--they look better than they taste) or with the farmhouse-style cakes made with prunes, plums, apricots, apples, poppy-seed (mohn), walnuts, tvaroh (a cross between sour cream and cottage cheese), or berries such as blueberries. All the fruits are grown right here in the CR. In the photo above, the filling is prune, sprinkled with some crumbled tvaroh. Delicious!

Sexy men

I have to say it--Czech men are sexy. They are usually serious and a bit reserved, which is so attractive! My husband is a perfect gentleman, and somehow I find that both endearing and madly sexy. The Czech language makes a huge distinction between female/male gender, not only in nouns but also verbs. Czech culture is an old-fashioned sexist culture by American standards, but somehow it just suits me to a tee.

Foreign Police and a date

Today we went to the Foreign Police to work on my long-term residency permit. They aren't really called the Foreign Police anymore--that's a residue of communism, when all foreigners had to register with the police. Now they're an EU bureaucratic office. Anyway, we trekked to the office in Zizkov, all dressed nicely and ready to begin the procedure, armed with my passport, our lease (to prove I live here), our marriage certificate in Czech and English (to prove I'm married to an EU citizen) and some other miscellaeous stuff, just in case--plus the long form I already filled in.
so, we get there at 12:10 and the door is locked. A young man was also trying to get in, and told us he was there yesterday and it was open then. We ask ourselves, "are they closed for lunch?" and look at their posted hours (in Czech only), which just say 7:30-18:00 (6 PM). Then we see it--on Tuesday, they close for the day at noon. And--it's Tuesday! We write down the hours for ne…

Two more good things about Prague

1. People are starting to give me breaks when I buy things. The owner of the Vietnamese potraviny did so yesterday. I bought 101 koruna worth of goods (about $5.00). I gave him a 200 koruna bill. He gave me back a 100 koruna bill, instead of 99 koruna, which would be correct. True, it saved him some trouble to give me the bill, but usually the shop keepers here are meticulous about the correct change. He cut me a break of about 5 cents. Then today, at Anagram Bookstore downtown, the owner gave me a 30-koruna discount (about $1.50) for no particular reason. I think he appreciated my buying two books on a slow day.
2. I bought a slice of pizza and a coke on namesti Republiky, a very busy square with trams, busses, cars, perdestrians, and tourists. I ate my food at a sidewalk table. The square was as quiet and orderly as--well, I started to say a church service, then I remembered some very raucous church services in the US! I was impressed by the politeness of the crowd. People speak in l…