Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

So, I taught all my kids this song (at least the first verse depending on their ages). They love it and now it's perpetually stuck in my head! Not a bad thing. ;)

I wanted to write and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! My travel plans changed, due to some issues with my travel buddies. Their vistors visas expired this week and thus are not able to leave the country until their work visas come in (sometime in the next month or so). We had thought we found a way around it, but sadly the necessary paperwork didn't come in time for our adventure. We were all bummed, but realized it meant we were to visit this amazing part of the world another time. We are tentatively planning to go this summer instead. :)

Now, I am lucky enough to go to Germany to see family there for Christmas. I leave tomorrow and return to Prague on the 29th so I will be here for New Years. Apparently, Prague is pretty well known and fun for New Years, so that should be interesting. I'm not really sure what we'll do, but I'm sure it'll be nice! In the meantime, it's been great to have some down time to do a few touristy things here I haven't done before as well as catch up on sleep, exercise, and reading. I read an entire book over the last two days. I've also enjoyed going to spinning class and having lazy days. I feel very relaxed! Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Where does time go?

I can't believe it's December 11, 2010, and I'm living in Prague! A year ago, I was living in Iowa with my parents trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was enjoying being back in Iowa and spending time with friends and family I didn't see as often living in Wyoming. I was also applying for teaching jobs and a neat opportunity came along (thanks to a good friend) in Berkeley, CA, so I applied. I ended up facing a decision: move to the Czech Republic or Berkeley. I chose Berkeley and was able to work it out so I could move to Prague in the fall. I didn't set out for this or even plan where I would end up overseas. I can't believe how well things have panned out!

Last night over dinner, I was talking with friends about the balance of planning things out and just going with the flow. While I'm all about planning, I strongly believe we have to be open to the plans changing at any time. If I hadn't been open to the plan changing, would I have applied to work at UC Berkeley? And if I hadn't done that, I would have never met the amazing people I had the privilege of working with there. Life is funny...

I'm not opposed to plans either, and I think its a good idea to have plans and goals and work towards them. However, I have learned a valuable lesson this past year - be open to the twists and turns this world throws at you. You never know where they will take you, who you will meet, or how your life will be changed because of them.

I think often of all the random events in my life that have brought amazing experiences and people into my life. One or two different decisions, and different people and experiences would be in my life instead of others. It's fascinating to think about. It also makes me incredibly grateful for those amazing people who are in my life.

Another major thing I have learned this year is this - make the most of every day and every experience. That also means finding balance and time to take care of yourself, but it means saying yes more than saying no, trying something even if it scares the crap out of you, and overall, just daring to do something new. It's been an amazing year...I'm so incredibly grateful to be here, living this life - especially enjoying those fun twists along the way!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wanna see me teach?

So, the company I work for - Wattsenglish - is very technology focused. We have our lessons videotaped throughout the year so parents can see our lessons. We also do a lot of demos and let the parents watch the demo videos with their kids so they can decide if they want lessons that way.

A lot of people have asked questions about what my classes are like. So, I'm sharing my videos with you. Just go to this site: and select my name (should be near the top). The website will be in Czech but it may ask you to put in a username and password. The username is Wattsenglish and the password is 1984. Happy viewing...and don't laugh too hard!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weihnachtsmarkt - Dresden

So, I went to Dresden with some friends for the Weihnachtsmarkt - Christmas Market. Now, I'm not one to be totally head over heels excited for Christmas - but this was AMAZING!!! Words really can't describe it, so I took a ton of pictures and a few videos for you to check out..

Dresden is a fascinating city that was mostly destroyed during World War II. Since the fall of communism, many of the historic buildings have been rebuilt from rubble. It's incredible to see a town re-created in just 20 years!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What do you want to know?

Thank you all for reading. I'm not always sure what to write, so if there's anything you want to know about, please write a note in comments and I'll write about it. ;)

For now I'll share a funny story - I went back to the doctor on Monday, because I am still sick. :( I saw him for about 5 minutes and got a prescription to clear up the upper respiratory infection I have going on. He also gave me "sick papers" which stated I should stay home from work for 10 days. As I walked out, I realized I had another question for him, so I went back into his office. Where he had just lit up a cigarette - seriously, this guy needs a doctor more than me! Anyway, he explained that he thinks I should be home for 10 days but if I want to go to work sooner, I can go back to him to get cleared for work again. So, I've been home the last two days and will go back to the doctor in the morning to try to get cleared for work. Why you might ask? Well, sick leave works a bit differently here than in the US. The first 3 days you are sick are unpaid. After that, you only get 60% of your salary. So, its a big pay cut to be sick. Not that this is the only reason to stay home, but it is significant. I am feeling better and hope to be back up to full speed soon.

Regret me not

I've been thinking a lot about regret lately. We all have moments in our lives we regret, but we find a way to deal with that regret and move forward. We learn from regret and attempt to not make the same mistakes again. There are no guarantees however.

The other part of regret is forgiveness. We seek the forgiveness of those we have hurt, but we also need to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we have made. I think I'm pretty good at admitting when I'm wrong and apologizing to those I've hurt. But I'm not good at all at forgiving myself. I put way too much pressure on myself to be perfect.

But the truth is I'm not perfect. I am here partly because of the regrets of my past. I regret not spending more time in Germany growing up and truly learning the language. I regret not studying abroad. These two things are huge influences into why I'm currently living in Prague. I'm grateful I'm here now and having this experience.

Some people have told me that I'm inspiring for going out and doing this. For selling most everything I own and starting a totally new chapter in my life. To those people, I do say thank you. But I also say - what's stopping you from doing the same? Ok, so maybe living overseas isn't your dream - but what is your dream? What's stopping you from living it?

I am not perfect. And this experience is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There have been severe ups and downs. I have moments where I just want to go home and be around my friends and family and things that are familiar. But as much as I want that - I want to be here just a little bit more. So here I stay. And for who knows how long. It's not an easy thing - but it's a choice I make each day. Otherwise, it truly would not be worth being here. Life is too short to not be doing what you really want to be doing.


I've uploaded pictures to Picasa about recent adventures:

The Karlstejn folder is from a visit to the Karlstejn castle (about 45 minutes from Prague). It was the castle of King Charles and was built in 935.

Cesky Krumlov is a medieval city in southern Czech Republic. The oldest Baroque theater in the world is there (and we snuck in with a senior citizen tour to see it). Also the castle is nearly 1000 years old! It was a beautiful city to wander through!

The november folder contains pictures from seeing the opera Rigoletto in the State Opera House as well as going to some Christmas Markets and the Christmas tree lighting. There are also some videos of music around the city.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Randomly random

Its been another busy few weeks. On November 17, the Czech Republic had another holiday. This holiday remembered and celebrated the riots that occurred in Prague on November 17, 1989. Those riots by mostly college students caused an uproar that began the transition from communism to a democratic state.

I've been teaching a few private lessons, which has provided an interesting opportunity to learn more about the history of this country. One of my students is in his mid-20s so his memory of things are interesting. Many of his opinions are shaped by conversations with his family. We have fascinating conversations about how liberal this country is. His philosophy is that because of the majority of this country are atheists, that people are free to think what they want, and therefore they are more liberal. I'm not 100% certain I agree with him, as I know many people who are very devout and very liberal as well, but it is an interesting philosophy. It's also interesting to think about a country who is over 80% atheist. I've tried to ask my private students why, and they really don't have much of an answer to that.

Another of my private students is older and so his memory of communist times is incredible. Thankfully, he's very open and enjoys answering my many questions about life at that time. To get a first-hand glimpse of life at at that time has been eye opening. Yes, I have read about the history, but the experience of talking to someone who lived here is amazing. To understand that people really did have to stand in long lines for things. That foods not grown in the communist countries was nearly impossible to find - except at the holidays when bananas and oranges were brought in - helps explain the interesting diet here. To see that a country that has been occupied and governed by so many different groups in its history is now setting up its own path, and is pretty proud of it. And yet some interesting carry overs exist. I get the sense through my conversations that the Czech people legitimately care about making sure everyone has a job, a place to live, and health care. Sure the execution and management of those programs has changed in a democratic government, but the drive for taking care of each other is still there. Its refreshing to see...

So, for the holiday, I went to Karlstejn Castle with my friend Bryan. Karlstejn is about 45 minutes outside of Prague and amazing! It was built in the early 900s for King Charles. We were able to tour it, but not take pictures inside. It was truly awe inspiring to be in such a beautiful and old building and grounds.

While Thanksgiving is clearly not a holiday outside of the US (ok, Canada has their's in October), a small group of friends pulled together to create a lovely thanksgiving meal here. Everyone prepared something and it was a truly wonderful meal with good friends. Its amazing how you can meet people who become like family in just a short time. I feel grateful to have met some great people! I'm sad some of them are going home at Christmas, but I'm sure new friends will come along to join this adventure. Its sad to say goodbye to those who are leaving, but its not goodbye for good - just for now. I'm certain our paths will cross again. I'm certain of it because of all the amazing friends and family I have back home. I am truly grateful and feel so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life.

Today was the tree lighting ceremony in Old Town Square. All the Christmas Markets around town are up and running and there are several large Christmas trees around town. Vendors are selling ornaments and other holiday goods, hot wine, hot traditional pastries, roasted chestnuts, roasted candied almonds, and other wonderful treats. The markets have an amazing smell which I wish I could capture. Its a beautiful time of year - especially as we got our first snow today. It was a light dusting, but it was pretty! The tree lighting cermony was crazy! There were thousands of people all pushing and shoving to get a look. It wasn't spectacular - though the tree and the lights were pretty. It was an interesting experience, but I can honestly say I won't go back again for the ceremony. I do look forward to exploring all the markets in town over the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ketchup paper balls

Life is full of surprises. Things change on a daily and practically hourly basis, and I'm getting to the point where those changes don't throw me as much as they used to. I thought my Hall Director days were the true essence of random events happening at all hours of the day, but I'm learning that that job was just a mini-training for this experience.

The only thing that hasn't really changed is my love of this city and this experience in general. Sure, there are absolutely ups and downs in all parts of my life, but I wouldn't trade it for anything, because I am doing what I have wanted to do for a while. I feel very lucky for that. But I realized something the other day - our lives are what we create. A wise friend said to me in response to my comment that I felt so lucky to have this opportunity that, "It's not luck. You've created this opportunity for yourself and you should be proud of that." I remember that conversation vividly, as it was a turning point for me and my confidence in myself to do this.

In balance with being intentional and creating opportunities, I'm finding that going with the flow and just seeing what comes about is also incredibly important. For example, my friend Katrina and I got together to make plans for our upcoming holiday over Christmas and New Years. We had been talking a lot about options of where to go, and decided to write down the names of countries we wanted to go to on slips of paper, hang them on a wall, and each toss a paper ball covered in ketchup at the wall - while blindfolded - in order to see where we'd go. As we were laughing hysterically, we tossed our ketchup balls and they landed upon Bulgaria. So, it was decided!

As we started planning, we decided to work our way south from Prague towards Bulgaria. We thought it'd be fun to go to Budapest, Hungary first. Though I was just there, Katrina hasn't been there yet, and I loved it so, I'm happy to go back! After that, we thought we'd go to Belgrade, Serbia and then on to Sofia, Bulgaria. We wanted to end up at the Black Sea and then fly home. This is where we hit a snag. Flights from Bulgaria back to Prague (or really anywhere near us) were ridiculously expensive!

So, we went back to the drawing board. By this point, we were making pasta for a late dinner, and decided we’d re-try our random toss activity by again posting the countries on the wall and tossing pasta at them. This actually worked much better, as the pasta stuck instead of making a huge mess. Just at tip, in case you want to try this at home. ;)

The spaghetti didn’t really help us decide, so we started looking at other options. Needless to say, we went to bed a little frustrated because things were looking too expensive. We woke up both realizing that just because we weren’t going to Bulgaria didn’t mean we didn’t have to totally change our already made plans. So, we decided on this itinerary: Prague to Bratislava, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary to Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovena to Zegrab, Croatia and back home. This nice circle is accessible by trains and buses, so it’ll be easier and cheaper to get around. We spent the next few hours looking at options and it looks like it’s all going to work just fine. We still have a few of the train/bus trips to sort out, but mostly it’s done.

In true go with the flow spirit – we have set tentative dates we’ll be in all the cities and have figured out how to get from each city to the next. We’re going to find places to stay and then just go and adjust as we need to along the way. I’m crazy excited!

Saturday, November 6, 2010


So, I took 980 pictures in a week with my adventure to the mountains, Kutna Hora for a training, and then Budapest for fun! Here is a link to pictures for all those adventures (They are in different albums):

I tried to scale it down, but there are a lot - but it goes quick!

Take rest and drink some tea

So, I came down with a nasty cold/flu this week. Since I had a fever, I could not go to work, because I might make the kids sick. I went to the doctor, which is required when calling in sick to work. It is Czech law that you must go to the doctor and get excused from work for however long you need to be excused. The first three days of sick leave are not paid, and then after that you get 60% of your salary. I was out Thursday and Friday, but I'll be going back on Monday. I am feeling better, which I realize is getting a step a head...

Anyway, I went to the doctor on Friday morning. I didn't need an appointment, I just went to his office as recommended by my office. They said he speaks English - kinda. So, I found his office and the waiting room. Unlike doctor's offices I have visited in the past, there was no receptionist or anyone to greet you in the room. I noticed a doorbell, but just took a seat as the other lady who walked in front of me did as well.

So, I sat there and after about 5 minutes, a lady came out and asked one person to come it. She looked at me and frowned and asked me something in Czech. I asked if she spoke English, and she waved her hand at me as if to say "shoo" and just said "moment." I assume she said something in Czech to the affect of "damn you stupid American," but I can't say that for certain.

About 5 more minutes go by, and I am asked to come in and sit at the desk with my doctor. He was going through mail and files and after about 5 more minutes he finally looked my direction. The nurse told him I spoke English, so he started speaking in English. I was highly impressed as the doctor was an older, crotchety guy. Most older people in the CR don't speak English well, so I was excited he did. He started asking me random questions - which really weren't all that random, but they seemed random. Then he grabbed a thermometer out of a cup on his desk and told me to put it under my arm and go sit outside again. Ok...where the hell has that thermometer been? Who knows! But at least it wasn't going in my mouth. So, with thermometer in armpit, I awkwardly went back outside. I had never walked with a thermometer in my armpit, it was strange!

A few more minutes go by, and I'm asked back in. This time he asked the standard doctor questions - do you smoke, etc. He asked me my weight in kilograms - which I actually knew. Then he asked my height in centigrams - oops, I hadn't learned that one! So, I said I didn't know. He told me to stand up. Apparently, he can guess people's heights!

Then he turned on a light about 4 feet from me and told me to open my mouth to the light. Um, ok? So, I did but he told me not to I awkwardly shifted again and said ah and apparently he saw what he needed.

Then we walked over to the mirror and he tore my shirt up and started listening to my breathing. His phone rang, so we went to answer it. About 2 minutes into the conversation he stopped and told me to come back and sit down. All the while, his nurse is sitting there reading charts and a newspaper.

So, he gets off the phone, and he listens to my lungs again. Then I give him my insurance and passport information and he writes me a prescription for antibiotics, cough syrup, and a pain killer/fever reducer. He then says something about 30. I ask again and now he's getting annoyed with me. He says - 10 - 20 - 30. I'm now figuring that's what I owe him. So, I get out 30 krowns (About $1.50) and that was what he wanted. He gave me his card and said to call or come by if I needed anything. I asked where the pharmacy was, and he said it was just downstairs. Perfect!

So, I went down and within 5 minutes at the pharmacy, I had my medication and instructions - 98 krowns later (about $5), I was on my way. Without insurance, this whole thing would have probably cost about $15. Still very cheap compared to US health care! Nothing was fancy - but it worked! And his advice sounded oddly familiar - "take some rest and drink some tea."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A rolling stone gathers no moss

Whoa..I hadn't realized it's been two weeks since I wrote! Its been a busy couple of weeks of travel. A week ago, I went to Liberec and the mountains near Liberec again to help celebrate a colleauge's birthday. We went up on Saturday and hiked all day (with hot wine in our packs). It was a gorgeous day and adventure meeting new friends! We traveled back to Prague on Sunday afternoon. Then the following Wednesday, all the teachers in our company went to Kutna Hora, Czech Republic for a training.

There was a holiday on Thursday, so most schools were closed part of the week last week for a fall break in conjunction with the holiday. It was a nice break for us teachers too! Meeting all the other teachers was awesome. We even had time to go explore and see this amazing medieval town. I'll post pictures soon - I promise!

Thursday we traveled back to Prague and then Friday morning, bright and early (though not bright at all), we got on the bus to Budapest! We stopped in Brno (2nd largest city in CR) and then on to Bratislava, Slovakia. Both cities were intriguing, and I want to go back! After about 7 hours on the bus, we arrived in lovely Budapest.

We made our way to the hostel and started exploring the city. I'll write more about the adventures when I post pictures - again, it will be soon. I took over 900 pictures in the last week from these three great trips! I need to sort through them so its a little more manageable to post. ;)

Some highlights of Budapest....
  • Having some random Hungarian guy (who lives in Miami) buy us Langos (fried dough with sour cream and cheese on top) at this hole in the wall shop. He refused to let us pay and said it was his way of welcoming us to his country! So, he was a little drunk, but he was very nice to us!
  • Going up in St. Stephen's church tower at sunset to see the amazing city and skyline.
  • Chicken Paprika
  • Hungarian Wine tasting in the former king's wine cellars (some parts dated back to the 13th century)
  • Meeting a nice man named Vladimir at the wine tasting who taught us more about Hungarian wines
  • Tasting Slovenian wines at a wine tasting (it was a special event) and meeting some great Slovenian wine makers (another trip idea)
  • Soaking in the famous Gellert Baths
It was a wonderful and exhausting back to the grind! I can't believe it's the first week in November already.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Slipping into normal

Hello again friends! I'm not sure why, but I sometimes view this blog as an e-mail or note to a friend. Just catching up on what's going on. Sometimes it feels mundane, but mostly it feels exciting. I've been here now just about 6 weeks! Crazy how time flies!

This past weekend I went to the Jizera mountains (north of Prague) near the town of Liberec to hike and pick up trash in the mountains. It was a gorgeous/rainy/foggy day with good friends, great food (wonderful meal at a lodge in the mountains) and several hot wine stops. :) Not a bad way to spend a Saturday!

Other than that adventure, I haven't been up to too many new adventures. I got a haircut last week, which was actually very easy. I found an American hair stylist who gives hair cuts out of her house. It's a great cut and I didn't have to stress about mis-communicating my hair wishes!

I have also been taking time in between my classes to explore the areas of my schools. I visit places of Prague few tourists ever venture into, so it's a neat opportunity to see real life. Not that I don't see this each day in my own neighborhood, but its still cool to see other parts of the city. I absolutely love watching people and seeing how they interact (or don't).

Recently there were elections for the Prague mayor and district representatives. It was a huge deal and there have been campaigning efforts since I got to town (and I'm sure before). There have been people all over the city campaigning for the candidates. I think they learned their campaigning tactics from a college campus as you had to literally dodge them to stay safe!

I'm getting into the swing of things and my classes are starting to feel like "my classes." They are fun and challenging and rewarding to say the least! It's a true joy to see some of my younger kids knowing their colors and to know they didn't know them at all just a few weeks ago! The smiles on their faces when they get it or their endless desire for a high-five is pretty amazing.

Some days actually feel mundane. I don't mean that in a bad way, but in a way where things are finally feeling normal. I walk down the street and still think -damn, I live in this amazing place! But I also know I am here and not rushing off to some other fabulous location like I would on a typical trip. I don't feel this pressure or rush to see everything immediately. I have loved getting a lay of the land and I look forward to going into more things now and truly learning more about this city and this country. I'm learning the best places to buy certain things and my favorite spots to get fruit or groceries. There are lots of specialty shops here so grocery shopping is not just a one stop shopping experience. It's pretty cool to go to the fruit/vegetable store or the bakery every few days to get more fresh items. I haven't dared the cheese or meat store, but I will soon!

I'm going to exchange English lessons for Czech lessons with someone starting next week. I'm not sure I'll ever be fluent in this language, but I would like to read menus/signs and speak to order or buy cheese/meat that isn't pre-packaged!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It is what it is

Do you ever have moments or days where everything seems to take 10 times as long as it should? Where no one seems to understand you? I seem to have them a lot here. I would say that its all very understandable and normal, but it's frustrating as all hell too! Before I left and even since I have been here, people have learned of what I was about to do (or am doing) and have said, "Wow, that's so cool/adventurous/wild/gutsy/brave/daring/wonderful/crazy." I sometimes feel like I have a lot to live up to. I mostly put many expectations upon myself, but I also know there are expectations (either said or understood) of others. I mentioned in a previous post that part of me thought I'd be heading home by now. And that is true. But a bigger part of me needs to prove to myself (and maybe others) that I have the guts to stick this out.

I am here 100% on my own. Yes, I have met some amazing friends here, so I am not completely alone, but when it comes down to it - I am here on my own. It is scary. It has been frustrating. It's beautiful. It;s been inspiring. It has been indescribable.

I can tell you the day to day activities of my new life here in Prague, but I struggle to tell you anything more than that. How do I feel about living thousands of miles away from the people I care most about? I feel sad. The beauty and excitement of a new place are both wonderful things - but they cannot replace the joy of spending time with good friends and family.

How do I feel that I am actually doing this - living my life in a new country? I feel proud and excited and giddy. Its such a huge range of emotions to be feeling pretty much all the time. Add those emotions to the general feelings of trying to do my best with my work and getting out to see everything, yet taking care of myself and taking the time to myself that I need to rest and rejuvenate. Its a lot to handle.

Compound all of those things with being surrounded by nothing familiar and rarely overhearing a conversation I can understand. Its nice to lose yourself in the ignorance of the written and spoken word around you at times. But its also isolating.

Things are becoming more familiar and less isolating. But the fact of the matter is this - I still don't speak or understand the language here. Going to the grocery store is a stressful adventure because I'm not always sure what I'm buying or what the cashier is going to ask me or yell at me when I check out. She's probably upset that I don't have exact change or that I'm not bagging my groceries fast enough. Who knows, maybe she's not yelling, but because I cannot understand her, I assume she is.

Maybe this frustration and anxiety is similar to what my students experience in my classes. When they try and try to communicate with me, and I cannot understand their simple requests. Sure, we are working through those challenges and finding ways to communicate. I understand their frustration.

And maybe its because of this interesting situation of not understanding much of what's around me that has put me in this mindset and frame of mind that makes it difficult to express what I think and feel. Am I losing this ability or just have such a rare chance to express it that I'm forgetting how to do so?

I'm a pretty emotional person, so I'm certain I'm not losing my ability to be emotional. After all, this blog is simply my way of expressing myself. So the irony of writing here about my challenges with expressing myself is highly humorous and ironic to me!

Life is interesting and strange and wonderful and beautiful. I find myself thinking about frustrating things and then instantly turning them around to find the positive. I'm finding my own self annoying right now with that. Granted, I don't want to spend all day everyday feeling sorry for myself - but why can't I just let myself feel sad/frustrated/whatever? I'm a perpetual optimist it seems. And I'm not saying I want to change that, because I do think its one of my finer strengths. However, it can be exhausting. So, for all the wonderful things that I am experiencing here - and I truly am grateful for each and every moment - today I'm a little sad, a little homesick, and a little frustrated by not understanding most of the world around me. I know in time things will change - but in the spirit of truly trying to live in the moment - it is what it is today. No apologies and no trying to fix it - just experiencing the moment.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Praha photos

I have posted the first batch of photos of my time here. It's mostly from wandering around the city (my true favorite passtime). I'll be going into more things so there will be more pictures to come, but this will give you a great look at the amazing city of Prague! Some pictures I had posted before, but I have gone through and captioned most everything and added a lot more pictures. Enjoy!

Summer adventures - Photos

I posted pictures from my summer adventures in CA, WY, CO, WI, and IA. I can't believe it's taken this long to get them up!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

There's a feeling in the air

Have you ever done something and didn't really know how it was going to pan out? I feel that way right now. I had no idea how this would truly go. Some moments I thought it would be blissful and amazing and incredible (which it has been). Some other moments I thought I'd be packing by bags and heading home by now. I've been here 5 weeks. I cannot believe it!

The fall colors are starting to change here in Prague and each day new color bursts explode around the city! A walk I've taken several times before becomes a new adventure. It's not a bad state of being really. Shouldn't life always be this way? I have found myself previously getting into routines and just ignoring everything around me. In Prague, I feel like that's almost impossible. There's just too much to see! Will I ever see it all?

This morning I went for a run on the other side of Prague. It took me 45 minutes by tram to get there, but was completely worth it! Everywhere I have lived for the past 6 or so years, I've had a place that I can go and just be. Today, I found two such places. The first is this wonderful park with paths on the west side of Prague. The other is an area called Vyšehrad. The Vyšehrad area is home to a 10th century castle which includes a basillica, cemetary, and other interesting spots. It's a huge park area now as they converted this walled castle grounds into a park. It sits up on a hill next to the river and has a spectacular view of the city. It is truly an enchanting area. On this incredible fall day, it was full of locals and visitors alike simply strolling down the paths and enjoying the breathtaking views of this incredible city!

I met a couple from Alabama this morning on the tram. I asked how they liked Prague and they said they didn't really like it. The woman said, "Disney would be proud. It's obvious they have spent the last 20 years cleaning up the city and making it perfect and easy for tourists. Everything here is catered to tourists." I smiled and didn't say much, because I had NEVER heard anyone speak of this incredible city in this way. It threw me off guard to say the least. The couple had come from Budapest and loved it. It was clear to me they had only experienced the center of Prague and hadn't seen the true gems of this city. I have never heard of anyone complaining that a major metropolitan city was too clean and too perfect! Those are some of the things I love most of this place! Anyway - to each her own!

As I enjoyed the sunny, warm, fall day, I got to thinking about transitions. Fall is always an interesting time of transition. As I think about transitions, I have thought more about how I personally handle transitions. There have been a wide range of reactions to transition in my life, but I am noticing a difference in this transition. For the first time that I can remember, it is not causing me major stress. Now, let's be honest - there has been stress indeed. But for the most part, I have been able to bounce back from that stress relatively easy. I'm proud of this change, and I can see how this leap of faith has turned into a truly eye-opening and soul-searching experience. There was a part of me before I left that wasn't sure how long I'd make it here. Now that I'm here, and I realize it's still early, I can see myself being here for a bit. I'm not making any major commitments. I still have a contract through June and will see what will happen next. For now, I'm so happy I'm here. I'm so grateful for this opportunity. And I'm proud of myself for doing it. I feel like I'm truly living my life and making the most of each day. This experience is a precious gift - one that I've allowed myself to take - and I still pinch myself almost every day because I cannot believe I am here.

This Time of Year by Better Than Ezra has been one of my favorite songs for 10 years now. It always makes me think of transitions and fall, so I'm including the lyrics below.

"This Time Of Year"

Well, there's a feeling in the air
Just like a Friday afternoon.
Yeah, you can go there if you want
Though it fades too soon.

So go on, let it be.
If there's a feeling coming over me,
Seems like it's always understood this time of year.

[To Chorus:]
Well, I know there's a reason to change.
Well, I know there's a time for us.
You think about the good times
And you live with all the bad.
You can feel it in the air,
Feeling right this time of year.

Well, there's a football in the air,
Across a leaf blown field.
Yeah, and there's your first car on the road,
And the girl you'd steal.

So go on with yourself
If there's a feeling that there's something else.
Seems like it's always understood
This time of year.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Common courtesy - like sense - is NOT common!

Well, the trip back to the foreign police just adds to this wonderful tale of living and working in another country. So, I got up at 4:30 am and was out the door by 5:10 in an effort to get in line at the foreign police. They open at 7:30 and I was told that getting there early (say 6 am) helps. So, I got there at 6 am to find a long line of at least 80 people already outside! So, I got in line and waited in the dark. It was quite chilly - and I was grateful I brought my hat, scarf, and gloves! It was probably in the low 40s. Not horrible, but not ideal just standing around weather.

Anyway, as I was watching people, it became clear that many had been there most of the night. I later talked to a guy I had seen there the last couple of times to find out he got there at midnight! Dang! At about 7 am, families with little kids started arriving and going to the front of the line. I quickly realized having a kid made it possible to cut the line and I was trying to figure out how to have a kid quickly, but alas, no luck. The first few families seemed to get little reaction from the crowd. However, as it became 7:30 and later, I could tell another family was approaching from behind me by the disgusted and angered faces of those in line in front of me. The line was L-shaped, so it was easy to see their faces and observe. At 7:30, they let the families in. It took until about 9:30 until we were let in the building! This was new and different from Thursday, and I still have no idea why they didn't let us in sooner. It was darn cold and highly frustrating! They wouldn't even let you in to use the bathroom or get a coffee/snack. So, finally we make our way in and get to the bench area so we can at least sit for a bit (About an hour). Once the floodgates opened (aka the front door) people just went nuts! They were pushing and shoving and screaming. It was madness! Most of the people there were Russian, so I learned a few words (though many I probably should never repeat) today! It was chaos! I almost got trampled - good thing I didn't fall down! Also, it became evident that no one cared what time you got there or what the original order was that you were in outside. All bets were off! I ended up moving back in the line about 8 people. I was annoyed, but I just couldn't be that person that was so irritated and pushy (literally).

So, I met my new line neighbors who spoke English which was interesting. One guy was a film student from Philly and the other a Pakistani doctoral student in economics. We chatted throughout the day and held spaces in line when someone went to get a drink or use the restroom. At one point, I attempted to use the restroom. It was located in the worst spot ever - about two feet from the main office we were all trying to get to. So, there was a wall of people in front of the door. I tried to go and got yelled at in Russian and then English. They told me to go to the other side. Jeez! People are nuts! On Thursday things were much more civil and slightly more organized. So, I went to the EU side of the building where everyone was sitting and sipping coffee and just relaxing while waiting to see their foreign police officer. What a difference compared to our mass chaos, wall-to-wall people, hot, smelly space we were sharing!

As the line progressed, the anger and frustration mounted. And I get it - really, I get it after today. But I was truly saddened and frustrated by the lack of care and concern anyone had for anyone but themselves. It was absolutely disgusting. I couldn't be that way, and thus got pushed back in line a bit, but I don't care! A few times I pushed back (not hard) and held my ground. Well, I mostly held my ground, but I never pushed anyone out of the way! Words cannot truly describe my frustration, hurt, despair, and just plain shock at the entire situation and the way people treat each other. It was a sad experience to say the least.

Ok, finally we make it to the front of the line! I have this image in my head of getting my ticket (remember we're just standing in line to get a number to see one of the foreign police officers) and singing the "I've got the golden ticket" song from Charlie and the Chocolate factory while singing and dancing with everyone in the waiting room. I'm getting excited, but trying to stay realistic and not get too excited! Needless to say, there was no singing or dancing. I got to the front of the line. I showed my passport, green card and paperwork to the officer and kindly asked if he spoke English. He said "No. Done." And he walked away. Ok, at this point I had been standing in line for 8 hours (ok, i sat for one, but who's counting) and the guy says 2 words to me and walks away??? I didn't know what to do! I stood there, because there was no way I was leaving! I asked again and he just said no. So, my Pakistani friend (also registering his address) came and tried to ask too. Again, the guy said no. A nice guy came up to the front to help us. He speaks Czech and English and explained that they had run out of tickets for registering your address for the day and we had to try again tomorrow.

At this point, my new friend and I are livid! He too was there on Thursday. So, we go to the lobby and this guy explains that you have to get there by 3 am to get a ticket for the day. He said many people pay people to stand in line for them and he'd be willing to do it for us for 2000 krowns (US$100 roughly) each. Of course he would! Remember those people I was pretty sure had camped out - well, they had and they had done it to hold a space for someone.

So, I call my office to tell them what happened and they said they'd work on it. Long story short - they are working on a way to get me a number without me standing in line to get it. I'm not sure I want to know how that's being accomplished, but we shall see. All I know is that I don't have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning and I get to teach. I never thought I'd be so excited to see my wild kindergarten class as I am for tomorrow!

I shall never forget this experience - and truly encourage you all to think about how you treat others on a day to day basis. Life is too short to push and shove!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Third country resident

So, going to the foreign police to register (what is supposed to be the "easy" part of this whole process) is entertaining, frustrating, and enlightening with a dollop of frustration! So, we first tried to go on Monday, which was unsuccessful because the laws changed. Therefore, I had to go to the foreign police in the area where I live rather than any foreign police in Prague. So, we went to the office in my area Monday afternoon. After waiting in a non-moving line for an hour, we left because the office was about to close. The plan was to return today and get it done before my 12:30 class.

So, we arrived at the office at 8:15 am to a line out the door for the area for all "Third Country Nationals" (non-EU residents) to register. We snuck in to see what was going on and the line went the entire length of the building (about 150 feet) and out the front door. So, we stood in line. After two hours, we had made it in the building but still had about 100 feet to go to be seen. By the way, this line was to talk to the information person (there is only one) to determine which number you'd be given to talk to an actual staff member about registering. That's right. This line was to get a number to wait in another line!

So, it became evident that I wasn't going to make my class, so I called the office and we were able to arrange a cover teacher for the afternoon. My fabulous guide, Jana, left to go help that teacher find the school. Thankfully, at the same time, we got to the part where there were seats, so I was able to sit in line for much of the time. I was grateful for my ipod and internet on my phone to keep me entertained (of course I forgot a book) as well as the sandwiches and water I packed. Good thing I actually thought ahead that getting food might be tough today!

Observing the people in the room was amazing. There must have been 150-200 people in the room with about 150 of us in this massive line. The rest had already been in line and were waiting to for their number to be called to go register. When those people got called, it was kind of like that "golden ticket" moment in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as they got up and walked into the secure room all proud and giddy. The rest of us were happy for this person, but as the day wore on, each time the number board beeped a new number, you could almost hear a unanimous groan in the epic line I was standing in.

I observed several verbal arguements. I'm not really sure what they were about as I couldn't hear the details nor generally understand what people were saying (there were many languages being spoken), but I assume it had something to do with someone edging in on someone elses space or not giving them the right space back when they came back from the vending machine or the bathroom. What started out as an easy going day got more and more tense as the day wore on.

Let me not forget to mention that the room got warmer and warmer as the day went out. Interestingly, as the day progressed, the front of the line got more and more smushed together. So, once you finally hit the mecca of the final bit of the line (right in front of the bathroom and vending machines), you were literally on top of other people smooshed into this tiny area just constantly shifting and angling for the best spot. Up until this point, people were generally friendly and would hold your space if you left to get a drink, etc. But once you hit this sweet spot, all bets were off and each person was in it for themselves! It was absolutely amazing and intriguing to watch!

So, now I finally hit this sweet spot at about 1:30 pm (aka: I've been standing in line for 5 hours). It was getting warm and people were pushing and talking loudly and it really got to be frustrating. I started to feel lightheaded but I had to hold on. I was so close! There were probably 30 people in front of me and I could finally see the end of the road! This is where time started to stand still and every second ticked away at a painstakingly slow pace. It was starting to be clear to me that this queue was never-ending. At 3:00 pm sharp (they close early on Thursday, because they are not open Friday) they slammed the sliding glass door shut and walked away. That's it.

As the day went on, I overheard conversations. The people a few people in front of me got there at 6:30 am (the office opens at 7:30) and they didn't get in. One guy had been there three days in a row and still hadn't gotten in. What a mess! I honestly had moments where I felt like a third-rate citizen. It was absolutely amazing to me that in this day and age and this world we live in, business is still conducted in this way. However, it is what it is. There are just too many people who need to register and not enough staff. Or at least, this is what I'm telling myself. You have to laugh, or else you'll cry! Especially on a day like today! I found a little irony in the English translation of the office we were visiting: "Alien registration for third country nationals." I have never felt more alien or third-rate than this day. I stood and sat for 7 hours in a line only to get nowhere. I didn't even get a guaranteed spot at the beginning of the line on Monday. I just have to come back and try again.

In the grand scheme of things, it really isn't that bad. But I'll be honest, it wasn't a great day. I even had moments of wondering if this was all really worth it. But then I made it home and the sun came out and I decided to go for a walk. I saw the amazing river and Prague Castle and somehow things got better. I'm still not looking forward to returning on Monday very early in the morning. but once its done, it will truly be worth it. And afterall, it makes a good story so that helps.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The elephant in the room...

So, yesterday was St. Wenceslas day and commemorates St. Wenceslas who died in 935 AD and is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic. Yes, he is also the guy from the song "Good King Wenceslas." So, because of this holiday, everyone had the day off - yay! :) So, I decided to go to the National Museum. Now, the collections at the museum aren't overly amazing, but the architecture was amazing! Well worth the few hours I spent there for sure! There is a beautiful grand entrance/stairway with a pantheon area with beautiful paintings. I'll post pictures soon.

So, I decided to get the audio guide which I never do, but I decided to do so because there is no information in the museum. It was a great way to learn about the architecture of the building. I also wandered through the collections which included many rocks and gems, artifacts from ancient civilizations, and many stuffed animals. It was odd, but interesting. In one room, there were many artifacts around the room and a huge stuffed wooly mammoth in the middle of the room. So, I listened to the audio guide to hear more about this beast. The guide went on and on about all the artifacts and NEVER talked about the mammoth. It brought true meaning to the phrase "there's an elephant in the room no one's talking about."

After the museum, I wandered around town for a few hours. Wandering has to be one of my favorite activities here! I got some hot mulled wine and just enjoyed!

Later that evening, my friend Gillian and I went to see Swan Lake at the National Theater. It was an incredible, beautiful, and inspiring experience! We were WAY up at the top, but still had a great view and it was a true treat to even be in the building. I'm excited to go to more events there and the other amazing venues around the city. It is mind boggling to me that on a Tuesday night, I can go to an amazing performance. And even better, it's incredible affordable! Tickets for the ballet were just $5! Unbelievable!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Green card

Well another week has's crazy how time flies! First things first, I was able to go pick up my green card on Thursday. The card is neither green nor a card, but a sticker in my passport. Anyways, I had to take a bus to Jablonec, Czech Republic (basically 100 km north of Prague). A woman named Veronika picked me up and took me to the foreign police for my 9:30 appointment. The meeting actually was very simple and I got my green card and was on my way back to Prague. I spent only an hour in Jablonec! My last task is to go to the foreign police here to prove my residency here in Prague. The reason I had to go to Jablonec was that my company is based in Liberec (near Jablonec) and so you have to report to the foreign police there. Anyway, its almost done. :) And the best news is that its good for 3 years, so if I stay another year, I'll only have to go check in with the foreign police here each year to verify I have a residence.

The bus trip was nice. Here the buses have wifi and even serve a drink (drink box actually), so it wasn't all bad. The countryside was pretty. Rolling hills and fields. I look forward to going back to that area again for more than 30 minutes!

Teaching continued to go well through the week. We are still figuring out which courses will actually be taught, so we shall see how it all works out. For the most part, I teach four classes at a day usually at two to three schools in a day. The public transportation here is amazing, so it's pretty easy to get around. I am seeing much more of Prague than I imagined.

It's especially interesting to see the outer areas of Prague and the remnants of the former communist rule. The stark architecture is a drastic contrast to the beautiful center area. It is fascinating to think about this country's history, which I am exploring and learning more about each day. Just 20 years ago, communism ruled here and the physical evidence is everywhere. It is challenging and interesting to see as a new resident of Prague. I cannot even imagine what it is like for those who lived through that time. I'm sure my time here will bring more thoughts and observations about this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I didn't mean to make you cry...

Well, two days down of teaching and so far so good! Monday morning started early - 6:45 am on my way to the metro. Those of you who know me well know that this is NOT an hour of the day that I like. But, I was up and energetic and ready to meet my new kiddos! After about a 45 minute commute (metro and bus), we arrived at the kindergarten. This week have a wonderful Czech college student, Jana, taking me around and helping me navigate Prague. She helps translate at the schools which is a true blessing when you have to get kids out of certain classes. Anyway, Monday started with three back-to-back kindergarten classes each 25 minutes long.

One of the philosophy's of WattsEnglish (my company) is to keep the kids engaged in the lesson through play, so we do a LOT of entertaining along the way. In a typical kindergarten lesson, we try to balance being active and passive. We also have to teach them basic things to keep the class in order. Things like stand up and sit down and come here and stop. It's interesting, but also really fun to mime those phrases with the kids. My first class was all boys - I think there were 5 of them, but it felt like 25! One boy was pretty wild and I struggled to keep him engaged in the class. I need to think of some ways to help keep him in line. Any teachers out there - please pass on your suggestions! He basically doesn't want to participate in anything and is rowdy (loud, talking in Czech while I'm talking, not paying attention).

After that, things got easy! My second class was great! While learning some animals, we were miming animals and got to the word spider. All of a sudden this little boy started crying and i figured out he was afraid of spiders. We weren't acting scary, but still he was scared. After a little hug and a few minutes, he was fine and playing with us all again. The third class of the day was also great - no drama to report! Also, my afternoon class was great - four sweet girls in 3rd and 4th grades. All in all, I taught about 2 hours and spent about 2 hours on the metro/tram/bus to get all these places! It's crazy, but I am getting to see much more than the center of Prague!

Today was another adventure as my guide overslept, so I made my way to the school on my own and got there minutes before she did. I had a lovely 3rd grade class which was very well behaved. Then I went to a kindergarten. My guide thought she knew where we were going, but we got lost and ended up hiking up a hill (no, I'm not exaggerating for once) for about 20 minutes only to get to the school and then find out there was a bus that would have dropped us off a block from the school! That was a 50-minute kindergarten which is rare, but we made our way through with the lesson and songs. Tomorrow, I'm back there again for another round...this time without the hike!

The afternoon was also an adventure as no students showed up to class. We did hold one class, but there were only 2 students, so we'll likely cancel that class in the future. This is an interesting week of teaching our standard demo lessons to all students (one for kindergarten and early primary school and one lesson for older primary). So, I'm getting a lot of demo practice! It's a good way to get the year started. :)

Last night I celebrated the survival of our first day of school at a beer garden and of course, we had to go have Svíčková. I'm obsessed...what can I say! ;)

I have been loving wandering around the city and exploring through the trips to all the different schools. I visit 7 schools in the week and will probably teach 3-5 levels of English. I'm also kind of enjoying getting my exercise each day simply from walking to and from schools and the physical nature of my work! I do miss running however, and I hope to be over my cold that I've had since I got here soon, so I can get back out there.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Svíčková = heaven

Wow, it feels like ages since I've written and it's only been a few days! Training went well throughout the week. We had a gathering on Tuesday night where we got to meet some of the directors and some other teachers who live and work around the Czech Republic. It was fun to meet a lot of great people!

Wednesday and Thursday turned into fun nights as well with random hang out time with my co-workers. We tested out one of the local beer gardens (just 10 minutes from my house) and met a bunch of other expat teachers as well. It's amazing to me how fairly easy it is to meet people here. I'm grateful for my fun co-workers and friends for the many fun adventures we have had and will continue to have. There's still so much to do! But, it's been a pleasure meeting new people and finding new places (and re-visiting some old places too) together.

This weekend I went to the Prague Wine Festival on one of the islands in the river. It's a beautiful park and my friends Gillian, Bryan, and I spent a few hours there wandering, tasting wonderful wine and enjoying the amazing views. At least once a day I have to pinch myself to remind myself that this is really happening! I can't believe I live here! After an afternoon of wine, we went to get our favorite Czech meal: Svíčková (prounounced: sveechkova). It is marinated beef with some kind of heavenly sauce. The beef is topped with a slice of lemon, cranberries and whipped cream. It is a bit of heaven! It is served with Czech dumplings which are made from bread. It is amazing and is one of those meals that just tastes better with a pivo (beer). It has already become my comfort food, and I've not decided yet if the fact that my favorite Svíčková (thus far) is at a great Czech restaurant just 2 blocks from my house. ;) It's a great place that is not touristy in anyway and actual Czech people eat there. I've already been there twice this week!

Today I spent the afternoon wandering around Prague and found another great beer garden in a park north of the river with an amazing view of the city. It's already getting chilly here, so beer garden time is limited! I'm glad to have found two fun places already this week!

I also spent a good part of the day preparing for the week. My schedule is pretty cool. I'll be teaching 6 different (maybe more) courses and levels of students. I have three kindergarten classes which are mostly the same. Then I teach students grades 1-5. I may have a 6th grade class, but currently there is no one signed up. I have multiple first, second, and third grade classes. So, it will be an interesting schedule. Tomorrow, I three twenty-five minute classes with kindergarten students from 8:00 -9:25 am and then a 3rd grade class at 1:30 (45 minutes). I may have two other courses after that one, but I don't know yet. For our first lesson, we have two demo lessons (depending on age) we teach so I will basically teach those two lessons several times this week. I'm sure it'll be interesting!

Monday, September 13, 2010

My first Burčák

First things first, pictures of my new apartment and neighborhood are up:

Well the move went well! I happened to move on the warmest day Prague has seen in months - it was only 72! LOL. It was fairly easy to move - only took 4 tram trips. Too bad I had to go uphill to the tram station with my full suitcases. Oh well, it was a good workout! I got settled in on Saturday and even made a trip to IKEA to get bedding and pillows. What a relief to finally feel settled in my new home! I just need something to hang on the walls, and I'll feel a bit more at home. I need to print out some pictures to hang up. :) But I have to figure out how and where to do that first! One thing I'm learning is that everything takes what feels like 10 times longer to do anything here! I'm sure that'll get easier once I know the city and the stores a bit better. For now, there's not much one can do!

I spent the rest of the weekend sleeping, unpacking and exploring my new neighborhood. Pictures of my apartment and neighborhood are on Picasa (link above). It's generally easier to post pictures there than on the blog. The one thing I don't seem to have patience for these days is technology, so I'll have to figure out how to make that easier one of these days.

Today was the first day of training. We met out front of a church to do teambuilding, and I had extreme RA training flashbacks! Although, this time instead of being the one leading the activities, I was doing them. It was especially interesting to have a group of Czech homeless people sitting near us heckling us. After just a few activities and none too embarrassing, we went to lunch at 11 am. None of us were hungry, but the schedule said we'd eat, so we did. :) After a traditional Czech lunch of soup, chicken, and czech dumplings (kind of like steamed bread - not amazing in my opinion). The rest of the food was great!

Then we went to a cafe for our training. We did more games that we can use in our classrooms and then started to talk about teaching, but we ran out of time so we'll talk more tomorrow. I still don't have many details about what I'm going to be doing, but it'll be ok.

My co-workers are pretty cool. Most of us will be teaching in Prague, but about 5 of the 13 teachers will be in other areas of CR. It's nice to make friends in those areas with free places to stay! Many of us enjoy similar things in terms of outdoor activities, so I can see some hiking adventures coming up. Most of the group are younger than me, but there are a couple of us "old folks" in our early 30s. The younger crowd is cool too, and we all went out for a drink after training to get to know each other more. It really was a fun day and a fun group!

The two teachers who are returning to Prague, told us that we had to go have some Burčák. It's a young wine that is only available for a certain time and is alleged to have health benefits. I found this article on the website (one of the expat sites in prague) with more info below. It was quite good! Pretty sweet...very drinkable!

Beware of the Burčák
By Sam Beckwith

Burčák looks and tastes a little like orange juice but trying to drink burčák as if it were a soft drink is probably ill-advised.

Burčák is partially fermented young wine, which hits the wine bars of Prague in August, slightly ahead of vinobraní, the traditional festival celebrating the new wine harvest.

The opaque, yellowy-orange liquid is surprisingly drinkable, leading the unsuspecting drinker into a false sense of security.

Because burčák is so sweet, it doesn’t really taste like an alcoholic beverage, even though the alcohol content is between 5% and 8%.

Some even claim that because it’s only partially fermented, it’s possible for burčák to carry on fermenting in the blood stream, though this is, in fact, scientifically impossible.

Either way, it can provide a little more merriness than you’ve bargained for.

Burčák production is shrouded in mystery, with each winemaker closely guarding the secrets of their own particular technique, but the basics remain the same across the country.

Burčák is derived from fermenting grape juice, known as must, shortly after the grapes have been crushed. At a point determined by the winegrower, the must is deemed worthy of consumption and a part of it is sold as burčák. The rest is allowed to mature into adult wine.

In common with most other alcoholic drinks produced in the Czech Republic, burčák is supposed to offer great health benefits. In this case, however, the drink’s proponents might actually have a point: Burčák is rich in vitamins, particularly Vitamin B, and certain essential minerals.

You’ll have to move fast to reap those benefits, however: Because of its short shelf-life, burčák can only legally be sold between the 1st August and 30th November.

While the country’s best burčák – and, indeed, the best Czech wine – is found in Moravia (the eastern half of the Czech Republic), Prague gets its share of the golden liquid.

The city’s fancier wine bars are all likely to offer burčák, but for an authentically Czech experience, we’d recommend the cavernous halls of Vinárna U Sudu.

If nothing else, U Sudu will challenge any preconceptions you have about wine being the sole domain of the sophisticate, housing seven subterranean rooms stuffed with increasingly rowdy (and suspiciously young-looking) burčák quaffers.

Na zdraví!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Where there's sun, there's rain

As I was leaving the visit to my new apartment (yes, you got it - I have a new home!), it was raining steadily while the sun was shining - gorgeous!

So, I visited three apartments today. They all had their pluses and minuses, and after much debate and consultation - thanks Susan and mom - I went with a nice apartment in Praha 2. This is the area just south of where I am currently. It is in a cute neighborhood with many little markets (can't wait to go to the butcher, fruit store, and bread shop), coffee shops and restaurants. I'll get more pictures of the apartment and a final address soon. I am signing my lease in the morning, and not to worry, this time I can stay and get the appropriate paperwork for my visa - yay!

I'm going to have four roommates. Three are guys and one is a woman (sorry, that was obvious). Anyway, they are all professionals in Prague including another English teacher, but she's moving out at the end of the month. There are two bathrooms with showers and laundry as well as a huge living room, which is very rare here. The room itself is much bigger and nicer and even a bit less expensive, so this is turning out to be for the best. In addition, the roommates seem really cool and like we could hang out for sure but that we'd also respect each other's privacy.

To show the apartment, John, the owner came and the flatmates were there and there were four of us there to view the flat. We all stood around and chatted for about 45 minutes, which I thought was really cool. I kinda felt like I was on the Prague version of Real World, because it totally felt like that first moment where everyone arrives and is getting to know each other. Here's hoping the drama level is much lower than the Real World!

After getting another offer on a different flat, I finally connected with John to secure the room. We'll meet to sign the lease and pay for the room in the morning. Moving shouldn't be too tough. There is a tram that will get me from this apartment to the new one with just a 3 block walk on either side. I should be done on Saturday. :) I was grateful to have good options on this round of house hunting, but I feel really good about this place! And ironically enough, my training on Monday starts at a church just 3 blocks from the new place - must be fate!

I have decided that going apartment hunting is a grand way to see a city! I have seen a ton these last few days! It's been a cool way to get to know the city and the surroundings. I also opened a bank account, which was surprisingly easy. There is an expat center at one of the leading banks here, and they cater to expats (duh again - sorry, i'm tired) so I was helped by a great employee Olga, and all is set for that. Another thing off the list. Now, all I have to do is move and get settled and start work. :)

At the end of my day, I wandered down to the river to look at the Prague Castle. Gorgeous!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Here are pictures from my wanderings this week. I didn't get to finish the captioning - but wanted to get them up at least. ;) I didn't go into anything, so I can basically guarantee I'll be back to all these places - and more pictures to come! :)

Time to move...already!

Well, I found out I have to move. I'm pretty bummed, because I really like this area! I'm hopeful I can find something else great in this area soon! Why am I moving so quickly, you might ask? Well, part of the registration process once you have a visa (Got approved Tuesday - yay!), is to verify your residence. This is done by having your landlord sign a form and the owner of the building stamp it. Well, here's the problem. Olga (who rented the room to me) is the leasee of the apartment. She cannot have the owner sign the paper, as it will raise her rent, and thus raise the rent for all of us. She cannot do this and said several times, she will not do it even for her boyfriend (who also lives here). So, I must move to a place that can verify my residency. I have a little time (a week) to look, and I can stay here for a month if needed. I do want to get this done as soon as I can, so I can get settled before training begins on Monday. School starts the following week, so it's going to be really busy, really quickly! I have a few good leads, so we'll see how it goes.

In addition to the fun of moving story - here are a few other random moments of the week that have made me chuckle...

Well, a few funny stories have come to mind, so I thought I'd share them. First of all, I never mentioned the trip from the airport to the hostel. So, I arrived on Sunday with a large suitcase (weighing just under 70 pounds), a large duffel bag weighing in at 50, a backpack, and a small rolly-suitcase. I was met by a great student named Tereza who said, "whoa, you have a lot of stuff!" In perfect English of course. ;) I said, well yes, I'm moving here for a year! She said, "Well, we're taking public transport, so let's go." We went out and waited for the bus and then lugged all the gear up the three steps on the bus. She then taught me how to validate my ticket for myself as well as my baggage. I like that the bags need a ticket too. About 10 minutes later, we get to the metro station. So, we lug the stuff down the bus stairs and then down about 2 flights of stairs into the station. Then, we get on the longest escalator I have seen. Seriously, it had to be three flights long! As I get on with the duffel bag on top of the large suitcase, I almost fall down the stairs because of all the weight. Thankfully Tereza was there to catch me! Then we hop on the metro and cruise to the next stop. Back up crazy long escalator and then up some stairs. At this point, I say maybe we should get a taxi? She said we were almost there, so not to worry. "We can do this," she says. I think - of course "we" can...I'm carrying all the heavy stuff! Some nice stranger helped me up the stairs and then we hopped on yet another bus and about 5 minutes later we arrived at the hostel...phew!

Grocery shopping is more like a scavenger hunt it seems. I have gone a couple of times now - its so convenient, and basically what people do here, so I mind as well get in the habit. :) Today I bought something that looked like ham - not sure if it is. I guess I'll find out when I try to eat it. I need to get more bread first, because mine spoiled. Not used to fresh bread I guess. I just bought this half-loaf on Tuesday and it started molding today (Thursday). I'll have to buy less bread more often! I also bought whole wheat pasta and sauce the other day. Well, I found the pasta one day and the sauce the next. The sauce had cut up carrots and other veggies I'm not used to in marinara, but it was good - a little sweet too. It was nice with a little cheese and pasta. Never a dull moment here!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The journey is the destination...

So, I've been in Prague for about 57 hours now (but who's counting)...and I can hardly believe it! I almost feel like I've been here for a week already! I've gotten more courageous in attempting to speak Czech. I'm still not good, but you gotta try to get there. I found that I'm remember a lot of German along the way. Some things are posted in Czech and German and in that case, I can at least recognize what I'm buying. Last night I went to the grocery store and had to make some good educated guesses as to what I was buying. Thankfully the salami and cheese turned out to be very tasty and made a good sandwich. I know, not too crazy exciting, but it was about all I was up for yesterday.

My schedule is very off, given the time change. And I've also found that I have very little appetite, which I don't seem to recall from previous overseas journeys. I have been a little bit nervous, so perhaps that's what it is. Anyways, I have been eating and even ate out today. I had a spicy goulash with pork and beef and bread. It was very tasty! I of course had to have a Czech beer - Pilsner Urquell to wash it down. Yum!

After sleeping way too late, I finally got up and got out the door around 1 pm. I showered first - not overly exciting, but I had to share the unique experience of watching the water heater burner burn while taking a shower. I have a direct line of site into the heater and can see the flames while in the tub. Kinda creepy and kinda cool.

Anyway, I explored the park near my house Karlovo namesti - St. Charles Square and then went to one of the metro stops in an effort to acquire my monthly transport pass. When I went to my company's office on Monday, one lady gave me directions to do this along with a note written in Czech to help acquire this pass. She said the workers there are really rude and refuse to speak English, but to try and get it. The other lady in the office said I should wait and go with a university student worker to help translate. The first lady quickly replied, " She is tough, she can try." So, I did! This lady also said she'd help me get the pass tomorrow if I couldn't do it, though she seemed less than thrilled with that plan. So, I was determined to get this done.

First step, get pictures taken. Sounds easy enough. I did this yesterday actually, and as is true with my new Iowa Driver's License, I look like a convict. Not good. I guess it was ok, considering there were only instructions in czech and a green oval came up on the screen. I assumed I had to get the middle of my face in the oval...but not really sure. They turned out fine and the lady accepted it today. I have three more lovely photos, two of which I need for more paperwork tomorrow with my office.

Anyway, so I stand in line for a while and as time passes, I'm getting more and more nervouse. Then I figure, what's the worst that will happen? She might yell at me in Czech, but I won't know what she is saying nor will I know anyone here, so who cares? Finally, I reach the front of the line and hand the nice lady my note and say hi in czech: Ahoj. She shows the paper to the other lady working and kinda chuckles and says something to the other woman. She asked for my passport and within about 5 minutes, I had my laminated id card and pass for this month. Can't wait to go again and get next month's version. I wonder if I'll need a note for that?

After that major accomplishment, I wandered. And I didn't get lost! Ok, so kinda cheesy reference to my blog name, but it was true. I had my trusty map and thankfully a good sense of direction and I just went. I could see a church down the way from the metro so I went there. I don't remember the name, but it was gorgeous! Then I walked down to the museum and opera house. There were signs advertising an opera and an upcoming concert. I cannot wait to go! Perhaps this weekend! Then I walked through Wenceslas Square (Very touristy area). I remembered the advice of our waitress at Little Prague in Davis, CA to be mindful of my bag. Apparently, this is an infamous area for pickpocketers.

Wenceslas Square is named for Saint Wenceslas the patron saint of Bohemia. This area is well known for political demonstrations and celebrations. I really just breezed through this area (and had lunch). I re-learned that food in the touristy areas is way expensive! But, I felt it was a treat for accomplishing my transport pass mountain and well, truth is I am a tourist this week at least. :)

After the square I walked towards the Old Town area where the old city hall is located. This is yet another tourist mecca, and there was even a Starbucks on the corner of this beautiful historic site. Don't worry, there's a picture to come soon! On my way from there, I happened upon the Jewish historic district and then to the river, which I walked along to the Charles Bridge and back home. It's amazing to me how close everything is, and how accessible to public transportation everything is too! I didn't go into any of the museums or other sites today, I just wanted to get a feel of this amazing city - my new home.

I am still in awe that I live here! I walked home and found my way without a map. It's handy that the river is just down the street. :) Back at home and I spent my evening making a simple dinner of pasta and sauce and unpacking. I only have one small area (ha, this whole room is small) left to organize. That will wait until tomorrow, as I'm going to try to get some sleep at a normal time tonight. Which is also the reason I haven't posted any pictures today. I'll get on that in the next few days...promise!

Pictures - Apartment

The front door of the building and my keys. The old key is for the front door of the apartment. When I paid my deposit, we had to go get another key made. I was thinking in my head - where the heck are we going to go to do that! Then I remembered that we're in Prague and just down the street was a key shop and here we go!

Here are few pictures of the inside of this very historic flat. It's not fancy, but it's pretty much exactly what I expected. :) I have one of the 4 rooms in the L-shaped apartment. You walk in the front door and the toilet room is immediately to the left.

Then down the long hallway is the kitchen prep area with refrigerator (on right the door at the end of the hall is the front door of apartment).

At the corner (picture to right with red chairs), is a small sitting area. You turn right down the small hallway, and my room is to the right (picture with suitcases). I have a daybed type bed a nice desk and large storage closet/wardrobe. I also have a lovely few of the courtyard (left)! My flatmates are cool. One is even an English teacher for another company. The owner, Olga, is from Russia but has lived in Prague now 10 years. The other two roommates are moving out at the end of the month. One guy is here and we've exchanged "hellos." The other woman is not here right now.

Past my room is the kitchen sink/cooking area and the shower room and the other bedrooms (picture above right). It's pretty cozy and in the heart of Prague...I couldn't be happier!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ready or Not...

So, I got a pedicure yesterday and the color I was drawn to happened to be called "Ready or Not." Seemed way too fitting not to go with now my toes are a lovely deep red, and ready or not - the time has come to move to Prague!

I am officially packed (minus a few last things to go into the bag in the morning). I'm taking roughly 150 pounds of my US life with me to Prague. I've never thought about stuff that way!

I've been talking about moving overseas for about two years now, and now it feels surreal to be doing this. I'm sure it'll take quite a bit of time for it to sink in. I am honestly nervous. I know in the end it will all work out and clearly there is no turn back now - if nothing else, I refuse to unpack those bags for a while! LOL. But, it is interesting to pack up your life and move many miles away from what you are used to. I'm fortunate to have family in Germany not too far away. I'm greatly looking forward to building stronger relationships with my family there as well as building friendships with many new people. That all being said, I will miss my family and friends here! I have been so darn lucky to have spent the last few months with the people I care about. Its those great experiences I draw upon in the emotional moments that have appeared over these past few weeks getting ready. I am truly excited, however I am also truly scared.

I can't tell you how many people - mostly random strangers I have met - who have made comments to me like "so, you're moving to a foreign country by yourself?" I just smile and say yes, I am. What I really want to say is - hell yes I am! And I'm a bit freaked out about it, so stop pointing out the fact that I'm going to be completely ALONE! Well, I know I'll never be alone, because of all my great friends and family out there. So, I guess next time someone says that to me - I'll say I'm not alone. I'm taking you all with me. :) No wonder my bags are so heavy!

I'm ready to start this adventure. I'm sure there will be posts here that will span the entire range of emotions. I'm not sure you can every truly feel "ready" for this type of thing, but I'm ready to try and give it a go! Look out I come! Ready or not!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stepanka Happens

So, the tale of getting a green card in the Czech Republic is an entertaining one to say the least! It has not been easy, and as of this moment, I do not have one, so hopefully that'll change before September 13. :)

Back in early July, my new company, Wattsenglish, sent me all the paperwork to apply for a temporary work visa and green card in the Czech Republic. I filled out the paperwork and had them review it before submitting it to the Czech Consulate. Finding a consulate to answer my questions was the first challenge. I first called the Consulate in San Francisco (as I was in northern CA), who responded to my call two days later saying they are an auxilliarly office and therefore can only answer questions. I thought that was great, because really I had a lot of questions. So, I started asking, and the guy quickly responded that he didn't know the answer and I should call the LA office. I had already tried to call and e-mail them so I looked for more information. I finally found the Chicago Czech Consulate information and contacted them (Since my permanent address is in Iowa, they have to process the information). Great. So, I call them and the first question the lovely woman I'm speaking with says - "have you looked at our website?" I said I had not yet looked. She said to look at it and then call with any questions, but "it was clearly written what needed to be done." Ok, well, I looked and it wasn't so
"clear" but I figured it out. Along the way, I realized I needed to have my university diploma Apostilled. What's that you might ask? Grand question! An Apostille is the process one goes through to certify a government document is legitimate so another country's government will recognize it. Sounds easy enough! To do this, you have to have a copy of the diploma notarized, and then have that copy certified by the Secretary of State for your state.

So, I go to my local notary in Davis, CA and then take an adventure to the Secretary of State's office in Sacramento. I waved to the Governator across the way and went about my business. For the low price of $26, a nice government employee wearing shorts and sucking on a blow pop wrote a simple letter to the Czech government and therefore apostilling (yes, I'm making this word up) my diploma! Yay!

The next day, I call the Chicago Consulate again to verify that I have everything I need. She asks which state my diploma is from, and I tell her Iowa. She quickly states that the California will NOT Apostille a document issued from another state. I kindly reply that I have already completed the Apostille process in California. There's a short pause and she responds with "oh...hold on please." Five minutes or so go by, and then she comes back to say that they cannot accept this Apostille, and that it must be done in Iowa. I then ask her how to do this, and she says it's easy. In my head I'm thinking, right, because everything about this process has been so easy! She says to call Iowa State University to get a duplicate copy of the diploma and ask them to send it to the Iowa Secretary of State...easy. Right. It is now about the 20th of July, and I was supposed to have submitted my paperwork weeks ago. I leave for Prague in 6 weeks, and I'm wondering just how long it will take for my Iowa version of the Apostille.

So, I call the lovely ladies in the Office of the Registrar at Iowa State University. I can picture them in my head in the lower level of Alumni Hall (sorry, I know it's Enrollment Services Building now) at their computers in a tiny room. I call and the ONLY person who can issue a duplicate copy is out of the office until Monday. It is Thursday, and I don't have time to spare! So, I call the Iowa Secretary of State and ask for their advice. The kind lady there says that I can send my diploma to her and she'll copy and notarize it and then process the Apostille in the office as well. All for the low, low price of $5. I love it! So, I scoot to the post office and my documents are on their way! The following Monday, the nice lady from the Secretary of State calls with a not so nice message. She left a voicemail stating that if I didn't call her back by 2 pm Iowa time, she was sending all my materials back, because I forgot to indicate which country I needed the documents for. Jeez...let's be a little more dramatic about this! So, I call her back, and all is well.

I get my documents back on Wednesday, July 28 and take them to the FedEx office so I can submit my packet of information to the Chicago Czech Consulate. I verify on the website that the cost is $62. This includes a processing fee as well as a fee to verify the translation of my diploma that was also required. They would not translate it for me, and I was required to pay $35 to have it translated by a certified translator so that I could pay the Consulate $14 to verify the translation. I love it! So, I send it off and they receive it on Friday, July 30. Relief!

On Monday, August 2, I get a call from Stepanka at the Consulate asking me to call her back. I missed the call and when I tried to call back, they had left early for the day. So, I tried the next morning. Tuesday morning I call about 9 am Chicago time, and am quickly told that they can only help people physically in the consulate in Chicago in the morning and I must call after 12:30. Ok then...I was wondering why they answered the phone...but whatever! I call back later and the lovely Stepanka (Who truly is incredibly nice) told me that I was $7 short in my application. The prices change from month to month and since they didn't start processing my paperwork until Monday, I was short. The prices change because of the currency conversion. So, not only does she need $7, but she needs it by Thursday, because they need to get my stuff to the Czech Republic. Great. There is no possible way Stepanka can spot me $7 in the meantime or I can pay with a credit card, I have to go and overnight $7 to her. For the low price of $18.30. Awesome! And she says, there's one more form we need you to fill out. So send that too. At this point I'm just laughing because I don't know what else to do. So, that goes out and gets to Chicago on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Stepanka calls again. She asks if I have filled out an affidavit. I ask her what it is for, and she says it is to prove I have not committed a crime. I said I hadn't done it, because on the website it said it was something they may ask for later, but that it was not required for all applicants. By the way she told me Tuesday that I had to have the money to her by Thursday, because that was the day my packet was being sent to the Czech Republic. She continues to say that it would be good to have it, so that in case they ask for it, we don't waste more time. It is now just over 4 weeks from my departure date, so every day counts. So, she sends me the form, which I fill out and once again take to my local notary. This time I'm in San Jose, so it's a new experience.

I go to the Notary at a postal annex shop. This kind woman originally from India with broken English helps me out. The affidavit is half in Czech and half in English. At the top it says Affidavit/7 words in Czech I do not know. She asks me what that means. I tell her I don't know, and she gets a little annoyed at me for not knowing what it says. In my head I'm thinking, please don't judge me. I know I don't understand Czech and I'm moving there, I don't need guilt from you who is clearly speaking English as a second language and doing it fairly well. Of all people, can you please understand? So, we move on and I tell her what the document is, so she says she can do it. She asks for my driver's license and then asks me to raise my right hand. So, I'm standing in a strip mall postal annex mini-mart, raising my right hand, and swearing to this cute Indian woman that I have not committed a crime. I'm sure glad this scientific process is necessary to get a green card in the Czech Republic! It sure made me laugh! I took it to the post office and once again overnighted the documents to Chicago for the low price of $18.30...again.

Well just last week, I still hadn't heard anything, so I decide to call the consulate and I talked to Stepanka again. We're pretty good friends at this point! I ask about things and she says it hasn't been processed yet and that when it is, she'll call me. I tell her that I'm leaving in a week and I don't have my passport. She said I didn't need the green card to get in the country, which I know. I said that wasn't my issue, but that I needed my passport. She then realizes they have it there. I ask her to send it back and she says she can, but we should wait until Monday in case they hear by then. I'm not really sure why that's necessary as they don't send me anything for the green card, because I have to pick it up in Prague. But whatever. I talked to Stepanka again today and she's sending it my way. I tracked my pre-paid package on FedEx and it was picked up in Chicago. I should have it tomorrow. Whew! Now, let's just keep our fingers crossed that I can get my green card in time to start work in a week and a half!

This whole thing gave me peace in knowing that the US government is not the only one riddled with bureaucracy!

I can't wait for more adventures!

***The title of this is not meant to be offensive to anyone named Stepanka, it just makes for a great title and makes more sense as you read along. :)