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.