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.