Last Night in Prague
October 9, 2009

So, tonight’s the night – my last night in Prague.  I just got back from a lovely relaxed beer with my CELTA classmates at a local bar.  It was sure nice getting to see lots of the folks before I left.  They are such nice people, and all in different ways!  Spending time here has really widened my horizons, in terms of the different people I hang out with and the different views and backgrounds they have.  Not only that, but I think this experience has helped me to be braver in some ways: getting to know people, using escalators, and living life as it comes.  The next few weeks, I’m sure, will really help me develop that last skill – a journey through Europe planning each leg only a few days in advance will really make me flexible, I hope.

Well, that’s all for now, I have an early train in the morning bound for Linz, Austria.  Peace ❤


Change of Plans
October 8, 2009

So, after a (mostly) lovely 5 weeks in Prague, I’m deciding to throw in the towel.  The job market here is tight as is, and for a non-EU citizen, it is even harder to get in.  I had been very hopeful about finding a job here, but it just isn’t meant to be, I suppose.

First of all, I haven’t gotten any positive responses back regarding the nearly 100 CVs (resumes) I’ve sent out.  Secondly, I don’t think I’d care to live in Prague long-term.  Don’t get me wrong, the city is beautiful, historical, and safe, and the people are warm and friendly (when you’re able to connect with them), but it isn’t the most friendly of cities.  Just going into the bakery or supermarket is a guarantee to meet with unfriendliness.  Sure, in the city center, everyone is happy to see a foreigner.  But in the more local places, we’re seen as a nuisance.   I’m sure any perceived unkindness is only on the surface, and would melt away if we got to know each other.  However, on a day-to-day basis, it makes your day feel draining when smiles and kind words are few and far between when you’re out in public.  There are, of course, a good deal of exceptions to this: Nicole at the Akcent cafe was a darling, and some wait staff at restaurants have been pleasant indeed.  I apologize for any offence I may have caused to my wonderful Czech classmates here, but I’ve found it frustrating in the last week here.

Anyway, I’ve decided to move on and do a bit of traveling before returning home to the US to find a job.  I’m carefully crafting some plans to stay with friends-of-friends at city(ies) en route to Sicily.  Saturday, I’m tentatively planning to stay in Linz, Austria for a few days with a friend-of-a-friend.   This trip will culminate in Sicily where I hope to see one of my mother-lands and meet some distant family members for the first time.  If I can actually make it to Sicily, it will be a dream come true!  Keep reading for updates 🙂

Attempted Opera Night
September 25, 2009

So tonight I’d really hoped to see “Turandot” for 100kc at the State Opera House.  I met with my friend from class and we were all dressed up and excited.  But, fate had other plans and no tickets were available for under 400kc, so we decided not to go.  Instead, she and I went in our opera clothes to a street vendor for fried food and a beer.  She had a fried camambert sandwich (recommended) and I had a surprisingly giant potato pancake (too greasy).  I’ve also discovered that I like Gambrinus beer – apparently it’s known as a girl’s beer because it’s on the lighter side – much more mild than Pilsner Urquell.

Then we called it a night and I made my traditional stop at the Billa supermarket on the way home from the Metro.  Hopefully I’ll be here in Prague long enough to see “Turandot” performed again – it will be on in another two weeks.

Tomorrow I might be going to Karlstein Castle in the countryside outside of Prague for an autumn wine festival – maybe.  We shall see.

And just for the record – I’m 3/4 done with the CELTA – can you believe it?!  Only 1 assignment and 2 lessons left. Wow! And then I’ll be qualified to enter the wonderful world of getting paid to teach EFL. Yay!  Goodnight!

I’m Gonna Make It
September 23, 2009

I’m Gonna Going To Make It

The end of my CELTA course is fast approaching.  In about 10 days I will have a certificate in my hand and no room to call my own.  As much as I’ve planned and researched, the upcoming week and a half will be murderously busy.

So far, I have compiled a partial (very incomplete) list of schools I’d like to apply to work at, refashioned my resume into a respectable European CV (with the help of a tutor), and gotten to thinking about the real possibility of working in Prague.  After my second advisement meeting, it looks like my scores will most likely be passing – which is saying a lot in this make-it-or-break-it practical.  In the next day or two I really need to get my CV out there in front of the eyes of the EFL powers that be.  And I have lesson planning and two assignments on top of that.  But hey, if I can find a job I’m happy with in Europe, it will all be worth it.

I also have been pondering writing about some Prague-isms I’ve noticed so far – things that are different here than back home.  But please, when you read this, forgive my over-generalizations.

1. Don’t drink the milk.  The store-bought “fresh” milk should be avoided.  I suppose that my sensitive palette is accustomed to the super-yummy milk available in America, because the fresh milk here is sour!  I’ve confirmed this with other non-Praguers.  Tip – stick to the long-life Parmalat-style milk; you’ll thank me later.

2. Men and purses.  Yep.  Not messenger bags, real purses.  Ok, maybe not all men wear a purse here, but I’ve noticed that it’s pretty common to see men with plain black leather purses hanging on their shoulder.  It’s gone beyond a European carrying case and onto a full-fledged handbag.  So, men in America, there’s no need to feel like you’re out-of-place just because you carry a messenger bag or fanny pack – in Europe you’re only halfway there.

3. Metro – awesome and clean.  A little bit awkward to figure out after midnight, but still the best.

4. Shop assistants – Actually, this isn’t very different from back home.  I had been warned all about unfriendly sales clerks, but not that I’m here, it doesn’t seem like a big change from NY.   I suppose NY shop assistants aren’t the warmest, either.  However, I do miss sweet old ladies in shops who help you and make you feel Southern-ish hospitality.

5. Peanut Butter – Doesn’t exist in its American form whatsoever.  The closest thing I’ve found is a peanut cousin of Nutella, that is more like a dessert than a protein…..which brings me to….

6. Nutella. Hazelnuts.  Everywhere. Yesss!  Being a big fan of anything Hazelnut-flavored (not flavoured) back home, I have been in a gastronomical 7th heaven when it comes to dessert items.  At least half of the desserts and croissants have Nutella or Hazelnuts!  ….and it’s cheap!  Score!

7.  Watch where you step!  Seriously, on any given walk to/from school, I’ll see at least a few dogs peeing on lawns/lampposts/cars.  But that’s not all – doggie doo doo is a major culprit in dirty shoe smells, and should be actively avoided at all costs.  Kids don’t seem to play in the random green spaces here between apartment buildings; any grass (or sidewalk or street) is the personal toilet of dogs here, who 90% of the time walk freely without a leash.  Molly wouldn’t fit in at all – she would run around in the street with reckless abandonment.  The dogs are cute, but their poo deadly.

8. Apples and flies.  There seem to be lots of apple trees with lots of rotten apples on the ground around them.  This is my guess as to why there seems to bean over-abundance of fruit flies in Prague.  Maybe.

9. Starbucks and KFC’s especially really are everywhere

10. Hot chocolate, more like hot chocolate pudding.  Questionable, but yummy.

11. Pivo.  Beer is cheap here and sold everywhere.  A reasonable price at a local non-touristy restaurant is about 25-30kc, the equivalent of $1-$1.75 (depending on exchange rates).   Our school cafe has Pilsner Urquell stocked so that we can have a beer after a stressful lesson.  In fact, that’s how you can easily find out which trainees taught on any given day.  So far, I like the Staropramen the best, but I forgot which variety, so I haven’t been able to order it again.

I hope I didn’t seem overly negative.  Don’t get me wrong – I love Prague, especially the city center.  But there are definitely some quirky things here, whether from history, culture, communism-after-effects, or mass manufacture.  And remember: beer, not milk. 😉

Two Days, Two Concerts
September 19, 2009

Concert scaffolding and tent in front of Our Lady Before Tyn Church

Wow I’ve been busy!  Sorry I haven’t been keeping up with my blog or my facebook photo posts.  My CELTA course is super-demanding and lesson planning takes up much of my free time during the week.  Fortunately, I’ve had enough free time to go to two special events in the last few days – an outdoor concert and an opera.

Astronomical Clock on the left, Old Town Square all around

On Thursday evening, Goran Bregović, a Serbian musican who is a big deal in the Balkan music world, played a free concert in Old Town Square.  I’d never heard of him, but apparently he’s very popular in Europe – my friends from class invited me to come out and so I did.  It was a huge concert and his band included an orchestra, sopranos (maybe it was altos), and a tuxedo-clad male choir.  The music was great! It was a fun mix of sounds from all types of music – polka-ish, electronic orchestra, middle-eastern, and so much more.  My friends from the CELTA course knew many of his songs, and I enjoyed it very much.  The atmosphere was very excited – so many people in Old Town Square – a modern electronic concert in the middle of this city center from the Middle Ages – how Prague is that!!

Last night, I had a great time going to see “Carmen” at the State Opera House.  This beautiful opera hall is right next to the National Museum near Wenceslas Square.  According to my guidebook, it was built in an attempt to rival the well-known gold-roofed National Theatre that sits by the Vltava River.  The State Opera House was gorgeous – in the 1980’s it underwent thorough renovation, and so now it looks straight out of the Victorian-ish era.

State Opera House

I went with two of my CELTA classmates as well as one of our EFL students from class.  I’m so happy everyone came!  We made it just in time – we were running up the many steep stairs to our 100kc (crown) seats as the Overture was raging on.  Yes – only 100kc – about $7 US.  Our original seats weren’t impressive, but after the first quarter we shifted over to seats with a great vantage point to see both the full orchestra and all of the actors.  It was amazing!  The story was very interesting and the music was thrilling!  I had heard much of the music before, whether in movies/TV or somewhere as background music at some point in my life.  The songs were intense, especially Carmen’s theme in the beginning (“love is like a bird, love is like a Gypsy child”), the lalalala song, and the Toreador song.  It was a wonderful opera!

Afterwards, our Czech friend had to go home, but my classmates and I found a lovely art-deco bar called Lucerna off of Wenceslas Square.  We had a nice conversation, some cake, some tea & coffee, and some wine, and then called it a night.  What a wonderful evening in Prague!  I definitely want to “culture myself” with more Opera – in particular “Tosca” and “Turandot” which will be playing next week – I hope I’ll have the time.  Cheers to the opera!

Curtain Call for "Carmen"

Early Morning Tourism
September 12, 2009

Charles Bridge, facing Mala StranaToday was the earliest start I’ve ever done for sightseeing.  I got up before 6am and was at Charles Bridge by 7am!  I almost didn’t recognize the square next to the bridge because I had never seen it empty before – it bordered on eerie.  Seeing the bridge with no slowly ambling tourists, no vendors, and no street musicians was a pleasant dash of calm in Prague’s city center.  I had the bridge almost all to myself, save for a few pairs of tourists and some runners.Charles Bridge, facing north towards Hrad and Cathedral

After traversing the bridge (it took nearly 40 minutes with all the tour-book reading and photo-taking that I did), I made my way to St. Nicholas Square (I think that’s what it’s called) in Mala Strana.  I finally figured out the correct tram, and boarded.  It was very easy – just a 5 minute ride up to the castle grounds where things seemed even more quiet.

I walked across a road and towards the towers of the Cathedral hiding behind a skyline of trees.  It was so early (around 8am by that point) that I seemed to be the only tourist at what normally should be bustling with cameras and umbrellas.  But all that was to come later.  I walked past the guard in periwinkle uniform who was pacing back and forth down an arched corridor.  From there, I found myself in a large courtyard consisting of a large ancient-looking fountain, a small church, and what seemed to be a giant birdcage. Passageway to St. Vitus Cathedral (see the two doors?)I thought I must have been in the wrong place, or at least maybe on the wrong day.  This was the Hrad (Castle) District.  There was me, the guard, an Asian man taking photos with a fancy camera, and an occasional local walking towards their job at the Hrad wearing business attire.

My chance had come – I got to stroll around and experience the Hrad district without the loud music or the lost tourists from every single country or any of the distractions that make the center a headache at times.  No, the Hrad would be all mine for an hour.  I walked through another arched passageway and I saw it – the Cathedral.  First I saw two doors, side by side, peeking through the arches.  As I proceeded, the Cathedral came into full view.  It was magnificent.   Emily wasn’t exaggerating when she told me how unbelievable huge it was – she was completely right.  Front Exterior of St. Vitus CathedralIt is hard to look at the top of the steeples from ground level without hurting your neck.  It occurred to me that this structure was here (in a smaller form that is now part of the Cathedral) before Europeans landed in the Americas.  This was Europe – places older than memory itself, and this was only the second Castle of Prague (the first was near Vysehrad).  For a long while this morning, it was just me and the St. Vitus Cathedra – a woman and her Gothic beauty.  All the talk in Miss Herron’s European History class came back to me – the importance of flying buttresses and all.  I was really here – and i could see it and touch it (and I did touch the outside of the Cathedral – it was a million-dollar feeling).Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, facing the altar, with lecturn on the left side

At 9am, the doors were opened and I (accompanied by a hundred or so other tourists) were allowed into the Cathedral.  It was so beautiful, not only in the artwork of stained glass and painting, but in subtle ways as well.  The way natural light gently poured in through the long narrow windows high above me was ethereal.  Everything in the Cathedral was beautiful, authentic (I think) and all in that one place to give glory to God, because that’s what the structure of a church is for – and this one did it amazingly.  I was a little phased by the tour groups with umbrella-weilding guides, but I saw so many thrilling things, many Bohemian in character and history, which interested me very much.  The Cathedral of St. Vitus was one of the most amazing and beautiful man-made things I’ve seen in my life, and it definitely makes the eyes of your heart to look up towards God. (…and the pipe organ music didn’t hurt, either; it was pretty amazing)  After leaving the Cathedral, I walked down (much easier than up) to Mala Strana and caught a tram bound for Andel (in the Smicov neighborhood of Prague 5).A row of four-story buildings along Namesti Miru, across from the Church of St. Ludmilla and a lovely public square

After a long morning of sightseeing, I still managed to accomplish finding both Tesco (at the Andel Metro) where I finally bought my surge protector and the Expats center (at Namesti Miru) where I grabbed a copy of the Expat guide to Prague.  I still have a ton of work to do for Monday – make a final draft of a lesson plan and do a 1000+ word assignment from start to finish – wish me good luck and pray for me.  Thanks!  Missing y’all in Prague!

A Week Come and Gone
September 10, 2009

I can’t believe I’ve been here a week! – It feels like I’ve been here much longer.  I’ve been so active and busy recently that time has been playing tricks on me.  So far, I’ve seen major tourist spots in Prague multiple times (enough for me to be frustrated with slow-walkers on Charles Bridge), had a few pivos and  know my metro ride to the city center by heart.  Not only that, but I’ve gotten through almost an entire week of my month-long CELTA course – two lessons already!  My lesson today on listening went extremely well, even though it was an easy topic to plan.  It really boosted my morale and self-confidence to get such positive feedback.  If only all lessons could be that straightforward.

Since I have no lesson to teach tomorrow, I decided to go to the city center this evening to overcome the I’m-in-Europe-but-it-feels-like-suburban-America-but-with-a-different-language blues.  I took the metro to Old Town Square in the Stare Mesto (Old Town) district, where I found the Anagram bookstore.  It was a neat little English-language shop and I found out that the saleman is also an English language teacher here, so he gave me some job-hunting tips.  I had a photo-taking marathon in Staremestske nameste (Old Town Square) and found a good balance between peaceful sunsets and touristy-ness.  St. Nicolas (Stare Mesto) with tourists/locals relaxing shoulder to shoulder

Later, I ambled around towards Nove Mesto (New Town) and found the Palladium, which is an American-style super shopping mall, complete with food court and H&M clothiers.  From there, I traveled towards Wenceslas Square where I tried my first fried cheese on a bun – not as amazing as I’ve been led to believe, but still tasty.Statue of St. Wenceslas with National Museum in background

Finally I made it to Budejovicka (my Metro stop), went to the supermarket, bought half-and-half by accident and drank half a pint of it before I realized the mistake, and read the evaluation of today’s lesson.  I am so happy about it!  If I can only keep up the good lessons and get more good “reviews” then my job hunt might have good prospects.  Wish me good luck.  God bless!

Getting in the Swing of Things
September 9, 2009

Sunday was the last time I was in the city center – I’ve been so busy with course-related work that I haven’t had the chance to do sightseeing during the week.

However, in the span of time from my arrival on Thursday until the end of the weekend, I was able to visit some of the most beautiful man-made sights of history.

Wenceslas Square, facing the statue from a distance

Despite my jetlag and consequential late sleep, I went with my roomate Amanda on Friday to visit the city center for the first time.  Ascending from the Metro station, the first thing I saw was the famous statue of St. Wenceslas in the square (rectangle, actually) bearing his name.  Wow.  I was really in Prague.  That’s when it hit me for the first time.  For those of you who aren’t Czech enthusiasts, St. Wenceslas is the Bohemian patron saint; he was martyred by his brother Boleslav on the Feast of Sts. Cosmas & Damian on his was to church.   And I saw his statue!

From there, we walked to Old Town Square which is a tourist mainstay, and rightfully so.  This medieval town center is home to the great Astronomical Clock to which tourists flock at the top of every hour for a brief show of pre-industrial ingenuity.  I still haven’t caught it at the right time – someday.  Ambling around the city center on the East side of the Vltava river, we snuck a peak into the Old Jewish Cemetary and I had my first Czech pivo (beer) along with fruit dumplings in a nearby restaurant.Charles Bridge and Rudolfinum taken from Kampa Island

Finally, after much walking, I had my first glimpse of the Charles Bridge.  I’d been waiting to traverse this bridge for years now.  Built in 1357 by Bohemian King/Holy Roman Emporer Charles IV, it now features statues of Bohemian saints and public figure.  These statues were added relatively recently, many  in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I went to Sunday Mass at Our Lady Victorious Church in Mala Strana (Little Quarter) where the original Infant of Prague statue can be found.  I don’t know much, but many miracles have been attributed to the small statue of Our Lord as a child.  The church itself was not huge, smaller than St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.  The Infant was in a glass case on an altar on the right side of the church, surrounded by pilgrims lining up to pray behind the circle of kneelers encircling it.The Infant of Prague Statue

Yesterday was my first day of teaching – already!  I knew that I’d be teaching that soon, but it felt so sudden!  It went rather well, and I felt rather comfortable speaking with the class and guiding practice.  My presentation and clarification of grammar was weak, but it was my first lesson, so I am optimistic about potential future improvements.  Tomorrow I’m going to be doing a listening lesson, through the context of “school days”.  Hopefully it will pan out well.  Tomorrow evening, I hope to [finally] go to the city center again, maybe see a sight/museum, and go to Tesco for a surge protector and a Citibank atm for some czech crowns.  I wish banks would be open during the evenings or at least Saturday mornings here!  My classmates and I may try to make plans to get together for a pivo on Friday orsightseeing on Saturday.  I want to see more of Prague, but we have lots of assignments and lesson planning coming up! Wow!  Wish me good luck!  Here’s hoping everything is going swimmingly back in the US. – Ahoj! (“bye” in Czech)

Welcome to Praha!
September 5, 2009

I’m in Prague! I’m actually here! I can’t believe it either!

I arrived here on Thursday afternoon (morning in New York) and I’ve settled in rather nicely.  A pre-arranged taxi picked me up at the airport and brought me straight to my apartment where I’ll be staying for duration of my teacher training course in Prague.My bedroom, with suburban Prague in the background
On Monday I will begin my CELTA course to become an ESL/EFL teacher.  So, for the next month, I’ll be living here and going to classes all day Monday through Friday and teaching “guinea pig” classes during much of that time.  The apartment where I’m staying is in one of Prague’s outer/suburban districts, but it is a 5 minute walk to a supermarket/shopping mall/Metro stop.  From our Metro station, it only takes 5 minutes to get to the city center, so it’s a great location.  I have a lovely bedroom of my own, and a kitchen and bathroom that I share with two other young ladies, one of whom is in my CELTA class.  I have 2 big windows (I love natural light) that afford me a lovely view of suburban Prague, and I get the soothing noises of the main road a few blocks away (actually I like this white noise).
View from my apartment bedroom
So far, I’ve had the opportunity to learn the metro system, shop in a real Czech supermarket and traverse Charles Bridge many times.  That’s not all I’ve done so far, but I am just giving a little glimpse.  Supermarkets can be tricky, and I’ve learned: peanut butter is unknown here, how to mime an order for a half kilo of bologna, and that milk is not as easy as it looks.  Honestly, I still haven’t found fresh-fresh milk here (apparently they sell sour milk for baking alongside the regular milk, but since I can’t read it, I bought the stinky moo juice the first time ewww).  I still haven’t tried the trams or buses, or gotten a SIM card for my mobile phone, or finished my pre-CELTA assignment, but all is well.  Skype has proven most useful in getting to talk to my family back home for a very cheap rate.

It’s late here, so I’ll just insert some pictures and call it a night.  But don’t worry, there will be many, many, many more pictures.