Nashledanou, Praha…

This literally means, “Until I see you again…”

Can’t believe I have been home from Prague for three days now!  Perhaps I have been procrastinating with this last post because I don’t want to admit that it’s over! 

Saying good-bye is always hard, so the Czechs threw us a party with music, dancing, gifts, and plenty of wine to help keep spirits high.  I loved learning one more dance, even if it basically involves running in and out of a circle as fast as you can.  Too bad they chose to hold the party in the Charles Bridge Museum, a lovely venue with a spectacular view, but also right next to a monastery.  The monks were not amused by our requests for extra songs.

A quick note about Team Werlin/Gregory/Aadland: We may not take the most notes, but we still won the most (six) rounds Czech Trivia, hosted by our Fulbright guide, Katrina.  This proves our dedication and attention!  Note our fierce collection of homemade stickers.

What I’m going to remember the most from this trip: stepping outside my comfort zone and being open to a new adventure…and discovering it was ever better than I had hoped!  As my friend Michele and I said to each other every day, “You never know what’s going to happen!”  I learned to expect the unexpected, and relish it.

You know, I’ll be eligible for another trip in three years…

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At the Montessori and Ecological Centers

For all those readers who are frustrated by unrealistic expectations for fours and fives, let me start by saying the international Montessori preschool (ages 18 mos to 5 years) is now hiring.  Bonuses include housing, a salary much greater than that of the public school teachers here, a school pet pony, and the joy of teaching children with names like Nora, Jaume, and Imogen.  Oh, and then there’s the freedom from a state-sponsored curriculum. 

Another wonderful place to visit was the Ecological Education Center, a farm literally in the middle of Prague where children can learn about where bacon really comes from.  It reminds me a lot of the Pratt Center at home, only this place has a kindergarten, too.  There’s something about keeping a cow in the forest at the edge of the 10th district.  Fortunately the land was donated for this purpose after the fall of Communism, so now city children from far and wide get to pet the bunnies and help in the garden.

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Petrin Tower and Mirror Maze

Just a short funicular ride away from the river is Petrin Hill, where I decided to hang out with Stephanie and Michele for our last free night in Prague.   We started with pictures from the tower, then made our way to the Mirror Maze for some silliness.  The sky was a bit cloudy and the sunset was subdued, which is fitting given our mixed feelings about having to leave.  There should be rain and clouds for our goodbye cruise as well, so it seems the city has indeed caught our vibe.

While I am incredibly eager to be going home tomorrow, I also know that this experience has changed my life.  I’m going to miss the late night talks with friends just down the hall, always having company for breakfast, the crazy personalities that make up our group…perhaps there will be another Fulbright in my future?  I’ll have to wait three years before applying again, but to all my colleagues reading this–the elementary applications are due in October and there are three great destinations to choose from, so stop making excuses and apply!

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Fun and Laughter

It’s been more than six weeks now…so now is the time to let loose!  I joined some friends to go paddle-boating in the Vltava river the other day–what fun!  The views were good, the conversation was light, and the mood was perfectly relaxed.  Well, almost relaxed if you don’t count the stress of trying to steer a boat when you are sitting in the back.  We wisely decided that if I was going to steer, we’d need to change positions, so the three of us very carefully moved around while in the water and managed to NOT tip the boat.  Guess Diane didn’t need the plastic wallet after all…Being the control freak that I am, I enjoyed steering and paddling independently, and there were no complaints from my two idle passengers.  I highly recommend it!

For more fun, look at the motorcycle we found parked outside our hotel one night.  Why yes, it is made by Mattel!  Also recently spotted: a Lamborghini, many Maseratis, some Hummers, and quite a few older American cars advertising the restaurants in the area.  You never know just what you will find…

Prague is more fun at night, and we loved the view from the Terrace restaurant.  We could hear the Astronomical clock each hour and see the sun set over Prague Castle.  Karen enjoyed the skewers the most, while Gail is a fan of the Becherova. 

As for The Magic Flute, I am so glad that our music teacher, Rodney, took the time to carefully draw and label his toiletries for a quick introduction to the opera by Mozart.  I found his version highly engaging.  While the Marionette Theatre had better costumes, the plot was too abstract for an uneducated audience.  So if you must see this show, be sure you watch the preview with a bottle of Listerine starring as Pamina the princess.

(Yes, I realize these pictures and jokes may lose their meaning for those outside our group, but since I am starting to consider this blog as my own scrapbook, I have to record these memories!)

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The Path to Petrin Hill

Being part of a group of 16 has its advantages and disadvantages.  For example, it’s nice to have many friends to eat and chat with at lunch, and there’s always someone who wants to join you when it’s time for shopping.  However, when you are in a new city and trying to navigate, I find it best to strike out on my own so that I cannot rely on others for directions.  So I went off to seek Petrin Hill, bringing just my brightly illustrated McDonald’s map, camera, and a willingness to forge my own path.  These pictures show the sights along the way…

I did make it to Petrin Hill, but since there were people to meet later, I didn’t actually get to the top of the hill.  Perhaps I will go back tomorrow when I have a little more time.  Plus I really would like to ride the funicular, just so I can say I rode the funicular.  Funicular, funicular, funicular!  What a fun word!

I learned that Prague really isn’t that large and my whole map was walkable, at a leisurely pace, in two hours.  I still am more of a navigate-by-landmark kind of gal, but at least I am starting to sense which direction they are in.  I am curious if I will remember anything if/when I return.  Also of importance–I learned which streets are the most crowded with tourists and where all the good shoe stores are.

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A Fairytale Castle

Karlstejn is the kind of castle that little kids dream about being princesses and knights in.  Karlstejn is also the kind of castle that looks a lot closer in the distance!  Walking up to the castle entrance is not for those out of shape, and inside the stairs are just as exhausting.  But what else would you expect when climbing to the “Tower of Heaven?”

It took just 17 years to build in the 1300’s, and Charles the Fourth was the main man on the grounds.  Some people collect salt and pepper shakers, others stamps…Charles liked to collect holy relics, like a thorn from Jesus’ crown and a saint’s knuckle for instance.  He kept them safe in the castle, which was not an easy job given those pesky Swedes who attacked for seven months straight.  (Hence the easy-to-burn bridges connecting the towers and walls like an onion skin.)

Fortunately the fortifications worked, and the Swedes never did get to destroy Karlstejn.  It lives on to remind us what life was like back in the really, really old days.

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Kutna Hora and the Bone Church

The weekend brought wonderful weather and a chance to leave the city of Prague.  Off to Kutna Hora, the small village that had been such a big silver mining town in the 1400’s that they were able to build many impressive buildings, such as the cathedral seen in the pictures.

Life as a miner was not easy, so it’s no wonder that the churches and religious monuments were important to the town.  Mining references are everywhere, too.  So it only made sense that we go on the mining tour to learn more about it.  Of course men back then were much smaller, but still the shafts were short and narrow.  The smallest area width was about 16 inches, and the smallest height was about 50 inches, so we had to crouch and turn sideways to access some of the chambers.   (I suggest a cardboard cutout at the gate to prevent tourists from getting wedged down below…)

There were three kinds of mining work: the actual miners down below, the people sorting and hauling the silver above, and the merchants who were exploiting the other two groups.  The miners had to be between 21 and 35, and in good physical shape so that crawling on your hands and knees in the dark or sliding down a 10 foot shaft on your leather apron wasn’t an issue.  The miners had very weak lamps, good for two hours of light, and used their ears and noses to find the silver (which apparently smells like garlic because of the arsenic inside).  There was a watchman keeping track of the number of men who were down below, but keep in mind he was “doing a good job” as long as he lost no more than five miners a day.

After the mine tour, we were off to the Ossuary, or Bone Church.  When faced with the accumulation of bones after the plague and many wars, a half-blind monk decided to arrange them into pyramids, a coat of arms, a chandelier, and other decorations to remind people of their mortality.  The remains are from more than 40,000 people, and he disinfected and whitewashed them all first.  That’s dedication!

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Nighttime Prague

We have had many long days filled with sightseeing and lectures, so it’s always nice to relax in the evenings.  These pictures are from two nights.

First there was the Municipal House, where we saw a concert titled, “The Best of Mozart and Strauss.”  Added bonus: there was some dancing and singing to accompany the musicians.  However, with less than a quarter of the seats filled for an amateur quality performance, it was clear that this event was strictly for tourists.  Alas, if only we had been able to come a little earlier when all the theatres and operas were still open.  Still, it was fun to see the building–and I really did see much of it considering Michele and I tried to leave early and spent a considerable amount of time lost in the basement.

Eating out with the group is always an adventure as well because the Czech standard for table service is a fun Communist relic.  Fortunately, at Maitrea, the food was both vegetarian and prompt.  Yay!  The atmosphere was perfect, too, perhaps because of the Feng Shui or maybe because of the water feature by our table.  I’d like to recommend the lime pie to anyone thinking of visiting…

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The Sights of Vysehrad

I’ve now officially been away from home for 38 days and my attention to detail is waning.  My apologies for the lack of description for these pictures…our tour guide’s English was choppy and I don’t have much to say about them.  Let me tell you instead about all the little things that make the Czech Republic special:

There are switches/sensors on the lights to save energy, which is admirable except when it only detects motion after you’ve walked past the area you need lit.

Stairs are always marked in yellow when they are first or last.

Every cashier has a little tray for giving back change–they won’t hand it to you.

When eating out, you will be charged for each slice of bread you eat in the basket, so best to keep track or risk an overcharge.  (Do they then bring out the left over bread for another group?)

All maintenance/road crew/construction workers have matching overalls that seem to be color-coded by the type of worker you are.  They’re snazzy.

Your silverware and napkins will come out after your food in a restaurant–but the waiter won’t count them, so you may have to ask for more.  Or perhaps you will get a cup full of knives when served soup…

Even when speaking English, our hosts will constantly ask, “Okay?” or “MmmmHmmm?” after everything they say.  You must nod confirmation or they think you don’t understand them and stop talking completely.

Nothing teaches you more about your country than leaving it…

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Hanging Around Praha Castle

One thing I am starting to value is how our tour guide for the city, Prof. Scripnik, is taking us off the beaten path for our walks.  Prague is a beautiful city, and apparently everyone else knows it too.  Think NYC Times Square at noon–walking through the Old Town Square or Charles Bridge area is tourist madness and not for the faint of heart.

So, in our quest to stay away from the hoardes, we were lead through hiking paths and sharply inclined alleyways up to Prague Castle.  The reward for all the exercise is the view of the nicely manicured lawns, gardens, and other important buildings.  I know they are all important because I’ve been told they are, but not why they are important, so my apologies for vague labels on the photos.  When you’ve been staring at cathedrals and castles for the last four weeks, they all start to look alike anyway.

My favorite place to be so far is Namesty Republiky for many reasons, including: I know where it is and how to get there, I can pronounce it, there’s a mall and supermarket there, and finally, there are a lot of beautiful buildings there to reflect the setting sun.  I’m hoping to find more places like it soon…stay tuned.

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