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Frantiskovy Lazne in February

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Reasons to go to the charming little Czech spa town of Františkovy Lázně in drab February:

1) Goethe, Beethoven and Franz Joseph the First were all regular guests to the mineral baths and spa treatments here - and you'll be able to follow in their footsteps without the Spring/Summer tourists.


2) There's a big aquatic center called the Aquaforum where you can easily while away 4 warm, relaxing hours for about 200kc (120kc more for the sauna, too).

From www.frantiskovylazne.cz

3) Someone yarn-bombed lampposts and flower planters in the center, and it looks like they're wearing sweaters.


4) You can "take the waters," i.e. drink the highly carbonated mineral spring water from fountains scattered around town. The taste is vile but it's supposed to be very healthy; you can get rid of that Winter cold.


5) The chilly evening temperatures will cause you to seek refuge somewhere warm and you may stumble upon a gem like the Country Saloon Bažina, an "American" country bar. The night we went, a band played Kenny Rogers and Alan Jackson in Czech! (They need to ditch the flag on the left, though.)


6) There are numerous parks, and many hotels offer Nordic walking tours through them with all the retirees (who are basically the only other people in the town besides you).


7) The grand 19th century architecture is striking - no matter what time of year you come.


8) You might quietly spot a celebrity in a cafe. We saw Czech comedian/actor Lukáš Pavlasek while we were eating this afternoon snack.


9) There are a number of peaceful spots to pop into, such as the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Olga.


10) It's just a lovely cure for the long Winter doldrums.



5-sense Saturday

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Slush, muck, shivers and smog - Prague has been a tad worse-for-wear recently. The city just issued its third air pollution alert this year and formerly lovely blankets of crystalline snow have melted down into gravely grey piles. Indulging the senses among the drollness is essential.

So...

My friend Scotswoman and I TASTED a divine Korean meal at Bibimbap Korea Praha, in the Zižkov neighborhood. Highly recommended; so thrilled to have found this culinary gem.



On our way to meet friends at a climbing park in southern Prague (which ended up being mostly closed), BW and I SAW an underpass filled with tunnel after tunnel of chaotic yet vibrant graffiti. It was near Nádraží Branik.



We HEARD all of the life updates from our dear friends the Brits, who were visiting from their new home in Paris. We're thankful for many a coffee and beer we got to steal with the adults during the week they were here, but we were glad to get the whole family together - four adults, three kids and two dogs - over pizzas and salad at Wine and Food Market in Prague 5.



In the opulent Zofin Palace, we SMELLED remnants of LA Looks hair gel, watermelon ring pops and Bonne Bell lip smackers as our Year 6 students danced a smashing montage of 90s music, in full 90s gear. It was phat, home skillet.



BW and I both FELT the snip-snip and swishy freedom of new haircuts. I was happy with the outcome, even though my tired self doesn't look it in this photo.



Home for the Holidays :)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ho ho ho, Merry Midwest Christmas! We hadn't been back for Christmas in the four years we've lived in the Czech Republic, so a trip home this winter was long overdue. Also, with our pending adoption, we weren't sure when we could next leave the EU. Thus, in December we packed the pup in her little red carrier and flew to the US with suitcases full of presents.

The highlight of the trip was meeting our 6-mo-old baby nephew and baptizing him as Godparents in our parents' church in North Dakota. He lives in Washington, so it was monumental for us to all be together!



We had planned to split our time between Minnesota and North Dakota... but if you've ever been to the American Midwest, you know that blizzard season makes travel unpredictable. So Minnesota kept us a bit longer than we'd planned on. Part of that time was spent in a sketchy hotel room off the interstate, eating Walmart fried chicken when we nearly got blown off the road driving toward the North Dakota border.

In Minnesota, we ate and ate and ate, as evidenced by the many photos I have of us sitting around large dining tables. An extra-special event was visiting BW's grandparents at their Jordan, MN, farm; aside from being marvelous people, they've got a stuffed bobcat, a pole barn full of antique cars, and a collection of photos from relatives through the generations. We also saw friends, renewed our drivers' licenses, celebrated Christmas #1 and bought American things we can't get in Prague, like Crystal Light drink mix and proper Chapstick.






We only had a measly four full days in North Dakota. Nonetheless, we celebrated Christmas #2, had the baptism, saw dear friends and family, and journeyed through the snowdrifts to a cabin that my dad built waaaaaay out on the prairie. It's been extraordinary watching him build it by hand bit by bit these last few years, and it reminds me of Czech chata (cottage) culture. Oh, and we ate more,







It was difficult saying goodbye, but we've been assured by loved ones that they'll visit this Spring, Summer and Fall, so that makes us feel a touch better. So does not having to deal with blizzard conditions and ice-coated roads. Ha.

Czech culture learning materials

Saturday, February 4, 2017

As a teacher, I'm constantly compiling materials for lessons, so I thought, why not gather some materials that I've used for learning about the culture here in the Czech Republic?

Anyone can jump on Amazon and search for books on Czech customs and culture. The list I've got here is comprised of things that have helped me understand the dark humor, the lean toward egalitarianism, the penchant for house-slippers, in a more holistic manner.


Of course, the best thing you can possibly do to better grasp Czech norms is spend time with actual natives (and you should make every effort to!); these items are only meant to be supplemental.

Things that have helped me understand Czech culture*
*And please do recommend more

1. Films. Ask your Czech friends for some suggestions. I've been directed toward, which are all comical yet disconcerting at the same time:

From "Closely Observed Trains"

  • Pupendo - about the difficulty of family life under Communism in the 1980s
  • Closely Observed Trains - a coming-of-age story set during WWII in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, based on a novel
  • Firemen's Ball - satire about Eastern European Communism, centered around a village's bumbling fire department

2. Literature, of course! (Sorry, Kafka, for not listing you.)


From the "Unbearable Lightness of Being" film adaptation, starring Daniel Day Lewis and Juliette Binoche. 
The book is better.

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Placed in 1968 during the Prague Spring, this philosophical book about the tangled existence of four broken people is one of the most transformative things I've ever read, and I'm not exactly sure why. 
  • The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal (also the author of "Closely Observed Trains). The story of a zany and delightful young brewer's wife in rural Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, and how political change impacts her village.
  • No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klima. Set in modern Prague, a divorced dentist must confront her family's Stalinist past whilst managing her difficult teen daughter, ex-husband and new love. It provides a frank picture of current drug culture in the city city, too.
  • Now that we're becoming parents, I've enjoyed perusing bookshops for Czech children's books, which I'm beginning to be able to read: Here's a list.

3. Theatre. I still can't understand theatre in Czech, but here are some good foreigner-friendly bets:
I couldn't find a theatre gif, so here is Tom Hulce as a young Mozart in Czech director Milos Forman's award-winning film "Amadeus"


4. Hiking. I've written about it many times on this blog - from a visiting parent hike to a hike where we found odd things



I love it because it gets us out of Prague and into various villages and landscapes; this country and culture is so much more than its capitol city. It forces us to use our Czech language more, too.

Are you an expat who has other tricks for learning about the local culture? Or are you a Czech who has suggestions for doing so? I'm always looking to learn more, so - again - please do share materials and ideas!


25 years of lasky (love)

Friday, December 30, 2016

A love poem translated by *Václav JZ Pinkava:


The sort of love that results in 25 years of togetherness is extraordinary, and we were able to celebrate  it recently at our friends' quarter-century anniversary. As this couple (whom I've crassly given the pseudonym "TyVoles" on this blog - sorry, guys!) is a pair of world travelers, I thought the aforementioned poem fit nicely.

Our couple also has enormous senses of humour, so the day started off with Mr. surprising Mrs. with a Czech comedian performing a mock marriage ceremony in front of family and friends at a Prague restaurant.


 Afterward, we crossed the street to the Rotunda Nalezení sv. Kříže where our couple had a proper vow renewal. Being from the 11th century, that rotunda has likely seen many happy pairs consecrate their marriages.





Then of course, what would a ceremonious anniversary be without a party with copious food and drink? My favorite is the traditional Czech wedding fooŠunka plněná křenovou šlehačkou - ham rolls with horseradish cream, and BW and I ate our weight in it. And somehow the evening ended with BW taking home an entire tub of leftover tlačenka (headcheese) and onion in vinegar.

Much more importantly than food, though, we always love seeing the TyVole family and their friends, and with some minimal Czech language skills now, we could even chat a bit with the grandmas.




So cheers to "heart(s) with dewed pearls a-beading" and all of the beautiful things that come with long-term commitment through the many changes that life brings. We raise a glass to our lovely friends.



*Mr. Pinkava has translated many Czech poems at http://www.vzjp.cz

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