Sunday Snapshots: Praha in Spring

Prague, 2009

April 2nd, 2009, lives in my mind as an Epic Prague Day. Friends from our TEFL course had passed around Europe and returned to Prague before flying back to the U.S., and so we took the chance to make the most of our time left together.  That meant doing one of the boat tours on the Vltava, feasting our way through the Easter market, buying beers to take on the spider bike, and convincing our spider bike driver to take us on an extended off-tour excursion as his punishment for picking us up late.

Then it was more wandering around the city, including this walk through the park filled with young and old (and a couple taking their cat for a walk); while we soaked up the Czech sunshine, eventually finding our way to a cozy pub that didn’t mind indulging some silly Americans, flush with sentimentality for the end of our time together for the evening. I miss those crazy kids.

Sunday Snapshots: A Little Light

Prague, 2016

Nearly six years ago when I left Prague, the main station was still very much a work in progress. Its Art Nouveau interior still shone through a layer of grime that was slowly being scrubbed away, along with numerous other renovation projects. Now when you hop off the Deutsche Bahn express bus that runs between Nürnberg and Praha, you enter a pristine dome that absolutely sparkles. If you’re lucky enough to land on a sunny day, take a few minutes and pause to enjoy the view!

Sunday Snapshots: Eight

Prague, 2009

Prague, 2009

Today marks eight years in Europe for me.

Coming off of a visit to the States for Christmas where it seemed in many way like I could just pick up with people where we left, rather than not having contact in (in some cases) years since my last visits, it seems strange. But here we are.

I was thinking about ports in storms after my last photo post, and that’s almost what today’s picture represents. On one of our first weekends in Prague, a group of us went hunting for English books and eventually found this branch of the Shakespeare & Sons bookstore. It seems almost every large European city with an extensive English-speaking population boasts a version of this store, but Prague has two. This one, located at the Malá Strana end of the Charles Bridge, is much smaller, more narrow, and has books piled on every available surface. In short, pretty much want you want in a pocket-sized used bookstore. And for a group of voracious readers who had already gone through a round of two of book trading, new titles were almost a necessity. Used bookstores are an absolute lifeline for most of us…. e-readers be damned.

Seems like ages ago, and yet it doesn’t. Another year, and still weird.

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Sunday Snapshots: Prague from the Gardens

Prague, 2009

Prague, 2009

If you venture beyond the streets filled with tourists in Prague, you just might find yourself here, overlooking the old Troja Palace. This view can be seen from the city’s Botanical Gardens, which are far enough from the summer mayhem to give a sense of serenity but still close enough for a view back to the main castle complex.

Of course on our way back to the city from here, we found ourselves at the finish line of the Prague Marathon, complete with Samba bands and small children dressed like extras at the Rio Carnival parade. Because that’s how Prague works.

Sunday Snapshots: Obama Mania

Statues? Ninjas? Ninja Statues?

Statues? Ninjas? Ninja Statues?

One of the advantages to living in a capital city such as Prague is getting to see more notable people passing through than I could back home. While there, I saw Prince Charles and his entourage strolling through Mala Strana, the Pope’s caravan of cars driving along the river (and the window was cracked, so I may have glimpsed the top of his hat), and of course the championship-winning Czech ice hockey team. Though the hockey team had a fairly impressive welcome home party in Old Town Square after their victory, none of those caused quite the kerfuffle that our very own president did when he visited in April of 2009.

On that epic day, I gathered with a group of friends, and we joined the sea of humanity that streamed up towards Prague Castle. Using public transport that day was completely out of the question, as was any thought of escape once we had all squeezed through the crooked alleys and streets that lead onto Hradčanské náměstí, the square in front of the castle, where President Obama would be speaking. Our group struggled to stick together, making our way to a less crowded space with a decent view of one of the big screens. We noted the sniper ninjas placed on buildings around us, cleverly blending in among the statues that edge most of the rooftops of the square. We noted the lack of beers in hands, nearly unheard of for any public gathering in the CZR!

Soon though, the time had come. I took this picture of pictures when Mr. and Mrs. Obama first appeared on the big screen. Smartphones weren’t too big yet in 2009 (at least, not in the CZR), so this feels charmingly dated to me.

prague crowd

Also, if you think a kid hanging off of a taxi stand sign is dangerous, you should have seen the one who had climbed up into one of the enormous lampposts. He probably had a better view of the stage than us. So we made due with the screens broadcasting the man himself…

obama prague speech

So young, so dark-haired, so optimistic.

To be honest, I definitely had to google in order to remember what the speech was about. Foreign relations, to be sure, but Wikipedia tells me that the main thrust of his speech that day was on nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War world. That does sound familiar, but for me it was really more about the experience than what he was saying.

It’s not too often that you have the chance to see your country’s sitting president in the flesh (on a video screen, or teeeny tiny in the distance if you hop up and down #shortpeopleproblems), and who knows if it will ever happen again? And at the risk of sounding too political, this election cycle kiiiiiind of makes me want to stick my head in the oven so it’s nice to think back on a day that I was happy to be an American in Euroland. Let’s all hang on to those memories, shall we?

Sunday Snapshots: Dramatic Domes

13march

Španělská synagoga, Prague 2010

Today’s photo comes from a day of playing the tourist in Prague.  One of the many advantages of having visitors is that it forces us to do all the things that we haven’t gotten around to in our own city yet, and this was one such occasion. My friend A. was visiting from the States, and in addition to traveling with me to Dublin for St. Paddy’s Day, she also finally got me to tour all the sites in Prague’s extraordinary Jewish Quarter. I had wandered the streets before that, and peered over walls, but this time we paid up and got to experience the interiors.

This photo comes from the Spanish Synagogue, the newest synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. It was built in the mid-1800s, in Moorish Revival style. While some of the other buildings in the area are much older, this knocks all the others out of the park aesthetically. It has one of the most ornate, colorful, and and enveloping interiors I have ever seen. While in Prague I often fought against doing anything with an admission price (had to stretch those Czech koruna/save money for pivos), but this was an exception well worth making!

Sunday Snapshots: Sunny Praha

21prague corner

Feb. 2009

Today’s photo represents something that I miss dearly… looking up in Prague. Germany has some great architecture, but in cities like Nürnberg that were bombed to smithereens (and most of the big ones, really), you have to look for it. Prague, on the other hand, is a feast for the eyes on nearly every corner. Most weekends were spent wandering the city, stopping for coffees in funky cafes, and seeing where the day took us. Even better when it was under a blindingly blue sky! 🙂

Prague: It Was Bound to Happen

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time (and managed to make your way here from Blogger), you may have read one of my many entries on Prague. It’s no secret that I love the city and maybe if things had shaken out differently, I’d still be there, living the Lost Boys life with all the all nutty expats.

But, life intervened and here I am. Part of the reason is that the Golden City is like any other city in that it’s not without its problems. In my 2.5 years there my friends and I had some experiences that were less than savory. There were drug-addled people in the park near our house (which was smack in the historic center), needles in the streets, perverts on the trams, and teenagers trying to pick your pockets as they made out behind you on the escalators of the metro. One of our friends was even accosted by a prostitute at a sausage stand. He managed to hold onto his dinner, but she got away with his cell phone. Note to tourists: don’t try to be nice to the ladies of the night and tell them that they’re beautiful before saying you’re not interested. Tell them to F off, and watch your pockets.

The teenage pickpockets tried to get me in my very first week in town. Luckily they were young and less than smooth, so I caught them in the act. Plus, there was only a book in that pocket of my bag anyway and somehow I doubt they would have enjoyed whatever I was reading that week.

That moment showed me that the tourist guides weren’t kidding about pickpocketing being a problem in Praha. Moreover, it could happen anywhere, in the tourist spots or not. Most of the time after that I spent with Professor Moody levels of Constant Vigilance (Thanks, J.K. Rowling). Other friends had phones stolen off of bar tables, jackets leave clubs, wallets went missing all over town, but I managed to avoid it. Until the last visit.

BV and I headed to Prague for a weekend visit in January. My sister was there doing the same TEFL course I did, which gave us a prime excuse to relax our stringent budget and visit. I was very excited to see my sister and get the dirt on her TEFL experience. I was also excited to show BV my favorite spots, since he’d only been there once before and hadn’t seen some good things.

All in all we had a great weekend. We rented a sweet little flat from AirBNB, and on arrival we went straight to my favorite Mexican restaurant on this continent. We hung out with my sister, some of her new friends, and one of my old roommates. Good times were had by all.

We decided to do a bit of shopping on Sunday afternoon before we had to catch our bus. There were a few places I wanted to hit on Wenceslas Square (Sephora, I miss you! Come to Germany!), but first we stopped for some coffee and cake. That’s where my Constant Vigilance failed.

In a bright and crowded cafe, on a Sunday afternoon, a guy made a big fuss out of changing the small stool at the table behind BV with the chair at the table next to us. Ten minutes later when we decided to leave, BV’s wallet was gone and so was the guy. AWESOME.

I had looked right at the guy during the chair switch and thought, “he doesn’t fit in here.” Maybe it was his face (ugly), maybe it was his jeans (ugly), maybe it was instinct – I don’t know. But whatever it was, it didn’t register strongly enough or he wasn’t quite “wrong” enough to make a difference. Two years ago I would have known that even in a bright cafe full of people sipping lattes, it wasn’t a good idea for BV to hang his jacket on the back of his chair like that. Putting the wallet and phone in the inner breast pocket isn’t enough sometimes. I should have taken his coat on the bench against the wall with me. But, we didn’t. After all the time I’ve spent in that city, it was bound to happen.

Really, we should be thankful that it was only the wallet. But spending our last 90 minutes in Prague calling the bank, trying to find a police station to file a report, and running to the bus put a serious damper on the weekend. So be warned, if you stop at Paul’s Cafe on Wenceslas Square, watch yourself. Okay, watch yourself everywhere on Wenceslas Square. And if you see this skeezeball in the blue hat, white and blue Adidas jacket, and ugly jeans, kneecap him and tell him he owes BV for the nearly brand-new wallet and me for one missed trip to Sephora.

dirty sleezebag thief

Prague, I still love you, but it may be awhile before I can convince BV to visit again. Clean up your act.

5 Things I’ve Learned In 5 Years Abroad

On January 8th, 2009, I touched down in Prague. It seems like a minute ago and a thousand years ago, all at the same time. I think it’s been magnified as well, because my sister is actually in Prague right now. She’s doing the same TEFL course that I did, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the first weeks here in Euro-land. There have been major ups, MAJOR downs, and a lot of nights on the couch watching bad TV. Through all of it, I’d like to think that I’ve learned at least a couple of things and I’d like to share some of them with you wonderful internet people. As a disclaimer: of course these are my opinion only, and others may have totally different experiences. And I might ramble. That’s why we blog… to share our experiences. This is what I think, and you can feel free to disagree.Disclaimers aside though… here we go: five things I’ve learned in the last five years…. at least, I hope so.

1. Drop the “plan.”
I’ve done so many things, met so many people (not that they were all good), that I wouldn’t have ever met if I had done what is “normal.” If I had graduated college, got some job, met some guy, etc., etc., none of these things would have happened. Gott sei Dank. That’s “Thank God,” for all of you playing the home game.

Via

Let go of the fact that some people think you “have to do” this, or “must do” that. Do what you want to do. Go where you want to go, say what you want to say. There is no script for life… it’s what you want it to be. And to be honest, I have been feeling a little too comfortable these days. It’s true, my life hasn’t been too crazy, I have no major plans at the moment, but it’s okay. I’m much more settled than I was in Prague for example, but I don’t remember the last time I said, “I’m bored.” I’m looking for new things to see and do, but I’m not bored with what I have now. It’s not a life I ever could have imagined, but I think that’s the beauty of it. 
 

Anything is possible with giant strudel.

2. The only obstacles are the ones you make for yourself. 
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about being afraid to do the strangest things. Some I can agree with; for example, I never risked a haircut when I lived in Prague because I didn’t want to sport a mullet, or purple hair, and both of those are pretty popular in that city. To me, that wasn’t a risk worth taking. But some of the stories I’ve heard about supermarket anxiety for example, just baffle me. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You buy the wrong kind of vanilla?

If you build these things up as impossible tasks in your mind… then sure, you’ll have problems. I got a little anxious just this evening trying to figure out how I was going to climb over people to get off of the crowded train. But when the pivotal moment came, I high-stepped over a backpack and got myself out the door. That’s small potatoes, but it’s the same principle. If you decide that you can do something, you’ll do it. Done and done. 

3. Just because we’re from the same country, doesn’t mean we have to be friends.

I’m not sure, but I think RZ took this picture. If so, thanks RZ.

This one is harsh, but it’s true. And guess what? Not everyone is going to like you either. Expats tend to bond over their shared love of Tex-Mex, and their longing for Target; we are all in the same boat on that one. But, just like in college when there were “bar friends” vs. “everyday friends,” when you’re abroad you have to find the line. A pompous asshat in the States becomes a pompous asshat with a scarf and a stamp in their passport abroad. Again, I know this sounds harsh, and I also know that I’m not always the easiest person to get to know, but I’m at the point in my life where I want to be friends with someone because of their redeeming qualities, and not because of a geographic similarity. Wild, I know.

While I don’t feel the need to trip over myself to befriend every American I meet now… I do feel incredibly lucky to have met some truly amazing people in the last five years. Today they are literally all over the globe, which only means more places to visit in my mind. And that’s pretty sweet. 

4. People will never stop asking when you’re coming (or going) home.
I do want to check this point with some people who’ve been abroad longer (and feel free to weigh in with a comment), but I still get this question a fair amount. Thankfully, my family has never been the badgering type (though we are Badgers – sorry, bad joke), and have never been on the “get married, have babies, etc.” train, and they don’t ask this question very much. Other people abroad ask, like we’re all on some sort of kitchen timer. Students ask, and they seem surprised that I don’t have a timeline. But like I said before, no plan. If this is working for me, I’ll keep doing it. Do I want to teach English forever? No, probably not. It’s working for now though, so we’ll stick with it.

In my mind the question shouldn’t be, “when are you coming home?” because where is home? Home has so many different definitions to me, it’s crazy. Wisconsin will always be home to me, but at the same time, I feel like I am home here. Instead, I should really be asking, “when are you coming to visit?” And hey, we even have a light fixture in the bedroom now. Come on over and check it out!

5. Always carry an umbrella in Europe.
Practical advice is always good, right? If you don’t have an umbrella with you, it’s guaranteed to rain. And that means that your train/tram/bus will have some sort of a problem, forcing you to stand outside and/or walk much further than you had initially planned. You will spend the rest of the day damp, smelling like a wet dog, and annoyed. Also, umbrellas are a good defense against bears, both real and wooden. Although wooden is probably better. 

Bear fighting, Cesky Krumlov, 2009

When you read this, you might agree and you might disagree. You might think I sound like an ass, which I’m sure I do at points. But again, that’s the beauty of the expat experience. We all have a slightly different one, and they’re all equally valid. This is what I have learned, and that’s all I can say for it. I’ll raise my glass of champagne, and celebrate the fact that I’ve done something that seems crazy to so many people, and here’s hoping I can make it another five years. Scratch that, because it’s not a hope. If that’s what I want to do, that’s what will happen. If that’s what you want to do, then remove the obstacles and make it happen. To quote from the fantastic movie Empire Records, “In this life, there are nothing but possibilities.”

Cheers.