28 November 2010

Photo of the Week- Moravian Wonderland

A view of the abandoned St. Sebastian Church at the top of the Holy Hill in Mikulov. Looking down on the snow covered countryside was well worth the hike. My first visit to Moravia was timed perfectly with the first snowfall of the holiday season. It was only appropriate to warm up in cozy wine bar after seeing the snow covered vineyards! There we sampled wines from the Moravia region. Ordering can be tricky when white wines have the word "red" in the title. Communicating with the friendly locals was a fun mixture of hand signals, czech-english dictionaries, and the occasional use of Jon's German skills. English-speaking tourists do not seem to frequent this quant Czech town. But this American will be back there in the summer when those vines are lush with grapes and the countryside is begging to be hiked.

25 November 2010

No turkey but still thankful

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade,
NFL Thanksgiving Classic,
Thanksgiving Dinner and Dessert,
the ridiculousness that is Black Friday.

These are some of the things I will miss about Thanksgiving. But this list of American Thanksgiving traditions that I taught my classes about this week isn't the real reason why I will miss the celebration this holiday. I will miss being with my family. Every year we have been together in one place or another to celebrate. This year they will be celebrating with the newest addition to our family, baby Ethan!

Turkey day 2 years ago

So instead of trying to recreate the holiday in the Czech Republic, I'm celebrating this year sans turkey. Without all the holiday distractions I am able to just concentrate on the people in my life that I am thankful for.

First I am thankful for my family. We are all a bit crazy but that's what I love about us! Without my loving parents I wouldn't be who I am or where I am today. My sisters are my best girlfriends and we love each other unconditionally.

I'm so incredibly thankful for my boyfriend! This year we are spending our very first Thanksgiving together in the Czech Republic. The past five years have been full of laughter and love. He's my favorite travel buddy and my other half.

I'm thankful for my extended family and all my friends around the world- my family and friends who I do not get to see often but are always a skype call away. Basically I'm thankful for every encounter I've ever had with the people who have been in my life and allowed me to be in theirs. <3

Thank you!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

22 November 2010

Photo of the Week- Pilsner Urquell Brewery

Plzeň is only a one hour bus ride from Prague, and with a Brewery like Pilsner Urquell it is well worth the trip. If you want to try "Pilsner from the original source" or Plzeňský Prazdroj as it is called in Czech then Plzen is the place to go. The brewery tour is available in English 3 times per day and only costs 80 CZK for students (roughly 4 USD). The tour lasts 1.5 hours and includes a tour of the packing plant, exhibition, beautiful brewhouse, "hall of fame", and the cellars. The cellars were my favorite part. The sweet scent of hops, barley, and water fermenting in wooden barrels is enough to make your mouth water. We were served a large cup of open air fermented, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell directly from the barrel. It doesn't get fresher than that. Even the head was delicious (Czech beer is meant to be served with a thick head of foam). On the way out of the cellars, there is a dummy beer barrel top. Why? To see if you're small enough to be a beer-barrel cleaner. This involves fitting through a tiny oval in the front of the barrel. Everyone shied away except for me. I stripped out of my coat layer and shimmied my way through that hole. If teaching doesn't work out for me, at least I know of one alternative.

14 November 2010

Photo of the Week- Decorating with Human Bones

40,000 human skeletons decorate Kotnice Ossuary in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic. The bodies are from Black Plague and Hussite Wars of the 14th and 15th century. The chandelier in the middle of the Ossuary might just be the most interesting piece. It makes use of every bone in the human body.

This scene can't help but remind me of the Catacombs in Paris I visited a year and a half ago.

Seeing stacks of thousands of people's bones is eye opening and quite sobering to the idea of how precious life is and unavoidable fate of death.

07 November 2010

Photo of the Week- Final colors of Autumn

The last viewing of autumn on a tree outside the Dresdner Residenzschloss in Dresden. Colors are fading quickly in Central Europe but this tree took advantage of its time to shine before winter.

Tančící dům (Dancing House in Prague)

Last week's grammar lesson reviewed the comparative and superlative. I quizzed my class by asking relatable questions. "What is the busiest street in your city? What is the nicest beach you've ever been to?" Another was, "What's the ugliest building you've ever seen?" I was amused and surprised by some of the responses to the latter. Many students responded: "The Dancing House" in Prague. The Dancing House is a popular sight in many tourist guidebooks, so why do students think it's ugly? I was determined to investigate.
The building is located at a busy intersection next to the Vltava River. You can see the building bend and dance differently from each corner of the intersection. This modern, anti-symmetrical building draws a lot of attention because of its location amidst the popular Baroque, Gothic, and Art Nouveau buildings nearby. It could be an eyesore if you are accustomed to traditional architecture. I think this is the whole point. The city could have decided to make this corner lot look similar to the other buildings nearby, but instead, they made into a time piece. The modern architecture in the Dancing House is inspiring and representative of the new age and freedoms recently granted to the country after the fall of Communism only a few years before it was designed. To me, the building is dancing to celebrate its existence. The fact that it is able to exist and to celebrate the creativity of its time. It is unique. It is interesting. Call it ugly, but the idea behind the dancing house is beautiful. 

04 November 2010


Today I received my first "job-that-requires-a-degree" paycheck. The woman at the cashiers desk counted out thousand bills right in front of my eyes. I decided to hold out on the crowns-to-dollars conversion in attempt to make the good vibes last throughout the day. It wasn't a large amount, but it was enough to make my first month of teaching worth all the hard work. As expected teaching is much harder than it looks. Saying the right things and explaining in the right way has been challenging. Often times I learn something new about the English language as well. There are way more differences between British English and American English than I thought- many of them in spelling. My students love correcting my spelling because the textbook I teach uses British English. "Miss Teacher, you spelled recogniSe with a Z!" Damn my smart students! Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but I also didn't know the difference between Further and Farther. Maybe you don't either... check it.

I'm infamous for my terrible drawings on the whiteboard. When words fail, I try to draw a picture of the object in question. I learned recently that innocent drawings on the board can turn completely wrong. Cactus is the word. "What is a cactus?" a student asks. Instead of using my words, I let the marker do the talking. My little black squiggles were not bad, I must say. But the class clown decided he'd explain to the class in Czech what my drawing looked like in his dirty mind. Think about it. Okay, so I erased it quickly and it took a good 2 minutes to calm down the laughter. 

These are the funny moments that I will remember as my experience teaching in the Czech Republic. I will not remember when my class mocks me for saying "Awesome" or the blank stares I get when I ask "Does everyone understand?". One month down and 8 months left of making good memories.

02 November 2010

Happy Euroween!

Halloween in Europe is nothing to get excited about. There are no pumpkins, no candy corn, and no costumes. The lack of holiday spirit in Europe (especially the Czech Republic) inspired me to teach my Czech students about traditional American Halloween rituals, only to realize it's more of a "you have to be there" kind of holiday. My large arm motions and funny words earned me some crazy looks. Maybe I just looked like a childish American, but I refuse to hide my Halloween spirit. It was actually refreshing to teach my students about a new part of American culture that they didn't already learned about from movies and TV shows.

I'm all about carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, costume parties, and haunted houses. If you recall last year I participated in the Columbia Zombie Walk. There were no zombies shuffling down the streets this Halloween, but I did visit the Joker (aka Ariana) and her s'more of a dog in Vienna, Austria. Jon and I attended a mostly American Halloween party which was invaded by a clan of Batman villains. The costumes at the party were incredibly resourceful and artistic. Along with the villains was Mr. T, a Care Bear, Mexican Dia de los Muertos skeletons, and many many more. Creativity is at its best when Walmart's convenient pre-packaged costumes are a continent away.

We celebrated Halloween with a appropriately named American drinking game called "Circle of Death". The "nine is a rhyme" card got a bit more complicated as English words were rhymed with German and the other languages represented in the circle of doomed poetry.

This Halloween I did not dunk my head into a bucket of water in search of a juicy apple. I did not pay a ridiculous amount of money or stand in a long queue to scream my head off as a man chases after me with a chainsaw. But I did get to look at All Hallow's Eve from another angle this year. I have realized that it is a rather absurd Americanized holiday but it is something that I love to participate in because it is a fun excuse to wear a crazy costume and play childish games with friends.

01 November 2010

Photo of the Week- The Sound of Austria

A flower? No, a beautiful antique phonograph for sale at the Naschmarkt in Vienna. This massive food market blossoms into a flea market on Saturdays where you can find anything from hardware tools to fur coats.

Expats Dot CZ saved the day.

Getting sick in a foreign country is not a fun experience as I learned this past weekend. Having foreign insurance is half the problem. The other half is finding a healthcare provider who will accept foreign insurance and GETTING THERE. Cramming onto 3 consecutive buses over an hour while you have a fever and are overcome by nausea can be quite the dilemma. This was the only time you would find me sitting on the dirty floor of the bus or crouched over a railing for support at the bus stop. True story.

Going to one of the busiest hospitals in the largest city in the Czech Republic was a mistake. I could have taken my temperature and listened to my heart at home. But my search for a magic prescription for antibiotics did not end there. to the rescue. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and a wonderful compilation of expat services, I was able to find a 24/7 English speaking clinic which made emergency house or office calls on Czech Independence Day when every other clinic was closed. Antibiotics et voila! I was as good as new in a few days. Lesson of the weekend: when you're sick abroad the internet is your best friend. Search for what you need before heading out on the wild goose chase.