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30 January 2011

Photo of the Week- Prague's Beating Heart

The Prague Metronome in Letnà Park towers 75 feet over one of the most scenic overlooks in town. The red needle rocks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until onlookers are hypnotized by the passing of time. It proudly passes the hours, minutes, and seconds since the largest representation of Josef Stalin in the world once stood in its place. With each tick the needle waves goodbye to the past and welcomes the future.


A compilation of some video I took that day:
video

29 January 2011

A trip to the Moo-zaym

My affection towards Prague is no secret. I've seen a lot of this magnificent city in 5 months but I can't get enough. It wasn't until recently that I got around to visiting some of Prague's famous museums. I was careful in choosing which museums to see (museum burnout can be harmful to the tourist experience-- e.g. Berlin's Museum Island). Here's the rundown:

Mucha Museum
You would probably recognize Mucha's (pronouced Moo-kha) style featuring fairy-tale women and art nouveau decorations. His art and life-story are equally beautiful. After visiting the museum and seeing his art around Prague, he's easily become one of my favorite artists.



Franz Kafka Museum
Before going to the museum it may interest you to read one or two of Kafka's famous books. I recommend The Trial. I think it embodies the problems that both Kafka and Czechoslovakia were dealing with in the early 20th century. If you dig Kafka's style (aka Kafkaesque) you may also enjoy The Castle, America, or Metamorphosis. In addition to reading up, I also recommend doing a Kafka tour of Prague either on your own or with a tour group. A quick walk around the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter will reveal many of his dwellings, a plaque, and a statue in his honor. With some knowledge of his books and his Prague life the museum will really bring everything together for you, otherwise you might just find him depressing and/or creepy.



Modigliani exhibit is showing at Obecní Dum (Municiple House) through 28 February 2011. I love me some Modiggs but I wasn't the only one who thought the show fell short of its hype. However a trip to the Municiple House is a worth it in itself. It was built in the Art Nouveau style by many famous Czech artists, like Mucha in the early 20th century. It's worth taking the building tour- it's the only way to go above ground level.

27 January 2011

Karlovy Vary is good for your health

One of the few advantages of traveling in the dead of winter is less crowds in tourist destinations. This was my mindset when I took the 2 hour bus journey to Karlovy Vary in January. This small Bohemian town is in the northwest "spa-triangle" region and the hot attractions (pun intended) are the thermal springs. You may remember from the photo of the week that there are 13 drinkable hot springs. Hot water from the Earth doesn't taste like the "fresh spring water" you find in bottles at Whole Foods. I'm at a loss for adjectives to describe, but I'll settle on salty, metallic, and therefore repulsive. I choked down as much as possible- when in Rome Karlovy Vary, right?! To help with the taste there are special sweet wafers (lázeňské oplatky) that, if swallowed in combination with the mineral water, are supposed to neutralize the salty taste. It didn't work in my opinion. Despite the taste, the mineral water from this region is actually said to be very good for your health. Balneology, the study of medicinal springs, has been a part of this region since the 14th century. The history of the springs and their alluring display under magnificent colonnades is enough to attract you from one to the next- giving you quite a nice tour around town.


The mineral water treatment wasn't for me. But there's an easier (and more fun) way to reap the health benefits of this region. It all started when pharmacist Josef Becher created an herbal medicine using the mineral water from this spa region. But it is no longer sold in pharmacies. Instead you'll find the famous Czech concoction called Becherovka in the liquor store possibly right next other Czech favorites like Slivovitz or Absinthe. Even with its fame as a liquor, Becherovka is still said to have health benefits, like improved digestion, at a recommended 40 cl daily. That's 2 shots per day of a medicine many people don't mind taking! The Jan Becher Museum (named after Josef's son) is great for learning and drinking. At the end of the tour they serve shots not only of Becherovka original, but also 2 other products. One of my favorites is Becherovka Lemond. Before you drink in the Czech Republic you say na zdraví which means "to your health." With Becherovka it really is to your health! 
Are there other alcoholic drinks that started off as "medicinal"? 
In what other languages to you drink "to your health"? I only know of the Czech na zdraví  and French á santé.

23 January 2011

Photo of the Week- Hungarian Language Barrier

It's not enough for the Hungarian language to sound difficult. It even confuses my eyes. I'll never understand it but I will continue to marvel at it's fascinating intonation and alphabet. 

16 January 2011

Photo of the Week- Thermal Springs

Everyone in Karlovy Vary carries around a glass cup to capture a few drops of thermal mineral water from any of the 13 springs in town. It is believed to have health benefits for numerous ailments. The water is hot (between 86°F and 161°F) and salty. In my opinion it wasn't bad nor was it good. If beauty is pain, maybe health is pain too.

15 January 2011

Rainy day escapes in Prague

It almost feels like spring here. All the snow has melted and it has been raining on and off for the past week. I expect to see sun any day now. In the meantime I've been exploring the indoor lifestyle and hangouts in Prague.

Any beer-lover will appreciate the Czech brews on-tap and large variety of imports available at Pivovarský klub. It is a clean, non-smoking, and friendly atmosphere to try beer after beer. They also serve traditional Czech meals and appetizers to keep your stomach smiling all beer long.

For a more Zen-like atmosphere U zeleného čaje teahouse is the perfect place. Order up a cup or pot of organic tea steeped to perfection. The tearoom may have a Chinese feel, but the tasty treats and bookshelf (English and Czech books) reflect the Czech culture and history. Its prime location in Malá Strana is ideal for a quick sit down or a leisurely rest during a day out.

Absinthe is an experience not to be missed while in Prague. As an American I know that it is rare and unlikely to find it in an pub back home but maybe for a good reason. There are many places to spot the green fairy in Prague but I recommend Absinthe Time. The staff was knowledgeable and patient in answering all the questions we had about this mysterious green alcohol. When you're dealing fire and 70% alcohol you should expect nothing less. Try the Czech and French methods- they're worth your time and money. Not to mention 2 shots of Absinthe goes a long way.

At the last of my recommended hang-outs the intake of alcoholic or caffeinated drinks is optional. The main attraction at BIO|OKO is the independent movie theater. Most of the movies are in English with the added bonus of Czech subtitles. There's a cozy café and bar in the lobby- both dog and hipster friendly.

Where's your favorite place to hang out in Prague on a rainy day?

11 January 2011

People.

Dear People,

I know you're out there. Blogger stats tells me so. Hundreds of people from all over the world read my blog. LEAVE COMMENTS PLEASE! Maybe you have a request, a suggestion, an opinion. I'm a traveler. Travelers love recommendations of where to go, tid-bits of knowlegde, personal anecdotes, anything!

If you're visiting and have a blog of your own be sure to leave the url!

So let's begin our dialogue. Budapest is in my horizon. What should I see, do, eat, or drink? Good books to read about it, Hungarian authors, internet articles, movies? What do comes to mind when you think of Hungary?

09 January 2011

Photo of the Week- Charles Bridge

 
If you've ever been to Prague you have walked across Karlův Most- Charles Bridge. During certain months of the year it may take up to an hour in the crowds to cross, but today it was a breeze. Prague is cold and treacherously icy in January but the tourist crowds have subsided (for now). Charles Bridge was pleasurable at sunset with minimal crowds and even a small Czech assembly marched across singing with brass accompaniment.

08 January 2011

2011 To Dos

It's the dawn of the new year and I just got around to thinking about resolutions. A resolution... a firm decision to do or not to do something. I prefer to do something. Lots of things, in fact. I have made an extensive list of things to do. In Prague, in the Czech Republic, and in Central/ Eastern Europe. This list is private. I don't expect to complete the list by any means but it is a reminder and encouragement to make the most of my last 6 months living in Prague. And after I do these to dos I will write about them here- to reflect, to share, and to remember in the future.

07 January 2011

Requirements Fulfilled

Today is the last day of the winter semester at the Czech university where I teach. The school system is different to say the least. For the past week I have spent my class time calling each student to my desk and signing their student index (a book which resembles a passport) if they passed my class. Započteno- requirements fulfilled. About 275 times.

I'm proud of most of my students. Most of them tried hard to learn English. And I tried my best to teach them English. Therefore their success is mine. 275 signatures in their indexes. Započteno to my students and započteno to me.

02 January 2011

Photo of the Week- this time last year

This time last year we were on a family ski vacation near Granby, Colorado. 
Winter was beautiful and the aspen trees were calling me.