A Month in Prague and the Czech Countryside
Trip Start Feb 23, 2011
4Trip End Apr 20, 2011
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Hope this finds you all well, healthy, and happy.
So, I have completed my 4 weeks in Prague and my English teacher training. It has been quite a ride and a very challenging/fun/and life changing experience.
The course was great. We had class 4 days a week from between 6-8 hours per day. Tuesdays we had a break from class, but that was the day we did most of our "in-company" training. Teaching 12-15 year old Czech kids (in really NICE schools) and 1 on 1 private lessons at local banks that were in 400 year old buildings. I had 4 other class mates, a very small group. 4 of us were from North America and 1 from Tazmania. We all shared a very "cozy" flat just outside the main city centre of Prague. It's a nice neighborhood, but the actual place was kind of a "pen" to put it nicely. Uncomfortable beds, crappy appliances, and primered walls. Felt like a Fraternity house at times, or prison at other times. Still, everyone of my fellow trainees is very nice and very intelligent, and we had a good time together in such close quarters.
Funny things: There have been some great signs posted outside of restaurants here. Broken English is spoken perfectly and it's amusing to see the attempts to cater to the English speaking tourists. One sign said "Old Czech Goulash with Dumpings", another read "Pork knee and Dump" neither of which sounds very appetizing. Still another read "We have the Beast Beer in Town"- All good fun. Perhaps English teachers WILL always have work here.
Along with all of our school supplies, they gave us a bottle opener for Pivo (beer).
As soon as we moved into the flat, the landlord handed me a beer. That's how they roll here- they drink beer:) I love that you can go into any store and buy a beer and walk down the street with it while drinking it, take it on the metro- whatever. Beer drinking is a national sport. Beer literally costs less here than bottled water. You can get great beer in stores for .30 cents and if you pay more than a $1.50 in a bar, you feel like you've gotten screwed.
Which brings me to my next point. Prague has scams. Many tourists get over-charged for things in restaurants and bars. Cashiers will sometimes purposely short-change you, and if you call them out on it, they just pretend it never happened, then proceed to give you what they owe you. If I let it, it would probably piss me off, because it's not always so easy to get the correct amount of money back. In restaurants, it has happened like 3 times to me. Nothing major, but I've ordered a beer for 25 Koruna (about $1.50) and then when I get the bill, there are 2 beers charged to the bill. Then, if you confront the server on it, all of a sudden, there is a huge communication breakdown and by the time you sit there and play "Borat" for a half hour, you end up just saying "screw it" and paying the damn money. Makes you feel like 'Milton' from that movie "Office Space" I mean, it's only an extra couple of dollars at most, but still, it's the principle of it that gets under my skin...fuckers. Still, that has been the exception and NOT the rule.
Most Czech people have been very nice, honest, and straight up, even if they don't really smile a lot.
Czech food: The food here is HEAVY. But, it's tasty. Lots of meat (mostly pork) goulash galore, tons of cabbage, and the almighty filler...dumplings. They resemble steamed white bread or, are made from potatoes and are always served with rich sauces. Most meals come with a soup- the saying goes- "the soup fills you up, the dish plugs it up" absolutely right. A digestive nightmare sometimes. So much so, that I had to re-live and re-coin the phrase, "greasy-porkiness." (is "porkiness" even a word?) Well, it is now. But, I have found many other alternatives. And, Prague is a world-class city and you can find what ever you want here. Plus, you can eat like a king anywhere in the Czech Republic for $5 anytime of day. What you would spend for a sandwich in Italy will get you a FEAST here.
Entertainment: Prague has some of the BEST, and most affordable world-class entertainment in Europe. I saw a string ensemble do Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' and Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' in a museum with fantastic acoustics and mind-blowing musicianship. I was so close to the performers that if I had been any closer, I would have been in their way. It's a third what you would pay in Vienna for the same thing. And, you can go to any of about 100 venues ANY night of the week for around $20-25. I think my mom would have appreciated that. I remember all those family trips as a kid listening to "educational" music. It worked, Mom. I'm a fan. And to see it live in a city like Prague would have made her smile I'm sure.
Czech countryside: I had to get out of Prague a couple of times. One day I went to Olomouc in Moravia and spent the day. Czech train travel is super cheap, clean and efficient. Tickets are good for 2 days, not just for one particular ride, so you can hop on and hop off anywhere along the way to your destination for no extra charge.
Olomouc is much more a working class Czech town, without the potential scams and infrequent hassels of Prague. The people are much more family oriented and friendlier than their Bohemian counterparts. They host the largest Plague monument in Eastern Europe, and it's home to a really STINKY cheese called 'tvarusky' that is served with mints and the offer of a toothbrush! I HAD to try it- and yep, it STUNK, but it was good. And, my breath (before the mints) could probably have knocked a buzzard off a crap-wagon:) But, what did I care. I wasn't talking to anyone anyway, as the language barrier in Olomouc was twice that of Prague.
A few days later, I visited Kutna Hora. It's about an hour outside of Prague. It's an old silver mining town. It is home to a "Bone-Church" that houses the bones of over 40,000 people. The whole place is decorated with human bones. The have a chandelier that uses every bone in the human body. It was pretty creepy, but really cool. There is also a great Cathedral which shows the former wealth the silver mining industry and some great views of mountains and valleys. Lots of fighting during WWII took place in and around this area. And, one can find memorials to those who lost their lives from the German "occupation."
Germany is always an interesting conversation here. Remember the Sudetenland? Yeah, it's that area of land that punk-ass Hitler invaded that eventually led to WWII. (that and the fact that he invaded and bombed Poland)- but that land is basically the western part of the modern day Czech Republic. Many people know "some" German as a second language here. Still, as bad as Germany was to this entire area, I think the Czech people probably dislike Russia even more. If you remember your history, as soon as the Allied forces drove out the Germans, Russia and Stalin took over. You know, it was the whole Warsaw Pact thing. Can you imagine? it's like getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and replacing him with Kim Jong-il. I mean, Stalin killed more of his own people than Hitler killed Jews. Hmm. How'd that work out for Czechs? Probably felt like a soaking wet trench coat. Anyway, that's a whole other conversation. Point being, the Czechs have been through some shit in their time for sure. But, they pushed through and are doing "reasonably" well now. Prague is an absolute tourist haven and it really is one of the great So, I finished my course, teaching practice and exam. It was difficult, but I think I did ok. I'll know more in several weeks when I get my grade.
I had a nice surprise from my Russian friend Alena Churakova, whom I met 2 years ago on my cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm. She emailed me and told she would be in Prague, actually staying at the same hotel (how small of a world is that?). So, she came out and joined me and my fellow classmates on Friday as we 'let off some steam' and knoced back a few beers to celebrate the end of the course. The next day, I took her on a tour of Prague, and we saw a great classical music concert at St. Nicholas Church for free. Good tunes and a great venue=good times. It was good to see my friend and catch up, even if her English is a little limited. But hey, she speaks perfect German, Portugese, and Russian, so I cut her some slack!
Stephanie finally made it over. I picked her up at the airport on Saturday evening. It was so good to see her and now our vacation can begin. So, first thing, we went to check in to our hotel which was right underneath Prague Castle in the Little Quarter. Killer views, and a killer location.
We went to dinner at a medievil decorated traditional Czech style restaurant where we drank some beer, slavovice, ate way too much greasy meat and potatoes, and were treated to a medievil show of dancing, singing, and fire trickery. It was a blast. We actually danced with strangers from Germany, Austria, and other Czechs. There was a belly-dancer, and a guy who was at least 300 pounds eating, breathing, and spitting fire, and lots of other festive, beer related activities all in a restaurant that felt like something from 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Excalibur'. It was a great way to welcome Stephanie to Prague.
Sunday we spent just walking around Prague and seeing all the "heavy hitter" sights and just taking it easy. Stephanie has been to Prague before, so she didn't need the full tour. On Monday, we took a bus to the Czceh town of Cesky Krumlov down near the Austrian border for 3 days.
Cesky Krumlov is a beautiful little town, encircled by the same river that cuts through Prague 200 km to the north. It seems lost in a time warp. Looks like Cinderella could live here. Yesterday we did a hike up to Klet mountain- all in all it was about 20 km. Saw some beautiful "Bavarian" looking forests. You know, the type where "Black Forest Ham" comes from. Ah, pork. There it is again- We ate at another medievil barbarian restaurant where I think I ate an entire side of beef, a whole head of a pig, and like 6 chickens. The only thing missing was my Viking helmut. Anyway, Cesky Krumlov was a real treat- a great town to relax in for 3 days.
Soundtrack:I've been listening to a lot of classical music here since you can go see it all over the place- but the other day, my "inner rocker" came out in full force. I found some old Van Halen from the 'Fair Warning' album. Eddie Van Halen's guitar tone and riffs on 'Mean Streets' is really great, and his 2 guitar tracks on 'Hear About It Later' are super-melodic and tasty. They were the ultimate party band, but so good too before Sammy Hagar "changed" everything. Also, Metallica's 'Welcome Home Sanitarium' off 'Master of Puppets' rocked it hard too. James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and the late great Cliff Burton make a rhythm section that is "tighter than the skin stretched across Joan Rivers' cheek bones" to quote a newspaper columnist who wrote an article on my old 8traC mates. Kirk Hammet's guitar lead in between the first and second verses with his descending hammer-ons and pull-offs and his note of resolution on that phrase is so musical it's disgusting. THEY were the ultimate drinking band. In fact, Metallica used to be nicknamed "Alcoholica"
Oh well, good stuff to "fire you up" when someone tries to short change you...and, (the best part) it's in ENGLISH. Thanks for reading you guys- Poland is our next stop. I'll hit you again very soon. Hope all is well-