Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding a Church Home in Prague: St. Clement's Church

I was taking a look-see around my new neighborhood and noticed a lovely church that I wanted to see up close. The nameplate said St. Clement's Church, with services in Czech, but also, Anglican services in English at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. I already knew my own denomination wasn't represented in Prague. How fantastic it would be to walk to church! I had to try it out.

A couple weeks ago, I went into this beautiful old church and was warmly received by the congregants. The church bells were pealing with enthusiasm calling the neighborhood to worship. It was a cold morning, and my hands were already cold from a morning walk around the neighborhood. They didn't warm up during the service! I discovered later that each seat has it's own individual heater and you just dial up what you need.

The building is thought to have been the site of Christian worship for the last 1,000 years. I haven't heard a date for how old the building is, but the frescos in the apse date from the 14th century. During the Enlightenment, the church was used as a granary, which doesn't sound all that enlightened, does it? It was restored in 1894-1896 to it's present Neo-Gothic style.

Later that night, I went back for St. Clement's Lessons and Carols. Episcopalian friends had always told me how beautiful "Lessons and Carols" are at Christmas time. This was my first time experiencing this Christmas tradition for myself.

Numerous children started the evening off with a fun version of "The Little Drummer Boy" complete with a march down the aisle, plenty of coffee cans, and various drumming instruments to clang away to their heart's content. To hear the congregation booming out those carols in this beautiful ancient building was a wonderful moment, one where I could really feel the Christmas spirit.

There were probably about 100 parishioners. We went down the street for mulled wine, treats, and conversation afterwards and I could tell there wouldn't be anymore church shopping for me. Everyone was just too welcoming. I felt at home.

Expat churches are different than regular churches. A lady told me that the previous rector had been in charge for seven years and had never once done a funeral because expats always go home when they reach that age. So there is also not the usual contingent of "little old ladies" that make up most churches back home. Not that there's anything wrong with little old ladies.

She also asked me if I noticed how male the voices were when we sang. English-speaking men, married to Czech women, often come to church solo because Czechs are atheists, thanks to communism, and don't participate in church as a family. So the guys come by themselves for worship and to enjoy an English-speaking environment for awhile.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Neighborhood Christmas

Merry Christmas from my neighborhood square in Prague! One of the lovely things about living in a large European city is the wonderful hidden squares that exist all over the city. There isn't a downtown with a main focus; just lots of little charming focal points scattered everywhere.

I've enjoyed walking by this tree this season. It's very quiet at night. Rarely is anyone there. It creates an incredibly peaceful sensation. Often, horse and buggies carrying tourists from Old Town come and loop around the square so the whole neighborhood gets to hear the clip clop of the horse hooves on cobblestones. Fantastic!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Art Deco Elegance in Old Town Prague

You didn't think I was going to show you the
doors of the Hotel Imperial
and not take you inside, did you?

Beautiful sculptures hold up the front desk.
A quiet bar is off to the left.

Just a hint of the tiled floor.

I don't know what you would call this style.
I call it "Egyptian Deco."

Another pretty Christmas decoration:
a wreath of straw pigs, citrus,
and gingerbread.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Come and Join us for Coffee

The invitation read..."we meet weekly at a different historic Prague cafe. This week we're meeting at the Cafe Imperial. I think you'll enjoy it's over-the-top decor..."

If there is something I love about Prague it is this wonderful coffeehouse culture leftover from the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It turned out the Cafe Imperial was in my new neighborhood. This was my first chance to see something where I'd be living when I moved into my new flat.

I can not pretend that
I am not stunned by beauty;
the Cafe Imperial is jaw-droppingly beautiful
the exquisite ceiling mosaics

A larger view of the setting
and ceramic tile

I ordered Algerian coffee,
something new to me.

It promised eggnog on the bottom.
"This won't be eggnog as you know it, but eggnog liquor.
It's even better."

"Better than eggnog, is that possible?"
"It is. You'll see."
It is.

Filip and Tomas made the whole experience fantastic.
They could give customer service lessons all over Prague.

The cafe Imperial is not just a coffeehouse,
but a restaurant.
I may have to go back just to try
the roasted pigeon.

The art deco mosaics go back to 1914.
The entire restaurant is newly restored.

Inspiring elegance in the bathrooms

The restaurant was decked out for Christmas
with these wonderful citrus and straw decorations.

Did you know that an orange slice
could be so elegant?

Through these gorgeous doors
is the Hotel Imperial -
just as exquisite.

You might also enjoy:

Art Deco Elegance in Old Town Prague

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shouldn't You Be At the Beach?

Everyday at my Luziny metro stop, I would pass by this palm tree.

He always seemed to be asking me first thing in the morning, "Shouldn't you be at the beach?"

I'm right where I want to be, thank you very much: Prague.

"Shouldn't you be at the beach?" I had to ask back. He just never seemed like he belonged at a metro stop in the middle of 1.3 million people. He could use a little sun.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Welcome Expat Blog Directory Readers!

Hello Expat Blog Directory Readers! I was excited to have my blog named "Expat Blog of the Month" for December 2008. I have thoroughly enjoyed clicking on your blogs at random and reading about your lives all over the world. I feel lucky to be in Prague and hope you'll enjoy the journey with me. Thank you, Julien, at Expat Blog Directory for selecting my blog: Empty Next Expat. Click on the title to read the Expat Blog Directory story.

My Communist Backyard

The nice thing about these giant courtyards surrounded by panalaky is that a Mom on the 10th floor can send her children out to play and be able to see where they are on the playground from her window the entire time.

The menacing part about living in these apartments during Communist times is that there was usually one family in each building who had to sign off on a resident getting a plum job. Their job was to keep an eye on you. Czechs say you couldn't afford to be anything but ultrapolite to them at all times. Those days are over.
I've heard more positive than negative stories about growing up in panelaky. Older Czechs valued the ability to run free
like kids did in my generation in America.
They think their grandchildren's lives are overscheduled now.

Living here does not have the feeling of living
in a housing project in America

(even if it can sometimes look like it).
The people are middle-class. It feels incredibly safe.
They fix up their apartments on the inside

and with the great light from the big windows

it can be spacious city living.

From this spot it's just 20 minutes to downtown by metro-
something any Chicagoan would envy
Tennis and basketball courts

Graffiti is a plague all over Prague.

This same style of monorail kept me occupied
for hours when I was a kid in America

All they need is some homeowner association dues, some paint,
a band, and you've got yourself a summer dance party.

Bring your own paddle and ball

There are often the tiniest of businesses on the ground floor.
I've seen manicurists, ski supplies, and convenience stores.
It makes it pretty handy to fetch a liter of milk.

I'm not sure what these are for - clotheslines, perhaps?
Ahh, People after my own heart -they can create beauty anywhere.
And in the winter, no less!

You might also enjoy:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Was Living in Soviet Housing on my Bucket List?

Soviet-inspired housing, named panelaky in Czech,
because they're put up in a hurry with panels

Pretty grim, eh?
That's my balcony, third from the top,
underneath the satellite dish,

complete with dish towels on the line

No sheets! No coffee pot! No mixing bowls! The carpet! Who knew they made carpet so thin? A mattress box that one could use to store clothes in underneath. A shower curtain held up by five working rings out of ten. Four out of five lights burnt out in my room with the last one going out the night I arrived. I half expected to find 'instant gulag gruel' packets in the cupboards. What is it exactly that Communist builders had against beauty?

But the view! Did I mention the view of the city yet? The windows in panelaky were the only kind one could buy in the Czech Republic under communism but they actually seem extravagant because of their giant size. They swing wide open too.

Then there's the convenience. There was one brand of grocery store called Billa across the street and two more at my metro stop. Grocery shopping took only fifteen minutes.

Plus, I remembered the last time I traded in a pretty cozy home for a two-bedroom concrete block apartment. And that apartment didn't even have thin carpeting - it had no carpeting. Those were two of the most incredible years of my life - graduate school, living in what Americans call 'married student housing' (whether one is married or not). It was fantastic. I wouldn't trade those years for anything.

And Daniel Glick, the author of "Monkey Dancing: A Father, Two Kids and a Journey to the Ends of the Earth," one of my all-time favorite books about travel, talks about how if you are going to see the world, you are going to have to live in some, ahem, unexpected places." My friends told me when they helped me move out that this was actually an "upscale" panelak.

So I had an hour of freak-out when I arrived. Where was my imagined historic Prague walk-up? Then acceptance and happiness kicked in. I knew I was up for it. Women could make a home in a yurt if we had too. And the people I met over the course of my month here were just as nice as could be. Click on the title to read an interesting history of panelaky. I'll show my panelaky courtyard next.

The living room with the balcony attached


Dining room

Bedroom #1

Bedroom #2

You could fit a lot of Christmas presents in here

You might also enjoy:

This Lady Specializes in Problems That Only Seem Impossible to Solve

Here's an interesting story about a woman from the Czech Republic with most unusual skills. I especially enjoyed the part in the story where she was able to solve problems with just a paper and pen. Click on the title to read the full story.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Wonderful Evening with New Friends

Good friends
Gulnara and Nhan
Gulnara and I went through TEFL together
Nhan is a med student at Charles University

Nhan grew up in Pensacola, Florida and has a wonderful family heritage of great Vietnamese food to share. It's all relatively new to me since I just tried Vietnamese food for the first time this year. Everything he made for us was fantastic. These spring rolls were so light and healthy and YUMMY! He served them with fish sauce.

A strong garlic soup that warmed the bones.

Not only is Vietnamese food healthy,
the presentation is so attractive.

I forgot to take a picture of his super-fantastic entree -
Jasmine Rice with Venison curry.
The meat was so tender and so good.

We had such a good time.
Thank you, friends!

Travel Sites Catalog All Traveling Sites Expat Women—Helping Women Living Overseas International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory expat Czech Republic website counter blog abroadWho links to me? Greenty blog