Showing posts with label Old Town Square. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Old Town Square. Show all posts

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Carefree New Year's Eve

Welcome to World Blog Surf Day, a third carnival of shared expat experiences from around the world. When expat blog participants decided that our theme this time would be our favorite holiday or celebration traditions in our new culture, I had a seriously hard time deciding which traditions I wanted to share. Easter traditions in the Czech Republic are so foreign to American ways they will drop your mouth to the floor; Christmas is wonderfully the same and yet different than at home, but in the end, I chose New Year's Eve cause it felt like a coming out party for me as an empty nester.

Me, Naan, and Gulnara

For the first time in 20 years, I did not have the responsibility for anyone's safety on New Year's Eve other than my own. I could experience it with a light and carefree heart. If I wandered too close to fireworks, it wasn't my children's eyes, ears, and limbs at risk. If I saw people drinking too much alcohol, I didn't worry about who's eyes I was exposing to that. I was not responsible for the experience of others.

Our Czech Champagne
for the evening

was Bohemia Sect

My dear friends Gulnara and Nhan joined me at my place for the start of the evening. Gulnara, is originally from Russia and a fellow English teacher. Nhan, a mechanical engineer, is Vietnamese - American and hails from Orlando, Florida. Nhan's medical studies at Charles University had brought them to Prague and we have great fun together every time we got together.

Nhan and Gulnara
in Old Town

My Prague apartment is only 10 blocks from Old Town and about the same from Wenceslas Square. It was the perfect staging spot for a night of revelry. We headed first to Old Town Square which was packed with partygoers and music stages. Nice but too tame.

I had always heard that the fireworks on Wenceslas Square were awesome on New Year's Eve. We left Old Town Square and went over there. The energy and exuberance were fantastic. It was such a different setup than an American celebration, where "the authorities" would be in charge of the fireworks, the music, the entertainment, and the people's role would be to consume it. Here, "the people" set off the fireworks and made the fun. I was fascinated by it. You can just tell the product liability lawyers and lawsuit-happy folks have not yet arrived in the Czech Republic.

Amidst the most gloriously beautiful and expensively-located real estate, anyone who wanted to was setting off professional-quality, firework-show fireworks. Couldn't a spark land somewhere it shouldn't and start all the buildings on fire? Didn't anyone worry about harming everyone else standing around? They most assuredly did not.

It was so much fun, so loud, so exuberant, so absolutely fantastic I watched to see if Prague had made it in the worldwide coverage of great New Year's Parties around the globe. It must! Such was the shared joy of everyone there. One of the things I saw in Wenceslas Square there that night that I had never seen anywhere else, was young Asian men in the twenties, so happy and excited, they were literally skipping down the street arm in arm with each other.

With nary a product liability lawyer
in sight, a bunch of young people
joyfully light them up

Safety? We don't need no stinkin' safety.
This is w-a-y t-o-o much fun.

This will bring out the 12-year-old boy's
wonderment and joy in explosives in anyone.

(Except you, daughters #1 and #2 -
don't try this at home in America)

Wenceslas Square would often look like a
war zone as people scattered
to let the smoke clear

Sadaam sashays
down Wenceslas Square

Do the Czechs know
about Dr. Seuss's

Thing 1 and Thing 2?

Align CenterPartiers came from as far
away as the Ural Mountains

A couple of
wild and crazy guys
The end of a beautiful evening
with no worries about drunk drivers
on the way home

To enjoy another celebration in the Czech Republic, visit the next expat involved in World Blog Surf Day. Sher, the organizer of our blog carnival, describes her favorite new holiday at her blog Czech Off The Beaten Path. If you would like to see who else is involved in WBSD, and where they all hail from, here is the link list.

Let's fade out here with imagined Lionel Ritchie music....."Celebrate! Good Times, Come On!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Czech government denied my visa

This week I got the bad news that the Czech government denied my visa. I shouldn't have been surprised. They've denied the visas of my fellow Americans in my TEFL class, not once but twice. I was devastated. It's taken me several days to write about it without crying.

The Dream

I fell in love with the Czech Republic back in 1989 watching the Velvet Revolution on TV. Ever since then, I've wanted to experience this culture that seemed to have brought down communism nonviolently with raised BIC lighters in Wenceslas Square, not cold war spending (the Czechs actually credit the cold war spending -- not the BIC lighters, but that's another post).

The more I found out about Czech people, the more I wanted to know. I wanted to know about people who have so beautifully kept a highly human and highly cultured "second culture" alive when the official totalitarian culture was anything but human. What intriguing people. I vowed to live among them someday.

A newspaper man in Minnesota, suggested that Americans back then should help Eastern Europeans adjust to capitalism. I happily signed up for two pen pals, specifically requesting they be from the Czech Republic. We wrote long letters back and forth, way before the Internet, and I cheered them on as they started up small businesses in their respective communities. We wrote back and forth for years. Finally, the daughter of one of my pen pals came to live with my family for a summer and eventually settled in America.

I also met a lovely Czech couple in my hometown of Ames, Iowa from the Czech Republic. Kate Sladka was doing graduate studies in plant pathology and Josef Kedlecek, her husband, was putting her through school while working at a locally-beloved Ames restaurant (now that I've read Bohumil Hrabal's "I Served the King of England" I appreciate his job choice even more).

Kate grew up in this
beautiful apartment building
right off Old Town Square

Kate and I spent hours talking and she told me about all of the beautiful architecture where she lived in Prague in a very special part of town called Old Town. When I found my apartment in Prague, I was less than 10 blocks from her home! Now that I've gone and tried to find her and knock on her family door less than 100 feet from Old Town Square on Celetna, I realize how much her eyes must have ached for that mediaeval, Gothic, and art noveau architecture! I was stunned by the actual beauty of where her family lived. It was even more exquisite than I could ever have imagined. Her view was out of a fairy tale.

I was stunned to learn
that my friend Kate
had this incredible view of the back side
of the House of Tyn

I finally got here Kate!
Seventeen years after we talked.

The Reality

I finally figured out how I could come to the Czech Republic and experience it by reading Rolf Potts book "Vagabonding." His premise is that Americans vastly overestimate how hard it is to see the world and support themselves as they do it. I saw that, I too, could do this. All I needed to do was get a TEFL degree and begin teaching English. Teaching English is the easiest and fastest way to get into a country because there is so much need. Czechs working and moving up in multinational corporations need English because it's the international language of commerce.

So I choose a language school that promised: a guaranteed job after attending the TEFL course, full VISA support, health care, and free Czech lessons so that I could quickly integrate into the culture. Not a single word of it came true. I don't know why my school didn't follow the law. Maybe it's more profitable to have places opened up for the next TEFL class coming in, I don't know. I had relied on them to know the paperwork of their own country. I made an error in taking them at face value and trusting. Frankly, I'm proud to have "some trust in me" because you know how closed down people can get when they feel betrayed.

My fellow TEFLers and I loved Prague so much, that we were willing to give our school a second chance. "We applied for your visas incorrectly the first time, but this time will be different." It took me a month and a half to find work in America when I came back with only two days notice. I only looked for temporary work at a reduced pay level so that I would be fair to a potential American employer. After all, I was going to race back to the Czech Republic at the end of the summer!

I had invested over $5,000 to sell everything in America and move to the Czech Republic the first time. I happily shelled out the money for another Czech visa because this time it looked like my school had educated itself about how to follow the law and we would not be penalized for their past actions. Indeed, the administrators told us that many times. "Come back! You will not be denied."

My unfinished Czech Business:

I am completely and totally head over heels in love with the Czech Republic and it's culture. I feel like I was just starting to scratch the surface! I loved to share my excitement in my blog over each wonderful discovery. I only went out of town twice in six months because I wasn't focused on seeing all the tourist sites at first, I was focused on setting up my life. I intended to live there for years.

There are so many fabulous things in the Czech Republic I never got to see. I never saw the beautiful square of Telc, I never saw and experienced drinking spa water at Karlovy Vary, or the romance of Cesky Krumlov, I wanted to see Jan Kaplicky's stingray building in Cesky Budovice when it was finished, and modernist and cubist buildings in Brno. The Sumuva! Mushroom hunting! Czech skiing! I wanted to eat pickles in Znomo and marvel at the aqueducts and pretend I'm a partisan in the Znomo underground. What does Moravia look like anyway? I wanted to go to a Moravian wine festival and call up my friend Sher a little tipsy and tell her how much fun I'm having! Insert scream of dismay here! I wanted to see it all.

The people I care about there that I will miss. I dread having to explain to my pen pal in Western Bohemia that I traveled half way around the world to spend time in her country because of how she and others described it but hadn't yet come to her city to see her. I was waiting until I spoke Czech better so we could have real conversations face-to-face. I wanted to knock on her door and surprise her by greeting her in good Czech.

I did get to see my other pen pal in Plzen, (a future post), but since I visited her she has since become very sick, close to losing her life. I would love to go back and see her and cheer her on to a full health recovery. I never did find Kate Sladka despite knocking on her family door at 10 Celetna over and over again. I have no idea where she is.

What was so wrong with us being there?

I know governments have to look at things from a macro level, and one should never take things personally. It's not personal. That hurts too! The impersonality of it all. But how could excited and enthusiastic English teachers bring harm to the Czech Republic? Teaching English felt like our gift to the Czech people. We felt like we were doing out part to bring you into the global community as fast as possible after forty years of repression. We sure weren't doing it for the money. The work was damn meaningful to us.

I can't imagine Czech tourism advertising budgets are very big. At a time when tourism is down 20% (Prague Post, 6/3/2009) and Prague hotel room occupancy is down 8.5%, and now half of the hotels in Prague are expected to go bankrupt (Prague Post, 8/25/09) wouldn't the enthusiastic blogging of expats talking to the folks back home about how amazing the Czech Republic is be a welcome development to the Czech government? My friends would have resulted in seven week long room rentals at the small family hotel near my apartment over the course of 2009, but I know that expat bloggers are great for business beyond the immediate impact of their own families and friends.

I never heard of Cesky Krumlov from Czech Tourism advertising. I heard of Cesky Krumlov through an amazing English-language blog written by a Brit skilled in community development who constantly celebrates the specialness of that place. That one woman is probably responsible for more foreign visitors to Cesky Krumlov than Czechs know.

I don't know what my next move is. I'm honestly in mourning and it's going to take some time to deal with the disappointment. I would have loved to come back to Prague with the free ticket I have but the Czech consulate in Chicago could give me no solid advice. "It's all up to the foreign police, you may get in as a tourist, you may not. They might turn you back at the airport." Without solid guidance that my money in the Czech Republic wouldn't be wasted this time, I'm staying home. See, I can learn. Stay home. Sadly, there is no welcome mat out in the Czech Republic.

The beginning of this sorry saga:

What Just Hit Me?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Futurista Builds Upon the Past

After falling in love with Josef Gocar's Rondo-Cubism architectural style at the LegioBank building, I was eager to learn more about the wonderful design history of Czechoslovakia. Very near to where I lived in Prague was an ultra-hip design shop that showcased the best of Czech decorative arts and design from mid-century in addition to the current generation. The shop is called Futurista and is near Old Town Square.

A Czech cubist tea set

Can't you picture it in a
Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers
elegant NY penthouse?

These cubist tea set designs were created by
Pavel Janek
who worked with Josef Gocar
to create Rondo-Cubism

I was delighted to learn that
one of his other well-known designs

is Palace Adria
a gorgeous building near Mustek
where you can go and sit on the balcony
and enjoy the promenade of Prague people below.

Vlatislav Hofman designed
the cubist vases
housed in this ultra-hip
cubist breakfront.

Hofmann also designed
over 300 sets theatre sets.

One way Futurista exceeded my expectations
was the well-founded patriotic pride
of the young staff in their decorative heritage.

Lucie knew her country's artists
and loved sharing the beauty they created.

A cubist chair

What flowers would you arrange
in these vases to do them justice?

For me, if it was autumn,
dried bittersweet and sumac.

How it must delight Czechs
to have a design movement
that is all theirs.

In addition to his own Czech design heritage,
Miracek was crazy about Delft design
in the Netherlands.

The building that houses Futurista
is ancient

and has undergone countless remodelings
through the centuries.

If you go,
enjoy the glass bottom in the first floor

looking down to the gothic basement
where all the furniture is kept.

See the bottom of the window well
in the picture above?

That used to be the door jamb
for the first floor

back in medieval times.

David loved talking about
the modernist furniture
for sale in the basement.

I didn't understand the point
of this cheesy Communist poster
but David said native Czechs love to buy it
because ugly baby
and Dad with excessive sideburns

are very familiar to them as a
humorous memory of those times.

Mod meets art deco

An art deco breakfront

A way-cool white leather
executive table
and chairs

More modernist office furniture

I love this modernist plant stand.
I just need a super cool modernist
Prague apartment to go with it.

David said this sort of plastic office desk
with side fold-out drawers is so familiar to Czechs
they hate it and never want to see it again.

To a foreigner like me,
it's just one more fabulously cool
modernist experiment.

Futurista has started a web page. So far it only has one page to it, and it's in Czech, so I've linked in my title to the only store in North America that is devoted to mid-century Czech furniture and design. It's in New York City, of course; it's called the Prague Kolektiv.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Springtime Saturday Stroll Around Letna Park

My friend Sher and I had lots of catching up to do! We took a long leisurely stroll around Letna Park, famous for it's beer gardens and view of the Vltava. Why don't you join us for awhile? It's lovely!

Everything was joyously, exuberantly in bloom

The start of our walk - this regal boulevard

All this pond needs is koi

The leaves on these tulips are stunning
with their variations

An apple tree awaits May 1st

Can't you just smell them?

A first fabulous view of the Vltava
with lilacs
Is this pretty enough for you?

Two of my favorite flowers:
pansies and tulips

The last of the forsythia

These beautiful blossoms
adorned entire trees.
I nicknamed them
peppermint popcorn.


The Charles Bridge and another
from Letna Park

Local landmarks:
the 1970s Hotel Intercontinental
The Church of the House of Tyn in Old Town Square
National Museum
Vysherad Cathedral

Are you feeling more peace?

The entire riverbank is a riot of lilacs

I hope this helps you
"slow down and smell the flowers."

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